While most of my trip to Nepal was spent looking like a yeti and trekking through the Himalayas, I also spent a few days in Kathmandu and three days in New Delhi, India. On my 30th bday, I was actually in both Kathmandu and New Delhi and passed a few hours at the Kathmandu airport too.
I was pretty bitter about the fact that I was stuck at an airport on my 30th birthday, so when I finally boarded the Jet Air flight out of Nepal, I wasn’t in the best of moods. And when everyone on the plane treated it like it was a local bus, I was in a worse mood. So when the man next to me put his landing card, passport and a pen in my lap suggesting that I fill it out for him, I almost snapped. What did I look like? Some international secretary? I wrote it off to the fact that this airspace was somehow sexist and started to fill out his card.
Finally there was nothing left for him to do but sign it, which I indicated with a flourish of the hand and handed him a pen. Instead of stamping his John Hancock, he pointed to the signature line of his passport and indicated his large blue thumbprint. It took me a few minutes, but finally I realized that this man, directly to my left, could not read or write. I felt horrible. Like a selfish spoiled American who never knew that there were people in the world who couldn’t read a book.
The man, he managed to communicate, was on his way to Qatar to work and it was his first time on an airplane. We bonded with grimaces when there were turbulence, but it was hard for me to think of anything but that bright blue thumbprint in his passport.
It made me very very very thankful for the ability to read and write, two of my very favorite things to do. What must it be like to have never read a book or written a letter to someone you love?
My birthday was not ideal. The Kathmandu airport sucks and no one likes delayed flights and lots of tightly packed sweaty people smashing them as they enter their third decade. But as soon as that man showed me his thumbprint, all those grievances melted away. Instead, I just felt very appreciative for what I have.