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  • The sound of a phone ringing woke me up.

    I rolled over and grabbed my phone, swiping furiously at the screen, thinking it was an alarm. But the ringing wouldn’t stop. Finally, I opened my eyes to see that it was the room phone that was ringing.

    What do I do?

    I’d never been called on a hotel room phone before. I kept thinking, I’m in Nepal… who do I know that would call me? After a moment of exaggerated and completely unnecessary confusion, I put on my big boy pants and answered the phone.

    The line clicked and a frantic voice came though. “Yes, hello - Bradley?”
    “…that’s me.”
    “We have to leave at 6:45!”
    I was still completely jet-lagged, and more concerned about why it was still light outside. “Okay.”
    “You know who this is?”
    “Oh! Haha! I’m so sorry - this is Pasang,” he said. Pasang is the managing director of the trekking company I’m with. “The airport has just contacted me - they have found your bag! We have to leave at 6:45 to go get it!”

    I made it through the rest of the phone conversation with minimal confusion and managed to set an alarm on my phone. When I sat upright an hour later, I was greeted with a newfound feeling of calm and the knot in my stomach was beginning to unwind. I’d now been in Kathmandu for a day and a half with only a toothbrush and my electronics (which hadn’t been working). My checked bag, containing all of my clothes, toiletries and trekking gear, had not made it to the airport with me.

    Which, if you do the math, means I haven’t showered or changed since before I left Detroit. 4 days. I left the room to meet Pasang, trying not get to get too excited, in case there had been a mistake at the airport and my bag hadn’t actually come in. But it wasn’t only for the sake of my own hygiene that I was concerned about; if my bag didn’t come in today, I would have to delay my trek until it came in.

    When I had landed the previous day, I had hoped to be the first through customs and into the baggage claim area. The frustrating part about losing a bag in Kathmandu is trying to communicate questions to the airline. The small international airport had only a single help desk at the far end of the baggage claim room, which was blocked by a sea of unclaimed bags that had long since been abandoned. There was no computer at the desk and the scrawny airport worker there addressed a small mob of frustrated people who demanded to know where their bags were. I kept my patience, knowing that getting angry was going to do nothing at all, and I filed my case when the worker finally got to me.

    “It will likely be here on the next flight,” the man told me. He was soft spoken, but it was evident that there was no concern or fact behind his tone.

    Trying to keep my excitement and positivity in tact, I left the airport and met with my driver and city guide. They greeted me happily with my own personal sign:

    ‘Mountain Sherpa Trekking and Expeditions welcomes Bradley Michael to Nepal!’

    I’d told myself that I would stay awake the rest of the day so that I wouldn’t have jet-lag - that I’d spend time walking around the city and taking photos. But of course, after arriving at the Tibet Guesthouse and meeting Pasang for the first time in person for a briefing of my trek, I had only enough energy to wander around the corner for bottled water before promptly falling asleep in my room. When I woke some 10 hours later, I found that it was dark outside. The sound of a frustrated animal could be heard clearly just outside my window. If it had been any closer, I might have been concerned. But seeing as how my plan to stay awake until Nepali sundown had failed, I decided to continue sleeping until sunrise to reduce my jet-lag.

    I was the first one down to breakfast in the morning. This was my first food test, and the first time since I’d landed that I actually had the time or energy to think about food. The nurse who helped me with a travel briefing before I left the states had spent a lot of time emphasizing the importance of being careful what I ate or drank. Since my body wasn’t used to the food here, I was likely to be being on hugging terms with the closest toilet. But when I opened the first heated tin, I was comforted to find Tibet-style bread. The others held sausage and potatoes. Coffee had been set out in the dining area as well. Yet still, the horror stories the nurse had told me forced me to chew cautiously, as if to see if I might suddenly violently projectile vomit without warning. Which, to everyone’s betterment, I did not.

    I asked the front desk to call the airport and gave them my case information. But after several tries, the only answer I seemed to get was ‘It’s not here yet.”

    A knot formed in my stomach (which of course, made me panic even more because I thought I was getting food poisoning). I felt disgusting. I could smell myself without even having to lift my arm. I knew that if my bag wasn’t here by the end of the day, I would have to postpone my trek until it came. And when would that be?

    My shoulders began to crawl up my neck. Who was I supposed to talk to? Could we figure out where my bag was? Or are we reduced to simply waiting to see if it shows up? What if it never does? Is the airline going to reimburse me? They probably won’t be able to in a timeline that matters. Am I going to have to buy all new clothes and gear in Nepal? Do I even have that much money on me?

