My name is Rita Avashia.
INTERVIEWED BY Sreedevi Sripathy

"Bus wouldn't show up and baby was pushing. I said, ‘I'm gonna hitchhike with this big belly.'"

Baroda, India

New York, New York





What do you remember from your first few days in the United States when you arrived? And also, can you share what it felt like?

So I had arrived to meet my husband. We had gotten married for a year, but I wanted to finish my education, and so he came one year earlier. And I was coming to join him. But along with him, I was going, I met my brother who had been in United States for five or six years. So like, I was not coming, because my husband was almost stranger to me, but my brother was there, you know, so I knew him. And so I saw them at the you know, as I arrived, I got a message - they’re waiting, we are waiting in a waiting lounge - and I met them outside. We drove home, we didn't have the car, but my brother had the car. So we drove home. And fortunately, we lived in New York City where lot of United Nations employee lived. And lot of students, students like my husband were moved from same University where he was so our first evening dinner was arranged at their house. So that was my first day.

I was not new to the plane, because we used to fly in India too. But then still, there was anxiety, because I had to change the flight in Milan. It was an Italian Air Italia flight in those days. So first few days, it was challenging. But fortunately, we had people who had been there, like I had, my husband had a couple of wives, who were like, my husband's friends, wives were there in the neighborhood. So they were able to guide me about shopping, about the library about basic things, you know.

And so slowly, but surely, I got settled. I was most fortunate to have a neighbor, who were elderly Polish couple, who had moved from - if I veer from your question, let me know I'm going the wrong direction - but who had moved from Poland during Nazi Germany. And so they were like, they were the one who really took me under their wing, and introduced to introduce me to lot of American ways, like, every Sunday, they'll invite me to come and listen to opera with them, and the library and the books. And so I would give more credit to them than anybody else who made me acclimated to the United States.

When you arrived, and as you started acclimating and with the family that you mentioned, your Polish neighbors, are there things that you were really curious about or interested in, about what you were seeing and observing?

I'm just trying to think that, you know, we were living under a very limited budget. So like, every step of the way, I was spending money, I was thinking because we were, you know, we were not, in those days, the pay scales were not that big and everything, so I had to think every little thing, hey, can I afford to take a bus or not? Or can I afford to buy this or not? And I came from a very well to do family in India. So that was a big adjustment.

Fortunately, my parents had raised me to acclimate myself to any situation that I'm put in, so it was not a problem, but it was a challenge. Like every time you have to think, Hey, can I do this? Or can I not do this? Fortunately, language was in my hand. So it's not like any other people who come from other countries who had to learn the language from – I was college educated, you know, so that was not an issue. So I was able to communicate with many neighbors, right, as well as many people who come here, they are not able to. And fortunately, there are a lot of Indian family in that neighborhood, too. So initially, that support really helped too.

Is there anything that surprised you about the United States and America?

The cleanliness of the country. Though Baroda, you know, completely but Baroda was Baroda was quite clean, clean. Just the biggest surprise was going to grocery store. And being able to buy everything in one place instead of like, you know how in India, we used to grow vegetable market and the grain market and stuff like that. So finding everything in one place was a surprise, then learning to look at the newspaper and find the ads that said these items were cheap this week. And you know, those kinds of things which we were not exposed in India.

And being away from the family was hard, because my husband was doing a residency. So sometimes he leave Friday and doesn't show up home ‘til Monday morning. And I grew up in a family where we were nine people sharing a two, two three room apartment. So my biggest fear, and that lasted for a long time, was to be able to sleep at night by myself. So that was the biggest challenge.

Can I ask how did you how did you move past that fear?

[Laughs] I don't think I ever moved past that fear until I had babies. So then I felt there was somebody else. But I used to keep the radio on, I used to keep the lights on. I wouldn't watch the TV because you know, evening shows were always like, violent in those days, you know? So, yeah, I stayed. I read a lot. And then I knew how to sew. So I made all my furniture as you know, redecorated my furniture. And I did a lot of sewing and stuff. So that kept me busy.

I guess my last question would be is there anything else about your first days or your first weeks, your first months here that you want to share?

So I realized that though I could speak English, I had to learn to recognize the accents here. Like they're still having difficulty understanding us. I was having difficulty with the pronunciation. And so I decided to go to a night school that was offering the conversation English to us. And the first thing in I don't know what, you know, the significance of mangalsutra. But my, my, my mangalsutra was stolen the first day, like the first day of the school, so it was within a month or so. And that was the somebody snatched it from my neck, and so that was the hardest part.

[inaudible] not being able to talk to your parents where you know, like, in those days, phone calls were extremely expensive. So I used to really eagerly wait for the letters. And the funny part because you heard about Neema, but when my girls went to college, and I'll worry about them, they say, “Mom, get this phone call away, your mom couldn't even call you and find out how you were doing. You know, she had to wait for 10 days before the letters went.” So it was different, but I think it was all right.

As you reflect on your time, and some of the memories that you shared, is there anything that particularly strikes you or makes you smile or laugh or cry when you think about that time?

I came in ‘71 November and I became pregnant by ‘71 December or something like that. And we didn't have car. And this memory I'll never forget. And I was already past three weeks overdue. So my doctor was calling me every day and I had to take a public transportation so I'll take a bus to go to his office.

But one day, one day, it was almost like, I was almost about a week and a half and I was waiting for the bus and bus wouldn't show up and baby was pushing. So I decided to hitch a hike. I said, I'm gonna hitchhike with this big belly, nobody's gonna do anything to me. And so I hitchiked and somebody stopped, and I jumped in his car, and he said, “Where would you like to go?” and I said, “I'm going to a doctor's place.” And within a block, he said, “Oh, honey, can we have dinner tonight?”

And I got so scared. So instead of going - waiting till he reaches the doctor's point, as you know, the train station came so I said, “Okay, drop me here, I need to take a train”, and I got off. Then I ended up walking mile and a half. So when I went - reached my doctor, he was so amazed that I had walked a mile and a half with so much pressure and everything. So he said here, I still remember the doctor, he was an Egyptian doctor. He said, “Here, I'm giving you money for the cab on your way home, you're taking the cab.” And I’ll never forget that incidents ever for my life. [laughs]

Thank you so much for sharing that and so much for sharing your story with us Rita.

Thank you. Thank you for considering me.