I grew up watching Hollywood movies. I loved Hollywood movies. I love the way they invest so much into movies and all these fantasy movies and making people happy. I mean, it’s money well-spent. I came to the USA and I got married to my husband. It was not intentional that I came here. I was not at all willing to leave my country to make a living but I loved travelling since the beginning. But to make a living in a different country is different from just travelling to a country for fun. I have heard about experiences from my in-laws, my parents, especially my father, has travelled all around the world except the US. So we don’t have any experience with America, USA. And coming to this place, I have friends here but it’s not that I can just come to this place and live in a house and go and start talking to everybody, it’s not as easy as you think. Coming to a new place, everything is new, people are new, their sense of humor is different, their professions are different, the way they see life is different. Their perspective is different. Their sense of humor is different. It was not so difficult for me because I have seen their movies but not everything that they show in the movies is actually true. People here are also family-oriented. They love having families. It’s not always about partying, having affairs. The whole world has different views of Americans, seeing the movies, because they have not physically been here. I changed my views about them a lot coming here, how they talk to people, their sense of humor, the type of work environment they have, how they work.

I’m in a new country, I don’t even want to be here and I’m here. Then I had to tell myself, you know what? You’re here, you’re finally here, come out of your shell, try to learn what people are, what their lifestyle is, what they eat, how they dress, how they talk. And I learned that they have different accents! I didn’t know American English had so many different accents. I learned a lot over those three years. About this place. The world culture and the way the people think also. People don’t believe in having just one job. Every person is doing the minimum of two to three jobs. They want multiple sources of income. Not everybody, maybe people in the cities who are exposed to other cultures and who have experience working with people from other countries. They are so forward thinking. Myself and my friends in India, though we are all educated, we don’t have that much exposure to things happening in the world. We read, we pass our exams, some people put in the extra effort to learn about current affairs, politics or to have a start-up but not every single person is interested in learning about the world or economics, travelling… Oh my god, it’s the opposite here. In a good way. People love to travel, they love to invest their money in themselves. To them – to the Americans – it’s not just “You have to buy a house, you have to have kids.”, that’s not their only dream. They follow their dreams. It’s beautiful. Sometimes I still end up thinking certain things in a conservative way and I have my American friends knock on my head and say “This is America, this is a free country, you can do whatever you want!”. It makes me happy. Their focus is on something different. Also I would say it’s economic conditions. Here it’s slightly better, compared to other places. Though things are expensive, people know their ways to survive. Even in India, we survive too. But it’s not that people are very independent. Very few have the luxury of having that independence. Here people mind their business. In India people are still conservative, they have to come out of their shell. It matters a lot because here, everybody is thinking the same way. Maybe not a 100% of them, maybe 80 or 70% of the people are broadminded. There’s just 30% left, so it won’t take long for them to change. All they have to do is come out of their houses and talk to people and learn things and explore. I think we have a lot to learn from this place, the things to do and the things not to do. It’s the same thing how when I talk to a white American friend or a black American friend or a Chinese American friend, whichever American. They’re all alike. They’re all alike in a good way. Some people are alike in a bad way too. But don’t just imagine that an Indian in India would be the same as an Indian in America, or a Chinese person from China would be the same… no, they are different. We adapt. We have this beautiful quality of adapting. But it’s surprising to me that Indians, when they come here… you are forced to follow certain rules to keep things clean and not to dwell in others’ personal matters, which some people tend to do here too. But it’s the opposite there. When they come here they behave nice but when they go back… it’s just going back to the same thing! Why does that happen? I tried to understand why that happens… because people around you are changing you. It’s very rare that a person has certain rules and regulations to live by and for that person to stick to those rules and regulations, it’s very rare, very few people do that. You’re standing in a line, you have to leave space, standing in the queue to buy something or something like that. But you put the same person back in India. Gone! Why? Because you’re standing there leaving space and there is ten million people coming and standing in between you and the person ahead of you. It’s hard. It’s probably why people like to come here and stay here. Because it’s a free country and you’re allowed to do everything. Now things are a little critical because of the political situation, I hope it changes. But I changed my views a lot about US. I think I was very conservative back in India. Though I thought that I was a broadminded person, I was not, I’m pretty sure. Coming here I changed more. And it triggered me to travel more. To learn about the people in America, how a Pennsylvania person behaves, a person from a village – how they are, coming from a farmer’s family or a person living in a city – how they are, a doctor – how he behaves. Different. Again, people are just different. There might be commonalities, which is what lets you talk to them, become friends with them. I personally have learned a lot travelling.

