After a 9 hour flight, I was standing restlessly in a long line to clear immigration at Heathrow airport. Lost in thoughts about catching the connecting flight to Edinburgh, at first I did not notice the tug on my sleeve. Sensing that someone was behind, I turned around to see a lady looking at me. She was evidently in her late 50’s with numerous wrinkles on her face suggesting earlier hardships. In a low voice she gently requested me to fill up the immigration forms for her husband and herself. Hastily she added that neither she nor her husband could read or write any language, as they were from rural Nepal. It is then that I notice the shy gentleman standing quietly behind her. It occurred to her, as I glanced at my wife, that an overwhelming majority of the husbands do the same. I requested her for her travel documents for the details. They had arrived by the Qatar Airways flight on a Nepalese passport with a return ticket to Kathmandu dated 15th July 15 – a month later. I recalled that I had felt the first tremors of the earthquake in New Delhi while I was booking my hotel reservations for my stay in Bath. What a coincidence.
It was obvious that they would have trouble communicating with the immigration officer, so I asked them to stand in front of me. When their turn came, I deftly accompanied them to be their interpreter. Numerous questions followed and together we were able to answer them successfully. Or putting it more accurately, the lady provided the answers with a resolute look and a firm voice. I looked towards the husband a number of times with great empathy. She was definitely the decision maker in the family.
Why have you come to UK? asked the officer.
They had arrived to attend the wedding of their daughter answered the lady handing over the wedding card for his examination
Do you have return tickets? He asked.
They had return tickets to go back to Kathmandu answered the lady handing over the copy of return ticket.
What if their daughter was not outside to receive them? he was suspicious.
They looked at the officer with disbelief – after all such things did not ever happen in their society. Who would give away the hand of the daughter but the parents??!
But what if she did not receive them? Did they have money to stay in a hotel? persisted the officer
GBP 600 in various denominations were proudly counted and handed over to the officer.
The officer looked at me carefully and then asked if I knew them from before?
Holy Molly No! I am just assisting them to make it easier for the officer and the couple to complete the immigration formalities.
He smiled at me and asked them to proceed out of the immigration area. I asked them to wait for me just beyond.
I joined them shortly thereafter & accompanied them for their baggage claim. We searched the baggage claim area but could not find their red suitcase. I had to catch my connecting flight and the rest of the family was waiting me to join them. So after a few minutes of clarifying & getting the reassurances from the gentlemen at baggage claim department, I left them to find their lost baggage.
My wife was impatient by then and I feared the worst.
‘Your daughter has forgotten her phone in the aircraft’ she said before walking off in a huff with the daughter. I was relieved but the daughter looked distraught………afterall there is no life without What’s app and selfies!
It was gratifying to help someone who desperately needed some in a strange land. But what struck me was the resilience of the couple and their struggle to raise money for the trip – whatever be the reason. The determination to handle a long journey to a strange land with a strange language and culture.
There were few lessons for me
- don’t crib just because life gets a bit difficult at times, others have bigger challenges.
- count your blessings every day for the privilges you have.