More than a mouthful.
It was something else (or was it foreshadowing for more of the same?), and because this wasn’t my first trip I sorta knew that was coming.
I was originally supposed to make this trip with my family. We figured out that it wasn’t going to work for us a while back, and after some deliberation, I decided to go it alone. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing, or why, but I was going going, back back, to India India.
When I got to the gate in Boston, they had no room left for my bag overhead and told me it would be checked straight through to Cochin. I said that wasn’t okay because I wouldn’t have a toothbrush or deodorant for the next 30 hours. Too bad, get ready to be smelly.
I almost missed my redeye from JFK to Mumbai. I confirmed with the board that it was indeed at my gate, but there was nobody there. No announcements. Luckily, I noticed a lot of Indian looking people lining up further down the terminal. After I got on the plane and found my seat that had mysteriously changed from window to aisle, the woman next to me asked if I would swap to another aisle seat so she could sit with her mother and share movies. My new seat was pretty much the same except it wouldn’t stay reclined. I was tired and donned my earplugs and sleep mask, and dozed off upright (except it felt upwrong.)
In a dream state, I heard a man speaking english with a wonderfully melodic Indian accent, and I started to feel excited about my adventure. I was already on my way to smelling more intense. I was so caught up in the sound of how he spoke, then I snapped out of it when he started asking someone about throwing up. I slid my mask up enough to peer out and found a flight attendant talking to a man diagonally across the aisle from me.
I wasn’t sure if someone had already yarfed, but the person in the middle of the row had already moved elsewhere so it was likely. The flight attendant told the sick man to go to the bathroom to throw up. The sick man looked drunk (but I’m not so sure he was), he did not move. At this point I was curious, so the movie I had started earlier no longer held it’s value.
The man stirred in his sleep, then vomited uncontrollably all over himself, the seat, seatbelt, armrest, and down into the aisle. It smelled. The flight attendant watched, I watched. The lady next to me watched. We glanced at each other with looks of disgust. I pulled my scarf over my face. She pulled her blanket over her head and went back to sleep. I debated whether or not I was also going to throw up.
Again, the flight attendant pleaded to get the man to the bathroom. The sick man appeared to be passing out, and spewing yellow dinner down his front. The flight attendant left to figure out where else the woman in the window seat could sit. He also made an announcement requesting for a volunteer doctor to come to the back of the plane. I also wanted a new seat, and figured everyone around us did too, so I kept my mouth shut and opted to check the time instead. 10 hours left…ugh.
The flight attendant came back and told the woman she could move. The sick man was passed out, so she had to pass her things to the flight attendant and climb over the man without stepping on the arm rest. She managed to avoid the mess on the floor, too. I felt relieved for her. Shortly after she left, another Indian man and a white man, both in plain clothes, showed up to help. These were the doctors. They woke him up and one began asking him questions to see how coherent he was. I couldn’t really hear anything he was saying. Another flight attendant brought a bunch of rubber gloves, masks, and a stack of paper towels for the doctors, but NO BAG for the sick man to puke into. At this point I marveled at how ill prepared this airline was for someone to be sick on a long flight. Capitalistic shortcomings, but also humanity is beautiful.
As he started to throw up again, the second flight attendant went and got a trash bag. It was dark, so his job was to hold a smartphone flashlight on the situation.
For the next two hours, the two flight attendants and two doctors attempted to get this guy to do anything but sit there cycling between passing out and throwing up. Flight attendant # 2 came back with a blood pressure monitor and oxygen tank. They tried to determine if he was diabetic, had low blood pressure. They tried to get him out of his gross outfit. Eventually they got him up to go lay down in the back of the plane. I looked at the map and thought about emergency landings.
After a while, I started to wonder if anyone was going to clean up the mess of vomit, gloves, and masks that littered the seat and floor. The flight attendants were probably fighting about who would have to do that. A female flight attendant came and wiped the seat down and used some sanitizing spray. She put blankets over it to cover the smell. She left everything on the floor. The leftover vomit got a ride on everyone’s shoes. Things started to settle and I fell back asleep.
A while later I woke up to see the sick man back in his seat in fresh clothes. The flight attendant with the dreamy voice was so sweet checking up on him, and said he would visit him in Sri Lanka. Aw.
The flight attendants began another meal service and the woman in front of me fumbled her things around. Her phone and pill container landed in the vomit on the floor. She stared down at them, not picking them up. Their value had diminished significantly when they hit the floor. The sick man picked them up, held them out, and she stared at them for a moment before reluctantly taking them back.
I was hungry, but also hesitant to eat after all the excitement. I didn’t want anything yellow. The rest of the flight was uneventful. I survived, and so did the mess on the floor. The man was collected in a wheelchair as we arrived in Mumbai.
Customs was uneventful, I went to baggage claim to check for my bag, I was skeptical of it being checked through. That didn’t make sense on an international flight. I waited and didn’t see it, so I proceeded to the domestic terminal. I was tired and disoriented, and couldn’t find a copy of my boarding pass to get past the military guy. I was directed to walk down a long service hallway to find Air India and have them print it out. It was kind of like being in a game of pac man and I kept forgetting to walk on the left.
I thought I was going to find the departure desks at the other end, but instead found another military guy at the international terminal that I had passed earlier. He sent me to find the Air India office, I found one, explained myself, then was told to go to another department down the snake hallway. I got lost again. When I got to the other office, I got blank stares. It had been about an hour of this so I was starting to feel helpless. I went back to the first military man and sat down until I found my tickets hidden in my emails. Jesus.
I lurked around the shops for probably too long, had a delicious dosa, and wandered toward my gate to take a nap during my layover. While the Mumbai airport is very elaborate and ornate, they make sure you can’t sleep on the chairs in the terminal. I slept on the tile floor, which is likely worlds fancier than the slums surrounding the outside of the airport.
The sunrise was glorious on the flight to Cochin. Nobody threw up.
When I arrived at baggage claim, I waited, and waited…and waited for my bag. It never turned up. The Air India staff informed me I was supposed to pick it up in Mumbai. I would have to come back to claim it at this airport whenever it came in, and they couldn’t tell me when that would be. I was starting to feel really gross and frustrated. My AirBnb was over an hour away, and the retreat center I was going to in a couple days was 4 hours away. It was hotter than a Maine summer, I was smelly, exhausted, and my teeth were growing fuzz.
During my Uber journey to Fort Kochi, I contemplated. How uncomfortable do I have to be before I lose my shit? I came to India because of yoga. Yoga is the balance between challenge and ease, finding the edge between comfort and discomfort and leaning into it with curiosity. I was certainly feeling pretty uncomfortable. I had to remind myself that I’m driving the meat suit here, and some level of not knowing is healthy for growth.
All of this and I haven’t even been in India 12 hours. Do you want to read more?