Heathrow airport was jam-packed with people going to India and to the Middle East. I already felt like a foreigner. When a woman in a full black Burka passed, Taj’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. Her veil was mask-like and adorned with silver jewels. To him she looked like a Ninja. To me, she looked like yet another person in a faster line than ours.
In total, we had eight very heavy suitcases, three carry-ons, one car seat, two rolling backpacks and one regular backpack. There was also a rolling cooler which contained my medication, a ham sandwich, cold cuts, two kinds of cheese and an Elmo “booboo” pack. Not to mention three grouchy kids, a leather cowboy hat, one guitar and me.
I was in my new teal, floor length cotton Target dress. My mother-in-law washed and pressed for it me before we left as an act of love and perhaps a peace offering. Both of us were too stubborn to apologize for the God-awful fight we’d had a few days back so we were making small gestures to try and repair the damage.
I wanted to look respectable, like the kind of woman Indian and Middle Eastern men would want to help and not spit on. After a small discussion between my father-in-law, who had served as the British Ambassador to Kuwait, Zimbabwe and Thailand, my mother-in-law, who has an extraordinary people sense, and me, the long dress was chosen.
My father-in-law thought it didn’t matter because for him, Sir Ramsay Melhuish, it probably doesn’t. He’s obviously never been an African American woman trying to get back into America or through customs in England. It isn’t all apple pie and baseball for us. There was going to be plenty for those Hindus, Muslims and Orthodox Jews to look at, they weren’t going to get a chance to whisper about my hip-hugging, sexy, ripped-knee jeans, too.
I had been dreading and anticipating this day for months. We got to the airport three hours early and we could have used another hour. We weren’t going to have any time to eat our last dose of yucky airport and Western food at Fuddruckers or peruse the duty free. We rushed from one uniformed guard to the next with three trolleys and all the other add-ons.
It took everything we had to maneuver through the throngs of people. My 12-year-old son Khari wore his guitar, Addae, my 14-year-old son, wrangled my 4-year-old son Taj and, as we all tried to steer the weighted down carts and not smash into too many people.
A sweet-faced Indian airline attendant pointed us to another long line. Under other circumstances, I might have tried to play down the luggage. This was too much, beyond even my capacity to feign surprise when the needle on the scales went into the red and then broke.
What do you bring when you move your family to India and your shipped belongings won’t arrive for two months? What do you take to a country you don’t know, in a land you can’t imagine? We were arriving in monsoon season, whatever that means. The weather was about 33 degrees Celsius everyday. I know that 37 is body temperature and I know that zero is 32 degrees Fahrenheit but basically, I couldn’t calculate anything in between. What do you bring when you don’t even understand the weather report but you know it’s going to be intense? I brought everything.
I had dishes for five, sports equipment, towels, sheets, Legos, umbrellas, vitamins, Ipods, Thomas the Tank Engines, paper, pens, unpaid bills, seven pounds of books that Alfre gave us, rain gear, playing cards and so much more. There were clothes for hot weather, cool weather, wet weather and mild weather.
When it was time to move out of our house, I sent the big kids to my husband Robin’s family in England for a few weeks. In my mind, one of the big benefits of moving to India is being able to see them more often as we travel back and forth to the US. I figured that it would be impossible and too emotional to organize and pack up while the boys tried to visit with friends, go to amusement parks and have sleepovers. As it was, the boys were only up for going to India because they didn’t have another option. The holiday in England eased the transition of leaving Los Angeles and provided the grown-ups room to do the hard work while Taj was in preschool.
Robin had left LA for India a couple of weeks before the rest of us to begin to sort out our apartment and living arrangements. There was no air conditioning installed in the apartment, no curtains and only rudimentary, temporary furniture. Someone had to make it all okay. “Get the pest control people in,” I pleaded. I knew that if India was going to work out, the pests were going to have to be controlled.
At the airport in London, dangling from my neck (separate from my passports) were the fifty US dollars I had gotten from jars of change I had cashed in at Ralph’s Supermarket in LA two weeks earlier. I mentioned to the airline attendant that my bags were too heavy and asked her what I should do. She said that I should see what happens. “Wow.” That was an un-American and radical response. “Fair enough,” I thought.
Around my neck in the airport that day, I also had the forty-five Pounds Sterling that my in-laws gave us and my Amex card. At this point, I was all in. It was out of my hands. There was nothing I was willing to leave behind, I had purged more than one person can be expected to purge in two months and now the only thing left to do was submit. If that didn’t work, I was willing to beg for mercy, pay in dollars, pounds or American Express.
