Monday, December 18, 2006

Trusting Relationships Enables to be Honest and Sharing

They were coming! I would finally have the chance to show my two Sri Lankan classmates the hospitality and friendship in New York that they had shared with me in Sri Lanka. One of the blessings of having my university program in Sri Lanka end early was that my American school sponsored them to complete their studies at the U.S. campus. Our school is in Vermont – about an 8 hour drive north from where I live in New York City.

I had invited the two of them to the city and we finally coordinated a visit on a Friday morning. They had a friend in Staten Island, New York – and emailed me before hand to say they would be in town.

I was happy to see them – except, I tried to explain that Staten Island was not particularly close to my house nor a place that I visited often. You see, New York is divided into five boroughs (kind of like districts) and two of them are islands – Manhattan (where I live) and Staten Island. Manhattan is the central part of “the city” and is what mostly comes up in films. In fact, I often passed film crews or actors making movies on the corners of my neighborhood while growing up, and even saw one this morning.

While Manhattan is the only borough directly linked to all of the other four boroughs, it is often well-known that people who live in Manhattan don’t frequently visit the other boroughs. This is changing though – especially as the city becomes more populated, more expensive and native New Yorkers often search for a cool neighborhood that isn’t discovered by newcomers and tourists – or has lower costs than the over-priced Manhattan.

I emailed my friends explaining that I would be happy to pick them up, but if they felt comfortable, I could give them directions to my house – taking the ferry from Staten Island and then the subway (or underground train) to my house – an easy trip. They decided to meet me at my house – promising to call from a public phone when they arrived to my neighborhood.

I get terrible portable phone reception in my apartment. I have to keep my phone in just the right spot near the window in order for it to ring. I’m not certain what the cause is, but I heard a rumor that there are random spots in the city that are just known for bad reception – I must live in one of them.

I sat at my computer editing my application for the Young Professional Program at UNESCO. According to the mail service Federal Express, I was told I could mail it the next day to get it in on-time. I stepped outside onto the street to see if my friends had arrived – there they were! The last I had seen them was at a Big Girl party in Kalutura district on a hot rainy night a month earlier. They came inside and we drank some tea and had homemade banana bread. It was so great to see them there. I knew they had worked very hard that year and felt lucky to have an opportunity to study outside their country – as I felt upon arrival in Sri Lanka.

As we shared the latest news on life, I confessed something I had contemplated for days – what to feed them! Truth be told, I know my friends adore rice and curry – yet, in New York, there are so many options that you can’t get in Sri Lanka. I was torn between providing them with comfort food of rice and curry, or taking them to something different – like Italian! As I predicted, they told me I could decide and they would be happy. I wasn’t surprised, as this was the usual polite response I was used to in Sri Lanka (although, I trusted my friends were being genuine).

We made a list of things to do – and set off outside where it was warmer than usual for the time of year, at about 15 degrees Celsius, yet I could see we were all still adjusting. It was funny to see each other with sweaters, hats and warm coats – imagining a short time ago we were under umbrellas protecting us from the radiant sun of Sri Lanka.

We first walked around my neighborhood, Greenwich Village. It is not really a village, as it has its tall buildings and developed streets, but it can feel that way. My family is on the same street as they have been for the past 30 years, and I can’t go anywhere without seeing old friends and neighbors. In fact, we passed a few that I introduced to my Sri Lankan friends. New York has a population of eight million people, yet sometimes it can feel like a small village, especially when you have been there for so long.

Our first stop was for lunch – John’s Pizzeria, arguably the best pizza in New York. I know there are plenty of places to get pizza in Sri Lanka, but not the way it is served in New York – cooked in a brick oven, with fresh mozzarella, rich tomato sauce and thin, crisp bread. My friends liked it – enough to finish it all. Over the meal, one of them shared with me how they had gained five kilos since his arrival – I believed it! I had gained two. There are many theories as to why people gain weight when in America, personally, I think it’s a combination of preservatives in the food and the frequency that people eat since there is food available everywhere, all of the time.

From lunch, we got onto the subway (New York’s Metro/Underground) going south to visit “Ground Zero,” where the World Trade Center had been. My friends particularly liked the gallery of photos from the event – they were blown up and displayed along the metal fence that enclosed the enormous sight. The scene was filled with tourists and students there on class trips – most of them were from other states in America, although there were quite a few internationals as well. Since my last visit there two years ago, I noticed that the mood was less somber this time – although you could see people still paying their respects in contemplation.

