Almost did not make it
“I cannot give you a visa to enter the country”, the immigration office assured me.
“Why not?”, I asked
“Well, your next flight is in three hours. The rule is six hours.”
That was a bummer. I had not expected this. I was hoping to see Natasha Balseca after quite a few years. In fact, if I managed to meet her, it would be the third time I would have met her.
The very first time was somewhere around 2008/2009 time frame when on a dark morning at 5:10AM, Samantha (or was it Lara?) had introduced me to Natasha when we all showed up at the running group’s starting point on Windward Parkway.
I had learnt that Natasha lives in Ecuador and was in Atlanta to teach at a school for some time. Eventually she left for Ecuador but we kept up thru Facebook and birthdays. Then one summer, about 5 years back, she was back in Atlanta to teach some summer school. I met her up that time and we again put in a run, this time near Windermere Parkway. Since it was one on one, over Starbucks coffee, I got to know about her whole life story. And the fact that one of her cousins is in Galapagos. Which is some place Sharmila and I want to go to. Good to know that there is somebody we can reach out to.
That followed a couple of years of mostly Facebook and birthday contacts only. She then moved to Doha, Qatar with her family as a teacher. Funny thing is that I go thru that airport eight times a year but never managed to get out and meet Natasha. My connections are usually 2 hours or less.
This time, from Kolkata, I was headed to Muscat. I had a little over 3 hours. I was determined to meet her. In fact, I had asked her to come in her running clothes. I traveled in my running shoes and had my running clothes in my backpack. If we could figure out a way to run outside the airport without drawing the attention from the security guys, that was what we were going to do. 3 meets – 3 runs.
Except the immigration guy had other thoughts.
The good news is that after about five minutes of explaining my situation, I was able to convince him to give me a temporary visa. Phew!!!
As I came out of the customs area, I texted Natasha “Coming out” and started scanning the waiting crowd carefully. I was looking for any woman by herself in running gear. II did see somebody vigorously waving at me. She looked like Natasha all right but she was with somebody else. I looked behind me – there was nobody. So, it had to be Natasha.
Turns out Natasha’s mom – Gina – was visiting from Ecuador. Natasha had dragged her along. We decided to give running the boot and instead settled down at a tea shop to chat.
It was great to meet Gina for the first time. She was born in Virginia, married an Ecuadorean, had Natasha and then moved to Ecuador.
And I was thrilled that I was able to finally see Natasha after promising her every time I passed thru Doha that some day I will make it. Found out that Natasha is gearing up for a half marathon and that she has taken up rowing.
Thank you Natasha and Gina for coming to the airport and spending the time. One of these days, I hope we will put in a run together.