02 July, 2008

Waiting for several hours at Abu Dhabi airport seemed like a turning point in life. It reminded me of the time when, after missing a flight at JFK, I spent a night at the New York airport to catch the flight next morning. It was like being between two worlds, which are distinct and yet hard to categorize and define because they span physical, emotional, cultural and other spheres. After nostalgic goodbyes in Karachi, I had set off. I was excited to see that something I had looked forward to for months (or a lifetime, perhaps?) was turning into reality. Thinking of its immensity had made it all seem absurd.

The flight was good. There were several babies that kept crying, and though I didn’t mind much, the Canadian engineer next to me kept complaining. He was a fun and friendly guy though, and we talked about how Canadian government policies (health, education etc) are different from those of the United States.

At the Paris airport, contrary to my apprehension, I was met with smiles and friendly faces, and the customs and all consisted of only one officer stamping my visa, and that was it. This was a big change from the visa process.

I had initially planned to buy a ticket for a shuttle that would drop me at the Deutsche de la Meurthe dorm at the Cité Universitaire in Paris, where I had already booked a room. This was actually a great find – the rooms are especially subsidized for students from recognized colleges, doing research or independent work, or taking classes in Paris. It’s a great fit, because I get personal space to work in, and a college environment inside Paris. In fact, on my very first night I made some friends, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

It turned out that taking the RER train from the airport was cheaper and more convenient. After a relatively easy money-changing and ticket purchasing process, I got on the train. As it moved closer to my stop, and further into the city, the train started to become really full, until a point came when most people were standing, with very little space. It felt a little like being in a New York subway, where you can sample the city’s “life” and its people. The sun was setting and the train moved at a very high speed. When I got to my station, it took me a five minute walk to get to the place. Like Princeton, not many buildings are marked, and there was no map, so it took me a long time to find the exact office (something like Public Safety at PU) that would let me in.
The three times I’ve walked in the office, I’ve really felt challenged because they speak no English. I struggle and realize that three semesters of French at Princeton really did prepare me a little. I used to say I can’t speak French to save my life. Yesterday I did.

The second time I was there late at night (it must have been 11:30pm, I had lost all sense of time). I had gone to ask where I could get something to eat. I was starving. Then four students from a college in California came in and tried to explain to the guard on duty (with much difficulty) that they had misplaced a key. I had to talk to them – their American accent drew me because it reminded me of Princeton, and the world seemed easy to comprehend once again. Turned out they needed to look for a place to eat also, so we decided to go together. Everything seemed closed. Then we found a group of French teenagers who were celebrating their high-school admissions. When we approached them for guidance, they were extremely helpful. They led us through neat, narrow streets lined with bicycles, trees, little cars, and motorcycles. We came to Domino’s pizza but it was closed. Eventually we got a place where there was a bar – people sat on little tables outdoors, and there was light and life. Right next to the bar we found the familiar yellow M of McDonald’s. We were hungry and it tasted great. None of us had a watch, and after our first night’s exploits (it was the Americans’ first night here too) – which involved getting completely lost – we got home at what seemed like 3am.

I have had no internet or phone since yesterday. I set an arbitrary alarm and went to the office for paperwork and with questions about logistics an hour ago, but they said come at 9am. I was embarrassed to ask the time (but how could I not, I knew that question really very well), and shocked to find out it was 7am. Now I am going back to see if they can help me.

As soon as I get internet, I’ll post this and start finalizing my plans for the next few weeks.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I love these photographs.