A traditional Buddhist monk presents himself at my desk, elegant in his simplicity, clad in an orange-brown robe, wearing simple sandals and a broad smile. He is from Sikkim, he explains, which is also supposed to be part of China, like the rest of Tibet. However, India has control over this piece of land, so the monk has an Indian passport, which means he is able to travel. Most Tibetans no longer have passports, which means they are only allowed to travel to China.
The monk is on his way to Boston. He had a reservation for yesterday’s flight, which was cancelled because of heavy snowfall on the American East Coast. He asks me whether there’s a seat available aboard the next direct flight. There seems to be one seat left, I tell him. The flight leaves in an hour and a half. I do what I can for the friendly monk, but it certainly isn’t easy. Baggage and ticket issues present a problem. While I’m trying to arrange things, the monk mumbles mantras at my desk – no stress, but intense concentration.
When I finally get everything arranged, we have time for a quick chat and I ask if he has ever met the Dalai Lama. He smiles and says that they walk different paths, but that the Dalai Lama is a very wise man.
I fully agree with the monk, but decide not to tell him that I would very much like to meet the Dalai Lama, as I can see myself easily spending several hours chatting with the monk, but time is fleeting. When I give the monk the final instructions for the flight, he thanks me with a graceful Buddhist bow.
I later hear that he made it onto the flight without having to hurry. A very memorable meeting indeed.
About my stories
Both language and travel connect people. Schiphol has been my workplace since 1988. Together with a team of friendly colleagues, I help travellers reach their destinations. These people often share their stories with me. Sometimes they offer insight and improve my understanding of the world. My blogs are about the people I meet at Schiphol. Often the encounters are fleeting, but they can also be very intense at times.