The line for check-in was so long. It was already nighttime, and Khari was impatient. “You will learn patience during this trip, one way or another,” I hissed. “So suck it up!”
I, too, have been learning patience and I am sucking it up on a daily basis. Sometimes, I suck it up to the point of choking and other times it goes down easy like hot chocolate on a crisp night. That day, we were all gagging. To feel the sadness we had pushed down, the excitement that was bubbling over and the exhaustion that consumed us would have been too overwhelming.
Addae was already sucking it up. He’d caught a cold and he’d been sneezing and moaning all day. His grandfather took him aside to give him the lecture about rising to the occasion, getting through customs and I don’t know what else, but when Addae emerged from the room he was taller and noticeably less sick. We took his temperature, no “flu” yet. Assuming they let this circus and the luggage on the plane, we were flying that night.
People kept asking what I thought about the move. Frankly, I couldn’t think past Heathrow airport Immigration. India couldn’t be harder to navigate than this lot. I hoped we didn’t have “Swine Flu” and I hoped they didn’t confiscate my food or my Tommy Hilfiger lotion. It was the only thing standing between me, deodorant that doesn’t work, and my sanity.
The airline attendant made friends with Taj and pledged to help us. If you don’t have a first class ticket, a cute 4-year-old with a leather cowboy hat may be your only way past the luggage scales. He was irresistible, smiling, giggling and being as charming as ever. He must have overheard the “Rise to the Occasion” lecture or just sensed how much we needed him on our side.
We were late to check in since I couldn’t do it online with the kids. The sweet attendant ended up helping us get better seats and treating me like a friend. We had no excess weight, perfect seats and hot towels for all. India was pretty great so far.
The attendant told me that God would help me; I could see that she was right. She said that when I am in India, in the temples, churches and mosques, I would feel God’s beauty and his blessings.
She doesn’t know my secret, few people do. She doesn’t know that I am fleeing to India in desperate need of salvation. She doesn’t know that my life depends on it. She doesn’t know that I am out of answers in my country, and I am running to her country to find some. I am hoping that deep in the crevices of the thousands of years of history, there is some sage wisdom that I can hold onto. In one of the many languages, religions, and practices, there will be something to give me peace, something that will restore me and make me new.
Copyright – Nandi Bowe 2012 Special thanks to Robin Melhuish and Donna McNeely Burke
I loved this story of your journey and look forward to reading more.
Amazing,Nandi you really write so well!
thank you so much for reading and enjoying.
Nandi, I am loving your story. I so admire you getting yourself to India with the three kids on your own. It is amazing what you can do when there is no other choice. I remember running to get the plane from Boston to NYC. Then running almost missing it. My partner who I traveled with was so slow and it drove me crazy, I always plan for lots of extra time. Then on to Cairo, at least I saw a pyramid, we were supposed to stop in Athens but it was foggy. I think we stopped in Dubai and one more place I’d ever heard of. by the time we got to Bombay, we had to wait and wait and our luggage hadn’t made it. But it was dawn and finally we caught a taxi from among the hundreds that were shouting at us to choose them. We drove along and saw the blankets get up from the sidewalk and walk toward fires. Finally at the Taj Majal we stopped for breakfast. I went to the restroom and on the way the huge orange sun was rising right over the Queen Vicotoria gate. It was so dramatic and overwhelmed me. All I had to do was take care of me. How you did it with all the confusion and responsibility amazes me. And too in 6 weeks I did discover just what I needed to do with my life. Thanks again.
Sugar, Thank you so much for reading and remembering one of your many adventures and sharing it. I still have one earing of the pair you gave me years ago and you remain in my heart.
Nandi, I really appreciate your words and your ability to find humor amongst the chaos. You are forcing me to realize that I need a vessel from which I can speak to my personal chaos. I only wish I could find the appropriate and graceful way to do it like you do. I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to air my dirty laundry. Blessings to you and your family.
Thank you so much Gavin for reading and writing your comments. When I am feeling bitter, I don’t write. My writing has to lift me up and make me laugh or cry. It is a tricky balance to live the chaos and have perspective. I keep a journal and have been writing some of these stories for years. The ones that are too real and too buried, I keep for myself. Wishing you so much continued joy as you navigate your waters.
