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Tuesday
Mar012011

Friend for a Moment, an Indian in Kuwait en Route to Dubai

The large crowd began to move quickly with people shouting and some running away. Because everything being said was in Arabic, which I do not speak, I could not tell what was going on. Something was happening though. Chaos ensued—more shouting and shoving—and I tried to keep up with the throng so I wouldn’t get trampled. Then, amidst the tumult, our eyes connected: a friend.

From recognition came relief, and it felt as if we actually were old buddies. Although we had only met an hour earlier while waiting in line, a bond had formed—the type of strong but temporary connection that is made by a mutual acknowledgement of situational vulnerability. We met at ticketing—both alone and lost—and together had braved the masses.

As a result of the holiday, thousands of people filled the Kuwait airport pressing the airline desks, no ropes, no rules. Just hot, frustrated people of every origin and seemingly with every item they owned crammed in their luggage. I despise lines, and this was the worst I’d ever seen.

To the young Indian fellow behind me, whose ticket I spied and knew was on the same flight, I said: “If you wait here and save my spot, I’ll find out whether the online check-in desk is legit. I’ll wave you over if it is.” He understood what I was doing, but I could tell was doubtful about my motives. When the airline desk proved to be taking only our type of ticket, I signaled to him. He cut through the crowd. We established a trust.

Once past that point, we parted ways without words—until later when hundreds of people, angry from a delayed flight, bolted upon finding out the airline changed the gate at the last minute. My new Indian friend and I slipped easily into conversation about our shared confusion, and so we stuck together.

Interestingly, due to the panic, people were gathering based on nationalities. Pakistanis found Pakistanis. Kuwaitis found Kuwaitis. Emiratis found Emiratis. I could not identify any Americans, but my new companion brought me into the Indian fold. A group of them had formed a splinter line ahead of a random security check. And for that, I made my flight.  

“We have been speaking a while, and I do not know your name. I am Rony,” he said to me later. Turns out he was there to deliver his nephew to his sister. He had never met his sister’s son before, a two year old who was raised by his grandparents in India. Ronny spent three days with him, and then the two boarded a plane for a thousand mile trip from Karivellur to Kuwait. “He bit me in the arm once,” Ronny confessed, adding: “I don’t think I’m ready for children.”

At the point of our meeting, he was headed back to Bengaluru, where he lives and works as a systems integrator for an IBM subsidiary. He made clear throughout our conversation his determination to succeed. He lives alone, works the night through—while it is daytime in the U.S.—and spends his free time learning more about his job. As a 25 year old, he is on his way professionally. As one of more than a billion in his country, he seemed isolated, kept company by only the Hollywood movies he downloads. Work now, the rewards would come later. It is an ethic I can respect.

But from bike accidents and broken bones to stories about epic dusty bus rides, it turned out we had a lot in common. Traveling can be lonely and confusing, and at times life can be too. If occupied or encumbered, however, I would have missed this momentary connection—a couple hours in an airport on the far side of the world. We were just two friends chatting while the world around us on almost every level swirled in disorder and discontent. No work, just waiting. And that was reward enough. 

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