I distinctly remember that it was nighttime when I first arrived in America. It was around 8PM in the summer, and my brother in law came to pick us up at the Cleveland airport. It was only a 15-minute drive from the airport to his home, and I remember sitting in the dark car and being unable to make out our surroundings in the night. My first impression of America wasn’t really an out-of-world experience - it felt like “oh, so this is America." The America I had seen was all in the movies, so this was somewhat underwhelming.
When I grew up, never imagined moving out of country. As an army officer’s daughter, I never had any desire to leave India; however, when I got married, my husband wanted to pursue higher studies in America. I wasn’t sad to be leaving my family, and I would say that I was even excited in a way, but I didn’t know what to expect – it was all a mixed bag of feelings.
I’ve always heard that America is very welcoming to immigrants, and indeed, airport immigration went smoothly - better than many places in Europe, actually. I remember we got an apartment within the first week of coming to America, right near Cleveland downtown. The first day we moved in, there was a display in the lobby which had a bunch of stones sitting in it. My daughter, Azba, went over to pick up a stone and suddenly, I heard this booming voice behind me that yelled: DO NOT TOUCH THAT! Terrified, I turned around to see a tall white man standing with his hands on his hips, who I later found out was the manager of the building. It turned out that this man would yell at people all the time, but this still remains the first incidence I remember.
One thing that really surprised me about America, though, is that Americans are much bigger than Europeans and Asians. I remember thinking on multiple occasions that: "Oh my god, the people are so big here!" I had never seen such big people in my life before moving here – so big that they all seemed huge in the corridors of the apartment building. On a similar note, the food portions in America seemed so big too; the pizzas, sodas, anything we ordered – it was all oversized. I remember that once a month, my husband would order a meat lover’s pizza and a jumbo coke from Pizza Hut, a $20 deal. It was amazing to buy such a massive portion of food for just twenty dollars. My husband jokes that he remembers eating that pizza one week and thinking: "My god, I LOVE AMERICA." Funnily enough, when we went back to Pizza Hut to try the meat lover's pizza again twenty years later, we didn't find it to be all that delicious.