Last Updated on June 21, 2019 by Shaleen Shah
I see an old couple, engaged in a conversation which stretch their lips into big smiles. A woman, startled as her eager dog suddenly sprints, pulling on the leash. A man, sitting on a bench, exhaling a white cloud of cigarette smoke.
I imagine the warm fuzzy feeling the old man must be feeling, as he shares a laugh with his significant other. The sudden jolt on the woman’s arm and a feeling of surprise as her dogs attempts an escape. The light-headedness and the gritty feeling on the man’s throat as he puffs on his cigarette.
I remember, when I was a little kid, how strange I used to find tourists in my home town, Nepal. I used to wonder why they talk so loudly. Why their skin is paler. Why they are bigger, taller than the people I was accustomed to. My family had some English guests over in our home one time. I felt as if they were from another planet. It felt strangely uncomfortable, almost daunting, to sit amongst them and converse. I used to wonder, do they feel the same things I do? Do they like the same things that I do? Would they find me as strange as I found them?
These feelings faded as I grew up, but that daunting feeling, that I wouldn’t be able to connect as well with foreigners as I did with my own people, stayed.
But then again, I came to Argentina. It was this one windy night, I was talking to my friend from the Dominican Republic. I told her a story about how I ran away from my home one day because I wanted to go to my uncle’s house for a sleepover. She laughed, and told me that she almost did the same once, but her aunt stopped her.
Something hit me at that very moment, and I started to listen with intent as she talked about different things–her brother, her home, how she almost got lost in a jungle once while she was little. I wondered, I had experienced such similar events when I was a kid. How different could our feelings at the time had been?
On another day, I was sitting beside my classmate, as she showed me her schedule on her laptop. Her name popped up on the log in screen as she typed in her password. Later that day, I was gazing at my own laptop screen, my name on the screen in big bold letters. I start having these thoughts—how different could our lives have been? She grew up, in Colorado, where mountains align with the horizon. I did, in Kathmandu, where the green hills kiss the sky. I wake up, every day, in the morning, with hopes, dreams, and memories. She does the same.
Another time, I was telling a friend about my brother who is 8 years older and how he always used to try to teach me boxing but would playfully—well, maybe not so playfully—beat me up in the process. He lets out a curt giggle, and admits that he has a brother who’s 7 years younger, and that he does the same to him. I sigh, look at him disapprovingly, and tell him that I can sympathize with his brother.
All my life I had held an artificial barrier with people who seemed unalike to me. I’d tell myself—we’re too different, we care about different things, we have different interests. There’s no way I can connect to them on the same level. Right?
Wrong, I told myself. I only realized this in Argentina, as I talked to people from places I’ve never been to, about things that were so… familiar. So human.
One day, I go out for a walk as I let these thoughts drift in my mind. Then, I see an Argentinian girl darting out of her house in exercise clothes and headphones in ear. I remember the exhilaration I feel when I run while listening to upbeat music, and think that she must be feeling the same.
I walk by a store, and catch sight of an Asian man sitting at the counter. I see his dark circles, and wonder if he hasn’t slept in a while, just as he lets out a huge yawn. I remember that helpless feeling of being sleepless, but knowing that you cannot go to sleep before you finish work, and imagine that he must be feeling the same.
As I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires, I see people carrying on with their lives, and I feel that I understand them. Because no matter where we are from, we are all human; we are the same.
This post was contributed by Shaleen Shah, who is spending his semester studying abroad with AIFS in Buenos Aires, Argentina.