I’m fascinated by this system. I’m sitting in the Kathmandu airport, simply observing. My flight has been delayed. I was supposed to catch a flight to Dhaka, Bangladesh, at 4:40 pm; however, I arrived to the airport and was told it would leave at 5:40 pm. I’m in the waiting area, a throwback to the 70’s, with its dusty tiled floor, copper accents, and nondescript shops that are simply named “DUTY FREE.” The monitor says the flight will leave at 15:50, even though it’s now 16:00. Other flights have status of “Boarding” or “Delayed” or “Cancelled” or “Departed,” flashing by their flight number, but not mine.
I watch the comings and goings of passengers. There seem to be two categories – tourists dressed seemingly inappropriately in shorts and tank tops in this conservative culture, and Nepali men. Every so often, a Nepali man with a topi and walkie talkie scurries through the waiting area, yelling the name of a destination and herding passengers. I finally hear “Dhaka” and make my way towards him. He has a luggage cart laden with black plastic garbage bags. As I show him my boarding pass, he scribbles on it, reaches into the garbage bag, and pulls out a box with a smudged stamp that says “Catered by Everest Hotel.” I’m confused, but make my way through the second security screening.
I enter the second and final waiting area, the one designated just for Biman Bangladeshi Airlines flight 704. What immediately strikes me is that among the hundreds of people in the waiting area, I am the only female. The. Only. One. Everyone else is a young Nepali man, a labourer, making his way to a foreign country in hopes of making a fortune. I sit and read my book. A few minutes later a young Nepali woman enters the waiting area. She sits beside me. “Are you going to Dhaka?” she asks in a lilting voice. “Yes,” I nod.
We open our thin cardboard boxes. It contains a breaded chicken patty, crustless cheese sandwiches on white bread, a piece of fruitcake, and a mango juice. I’m curious. Is this the meal for the flight? Or is this the meal for the waiting area? I notice everyone else eating, so I do as well.
When the announcement is made to start boarding, the hundreds of men race for the gate, crowding each other in a mob. The young Nepali woman and I look at each other, somewhat shocked. We wait until all the men have boarded the plane before making our way to the gate.
On the plane, our seats are next to each other, the middle seats of the middle section of five at the front of the plane. We’ve been upgraded to business class, which is virtually empty. Why have we been assigned middle seats? The silver-haired flight attendant asks me where I’m from, then tells me unique facts about the Bangladeshi communities in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. He also tells me his favorite movies, and that Charles Heston has died. He saw Ben Hur in the cinema in Dhaka when he was only 8 years old. I smile and listen. Without my asking, he then tells me he will find me a window seat.
A few minutes later, he guides me to the first row window seat. As I sit down, he says, “For you, my VIP.” I smile and thank him. A few minutes later he guides the young Nepali woman to the seat beside me. “She feels comfortable with you,” he offers, and with that we are off to Bangladesh, a mere 3 ½ hours late.