When the plane was circling above San Francisco airport, I was somehow hoping our flight would turn back and return to where I had started – Kolkata. Despite a very long and tiring journey, and to make the matter worse, it was my first ever international flight, I was still hoping I could go back home where my family was, where I belonged. It was my first journey abroad, and that too so far away. I was home sick even before I landed. I was praying silently that somehow the authorities will find some irregularities in my paper and will deport me home. I didn’t know what possessed me at that time. I am an avid traveler. I was that child who grew up with an atlas and a diary, dreaming about faraway and enchanted places. So why on earth was I so terrified?
I was on a business trip – not exactly a vacation. However, I knew I could still utilize my time during the weekends and the after office hours. This was my chance to be abroad, to be in America, this was my chance to experience an absolutely different culture. This was what I had always wanted to do. Perhaps, it was the long flight which made me sick or the separation anxiety from my family that kicked in. My mind was in a whirlwind. Now that I have time to look back, I cherish those days spent in such a heavenly place. And oh, how I envy those people who get to live there and wake up every single morning to such natural beauty. And to write it as just a beautiful place is an understatement. By the way, I am not talking about San Francisco. I stayed in a small city named Foster City, around 30 miles south of SFO airport, surrounded by the lagoon, the hills and the bay of Pacific ocean.
I had an apartment with a beautiful name – Sand Cove apartments and it was literally on the water. I would wake up with an incredible view of the lagoon and my day would end with a gorgeous sunset, watching a riot of colors in the sky. Sometimes an idyllic boat would pass by. I knew California was a beautiful place, but I wasn’t quite prepared for this, that nature could be so splendidly beautiful and that I could simply get to enjoy it from the comfort of my apartment.
For the next 30 days, it became my routine. I spent every single morning taking a 30-minute walk by the lagoon to reach my office. I would wonder at the fortune of those people who were just strolling or jogging, whereas I had to rush to my office with a heavy laptop bag. I had a big cubicle of my own, unfortunately that didn’t have a great view. I would occasionally take a tea break and walk towards those big glass windows that would overlook the manicured lawns of the sprawling bungalows and the gentle hills in the distance.
It was spring of 2006 and the days were mostly bright, gorgeous and sunny. The Sun would shine until late in the evening. This phenomenon was quite unknown to me. I would trace my steps back by the lagoon to my apartment or some days I would walk to the San Francisco bay trail and sit on a bench looking at people surfing or biking. Despite all the natural beauty, I would often feel homesick and I would just sit on a bench by the trail and look at the planes take off or land. I would search for “my” plane taking me back home and feel better. Sometimes, my colleague Anu would join me for a walk and that would take away my feelings of loneliness for a while. The smoke of the barbeque at her home and the home cooked meals would cheer me up.
Now that I look back, I realize that that one trip has changed me and my perspective in so many ways. I have learnt the value of MY home, away from home. I have learnt to treasure moments and the people in my life. Some of the colleagues, whom I didn’t even know before I arrived there, put great effort trying to make my life comfortable, to take me to places, give me company, try out new restaurants and invite me to their homes to know more about them, their lives and culture and most importantly to help me create memories. It has shaped me the way I think today.
One Sunday, some of my colleagues and I decided to visit San Francisco. It was a fun day and I learnt how to navigate the public transport in California, that too on a shoe-string budget, which was quite a challenge. The train ride to San Francisco for me was like watching a Disney movie. I was grappled with the idea of life in a first world country. After that, I took many more journeys to SFO and walked that golden gate bridge. The most special one was the one at midnight to see the famous bridge with all the light. It was freezing cold (to me at least) and windy but we took time to walk the bridge, enjoy the solitude and contemplate deep and emotional thoughts about life as such.
Another highlight of that trip was the famous 17 mile drive in Monterey peninsula and Big Sur. One can see how the rugged natural pacific coast and man-made expensive mansions and golf courses can peacefully coexist without losing the balance. I had many more journeys to the neighboring cities of Belmont or Hayward (across the famous San Mateo bridge – the longest in California). I have so many stories to tell, but this story is about Foster City. You would be surprised to know, Foster City is quite a new and planned city built on empty, marshy expanse used for dairy farming and salt evaporation ponds.
One month was already over. The last day of my trip became very special because of the Polynesian festival. I had no clue about the festival, but went to the lagoon for a last stroll before I went back home and here I was in the Leo Ryan park by the lagoon where I could witness the ohana culture. Those were the pre smart-phones and digital cameras era, so I had to capture the moment through my eyes only. But good for me, I could simply savor and feel that moment instead of trying to focus on how to share the experience later.
I came back with a heavy heart. I didn’t realize while taking those endless walks by the lagoon and the bay, when this place has become so special to me. What was remarkable was, I had made some new friends and well-wishers, which was quite an achievement for an introvert like me, who likes to be surrounded more by books than by friends. It was my first step alone and thousands of miles away from the comfort of my home, family, food and culture. I was happy that I was coming back but I was also sad at the same time and it was a strange emotion that I couldn’t fathom. Wasn’t I waiting for this day for the entire month? But now saying good-bye seemed so painful. I walked to my heart’s content before taking the plane back home and looked down longingly at the San Mateo bridge from the window of my plane one last time, till it disappeared. I concealed a long sigh of despair, not knowing that I would be back soon and that my life was about to change forever.