During election campaign some leading Indian political figures used to visit my city, Kakinada, by an airplane. I watched these planes fly over our house. Though I was too proud to run like other kids in my neighbourhood to watch these flights fly over, yet I had a desire to run and watch the flights fly as long as I could see! But then again.. I never dreamed of sitting in an airplane actually! I am a normal middle class girl.. whose dreams are only made up of simple wishes. Odd.. things turned out to be different. I am not sure whether I like it or not?
So, destiny brought me to Toronto, Canada on a job. I had made up my mind. I was going to a new place.. new country so I better start learning and adapting to new things. I had never been out of my city from the day I was born. All of a sudden, I decided to try my luck in a new country to earn a living and make lots of money. My biggest hurdle would be to convince my parents that I would be fine alone. I was good at convincing them and that is another story.. I bought one way ticket to Canada.
I did not have a slightest clue about what were the living conditions in Toronto. I had a distant cousin's friend who lived in Toronto, whom I contacted and found out a few things. She assured me, I will be able to get all the Indian food stuff in Toronto. So, as far as food was concerned there was. . no problem!! She told me to get clothes for the winter, as temperatures dipped to -20 degrees C at times during the winter in Toronto. She also told me that one cannot wear traditional Indian dresses to work, so it would be better if I bought formal wear in Canada itself. So, no dresses.
Though I knew that food was not a problem in Toronto, my mom still packed quite a lot of pickles and spices. I was tensed what if Immigration Canada officials ask me to leave the food stuff. . as somebody told us. I wondered won't they allow even a few spices. But nothing of that sort happened. I did all the shopping for my trip in Hyderabad. In the end I bought only thermals, books and food stuff.
It was a Lufthansa flight starting on 3rd September, 1999. Starting at Mumbai at 2.00 a.m. IST to Frankfurt, Germany and reaching Toronto on the same day at 8.30 p.m. EST. My family came to the airport. I promised my self.. I would not cry.. I was going on a mission as far as I was concerned.. I was not going to begin it with tears. My family knew the reason for my big decision and they supported me.
I was there, waiting for my flight in the airport trying to look into the eyes of the people around me in the airport. I tried to assess who was traveling for the first time like me and who was a seasoned traveler! Typical middle-class curiosity!
In the flight from Mumbai to Frankfurt, I sat beside a Pakistan national. He was a student going to Toronto and was joining the University of Toronto. He thought I was a Sri Lankan or some other nationality. Hostility between us was mutual. Though I don't hate people based on their nationality, I really get angry when people start discriminating. He was talking fine till he knew "my Nationality". Well.. I could not blame him! He proudly showed me his certificates. He was a brilliant student obviously! I told him why I was going to Canada. He was amazed that a lady and that too single was traveling to the other side of the globe for a job! For me, struggle and adventure is a part of life!
I wanted to have a window seat. I did not have a clue about booking a flight ticket. So, I did not ask for window seat while booking the ticket. When I heard the air hostess announcing on the public address system the altitude we were traveling.. an eery feeling of what if plane crashed.. crept into my mind. Then I thought.. was it really necessary to risk my life this way in search of a job and to achieve my goal? Then a bit uneasily but firmly, I told my self IT was worth risking all that!!!
I was at Frankfurt by 6.30 a.m. local time. I had 6 hrs.to kill before my next flight to Toronto. I saw people sleeping in the waiting area. Feeling drowsy, I too searched for some place to sleep or at least to lie down. First things first..I had to eat something. I had $10 with me. I went to the food joint in the lounge, being a vegetarian, I was skeptical about the contents of the food items there. After going through the displayed items, I selected something acceptable. I placed the order, but when the person at the counter told me that it would me cost $10.78, I told him to remove juice from the order as I did not have the change. He said that it was ok even if I could not pay. . and told me to take it. I couldn't understand. Do they show that much generosity to everyone? If so, how can they do business!?
I saw a lady sitting in the waiting area to take the flight to Toronto. She had some luggage beside her. When I sat next to her, she requested me if I could take care of her luggage while she went to the washroom. We were sitting opposite to a notice requesting passengers not to leave luggage with strangers! She told me that she was from Sri Lanka. She brought a lot of jewelry with her. "I liked her bangles!" She told she lost her luggage during her flight to Frankfurt. She still had no clue about where it was. I asked her if she reported about it.. she said yes.. some friend of her's was taking care of those things. I just wondered.. what if I lost my luggage.. I would loose everything! Not that I had a lot of money.. my certificates and my books were all I had. Then I started to worry.. did the airport baggage handlers transfer my luggage to my next flight safely or not? ? I saw that lady again in Toronto recently after nearly 1 1/2 years. I went to her and talked to her. She said she recognized me. After coming home I thought about her lost luggage and wondered if she found it!
While checking in, the lady officer there asked why I was wearing gloves when it was so hot and everyone around were sweating. But for me, it was very cold and I told her the same. She asked me to remove my gloves and show my palms. I just wondered what she expected to find!
As our flight was nearing Toronto.. I felt sad once again, that I was starting a completely new and challenging life which I never dreamt of or expected to lead. I started to quiz myself, whether I would be a winner or a loser in this struggle to prove myself. Back to reality, at the Toronto airport, one person came to me and asked if I wanted any assistance in getting my bags to a Taxi. He said he would do that for just $15 US! I said no thank you! I saw the carts there. I tried to pull one of them. But it did not budge! I called one officer there and told him that I could not pull the cart out and requested him to help me! He said I should place a dollar coin in the slot to release the cart. I cursed myself for not reading that. But I did not have a dollar coin with me and I asked him if he could give me change for $100 US. He did not say anything but took his card, paid the amount and pulled a cart for me. 'Can you come with me.. I will take the change and return your dollar?' He smiled, said 'No problem' and left.
I got one of my suitcases and the second one was no where in sight. Many passengers had left with their luggage and the conveyer belt was almost empty. My first sign of panic.. tears started to come into my eyes. Then I walked to the other side of the conveyer belt and lo there was my suitcase on the floor!
As soon as I came out of the Immigration check, I saw the person who came to receive me. He went to bring the car and I went to return the cart. There was an assistant to take the carts. He took it from me and gave me $1. I asked him why? He said it was mine! I replied.. 'No, it's not mine.' He just nodded and dropped it in his pocket and left. Later I came to know that if you returned the cart to the place it was docked you would get back the dollar coin you put in the slot.
On the whole I had a great journey flying from one continent to another, over the blue skies and milky white clouds, crossing miles of sand and water, cities and villages, watching sunlight during the day and citylights during the night! It is something worth cherishing for a lifetime!!