I like to travel. I like to travel because it gives me exposure to people, first of all. And because I like networking. I specifically choose places to go that I believe have a lot of history. I learn about them on the internet first. So I do some basic research on that place. Some of them have been in my head right from childhood, I would really like to go to some places and learn about their culture and the things which I learned from books, which I have seen in movies or which I’ve seen in documentaries and touch them physically. It’s a beautiful experience. When you read a book, you have a different picture of people, of their culture and of the place, how they live. When I go there and see it, some things are very true and some things are not true, it’s just written in a book or just made for the sake of the movie, beautified because of the movie, or the book’s sake. Some things are not true which definitely disappoints me here and there, because I go there with higher hopes but some things are really portrayed exactly how it is and just being there, talking to those people it’s a different thing, a different feeling. We always hear on the news and on TV “This is a country which has so many start-ups.”, “This is a country which has a beautiful history, beautiful architecture.”, “The technology is improving and the people there are very smart and intelligent.” and there are certain things from that particular place…

For example, if it’s Egypt, those guys are the first people who started learning to write and read, since it’s a very ancient language. They used pictures to talk to each other and you go there and you see it and then you try to learn it from their perspective it’s different, it’s definitely different how the people talk, how they think. And now everything is totally washed out there. There is no ancient Egyptians there anymore. It’s all Arabs, the Turks and the Persians, all the people who migrated to that place, they’re there. But I find that place to be very similar to India. The people there, how warm they are, how cordial they are towards outsiders, it’s almost like India, but how India was 50 years ago. Very warm, in a nicer way. I feel India has changed a lot. These days we try to copy a lot of Western things. So it’s all a mixture and people have changed and their lifestyles have changed. So going to this place you have some things you have in common, you find some things really surprising, “Oh really, people are like this.” Through media, I think we have a certain concept of the Middle Eastern people, we think: “Oh, they don’t like when women go out.”, “They don’t like when women come up and flourish” or “Women don’t have a voice.”. This is what the media shows us. But it is absolutely not like that. In some cases it might be like that but not all the places are like that. Not all Middle Eastern countries are the same.

What triggered me into going to Egypt is of course the architecture and history, how they built one of the most ancient civilized cultures, everything civilized, organized.

So there’s so much history, so much – you read about it but when you go where, when you walk around you know how big the place is – how they went go from riches to rags, what their political status right now is, how they changed, how it was before, how people managed to rule them, what their occupation was before and how they evolved into a modern civilization now. But just being there and watching those things happen, like, I can’t believe, was that place even a desert? How they managed to civilize and live around the Nile, they literally lived on the Nile. They have their own gods representing different things – just how in my country we believe that there are certain things, that there are gods, this god represents this, this god represents peace. So when you talk about religion, it’s almost the same.

I was born Hindu but I converted to be a Buddhist, where luckily I happened to meet multireligious people, people from different religious backgrounds, people with different professions, different countries. So my first reason for going into Buddhism was again, networking. That was my motto. But to learn about the religion, what they do. I was so inspired. I am not an atheist. I’m not saying that god does not exist. But there is this belief that people have when they believe in a certain religion or when they come from a certain place, they grew up in a certain way. Religion does bring some sort of discipline to people. In my country, we have Hinduism, but we have so many gods. Each god represents something, each god has a different story to tell to people. “How did this person become a god?”. They always start with saying “This person is born as a baby in a very poor family” but how he or she succeeded and became a very powerful god – that’s the actual explanation, it’s not that there is a god that people have to worship, it’s just giving people hope. It’s universal. When I was in Egypt I saw the same concept. People talked about Moses, about how he was raised by the kings and queens. It’s almost the same story, how each person is coming from absolutely nothing, no background, clean slate, and becoming really powerful and inspiring people. So everybody has them. That story is everywhere. Moses, Jesus, Buddha or any Indian god or Christ. It’s just the same. And I don’t take anything personally when someone says negative things about the religious beliefs that I have because I try to listen to them, “What exactly is triggering them to say this?”. I think listening is a basic quality. Everybody has to develop. So when you listen to someone there are so many things you learn, so many things you feel offended about, so many things that make you feel insecure. There’s just so many emotions running around in your head. But all that matters is you have to make sure what is your primary reason for talking to that person. Networking. I personally talk to people to network. So I try to put my emotions aside. This is the basic quality I think every person needs. You know, to understand and learn. If you want to learn and if you want to develop in your life you have to listen first. Don’t feel offended what anybody says, just listen to it, the things that you like – take them, the things you don’t like – leave them. In that way you’re not offending that person and you have a bond with that person.

So you don’t really know what Egypt is. Unless or until someone travels there, they come back and they tell their experience. No way to know about it. Maybe if you live in Syria, it’s easy to know about Egypt, in some countries around Egypt, it’s easy to know what’s happening in Egypt. But I’m nowhere near that place and I don’t even know what’s happening in that country. And I went there and I saw that everything there is developed. There are tall buildings, beautiful bridges and everyone is driving a car. I was surprised. I thought Egypt would be poorer than India. Because I didn’t know anything about their current economic status. I won’t even bother to learn about their economic status right now because it doesn’t affect me with my work or my current living status. But going there and seeing them economically evolve and develop – they have good roads, very good police, beautiful bridges, beautiful houses, they have bigger buildings and bigger apartments. Only thing is they don’t have anything written in English. People do speak English. Maybe they learn it in their schools, just like how we do in India. They speak good English, they’re very courteous. And I learned that tourism is the only source of good income there. But then again, they have very good restaurants, well-tasting food in their city. Their city is just like my city. My biggest city in India. It’s not bad, it’s really good. I didn’t even think it would be like that. People are fancily dressed, they have fancy dinners, they have candle-light dinners. It was a totally different perspective for me. I was like, “Oh my god, this is so different from what I imagined!”. And yet we don’t know about these things, because it’s not portrayed on the news. The monuments and their culture – I have learned about their history before, through reading books. But it’s not the same when you go there and read it by yourself, hear it through the tour guides. There are stories about how the kings and queens survived, what were all the clothes they wore, all their jewelry, their lifestyles, their house furniture, everything had gold in it. And all those kings and queens were so powerful. They were a very rich, very prosperous country.

