A friendly smile can start the most interesting conversations. Like my walk with Abu-sheik. (I hope I didn't mangle the spelling, it’s my best guess.)
Angel and I were walking through Happy Hollow Park over the July Fourth weekend when a young man slowly pedaling his bicycle into the park stopped and asked me if there was some place to lock his bike. I directed him to the playground and picnic shelters over my shoulder and he thanked me, saying he had never been there before.
Angel and I got to the end of the park and, heading back through again, we caught up with Abu-sheik on foot as we headed up through the woods.
“Did you find a place for your bike?” I asked as we came up behind him.
“Yes,” he said. “Thank you. And I was looking for a place to go running. This looks great.”
I agreed and told him how I had grown up in the area and walked these paths as a boy before they were paved. In some places the brush grew up so high that you had to turn sideways on the narrow footpath just to get through. Not like you see it in the picture today.
His accent reminded me of Raj on “The Big Bang Theory” and, he told me he was from New Delhi. He is an I.T. student at Purdue, and still nervous about being far from home and meeting new people. I told him that I had a similar experience, living in Germany twice as a boy and once in England. When I added how important it was for everyone to be a global citizen he brightened and looked relieved.
“I am so glad to hear you use those words,” he said.
“Well, when I returned to school in the U.S. I was surprised how I already had a different world view even in elementary school. My teacher asked the class to name the barriers to creating a United Europe, and someone said the different languages would get in the way. ‘Nonsense,’ she answered, ‘they can all speak English!’ I couldn’t believe she would say that, and I realized that I understood something that she didn’t.”
Abu-sheik told me that many people in India speak English but that there are sixteen different languages spoken in his country. When he visited the south of India he couldn’t understand anyone and was completely unable to talk to them. His native language is Hindi.
“Don’t the languages have the same roots?”
“No, theirs was from Sanskrit and completely different from Hindi.” Even in their own country there are barriers to understanding as basic as language.
“Have you seen the new movie, Independence Day: Resurgence?” I asked him.
“I’ve heard of the first one, but I’ve never seen it.”
“Well, there’s lots of action and fighting the aliens, but I really liked how this movie made the effort to show everyone on Earth as members of the same race. The Human Race.”
“Yes,” he agreed readily, “we are all one race, even though we speak different languages and come from different countries.”
When I lived in Los Angeles I met a woman from India who talked a lot about how crowded it was there. When I asked Abu-sheik if Indiana felt very different. He agreed that New Delhi was also very crowded, but that he found places outside of the city to go running, just as he had done today.
“You may not be able to run here in the winter, though. It’s hot and humid now, but it’ll get a lot colder.”
“It gets cold in India, too. It can be a lot like this, but it can also get down to zero in the winter. That’s Celsius.”
“Well that’s 32 Fahrenheit, so that’s pretty close. Depending on the the year, though, we can get lots of snow.”
We were at the end of the path and we climbed the slope up to the street. He asked where we were and I said that it was Indian Trail Drive. I felt the need to explain that all the streets connected to it were named after Native American Indian Tribes.
“Are you walking back?” He asked hopefully.
“No, we need to go down this street to get home. But if you follow the path straight back to the park you’ll find your bike.”
“I’ve met two people now who have been very friendly to me and I feel better about being here.”
“I’m so glad. I hope you enjoy your stay.”
We shook hands and introduced ourselves before going our separate ways.
Welcome to the USA, Abu-sheik. I hope we’re good hosts and that your visit is full of friends and interesting places.