Oh Nandi, I love it, your trip is making me remember lots about mine. India is a place to find yourself, or at least about yourself. Now that I recall, it was the strangest trip for me. I went with my chiropractor who I hardly knew. We had been planning on going for a TM meditation retreat and they canceled it. So we said we’d go away. I was married to Pat of course. But on that snowy January 1, I took him down to So. NH. and dropped him off for a six week stay at a rehab. The next day I took off for India with Nick. It was probably a strange thing for a married woman to do, but then that was me. Pat was going through major changes while I was gone and never drank again after he got out. I was in India wondering if he would want to still be married after he got out. My friend was a great listener and seeing as we spent all our time together we became friends forever. I never really knew about Eastern religion even though I was attracted but I filled in all the empty spaces by the time we left.
Thank you for being moved to remember. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for being in my life
Hi Again, Just being so proud that you are writing in your journals and sharing. When I went to Europe on The Great Race, somebody gave me a little travel diary. I used that and then graduated onto large journal books and have been keeping those for fifty years. When we moved from New Hampshire on our way to Mexico, my granddaughter said she wanted to keep them, so we stored them and now if she ever wants to write a history of the family she will have them, or they will become a burden. But when I was writing Hairdresser to the Stars, A Hollywood Memoir, of course I couldn’t remember everything, so I went back into those journals and opened my mind. I found that the painful things, I didn’t want to even read but eventually got to them and they were no longer painful per say. I wish everyone would keep journals. Yours is so exciting and intimate and it is such a gift from you to share it with us. And hopefully some day you will publish it.
Nandi, I so enjoy HollywoodtoBollywood. #4 reading the last two paragraphs made tears stream down my face. Thank you for sharing your journeys with us!!!!
Nandi, Thank you so much for sharing your journey to India. I love hearing all your stories. You are so brave. It’s wonderful to see you in your kids. Journey On!
Veda, Rod, Sugar and all, Thank you for reading and sharing in the ride..
Such a huge step. I think that barring pure violence, traveling through an international airport has got to be the most soul-destroying experience. I always feel angry and diminished. No, I do not want to be blown out of the sky because of someone’s under-regulated religious thyroid but I also do not want to be treated like cattle to the slaughter. Good luck in your new home; it wil obviously be a wonderful experience for your children and I hope for you and Robin too.
This is so much fun to read. I look forward to your posting and the replies each morning.
amazing story , waiting more
nandi your adventures and mis-adventures continue to make me smile, feel justified, and feel strong… the real champions of your travels thus far have been your unwaivering children…those little men have carried you…kept you responsible, kept you moving on, and kept you “functionally” sane for their sake and safety.
p.s. do you still have the dress?…”lady in the blue dress”…that’s how people saw you… blue always a perfect color…thx mom in-law…
I do have the dress, Ironically, none of us knew that bearing arms is almost taboo here and certainly not thought appropriate but people were kind and gentle with me anyway or I didn’t notice if they weren’t. Love you, N
hi!,I like your writing very much! proportion we keep in touch extra about your article on AOL? I require a specialist on this house to unravel my problem. Maybe that’s you! Taking a look forward to look you.
Send me a message on FB @ Hollywood to Bollywood and we can exchange info. Thanks for reading, Nandi
Great telling Nandi!! Thank you for sharing your experience. You and your family are in my prayers and i hope someday to see you again. Blessings
Again you touched me a lot with your article dear Nandi… I am sure you chose the right country to find your peace. In summer I will also be in Mumbai for a few days… also for the first time in Monsun-Season, till now I’ve only been to India in winter. I will also do some travels by train to tother cities, and I’m already curious for that adventure… I can also imagine to leave Germany one day for a longer time, that’s why I’m very interested in your experiences and adventures…
Have you been to the Marine drive during Sunset? I loved to sit there with some Fastfood and Chai and watch the sea and the people…
All the Best,
I will be sure to do that before we leave in a few months. Continued thanks for reading.
Oh you won’t stay in Mumbai? I didn’t get that… Where will you stay then?
This is a very informative article. It really sparked my interest on several points. I agree with most of the points and am currently pondering the rest. Thank you for keeping your information so engaging. http://www.samsung1080phdtv.net/
Loving this and your courageous sense of adventure! Well done Nandi!
Thanks Karen, So great to share in this way. Love from here!
I like the valuable info you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your weblog and check again here frequently. I’m quite certain I will learn a lot of new stuff right here! Best of luck for the next!
Great, Thank you
I thoroughly enjoyed your story Nandi…you have such great flair that awakens all senses of the reader. Look forward to reading more:-)
Thanks for reading. It means so much.
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