This is what I knew about The United States of America before I came here: life is busy and too fast to catch up with, no one cares about each other, no one will pause to help me even if I’m lying dead on the pavement. Dangerous people walk around with guns and I should not be walking the streets after dark. (Apparently my uncle, who’s been living in New Jersey for 33 years, told my mother, who told me, that he has never been out on the streets after dark- never, in 33 years!) These are a selfish people who never call their parents after they leave home at 18 and their old parents die in the cold eating cat food.
This is what I learnt from my mother, sensationalized media, my mother, the “Eagles” song “New York Minute”, and mostly- my mother. She especially seemed to know the gory details about the gun men!
And then, I arrived in this country, clutching my purse close to my cheset in fear that the man walking behind me on the curb was going to snatch it away, but maybe also shoot me after, for extra safety to not leave any witnesses.
And then, unexpectedly, a stranger on the bus sprung a smile at me, the lady at the supermarket billing counter asked me how I was doing. She had time to ask me- in this busy and fast life! She had time, to pause her work, recognize me from the day befre, and enquire how I was doing! And so, I took a risk, and hesitantly asked her how she was doing. And then, I asked her for directions.
I haven’t looked back since. I don’t use Googlemaps. I ask people for directions on the street so I can talk to them. They always stop what they are doing and help me. On occassion they don’t know the way, they pull out their phones, look up the map to be able to help me. I made my first stranger-friend, Mathew, a foreign relations student at Georgetown, while he walked with me to the Metro Station to show me where it was. Turns out, he was born in India while his Presbyterian priest father was managing a parish in Southern India! Who knew?!
I sat in my empty room on my bare mattress and posted a message on Facebook asking for help in setting my room up. In ten minutes, my housemate, who I had not even met yet, came down with sheets and pillows, someone agreed to donate a table, and another offered to share their Indian spices and cooking supplies with me. 10 minutes- and my bare room was home.
You were wrong Eagles, and Mom. These are not a people who will let me die on the curb. They won’t even allow me to sleep without sheets on my bed! These are people who go out of their way to help and to welcome and say hi and care.
And so, I smile at my bus driver every morning and make new stranger-friends everyday with the person sitting next to me on the train, some of whom are old and are on their way to their children’s home to take their grandchildren to the park.