Back in the saddle, again

I’d only just passed through customs in San Francisco when I heard a page for Kumar Shrestha. Kumar Shrestha, please pick up the blue courtesy phone. First impulse was to go to the Delta counter that had paged him and sit around to wait for him, shouting, Bala du?.

I didn’t. Instead I bought a newspaper and a coffee to pass the three-hour layover.

I was going to need a lot more coffee before I ended my traveling. As we approached Houston, storms prohibited our plane from landing. We circled for half an hour before landing in Corpus Christi to refuel where we sat on the runway for about an hour before taking off again to attempt another landing, which was successful.

I spent the night on the floor on the bottom level of the Houston Intercontinental Airport, where every ten minutes the light rail would zip by, stopping a few meters from where I was sleeping and declare, Next stop, Comfort Inn, which was subsequently repeated in Spanish.

Also in the basement was a group of about fifteen high schoolers from a Christian choir on tour from Kansas.

Besides the steady stream of announcements that lasted into the night, the choir provided added to the already bountiful ambient noise of the airport: elevators binging out the floor numbers, light rail buzzing along, vacuum cleaners droning in the distance, and then a choir singing, He’s got the whole world in his hands, accompanied by no less than five badly strummed guitars.

After 16 months, this was my first night back in my native country.

Back home, I was expecting more strange things. Or maybe just to feel strange, to be confused at my once-and-future home, but I wasn’t. I didn’t weep when I went to the grocery store.

Nothing had really changed since I left. Cars still had four wheels and people were still using cell phones. Whoppee-tah. Maybe I expected too much from the United States. It would have been stupid to expect it to suddenly molt into an entirely different creature over the past 16 months.

It hadn’t. Maybe I’d gotten to a point where I could say, It’s been a year and a half. Going without a burrito for another day isn’t going to kill me.

I missed Mexican food. I missed donut shops with loud groups of retirees hassling the teenagers behind the counter. I missed our newspapers. I missed the public libraries. I missed running into old friends. I missed my photo albums and college radio.

But there’s an equal number of things I’m missing about Nepal, like speaking Nepali or, taking daal bhaat.

I even miss the buses, because a bus is seeing a friend or going someplace new. And nothing’s new in the United States.