I just deleted the last of the virtual post-its on my desktop – and now, the only thing on my list of things to do is survive this lonely, long journey back home. So far, so good. I sat next to a stereotypical Southern lady on the plane: blond, sweet, ignorant as a blond, sweet lady in a clichéd movie. “Packistan! Cool!”
Pause. I smiled as sweetly as possible and opened my book.
“So is like Packistan like a desert?”
No, but we have some desert areas. Mountains in the north, sea in the south. It is like a memorized script that pours out now.
“So is it safe there?”
I love these generalized questions about a sizeable country with different cities and towns and different levels of safety.
“Not as safe as the US,” I feel is a diplomatic answer.
“Do you have to wear those face mask things there?”
“I don’t have to,” I am still tickled. So these are the people we have been talking about in our diversity classes! Good intentions, limited knowledge, plenty of assumptions and opinions.
“Good! I think those are crazy!”
How interesting. She doesn’t even know the right name for burqa/hijab/veils, calls them “face mask things” and believes Packistan is a desert but she does believe it is crazy to wear ‘em face mask things.
My social work instincts try to yawn, stir like a shoulder twitch during a nap on the couch. I should ask her to tell me why she thinks the face mask things are crazy. Tell me more about this…why do you think it makes you feel like that?
The instincts are silent and I go back to my book. I guess one semester doesn’t quite do the trick.
But of course, the cherry on the chocolate cupcake was when she suddenly said: “You’re from where the Slumdog Millionaire is, right?!”
Although “Do you celebrate Christmas?” was also quite innocently presumptuous. Happy holidays, I said, would do instead of a merry Christmas wish.
“Happy holidays then!”
Ah, sweet blond lady. I hope you have a good stay in New York.
How time helps us adjust, settle, become comfortable. It’s like sitting in sand and then wiggling your butt and making a perfect groove for yourself, warm, soft, so comfortable. The human brain is so forgetful – how easy it is for me to forget the gaping, lonely terror of being in a new country where nobody knew I dyed my hair.
And now my roommate checks my head and says, “Oh, it’s almost that time of the month again! Wanna dye your hair over the weekend?”
People to hug goodbye, and then see after a month and hug again, knowing the city enough and having friends to look forward to when it’s time to come back again. Spending enough time with someone to hear their funny/mediocrely funny stories two, three times. Remembering their siblings’ names. Putting the pieces together of complicated puzzles so that you can decipher some parts, being able to read faces, pick up physical cues. Spending hours watching Youtube videos, painting sugar cookies, bonding over the joys of car dancing, getting pissed off during a game, rolling over in fits of laughter over a dating website.
It feels good to go home. I’ve been waiting for this day for a while. But it also feels good to know that it won’t be so bad coming back.