Longest Flight EVER!!!
After arriving from our short flight to Chicago, our group prepared to embark on the largest leg of our 24-hour trip around the world. After some of us quickly stuffed ourselves with Chicago-style pizza, we had Mass in a quiet corner of the airport in front of a massive window overlooking the runway. It was a great moment of peaceful prayer in the midst of the noise and busyness of such a massive and industrialized airport. We then joined the boarding party, which was the first time our group encountered Indian culture. We saw new clothes, heard different languages, and even smelled unfamiliar smells all around. Then our legendary 13-hour flight began.
As we advanced to a new world, we also quickly advanced into a new year. It was unclear exactly when 2017 ended and 2018 began because we were constantly zooming through time zones in the air, but we turned over another year all the same, celebrating the New Year as a bunch of couch potatoes. While Fr. Becker sat still the whole time in ‘contemplative prayer’, Fr. Borello chatted and prayed with every passenger and flight attendant nearby, and Jake Brownlee caught up on his pop culture one movie at a time. We all have our different strategies to cope with travel I guess. As for me, I sat next to a young Indian lady about my age who was going back home to visit her family for a Hindu harvest festival. Her name is Shandy, which means ‘peace’ in her native tongue. She was very friendly to me and made the long trip kind of fun. She lives in Southern India about 20 minutes from the ocean by bike, and her hometown is famous for its red chilies. She is temporarily working in Kentucky for a computer software company. As you can imagine, we got to know each other very well, and I even taught her how to solve the first few steps of my Rubik’s Cube! She asked me to pray for her mom, dad, and 2 sisters as we went our separate ways.
Although the flight across the Atlantic was long and inevitably restless, we all arrived in one piece at our final connecting airport in the Middle East in a City called Doha. It was very cool walking through the glass airport because we were in the middle of a desert. There was a warm sandy haze all around us, and we could see a red moon to our left and a red sunset blazing to our right. It seemed like we were on a planet from Star Wars!
After freshening up a bit, we made our final flight from Doha to Kolkata, which still took another 5 hours. By this time, most of us were utterly exhausted and found it impossible to stay awake. As we descended into Kolkata very early in the morning, it was not as bright as I was expecting. Instead of the luminosity of a modern metropolitan city, the sight was much more like looking up at the stars on a beautiful clear night. There were many lights, but mostly dim and spread out. Little did we know how clear and spread out the city really was.
The second we stepped off the plane, you could tell that this place was very different. Looking down the long hallway, you could visibly see a hazy-white smog as your nose, throat, and eyes started getting watery with irritation. It took a while for me to clear my throat and stop sneezing from the new dry and gritty air.
After passing through customs, our tour guide Anup was there to meet us with a big smile on his face as we arrived midmorning. The city was very dark and mysterious as we tiredly got our first glimpse of the city. The buildings were black with soot, the power-lines were all tangled up, and the streets were covered in filth. We arrived in our hotels around 4am and flopped into our small, simple bedrooms. It really did not hit us until we woke up the next morning – we are in Kolkata.