Next visit was Grand Central Station – designed in 1913 and recently restored to its beautiful present condition. After walking through the main concourse and seeing the crowds heading onto trains that connect to the suburbs and neighboring states, we walked to the nearby United Nations building situated on the East river that flanks one side of Manhattan. Immediately we spotted the Sri Lankan flag and took plenty of photos to show for it. Exploring the lobby of the visitor’s center was as far as we got – the security line took a long time and it was almost sunset. I had one more spot I hoped to visit before heading out to meet friends for dinner and dancing – The Museum of Metropolitan Art.

On our way, we passed by a Federal Express – I decided to double check that I could send off my application to the United Nations the next day and have it arrive on time. According to the woman at the office, she said that was wrong, I had to send it out by 9pm that night! It was only 4pm, so I thought I had enough time to visit the museum, go home, print out the application and send it in the mail. I didn’t want to cut my friends visit short – there were already so many sights we would not see. I was determined to fit everything into the schedule.

As we approached the museum, I felt reminded of the countless times I spent exploring the hundreds of rooms as a child, teenager and adult. My friends were just as impressed with the beauty of the building and the art that awaited inside. The clock was ticking though as we strolled through the endless rooms of art from all over the world.

Finally, my phone rang – it was their friend from Staten Island. My friends offered to let me go home to take care of my application and they would pick up their friend and meet me at my house. I was hesitant – they had only spent one whole day in New York City, was it right to let them go on their own? I thought of all the times they helped me understand the Sri Lankan bus and train system and how they seemed like naturals guiding the NYC subways. I figured, if they can figure out transportation in Sri Lanka, then they can figure out anything. They reassured me they would be fine and sent me off running to get home in time.

The sun had set and the temperature dropped several degrees. I made it home in 30 minutes after a crowded train ride. Once I was home, I looked over my application one more time – working for UNESCO has been a dream of mine, I felt it was meant to be. I hit the print button and waited for my ancient printer to produce three copies of 20 page application. Nothing. I tried several times, various troubleshooting tactics and still nothing.
I live in a city where you can get any service at anytime – or so I thought. I would just walk to a print shop and then go to mail it. I arrived to Kinko’s known for its office resources and supplies and produced my mini-disk for them to print the application. They explained they didn’t have printers at that location, but if I took the subway to another one, they would have it there. The problem was that I was running out of time.

I thanked them and went out to the street and scanned the lively night scene of restaurants, shops, apartment buildings and sports clubs. I decided to ask at neighboring stores. People were mostly friendly – I tried several restaurants, finding out if they had a printer I could use. They smiled, listened to my story and told me they couldn’t help – then sent me to another place they thought that could help. My best friend Britt called – she was in my neighborhood and wanted to see how I was doing. I told her briefly what was going on and told her I’d call her back.

Three streets later, I passed the school where I spent ten years taking violin classes. The lights were on and the sign on the door said there was a children’s concert. I went inside and someone asked if I was there for the concert. I explained my story and asked from the bottom of my heart if they could help. The office manager agreed to do it! He printed two copies – just in case and wished me luck.

I ran down the street, turned the corner and made it to the Federal Express in time to send the copies. Someone tapped my shoulder – it was Britt. She and I laughed at the experience, especially since I told her how strange it felt to be in such a hurry after not being as focused on time while living in Sri Lanka.

We walked to my house and were met shortly after by my Sri Lankan friends. We met up with another friend of mine and debated what to eat again. There are so many choices; it is sometimes hard to choose. Finally, we decided to go to my favorite place close by – Kati Roll, for Indian fast food.

The next day, my friends had plans to visit the city more with their own friend. They got their things together as if they were leaving. I told them, not so fast – I was about to cook! Nothing fancy, just a classic American breakfast – strawberry pancakes and scrambled eggs. I added a lot of red pepper to the eggs to at least satiate the desire for spice that even I had acquired. I couldn’t offer them kiri bath or kiri hodi, but I had the feeling they enjoyed the meal.

Once we all finished, I bid farewell to my friends. There were so many other things to do and places to go to in New York – only one day was not enough. But they had their last day planned and I had plenty of school work to do.

As they left, I felt proud at the start of this year we were merely strangers yet now we had become such close friends. Our communication with one another is honest and genuine. Amongst us, there is no making a cultural mistake. Instead, we ask questions and respect one another when sharing our own views. Although we have different ways of approaching our daily lives based on our cultural upbringing, our trust in one another has broken the initial barriers. The trusting relationship that we have has helped us to be honest and learn from one another. I considered how the world would be different if everyone would take the time to do the same.


Post a Comment

<< Home