When I traveled from within the United States alone, for the first time ever this year, I was not leaving just a comfort zone, I was leaving my entirety, or what at least I believe is my entirety - my world.
I took off again, this time outside of the United States. I was and still am ready for this endeavor, however, only on my own terms.
After 2 days in that country, mostly hostile towards outsiders from my own experience, I left without a single regret.
Within the program I enrolled in, part of an obscure educational institute on the west coast that I am increasingly less inclined to consider as a worthy competitor to the seasonal east coast, I felt as though these 2 days gave me enough of an experience.
The month I would have been there would have been akin to a burdensome, sleepless, unhealthy trauma. I inhaled and exhaled cigarette smoke, was made to live in an oven that was easily over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit, and was not assigned any possible story ledes as the other participants were. The educational experience I desired was severely lacking and again - universities are ranked for a reason, but I digress.
On the flight, I found my aisle seat already had a neighbor. The window-seat occupier was a young female, who I gathered to be around the same age as myself. We exchanged smiles.
I was not too eager to converse, overwhelmed by motion sickness and legs cramped. She would make small commentaries like, “I have a collection of these airplane-distributed headphones!“ and “my seat can’t recline for some reason.”
In response, I would make audible sounds that could not mean anything in any language, I assure you. Just a quick acknowledgement here and there. was what I was going for.
As the plane was taking off, I realized how uncomfortable I was. There was no in-flight entertainment, the food was beyond sub-par, and the body odor was pungent beyond deodorant potency.
Furthermore, the scattered screens that were available to show 1 movie to everyone on board, hanging from above us so that we would have to strain our necks and croon to see, had a mileage counter, a time counter, a world map with a small pixelated image of an airplane, that represented us and our location over time.
You could say our destination was the very beginning of what can be considered “the east", and so as the route was trailing further across the Atlantic and Europe, I kept staring at the map. I was invoking some kind of telekinesis, willing with all my mental might for our plane to head straight to New Delhi, or back to New York.
I transported myself back 2.5 years ago. I was boarding an Air India flight. The seats and floor were colorful. The interior design of the plane was colored with saffron and vermillion. The air hostess greeted us with her palms facing each other as is the traditional greeting gesture for eastern religious faiths. She was dressed in a sari, complete with a bindi as well. Each passenger had their own screen for individualized viewing pleasure and the food was delicious and far too frequent for my normal calorie-intake, but nevertheless, welcomed.
My father and I had discussed how different my destination would be from India the day before I left. I knew the latter would appeal to me far more. With Hindi music in the background, I kept failing at finding the words to describe how I felt without being outwardly judgmental. My dad then came up with the most adequate word; “India is soothing", he said. Soothing; India is soothing. It is my home away from home.
In the country I just returned from, I was treated as an alien, and my Americanism, though outwardly minimal, was an inherent part of me that kept getting pointed out and then rained down on by incessant tisks tisks. If Starbucks is too American for you, then I don’t see the logic for why it has been transplanted in your country or dined at.
In India I was treated as another daughter of the nation.
This difference was to be expected though.
As I stared at the map and then the mileage counter, I felt weighed down by time, always a gift, and yet just as easily manipulated into a burden.
It was as if I was staring at the screens on treadmills which show the little dots blinking; One dot keeps blinking and then stops, so on and so forth, until all the dots forming the circle are alight, representing the completion of a mile.
The person next to me initiated conversation with a full-fledged question, disrupting my sadness. “So why are you headed here?“, she asked. I answered her and asked her the same question.
Though she was on her second cup of wine and I find any form of intoxication blasphemous, we were conversing like sisters.
We both self-proclaimed to the comfort of television, we quickly bonded over our east-coast roots, and admitted to never having done anything like this before. She was far more positive than myself, but she too was annoyed by the tortuous treadmill-like mileage counter.
I headed to the bathroom and came back with the intention of fake sleeping in an attempt to actually sleep so that time will pass and I wouldn’t have to lose my voice carrying a conversation with someone who would talk so long as she was able to.
Despite wanting some alone time, I was incredibly thankful for her friendly presence. As the plane landed, I was somewhat bouyant, both due to motion sickness and due to a lightness of not being the sole non-globetrotter at the airport.
I was enjoying the sea breeze and the prospect of writing in a new landscape. Shortly thereafter, I heard the azaan, the call to prayer, by no less than 10 minarets, from where I stood. Yet, this newness had a bitter taste. The people insisted they were not religious and yet they were. They dismissed their past, but prided themselves on it. The entirety of the 2-day trip was enough for a lifetime. The bazaar seemed to be filled with prodcuts from my beautiful and colorful India. So much so in fact, that I had to ask the vendors to only show me what was native to their country.
I found words from the languages in the subcontinent of India. Of course, modifications were made to these words as well. The connections made further distanced me from that place and those people.
While I prided myself on my positive demeanor entering into this premature-lived experience, and while I felt I saw and lived through all I needed to there, I am overjoyed to no longer be there.
"Welcome home”, said the customs officer as he handed over my American passport.