Most of the tourists are from Europe. I think that there is a political reason behind Americans not coming to Egypt. I know one reason which I will get to very soon but Americans are scared to go to Egypt. Egypt is under bomb threat from every country that surrounds it. There is so much politics and terrorism happening around it. There are only certain places where people are allowed to go. I was fortunate because I didn’t have to go through a lot of difficult security checks, because we are from India. So India and Egypt are not on bad terms. We’re on very good terms. They love our tourists. They requested us when coming back, they said “Please tell your American friends it’s very safe here, it’s not dangerous at all.”. Because Americans like to travel by themselves, they don’t go through a travel agency anywhere, they’re free spirits. If they chose to go to Poland, they’d probably do all the research on the internet. The problem is, that in the embassy everything is written in Arabic. It was slightly difficult for us to get a visa to Egypt, because everything, even on their website, was in Arabic. We didn’t know what to do. How do we book anything online when they don’t write anything in English? Looks like they don’t really have the connection with the rest of the world, besides tourism. They have to change that a little bit. They have to make things in English so that everybody would love to go there. Now everything is in Arabic and people are scared, thinking “Oh, this is a Muslim country, I should not go there.” That fear that everybody has… but after going there it’s different. My parents in India and my husband’s relatives in the US warned us: “Don’t go to Egypt, it’s not safe!”. Because even one week before we went there was a bombing in Cairo. And it’s just the media. It’s the media that’s putting things into light. They want to ruin their tourism. Bombing is there everywhere. Since there’s gunfire happening in schools have people stopped coming to the US? Have people stopped sending their children to schools? No. There are bombings in India too. In so many places. But that doesn’t stop anybody. I know people don’t want to die in such a horrible situation but it’s not as bad as they show it on the news. It was safe, wherever we went. They tell you where to go and where not to go. They warn you. They know which places are bad, which places are good. So they warned us, which is good. So you know where to go and where not to go. Their food is very simple, it’s Mediterranean food, just like Israelis, what Israelis eat – it’s like: falafel and chicken, skewers and beef or whichever meat. They love eating seafood because of the Nile and the river Nile has beautiful ferries around and they have big, big ferry Nile river cruises, the ones that everybody does. But I’ve travelled a lot cruising in the US so I wasn’t a fan of cruising there, we wanted to travel on road – I wanted to see the desert! And everything is buildings! And so developed. It was so much disappointment that there was no desert. But I asked the tour guide: “Why is this such a disappointment? Everything is so developed.” He laughed at me and said “Are you not happy that we’re developed?” “I am, but I want to see the desert.” So he said “All those places are there, they’re all very beautiful but it’s restricted for travellers, because of the bombs and terrorists and attacks.”. Which is why I need to keep people restricted to certain places. But when you go to different cities, there’s the desert which made me happy travelling down the road, we had experiences on the train. Moving from city to city and talking to that native city person, the tour guide, the restaurant people, the hotels where we stayed and the room service was excellent – they’re all very nice. I can clearly sense that it’s not a selfish way of talking. They’re so naïve. It took me back 50 years back to how Indians were in India – very nice and very warm, having people over and helping them without any selfish need. It is like that. The buildings and the architecture and all those things the kings made and without any kind of tools or any big machines. They managed to construct such big temples, I’m so impressed. And the guide was teaching us about how they constructed the things and how the pillars were made. It’s very different and very smart engineering. It’s all pure engineering. There’s physics involved. It’s not just random construction, which is why they all withstand, even after bombs and stuff. The Romans came and they destroyed and demolished everything and still they managed to put things together and keep them. There were floods also. Oh, and they do have rains! I thought it was all desert and they didn’t have rains but they do. All the water from the Nile, it evaporates and it just falls as a rain and that’s it, their whole irrigation is through the Nile. And they made it green, they managed to keep the place green. It took me back to the village environment in India, it’s so green, people are calm, there are animals, there is cattle, there are all those cute farm animals on the road. It’s very calm, it’s not a busy life in rush, like how we are in the US or maybe in India. India is crowded so it’s a totally different story. We demolish all the nature and we construct all the buildings and all the green is gone. I hardly ever see green here. It’s changing in here but it’s not changed yet in Egypt. I wish that place remains the same. I definitely want to go back to that place once again. Again and again.