Living Vicariously As A Peripatetic Shutterbug

{ More musings from the Cantankerous Old Mule }

About onions, chillies and a little old lady searching for her underwear *a true story

Most of my work-days here at Kathmandu’s domestic terminal have run pretty smoothly. In two months I helped move thousands of kilograms of food and building materials on little trolleys through the security scanners, I saw multiple teams transported past security from 6am most days, onto waiting helicopters at the helipad across the airport. I even got the British ambassador and other dignitaries through the convoluted process so they could observe the extent of the damage caused by the earthquakes (and subsequent aid efforts) first-hand.

Yesterday was my last day at “the ramp” before I leave today. I only had one flight to take care of – the medical evacuation of a young girl from a community on the side of a mountain north of the capital. She was in terrible pain and they suspected she might have appendicitis.

I met the rep from the organisation that had booked the medevac, who told me we were waiting for an elderly, infirm lady who needed to fly back to the same village. The trip on a good day can take half a day, including several hours on foot. And today was not a good day – sections of the trail to the village having been completely wiped out by avalanches. Transporting the old girl by helicopter seemed quite reasonable.

And so we waited.

And waited, while I imagined the young girl writhing in the mountains. Many phone calls later, and many assurances that they were “five minutes away” they arrived an hour later – the two passengers and all their luggage: onions, a gigantic bag of chillies, sanitary pads and a few mystery boxes.


A different little old lady who looks similar to “our” little old lady.

It took an eternity to walk the old lady and all their gear from the car to the terminal. I, of course, was herding them along, as successfully as one might herd a litter of kittens, but eventually we got through security and waited in an exhausted huddle for the vehicle to take us to the helipad. The young guy who had brought the old girl was gesturing towards the parking lot, and everyone was speaking (too) loudly in Nepali but I missed the gist of their conversation completely (not being au fait with the language).

“Can we go,” I asked over their din. “We really need to if we are to avoid the afternoon monsoon rains and get the young girl back safely,” I insisted. And so we did. It turns out that all the gesturing was because they had forgotten the old girl’s luggage in the car that had brought them. Of course, they only told me that once we were at the helipad, way on the other side of the airport a few kilometres away. Apparently I’m a scary ogre when herding kittens and they were too petrified to say anything at first.

She was distraught of course, and kept on pointing at a spot on the helipad where her missing luggage should have been. No one heard the youngster tell us not to worry, that he would go and fetch it … A few minutes later someone asked where he was. Everyone looked around bewildered, under the helicopter and behind the vehicle, as if he had decided to play airport hide-and-go-seek without telling us.

“Woo hoo,” one person called.

“Hold on,” said another… “I heard him say he was going to fetch her luggage … … HE’S RUNNING ACROSS THE RUNWAY!” At that, he jumped into the vehicle and tore off towards the departing Airbus, tyres squealing.

Of course, the youngster wasn’t running across the runway. That would have been ridiculous.

He had, in fact, wandered into the strictly off-limits military base, believing he might find the old girl’s baggage there. When the ground crew heard, they all laughed heartily about how he’d probably been arrested and may have been facing a firing squad or enjoying a public flogging at any moment.

But time was a wastin. After all the excitement, and still not knowing the fate of the youngster, we left without the old girl’s stuff, but with the chillies, sanitary pads and giant bag of onions safely stowed in the aft compartment.

The flight itself was reasonably uneventful. Apart from the fact that the pilot had never flown to that exact village. His map, which was strapped to his leg, was useful to a point, but as we got closer to where we thought we were meant to be, I turned around and asked the old girl if she recognised the area and could tell us where the village was.

“Yes,” she said confidently. “It’s down.”

“Uh, yup, I know it’s down,” I thought. “After all, we are in a helicopter …”

All I managed was, “Down where? Down, down? Or down up,” pointing towards Everest. After the stressful morning I was clearly losing my mind.

Plain “down,” was all we got back though, as she shook her head.

Fortunately the village houses a school, which could boast intelligent teachers or pupils, because, after circling the area a few times, we eventually spied smoke signals off in the distance, and a person waving a giant flag.

“There down?” I asked the old bat, having lost all use of the English language.

She nodded as if to say, “well obviously, you cretin. Can’t you see the smoke signals and wild flag-waving?”

After dodging a string of prayer flags, our outstanding pilot landed in a small field and we alighted. The onions, gigantic bag of chillies, mystery boxes, sanitary pads and old girl were offloaded and we watched as the villagers manhandled the young patient down the hill to the helicopter.


As we took off I could see the old girl telling anyone who would listen about how we had left her luggage behind.

And now, a day later, I’m haunted still by the image of an old lady wandering about in a nondescript Himalayan village, wondering when she might be reunited with her underwear and other precious belongings. At least she has her chillies though.


2 comments on “About onions, chillies and a little old lady searching for her underwear *a true story

  1. madasue
    September 3, 2015

    Haha, sounds as unhurriedly chaotic as Tana!

  2. Mabel Saul
    September 3, 2015

    I would love to read all again and again as I’m so thrilled at seeing all that you wrote in your Blog.

Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on September 3, 2015 by in Humour, Writing and tagged , , , , .
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