Changi Airport in early morning.
“All airports are same”, says Shadow, the protagonist of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, “it doesn’t matter where you are, you’re in an airport, tiles and walkways and restrooms, gates and newsstands and fluorescent lights.” This is exactly what I felt during my travels, except that the international airport in Nepal is darker and smaller compared to the other four airports in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Melbourne and Sydney.
Airports feel like a different country altogether. You can shop, eat, sleep, read, watch people from different walks of life passing you by. And because you always have a suitcase or a carry on, you make yourself home if you are in a transit or your flight getting delayed. You make friends at the airport, those who have the same flight as yours or just those who are in the same lounge. It feels normal, that you don’t have to worry about what other people might think because nobody actually cares.
There was a popular meme went around a few weeks ago on how airports don’t follow any societal rules – you can drink anytime, you can wear sweatpants all day and so on. I feel exactly the same, every time I enter into an airport, but instead of feeling relaxed, having this new-found freedom of doing anything I want, I feel anxious and dread. Because airports don’t follow any societal rules.
The biggest fear for anyone who has followed all the rules and regulations in an airport is to miss their flight. And now flights can be missed in many ways. You could be sleeping throughout your transit period, not waking up for your flight. You could be stuck in the toilet and nobody is there to listen to you beating the door. You could be asked to open your luggage and you might have misplaced your keys or aren’t able to open the lock somehow. Worst, if you’re a Nepali woman traveling solo from the Nepali airport, you could be taken to a room and asked numerous unnecessary questions and these immigration officers don’t care if you’re about to miss your flight. All you need is a bad luck and I feel that you could be taken away because you look scared or nervous. And all you need to miss your flight is being taken away for a while. All you need is to be stuck, behind a line, in the toilet, with the immigration officer or just not be aware about the gate change, and as a whole miss the call.
I also get scared when I reach the destination. I don’t know why, but I have this fear of deportation. Part of the fear might come from the fact that I am a huge absent minded clumsy girl. I forget things. I break things. I leave things. So, I am always worried that I might have forgotten something in the plane or back home. I think I am also not confident because I am in a foreign land, and I have a habit of being tongue tied when talking to a foreigner (I have been known to speak my parents’ language when being spoken by a foreigner even if I am not fluent in it). I am always scared of being sent back from a foreign airport because I know the worst thing that could ever happen is losing something when you are just a step away from getting it.
Therefore, instead of relaxing I am more anxious when I am in the airport, especially if I am traveling alone. Because like Gaiman says in the same book through Shadow, “If hell is people, then purgatory is an airport.” I will always have the beaten, glazed look, especially when I am alone in an airport.