a flight of grace
Alexandra and I are virtual friends, and I've been more than blessed by this chance meeting with her online.
Speak The Words, a website she founded, is a great resource for folks who are looking for sound, faith-filled responses to mental health issues like depression and anxiety. I recently had the opportunity to write an article on the benefits of journalling for the site (watch out for it in May!).
Alexandra was also kind enough to share a story she's written about her trip to Nepal a few years ago on my blog. It's one that really hits home for me, simply because it reminds me that even amidst my faithlessness, God proves Himself faithful. I hope her story encourages you too!
P/S: Don't miss other guest posts on my blog, like Naomi's beautiful reflection on the phrase "There You Are" and Rachel's piece on what caring for the elderly in Singapore has taught her.
The Mahadevsthan mountaintop in Dhulikhel, Nepal looms so high in the distance that it appears to be touching the sky.
It is close to evening, and I see faint lines of orange and pink. To see it at a closer range, a young boy gets up on a rock that peers over a cliff and extends his arms out like he is Superman. After he gets off, I stare at the same rock with interest.
“It is probably not the best idea,” Kiran, my friend and guide for the day, who has successfully read my mind, tells me. I come to my senses and decide instead to just stand beside the rock and pose in front of the mountain as Kiran snaps a photo of me.
On our way back, we head up the 1,000 steps that lead to the Kali temple. I try not to let on how tired I am really feeling. But judging from Kiran’s concerned look, it doesn’t seem to work. As we continue up the stairs, familiar feelings rise up inside me, and I find myself disappearing into my reverie.
"I shouldn’t even be here," I think to myself. "If it wasn’t for what happened, I would have been on a plane headed home by now."
I had first left for Nepal towards the end of August. It had always been a dream of mine to travel, but due to numerous barriers, I was unable to do it as often as I wished. On the day I booked my trip, my spirits soared. This was finally happening. At that point, I began to feel a surge of excitement.
Time flew by, and after a flurry of days filled with interviews, writing, and sightseeing, I soon found myself close to the end of my trip. During my last week in Nepal, I made preparations to travel back home, but my plans were unexpectedly delayed.
On the night that it happened, I had been weak, hungry and fighting the onset of another fever. Earlier that day, I had boarded a bus from Nepalgunj to Kathmandu that had been expected to arrive around six that same evening. We didn’t end up arriving until ten that night.
I was so disoriented at the time that I didn’t even notice the young Tibetan-looking man that had come up beside me on that sticky yet breezy night outside my lodgings. He wanted to help me hold my backpack after a bellman had successfully carried off other heavier items. He stood beside me and kept tugging at it. Confused, I pulled my backpack tighter.
“No—” I began to say.
But he cut me off. “Please, it’s okay. This is my hotel.” He pointed to the building just in front of us, where we were headed. Once again, I tried to tell him no, even as he was working to get it off my back. He continued to insist and tried to reach for my camera bag as well (which also contained my phone and tape recorder).
But the camera bag hugged itself to me and the man had trouble releasing it. After about two minutes, he gave up and went back to trying to take my backpack. In that instant, my head began to throb, as if to remind me of my most urgent mission: To find a hotel room and get sleep fast.
Against my initial hesitation, I gave him my backpack, and proceeded to walk in front of him. As the night closed in on us, I tried to keep sleep from taking over my body. Step by step, I urged my feet along the alley that led to the hotel where we would be staying.
When we got there, I began to observe my surroundings. The lobby of the hotel was simple and unimpressive. Behind the welcome desk sat a man who expressed little enthusiasm. A clock was behind him, but didn’t seem to tell the right time. There was a brown couch with a table devoid of magazines had been placed to the left of the welcome desk.
As I noticed the hotel bellman putting down my bags, I looked around for the second man that had been carrying my backpack. But he was nowhere to be found. An uneasy feeling formed in the pit of my stomach. In a matter of seconds, I realised that my bag had been stolen. It held my passport, debit card, credit cards, and all the cash I had on me.
Despite all of my best efforts — combined with that of the hotel bellman and other hotel staff members — my bag never showed up. Towards the end of the week, I filed an application for an emergency passport to get me back home. To my dismay, I was informed by the Canadian Consulate General that it would take at least ten days to process, which meant I would miss my original pre-booked flight.
During this harrowing time of waiting, arrangements were made for me to stay at an orphanage in Banepa. I had no remaining pocket money, though, so some local friends took care of the application fee and provided me with more rupees for any additional expenses that would occur during my extended stay.
“Let’s take a break,” Kiran’s voice interrupts my thoughts as we climb this never-ending flight of steps. I readily agree.
“How much further?” I ask.
“Not too far from here,” he says. But for some reason, I think he is lying.
