Oct 5, 2013

Life in a small town

Like every other youngster going to the Wild West, I had imagined an America full of tall buildings, bright lights, and whizzing fast cars. My first sight of America, from the city of Chicago, even confirmed my image. But sadly, it did not last forever. As we were being driven from the airport to our university, I stared outside the windows with wide eyes. There were only miles and miles of bare forests, and then fields and fields of maize stumps. Far, far, from my image of cities chock-a-block with skyscrapers. Being winter, the trees had no leaves and the maize had already been harvested. In spring and summer, when we drove out from our town, for miles we could see only corn fields.
It was only much later did I come to know that skyscrapers were only to be found in a few big cities, and that most of America was farmland. Corns, potatoes, and soyabeans were to be found aplenty, especially in the state where I lived. Farms full of pigs and horses were a common sight. That was about the time I found that there was only one public transportation that could take me outside of my small university town—a train from Chicago that came in twice a day. If I had to fly to any other state, I would first have to take the three hour ride to Chicago. This meant that getting from one end of America to another could take as much as three days, depending on the schedule of planes and trains.
Every time I went to the train station to get the train, at first I was surprised at the coincidence of getting the same taxi driver every time. Later I found that like one horse towns in olden days, my town had only one taxi service. Gone was my image of the developed world with whizzing fast cars and easy public transportation.
And then there were the cockroaches. Even small villages in America had electricity, water, and good roads, so that fit my image of “development” pretty well. However, I had not expected to live in a wooden house, which is what most houses in small towns seemed to be made of. And especially not expected it to be full of cockroaches. My roommate’s parents, who were visiting for her graduation, exclaimed as much! “Cockroaches in America! Who would have thought?” And we roommates smiled knowingly at each other, thankful that they had not arrived in the season of bedbugs. The entire previous summer we had spent being terrified of bedbugs after we found the first nest under one of our beds. We had frantically turned over every bed, and swept out every corner. But a few days later, my roommate let out a terrified yell, when she saw a new group creeping out from the bookcase. We realized that we were not doing enough to fight them, and called our landlord. No, I had not expected to spend whole weeks covering my nose from the awful smell of insecticides, nor had I expected to throw out mattresses and cushions bought with hard earned money, all in a bid to get rid of anything that bedbugs might like.
Once I got over the idea of skyscrapers and sleek passenger trains though, I found that life in a small town had its own perks. First of all was the friendliness. Everyone, and I mean everyone, walking on the roads, said hello or good morning with a friendly smile. I found that was not the case at all in big cities like Chicago and New York, where people barely acknowledged you. Like in villages, houses had no fences or walls. I was surprised at first that there were just houses next to each other with lawns between them, nothing to mark any boundaries. But it was good to find that we were free to walk and run across any lawn as long as did not damage anything. A classmate’s friend, who was a farmer, brought over vegetables every so often, and we enjoyed fresh onions and garlic. In summer, some people’s pastime was to go to the jungles and look for edible mushrooms. In fact, some of these small university towns were so relaxed that a friend of mine had taken to growing tomatoes and herbs in his backyard.
Being a small town, everyone knew everyone. We ran across our bank teller at a grocery store, who asked if we were safe. We ran across our landlord at our favourite clothing store, and found that the landlord was engaged to the store owner. My classmate turned out to be a friend of my boss’ son, and another classmate’s daughter worked with the doctor that I went to see.
I loved how people knew and kept track of my preferences. The night bus drivers knew every passenger because there were so few of them, and would go out of the way to stop near a passenger’s house. A friend of mine, who lived in an even smaller town, told me that all the local restaurants knew her preferences, and anytime they made something they thought she would like, they would call her.
I loved how the small town feel meant that there were more facilities for everyone. The buses and trains were rarely packed. We could get a tale at any restaurant in town, with barely any waiting. My bank and Laundromat both had coffee jugs at a counter where we could relax and drink coffee, and the bank even had cookies on Fridays. Most people had chocolates on their desk in holiday season, like in Christmas or Easter, and I had a field day visiting people and tasting their chocolates. The local video store gave free videos to students with a 4.0 report card. And yes, that also applied to college students.
The four years I spent in America taught me a lot, but nothing came close to the first lesson. That preconceived ideas about a place are rarely true. It is best to keep your eyes and mind open, and let the place teach you what it is all about, that way, you learn a lot more than you expected. 


Ventricle said...

This is the most common experience for the foreign student coming here for first time. Same in my case too.
Nice article.

curly locks said...

glad u liked it :)

Anonymous said...

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