I left out of JFK Airport July 9 around 10 pm, three weeks this Wednesday. The flight was only 7 hours and from memory, it didn’t feel half as long as when I flew into Amsterdam at age 16. As luck would have it, I was seated in the middle; the man to my left apparently took some sleeping pills; and I’d only wish the man seated at my right would’ve taken the same. He was a talker. Just my luck.
I thought I’d have tears streaming down my face, but those tears never came. Instead I was reflective on how much I had learned in such a short time, but most importantly, how much I had changed. I’d studied up on what to expect, but no one can ever prepare you for culture shock. I am thankful to have some traveling under my belt and thus do not feel I’ve really experienced the “shock.” I anticipated poverty, language barriers, initial sickness, etc. I wish I could tell you various things I’ve found out in these three weeks, but to be honest, I haven’t done much. I slept the first full day after being sick on my first leg of my trip from airline food (note to self: starve when Air France offers fish or beef. Picking the lesser of the two evils (fish), still doesn’t constitute as safe).
I did venture out alone that Saturday (July 12) to get a bite to eat. I hate to admit it, but I found myself shaking. I had some woman on crutches attempt to chase me down the street begging for money. “Madame, madame, please!” Please lady, I lived over three years in NY, I’m not moved. I ordered hawashi and basically just pointed at the menu to express what I wanted. Then, I counted my change because being foreign and not having working knowledge of Arabic can prove to be a sign of vulnerability – as is anywhere. I decided to grab a coffee while waiting for my food. I had on a sleeveless shirt and that was met with a great deal of whistles and comments to which I have no idea what they meant. Whew – I’d done something alone and was pseudo proud of myself.
I walked back to my apartment, only hoping that I didn’t get lost considering I hadn’t been given a cell phone at that time. Two men at different times approached me. I learned quickly, do not look at anyone, walk straight and do NOT smile. I’ve since become accustomed to the attention and am better at ignoring these days.