EMBRACING A FOREIGN LAND

11 years back a girl boarded her maiden international flight to a land that fate had reserved for her. 23 years spent amidst her family, loved ones, friends, a known culture, and a habituated language. And suddenly it dawns upon her as she sets foot offshore, she is away, miles away from them. Though a familiar face, a being to call her own, a relation that weaved bonds and family with her that she can call her “OWN” greeted her with a big grin on the arrival but many journeys were awaiting her on the other side of the airport door.

Going on a nostalgia trip it’s my story. October 2009, I was really nervous and excited at the same time. As the flight hit the runway butterflies started churning in. Long stretches of treading belts running tirelessly leading to the immigration counters that had a huge crowd waiting. Wait!! I passed the same process in India too, but why nervous now? I was in a familiar environment there, here I am a stranger, a newcomer, and alone.

As the new phase of my life rolled I had so much on my plate to explore and get habituated to. The weather, to begin with, had a tone of melancholy to it, raining literally any time of the year, no sun for days together, and quiet neighborhoods especially on Sundays which means everything shut. And with my husband coming back home at 4 am in the morning the next day (every alternate day) thanks to the work burden he had then I was on my own, all alone in a foreign land. With no social networking, no social circle of my own I started feeling homesick soon.

Of all the things that seemed troublesome in the beginning, Language was the main barrier. French and Dutch are two main official languages here in Belgium. No amount of lonely walks, grocery shopping can equate to the pleasure of having a social interaction with ease. My husband being my predecessor have acquired a few French words and asked me to use them in my next outings. And I was dumb enough to not to tweak the phrases before using them.

“Vous Parlez Anglais?” (Do you speak English?) Was supposed to be my question whenever I had to start a conversation (fortunately the capital region, Brussels due to its economical, political and diplomatic operations and being the host of European Union Commission office have a considerable chunk of the population (mainly the young demographic portion) who can speak English. But I confused “Vous” with “Je” which means “I” and instead of using a “?”mark I continued with a full stop. People who understood my situation would shift to English automatically but those who didn’t would state at me and equally confused as I was. And my pronunciation of typical French nouns (words) was the icing on the cake, cake to be thrown out of the window 😂. A petty example – Champs Elysees; correct pronunciation – Shon-Zay-LEE-zay and how I pronounced it – Cha-m-ps El-I-zees. Does it ring anything? Actress Kangna Ranaut in the movie Queen. I have many such bloopers

Things didn’t seem hunky-dory at all. I had to take a decision and make a move. That’s when I got enrolled myself in French classes. After a few classes, I realised it’s important to talk, for that’s the only way to practice the vocabulary acquired in the class. Now I started to commence my conversation in French wherever I go, no matter how slow, struggling and wrong. But what important is to try.

This step that had a shaky beginning had good returns. People of any country love to see foreigners making an effort to learn their language as an attempt to integrate with them. If they believe so they are more forthcoming and warm. I experienced the same. It doesn’t matter if drop or switch to English in the middle of the conversations (if only understood by the other party), still had fruitful conversations leaving a smile.

I had to quit my French classes after two levels of beginners due to family issues but now I am confident of surviving in the environment devoid of known English completely (some Google translation won’t hurt that much 😁). My two aged neighbors are all French on either side of my house. And I talk to them in the language they are comfortable with. I handle all the school routine work of my kids including the PTAs and other petty matters. After 11 years I have embraced Brussels and feel the same about being accepted here (not going to switch my passport though 😁).

In the nutshell, it’s all about the first step you take to bridge the distances. In my case, it was taking up French classes. I am not perfect in that language yet I am enjoying my life in a then foreign land now my home❤❤ . Fear of being alone and left out, adamancy, and stupidity of superiority/inferiority are strong shackles bondage-ing people keeping them apart. A step no matter how feeble needs to be take to show the intent. I am happy I have made my stride with that First Step!!!

BOREDOM PROMPTED ME TO EXPLORE

Bearing a tag – ‘Fragile: Handle with Care‘, I lived my whole life till I stepped on the soil of the City of Joy – Kolkata in the year 2001. Till then I had lived my life amidst close relatives and family in a very cozy and warm atmosphere. I had never done anything on my own or went outside alone. But in Kolkata, the challenges were new and difficult for me to face. After office time I had nothing to do but to read books, write something or study Bible. There was no one to speak with, no one to play anything or nothing to do that would entertain me, or nowhere to go as I had no idea about this new city and I was all alone. Soon, I was dragged into a depressive shell called Boredom.

In those initial days at Kolkata, weekdays were manageable as I kept myself busy at the office during the day time till 6 PM and somehow managed the evenings till bedtime. Sundays were also okay as there were church services till afternoon which kept me engaged. But Saturdays were worst. There were no office or church services on Saturdays except my lonely world called, Boredom.

Every time I woke up on a Saturday morning, I had one worry, ‘How to finish this day as soon as possible?’ But every time, I ended up dwelling in that uncomfortable shell called, Boredom without stepping out of my comfort zone.

But one Saturday, I decided otherwise. I wanted to break free by breaking the shell of Fear and Boredom within which I had been dwelling for a long time. I decided to take that first step in my life by stepping out of my dwelling place called Boredom which actually prompted me to go out and explore; explore something new and challenging for me at that moment of my life, something I had never done before on my own.

I remember, I told my mom, “I am going out to roam and around the city as I am feeling so bored”. My mom was aware of the plight of a 25-year-old man who had been spending all his life with a lot of restrictions and obstructions which had actually cringed him in a dungeon called, Boredom.

