My name is Mamata Misra.
"I understood the language, the words, but not the topics or the context, not enough to join in the conversation, or even ask a question."

Mumbai, India

Gaithersburg, Maryland




I landed in JFK with my husband of six weeks who had gone to India to marry me after finishing his Ph.D in Baltimore and before starting his first job in Gaithersburg. I was sad not knowing when I would see my family in India again. But I was also excited about exploring a new place and a new life. Our flight had been delayed and we had missed the connection from JFK to Washington DC. We were wondering what to do when a stranger who looked Indian stopped by and made conversation with my husband. It turned out that he had gone to the same university in India as my husband. It was already night and he was spending the night in Princeton at a friend's where he had left his car and the next morning driving to Baltimore in case we wanted to ride along. My husband accepted the kind offer. We spent the night in a Holiday Inn in Princeton and headed for Baltimore the next day. I knew that Princeton University was famous and had felt excited about spending a night near it. I remember being surprised by two things as we entered the hotel: (1) an unfamiliar and unnatural smell that I would smell later inside many US buildings and get used to, (2) wall-to-wall carpeting.

It was January. I did not have proper winter clothes and felt very cold. We started our ride to Baltimore. I sat in the back and my husband sat in the front next to the driver. They were engaged in a conversation whose context was totally unfamiliar to me. I understood the language, the words, but not the topics or the context, not enough to join in the conversation, or even ask a question. So I sat silently most of the way. I realized that for days and months I would be meeting only strangers talking strange and it was up to me to make friends out of strangers and create familiarity out of the unfamiliar. Outside looked very strange too. On the road there were so many cars but each moving (or gliding?) silently keeping a constant distance from the one ahead and the one behind. There was no sound of engines or horns. No dust or smoke. It seemed unreal. I looked away trying to find comfort of familiarity from the trees. But they were equally strange, skeletal like ghosts. I had never seen trees without leaves, or trees that tall and skinny. I looked at my husband. He looked happy to be back home with a wife. I noticed how different our feelings were. He felt at home whereas I felt out of home among strangers in a strange place.

Our driver friend dropped us at a car rental place in Baltimore and went his way. My husband rented a car and drove us to Gaithersburg where we checked into another Holiday Inn with the smell of America. He went to join at his new job and I wrote a letter to my parents back home to tell them that I had arrived and hoped that if we were lucky they would get the news in a week.