    Shut up.

    A voice in my head kicked into gear. I’d been looking forward to this trip for over a year. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I wasn’t the first person in the world this had happened to. If the bag doesn’t show up, I’ll figure something out - I have to.

    I was scheduled to take a tour of the city today as part of my itinerary, bag or no bag. My trek didn’t start until the next day. Until then, there was nothing that could be done.

    I was going to enjoy my day.

    After breakfast, my city guide returned with a new driver.

    “Bradley, I hope you don’t mind - before we begin the tour, we are first going to be picking up two women who will be joining us,” he said. Then he cautioned, “They are doing the Everest Base Camp Trek, so don’t worry, they will only be here today.”

    The women were older and both traveling alone, but spoke English. L was from Canada and of Asian descent. Like me, was suffering from the abrupt change in weather between home and Nepal - it’s scorching hot here. A is from Singapore and felt right at home, having been born and spent most of her childhood in India. Together, the two of them didn’t really resemble tourists - with their trekking gear on and cameras, they more resembled hikers - which have their own way of blending in here. Walking next to them, wearing a messenger bag, a shirt with stains on it, and hair that looked like a collection of reject candle wicks - I stood out pretty easily. Not to mention, I’m a head taller than everyone here.

    The streets of Nepal are overwhelming to say the least. Imagine rush hour, wherever you are, but with no traffic control. Motor bikes and mopeds zip in an out of traffic abruptly. There are no lanes, just a single line down the middle of the road separating traffic flow. On either side of that line, trucks, vans, cars, buses, bicycles and carts all wanted to be in front of the other. But as chaotic as it looks, I haven’t yet seen one accident (though I’m sure they are frequent, and likely violent). It was interesting to me how the flow of traffic in rush hour in Kathmandu told me so much about the Nepali people.

    People here aren’t hidden the way they are in America. They aren’t polite for the sake of being polite. They don’t ask ‘How are you?’ and expect the automatic response of ‘I’m good.’ They are kind here, and ask for nothing in return of it. They display friendship by putting an arm around one another as they walk. There is less hate. No, I cannot speak the language, so I have that working in counter to the previous statement. I can’t hear what people are saying, but they see one another as human beings. They make their way, and there is no entitlement. There is an aura of being humbled as you walk down the streets in Kathmandu.

    The day tour included a visit to Monkey Temple - a place my friend Anne told me to go check out. I was very surprised that it was the first stop on our tour. The stairway to the top of the temple was bustling with small monkeys and stray dogs that had found sanctuary there, just as those worshipping found in the temples. Afterwards, a stop in Durbar Square showed the first devastating look into the remnants the earthquake had left behind. Most of the temples were supported from the ground by wooden beams, but there were some that had been reduced to a pile of rubble. The majority of what I saw though was reconstruction. Lunch at the Golden Eye Restaurant overlooked the construction of the famous dome of Nepal, which is actually visible from the air while flying in.

    We even saw a set for a Nepali music video being shot.

    Finally, at the end of the tour, A, L and I went our separate ways - I returned to the hotel with my guide, while they went to find a winter coat for their trek (which are hard to find in Singapore). It was on the way back that Pasang caught up with us in the streets to tell me the latest of his findings on my bag - that he had called the airport and checked the baggage number with their systems. Qatar Airways did not have my bag in their systems.

    “You flew a different airline from Detroit to Boston, yes?” Pasang confirmed.
    “Yeah, it was JetBlue. But they told me my bag was going to go straight through,” I said.
    Pasang nodded solemnly and let out a sigh. “There is a good chance that they never made the connection. If your bag is not in Qatar airways computer system… your bag is likely still in Boston.”

    My heart sank. That meant that at the earliest, it would be another day and a half from arriving. The joys and sights of the day had somehow become distant.

    “There is one more flight tonight at 8 O’clock, but…”
    “Yeah, I know. Maybe it’ll be on that one,” I said artificially.

    Pasang expressed his sympathy, and I did my best not to show him my disappointment. The lost bag had been no fault of his, and he was already doing everything he could. I retired to my room, where I entirely lost my energy. I turned on my phone to try to get wifi and check in with Angie, but there was no signal. I opened my laptop, hoping to find signal there. But again, nothing.

    Finally, I gave up. Feeling the knot returning full force in my stomach and the dread of unknown washing over me, I laid down again, succumbing to my jet-lag. I was going to have to delay my trek. For how long? I had no idea. There was no fight in me anymore. It took almost no time at all for me to fall asleep.

    And then the phone rang.
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