I took a rickshaw and went till the main road and took a taxi from there. When the taxi driver asked me where to go, I replied, “I don’t know. Take me wherever you think best for me to feel elated and happy but within Rs. 200, I should be here at this place, safe and sound.” Rs. 200 was like Rs.2000 for me at that particular moment and I had that much only with me to pay, attempting to kill Fear and Boredom in one go.

The taxi driver was a compassionate man. He understood my heart and responded well, “You must have already known and seen Howrah bridge, so I will take you to another bridge which is a new one and called, Vidyasagar Setu”. I nodded without saying a word as my heart responded to him loudly, “Thank you! But know that, I am at your mercy“.

He took me there, on that bridge which was way beautiful than any other bridge that I had ever seen till that time. When he brought me back to my place, I remember, I paid him Rs.170.00 but we both were extremely happy which were priceless. I was happy for taking the first step to come out of my Boredom and explore the city all alone for the first time, and he was happy for being that change agent in my life.

Captured by me: The road leading to Vidyasagar Setu

Many years later, when I had the opportunity to capture the beautiful Vidyasagar Setu, I remembered how I explored it in 2001, all by myself.

Captured by me: A glimpse of Vidyasagar Setu

I had been to Vidyasagar Setu a number of times in the last 20 years of my life in Kolkata but that first trip to Vidyasagar Setu will always be my favourite one till the end.

Captured by me: Crossing over the beautiful Vidyasagar Setu

Every boredom prompts something to explore. If your boredom doesn’t prompt you to explore then remember you are not bored but actually enjoying where you are.

Today, due to my health condition, I don’t go out much but I found other avenues or have explored something else to get out of my boredom. But all these mini or big explorations have always made me happy and kept me joyful instead of dwelling in depression and boredom. And I will quote that same Bible verse again which has always encouraged and prompted me to explore – “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” We can not make use of our ideas, intellect when we are dead. We can utilise them only when we are alive and our God wants us to be happy and joyous in life, kicking off a life of grumbling and complaints. With this thought in my mind, I had initiated and gave birth to my child – Candles in 2006 and I am so happy to write this article today, which is the 2000th post published on Candles Online.

So friends! Never dwell in depression or boredom but be prompt to take the first step and come out of that shell called, Fear and Boredom to lead a joyful and cheerful life.

Stay blessed!

FIRST STEPS ARE NOT ALWAYS CAKEWALKS!

Escapades from the din and humdrum of routine life are fun, exciting, adventurous, a tad scary at times and offer elements of surprise that one would cherish or banish from memory forever. A first step taken either literally or symbolically in any avenue is more often than not, a step to remember – especially if you had been scared to take that step.

To kickstart this week’s topic – ‘Taking that first step . . . when you were afraid’, let me share one such fun episode from more than a decade before.

I was in the University pursuing my Post Graduation. The famous apparel chain Pantaloons had just opened their first outlet in Bhubaneswar. My University being just a few kilometers away, my friends and I decided to pay a visit after classes got over one day. We were excited, especially because there weren’t too many big brand outlets and malls in the city that time.

We weren’t disappointed! The stock of apparels and accessories pleased our eyes, though being students still, we didn’t have much money at our disposal to splurge. Once we were done with the ground floor, it was time to move up to explore what the other two floors had in store. There came the catch! Having been designed as a mini-mall of sorts sans food court, there were escalators to ferry customers to and from each floor. No staircase. No lift.

My first exposure to an escalator and the accompanying hesitation to take the first step! One by one all my friends stepped on the escalator and reached the first floor while I was still stuck in the ground floor. Somehow, I couldn’t muster enough courage to take that first step. My friends soon realised that I wasn’t with them and called out to me, to which I simply gave the excuse that I had to explore a few more collections in the ground floor.

After some time when I still didn’t reach up to the first floor, one of my friends understood the reason. It was very sweet on her part to come down to the ground floor, hold my hand and take me to the escalator – all the way assuring that she would be going up with me holding my hand. And, that is just what she did!

Lo! We reached the first floor hand in hand and joined the others in exploring the stuff there. The same friend held my hand while descending from the first floor to the ground floor as well. The others who had by that time known what had kept me downstairs, went down and and encouraged me to do so. But, this friend stayed back, held my hand, stepped on the escalator with me and gave me the courage to move downstairs.

It has been more than a decade to that first exposure to an escalator. Surely, I don’t spare a second before stepping onto escalators now! But, the memory of that first step sure makes me chuckle 🙂

As I stepped out of Pantaloons that evening thanking my friend endlessly for lending her hand to help me overcome my fear, I learnt a very important life lesson – first steps aren’t always cakewalks!

Across life’s pathways, being sensitive to others’ first steps helps makes the journey pleasant for them. At times encouragement from a distance helps. But at a few other times, what is needed is to extend the hand to hold on to and take the step together. It helps address the inner fear and the accompanying hesitation along with providing the confidence and the courage for an independent step in the future.

Coming to escalators, now that I don’t bat an eyelid before using escalators, I always look out for people who might be in the same place that I was years before and extend them a hand with a few words of courage. I am grateful to God for teaching me such a vital lesson from the experience that day and also for reminding me how He holds my hand across life’s myriad pathways with His promises – “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you . . .”

So yes, a fun outing turned into a vital learning that day. To be sensitive and respond to someone’s inner fear of the first step does more than you can think of in many ways. It helps keep your conscience alive and responsive (that’s to your benefit) and helps the other person reach a new level of confidence along with accomplishing the immediate goal at hand.

 And if you are a person hesitant or afraid to take a first step in any area of your life – literally or otherwise, I would like to encourage you that a helping hand would soon come by. Don’t stop . . . move on!