Tuesday, October 10, 2006

720 Hours Of Learning.

It’s exactly been a month since I came here. Thirty days in a new country, with a whole new set of adjustments. Sometimes, it seems as if I’ve been here for ages. Sometimes, it all seems like a dream. I still remember that night when I landed here. My flight was delayed, my luggage hadn’t arrived, and I had no clue where was I headed for. I had just seen one picture of the guy who was to come to the airport. I had not even seen my host. I was tired, I was scared. When the guy dropped me off at my host’s place and drove away, I had felt like a drowned puppy discovered on a cold night and left at the doorstep of someone. And then, the kind human had taken care of me till I was strong enough to feel hunger or sleep.

The very next morning, G, my host had taken me around the house. The first lessons I got from her was how to use the faucets and the microwave. Faucets here seemed far more complicated than the ones back at home. I had never before used a microwave, and it was amazing how it could be used for everything, right from warming milk to cooking meat. Every little thing I saw amazed me. The first time she had taken me out, I had almost yelled in amazement, “Uui ma, so many foreigners!!” It had taken me some time to realize that I was the foreigner here, not them.

The next thing that had amazed me is the total absence of street dogs, cows, and lumps of cow dung trodden with bicycle tire marks. I had worn a new pair of shoes and when I came home, I was amazed to find the back of the shoes absolutely sans a speck of dirt or dust. As G rightly said, I was acting like a "dehati", overwhelmed with things around me. When I’d opened a bank account, I got a black tee shirt for free. Soon I realized that if you went to the right places, things like tee shirts and chocolates and candies and paper clips and letter holders and water bottles could be got free. I soon learnt that lifts were elevators, bathrooms were restrooms, notes were bills and bills were checks. I learnt that many words otherwise used normally are considered slang here. I learnt that pesticides were never “sprayed” and the car “dikky” was the trunk. I learnt that “Safeway” was a huge chain of store and “Subway” was a sandwich store. I learnt that the gas ovens were electrically heated. I learnt the difference between a credit card and a debit card. I learnt how not to hang up on voicemails but listen to the voice instructions and then leave a message as systematically and formally as possible. I learnt that when you inserted the key into a lock, you pulled the door towards yourself instead of pushing it. I learnt that there were specific “designated smoking sites” where one could smoke.

I learnt how to use a digicam, a laptop, and the coin-operated washing machine. I soon stopped getting shocked when they would tell me that the temperature outside was 65. For 65 was the temperature in Fahrenheit. I soon got used to a fresh set of units like mph, ounce, gallons, and pounds. I learnt not to confuse I 5 and I 90 with I 20, the former two being the interstate routes that intersected here. I learnt that you were supposed to change plates in a buffet every time you finished a course. There were days I’d keep waiting for the bus on the wrong side of the road, still used to seeing vehicles on the left. There were times I had dashed into people while walking on the left. Once, I had almost screamed out of shock when I saw a large vehicle approaching from the opposite end, thinking that G was wrongly driving on the right (I mean wrong) side. Soon, I learnt to figure out things by myself. I learnt that you crossed the road when you saw that white man and stopped when you saw the red hand. More importantly, I learnt that you must politely smile at the driver who stops his car to let you cross, even when the signals have changed. I learnt to read maps and find my way across the city. I learnt to transfer pics from the camera to the computer. I learnt how to use a memory stick. I was still using floppy disks not too long ago.

But most importantly, I learnt that it’s okay to ask for help. I learnt that it’s okay if you didn’t know something and even if you didn’t understand after repeated explanations, it’s okay to smile and apologize. I learnt that not all people know all things at all times and it’s okay to take your ignorance with a pinch of salt. I learnt that it’s okay to make a fool of yourself by fiddling with the faucets and getting drenched with the sudden outpour. I learnt that it’s okay to be clumsy with the elevator buttons or the door knobs. For more than people judging us, we end up judging ourselves most of the times. Most importantly, no wrong done was that wrong as long as it could be fixed with a smile or an apology.

If you could plot my learning curve for the last 25 years, taking the time on the x axis and the learning co-efficient on the y axis, you wouldn’t miss the sharp spike in my learning curve the last 720 hours.


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