I had first come to Nepal because my heart had been stirred. I had felt a similar way before making the decision to leave my full-time job and travel to Ghana. Now that the feeling had come up again, I couldn’t ignore it. I was drawn to Nepal's indomitable spirit: In the aftermath of the earthquakes, the community had refused to give up. I was hungry for such stories because it was a rebuke to what I saw as my own faithlessness.
But now that I was in this predicament, I had to admit that I wasn’t too fond of the waiting process. This was not what I had come here for. I wanted to be involved in ministry and participate in some grand mission.
But when I had seen child beggars crying on the street, or when a young boy came up to me personally to ask for change, I had done nothing. Maybe I deserved everything that had happened, because I had turned away from those that needed my help the most. The cries of the children I had ignored grew louder in my head.
There were frequent power outages in the orphanage, so sometimes in the silence that came from no Wi-Fi and no lights, I poured out my heart to God. The air was weighty, as if charged with some strong force; I pressed close to hear His voice. I wanted desperately the peace He promised to give me.
As the days went by, I learned that once I had received the emergency passport, I would only have three days to travel, which meant I had to make sure I rebooked my flight on the right day. Moreover, the passport posed more limitations in that not all airlines would accept it. I changed my original plan to travel through Doha, Qatar after being told by the Canadian Consulate General that Doha had a history of rejecting emergency passports with previous passengers. I decided instead to fly through Dubai.
Despite the bleakness of the situation, I felt God showing me more of His light. After sharing my current predicament with a friend back home, members of her church all pitched in and helped me with money to go towards my expenses. My mother’s friend also booked me a flight to come home, which amounted to over a thousand dollars. I was touched beyond words.
In times when I was feeling especially discouraged, it was my family that offered me words of encouragement. I spent many nights before bed reciting Psalms and singing inspirational songs. I knew that it could only have been the Lord Almighty that uplifted my spirits.
Ten days later, I leave for Canada.
It is a Thursday night, and my connecting flight is set to leave from Dubai. The day before, despite being nervous about customs and immigration, I give myself permission to hope again.
As I wait for the bus, the orphanage's caretaker gives me a knowing smile. I am tagging along with the children on an outing to the zoo, and from there, arrangements have been made to take me to the airport. This lady, who has become quite familiar to me during my stay, doesn't speak English, and I know minimal Nepali — my favourite thing to say is "namaste" — yet it seems as if we speak a common language that goes beyond words. As I pull out my camera, she runs over to my side. She wants take a picture with me.
Quickly, I hand my camera over to the man everyone lovingly calls Uncle. She wraps her arms around me, and I feel safe. Her six-year-old daughter joins us for the next photo. A few minutes later, her daughter misbehaves, and the caretaker jokes that I should take her with me. I smile in response. In that moment, I wish that I can take them all with me. After all, they are my new friends — people I would never have met had I not lost my passport. I find myself thinking and truly believing that I will miss them.
When I arrive in the airport late that same night, I approach the customs officer behind the desk hesitantly. Prior to leaving Nepal, I found out that there was a great chance that Dubai customs would not accept my emergency passport either. However, I didn’t want to cough up more money to re-book another flight. I was determined to get home one way or another.
The man looks at the sheet of paper I slide towards him curiously: “This is your passport?”
I gulp. “Yes, it’s a passport.”
I wait for him to inquire further, but after perusing my visa stamp at the back, he hands it back over to me. He is letting me through.
Throughout the rest of my journey home, every time I produce that sheet of paper, I receive a few strange looks from flight attendants and customs officials. Yet, I am able to board both flights home to Toronto with no problems.
With everything that had happened overseas, I had experienced moments when I actually thought I would never step foot in Canada again. But when I found myself thinking this way, the Lord reassured me of His promise one night:
Before I left for Nepal, many questioned me on my decision to travel there. When my belongings were stolen that night, it was hard to remember why. Then I thought about all the people I had met and the stories I had heard, and I grew more convicted in my God-given purpose.
It was His hand that had guided me in Nepal, and it was His words of love that had consoled me all those dark nights. I went looking for a way to be a blessing in their lives, but it ended up being the other way around. The people I had met during my time there bolstered my faith and encouraged me to hold on to hope. If they could find hope in the midst of such chaos, in the face of earthquakes and persecution, disease and death, surely I could too.
That night, I may have boarded two airplanes from Nepal, but I was comforted by the knowledge that it was the Lord’s wings that had carried me home.
is the founder and lead storyteller of SpeaktheWords.com, a faith-based media platform which engages in reporting on social issues, with a specific emphasis on mental health, poverty and abuse. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, taking long walks, spending quality time with her family and discussing great ideas.