27th August 2007
My first ever trip to the US of A, (Amreeka in local language) was courtesy an official conference. Like most of the households mine too was full of excitement. Parents and parents-in-law were full of pride. Why? After all, bachha Amreeka jaa raha hai. That too a daughter-in-law; even while her husband was yet to travel beyond Singapore. By God! It was made to sound like I was going to meet God.
I left my one and a half year old baby with the caretaker and my parents. An afternoon Virgin Atlantic flight to Newark Liberty International Airport. It was just a male colleague and I who were travelling from India for the conference. Both first-timers to Amreeka. We had a connecting flight from Heathrow. We had a five day conference to attend and we extended our trip by a day for local sight-seeing.
The 9-hour flight from Delhi to Heathrow went off quite normally. And while my colleague watched about 2-3 movies and engaged in his photography passion, I utilized the entire flying time to SLEEP. Of course, I was a sleep-deprived mother. You should have known.
Frisking at Heathrow was fine till they spotted the passport of my colleague which had his last name inscribed as ‘KHAN’. He was taken away for further frisking. He returned about an hour later and was visibly upset. We did not talk about it at all.
Once we reached the counter to pick our boarding passes for the connecting flight, my colleague politely requested the lady (a British) at the counter to get him a window seat if she can. The way she ordered him to say ‘Please’ was indeed very annoying. He did. I wouldn’t have.
We reached Newark Airport at 1 a.m. and my colleague had to go through multiple security checks here again just because his passport said, “My Name is Khan”. He was let free after almost two hours. Since we hadn’t requested the office to arrange for transportation to the hotel, we had to arrange one for ourselves. The prepaid counter said all vehicles were out on trips and we would have to wait for another two to three hours. We moved out to check for any local cabs since we wanted to get some sleep before landing at the conference at 7.30 in the morning. There was just this Filipino guy with a cab. We took a chance and boarded the cab. He was continuously on his phone telling someone about the roads he was taking. We were scared to bits. I swear I did offer coconuts to my friend Ganesha in case he saved us from whatever was waiting ahead. He did. We reached the hotel, checked into our respective rooms and slept for about two hours.
The next five days were spent with our international colleagues learning about the new products, their marketing and sales tactics and some team building games. Fun it was. In the evenings after dinner we would go out for some window-shopping. We went to Times Square and did some local shopping. While my colleague bought ‘I love New York’ T-shirts, mugs and all for people back home, I bought a teddy for the little angel who could just cry over the phone every time I called her.
The only sad part for us on this trip was the food: lunch and dinner. I had just turned non-vegetarian and was reluctant to eat non-veg from outside because I could not differentiate between chicken, mutton and beef (honestly, I still cannot differentiate). My colleague was a Muslim and had his own reasons for not having non-vegetarian. The veggies looked aliens to us. Boiled beans with various sauces and lots of other veggies lay drowned in some oily liquid. I missed the garam masala, khade masale and dhania powder. Nothing tastes heavenly like the Indian spices. Seriously! We survived. Yes. We did. On steamed corns, breads, croissants and desserts. The numerous bowls of the simple tadke waali moong dal that I ate (‘gobbled up’ would be the right word) once I was back home is another big story.
The last day was ours. I was completely tired and was in no mood for any sight-seeing. The truth is I’m a big time miser and USD 79 meant a lot of money to me. I wanted to save it. It was my colleague who persuaded me to go for the HOHO (Hop On-Hop Off) bus sight-seeing trip around the city. Finally after a lot of persuasion I took it up. And I must thank him for this. Whatever I saw of the city, I owe it to him. This colleague who is also a good friend is a travel buff. He can skip meals just to not miss any monument/ museum. We skipped meals, went about sight-seeing. 86th floor of Empire State Building, Central Park, The Wall Street, Ellis Bridge, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Ground Zero (9/11 Memorial), Manhattan Skyline, Macy’s Departmental Store (world’s largest department store)…we touched it all. A day that was ours. A day dedicated to New York City. By evening, I was completely exhausted. By the time we reached Brooklyn Bridge around 7.30 p.m., I had removed my shoes and was walking barefoot as my feet started hurting.
Like a God sent angel, a cabbie dropped us at Saravana Bhavan at Lexington Avenue where we ate to our heart’s content. Starvation alone can make you appreciate and respect food and the cook.
After dinner as we stepped out and my colleague said that I could go back to my room. He wanted to go and do some last minute shopping at Times Square. He said that I could take a cab. I did not. I was scared of travelling alone because of my experiences back in India. I still keep telling him how I had cursed him that day for making me walk back to the hotel all alone at 1 a.m. I was literally running with all my might. An alien city, strangers and just darkness were all I had for company. My feet were completely sore and painful by now. I still kept walking as fast as I could. I reached the hotel at around 1.45 a.m and rushed into my room. We had our flight the next morning and had to leave the hotel at 4 a.m. I spent the whole night frozen in one corner of my room. In case you are wondering about what the reason was, I must say it was for no reason. There were lots of crazy people on the road. But no dirty glare, no whistling, no groping, no giggling, no passing comments or dirty songs sung aloud. It was the first time ever that I was out of the road at midnight all alone. With my daily commute on the flooded DTC buses, I had experienced all kinds of things. And that made me fear. Fear of the unknown as they say.
This post is part of the WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts program where the aim is to post at least once a day based on the prompts that they have provided. Today’s prompt is, “Far from Home: Tell us about the farthest you’ve ever traveled from home.”