Four years ago, I was adjusting to my new life as an expat in Bangalore, India. Culture shock had knocked me off balance. Almost every aspect of my daily life was an unexpected challenge. Unpredictable drivers made me question whether it was safe to cross a street or ride in a vehicle. My mobility was compromised until I learned to accept my new environment.
A pivotal moment occurred when I opted to attend a Jewish event that was being hosted by the Bangalore Chabad rabbi and his wife. I had met them at a Shabbat dinner just a few weeks before. I wanted to reconnect with them as well as the tiny expat Jewish community. In order to attend the Purim celebration, I would need to travel by myself to another part of town.
I knew that the taxi dispatcher would not understand everything that I said. The driver would have minimal English skills. I only had a vague idea where I was going. Despite these issues, I did not want to be alone. I wanted to celebrate Purim in Bangalore, India.
In chapter 13 of May This Be the Best Year of Your Life, I write about this experience.
A few days after dinner with Ariel* and Shira*, I received an e-mail invitation to attend a Purim party. I was on my own. Josh was traveling with Rachael and Ira was in the United States. This was another defining moment. If I wanted to attend the party, I needed to arrange for a taxi. In America, I wouldn’t think twice about doing so, but in India my fears of getting lost or being ripped off weighed on my mind.
Purim, a Jewish holiday, recalls the story of Queen Esther. When our boys were younger, they would dress up in costumes and we would attend the Megillah reading at Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook, Illinois.There we’d shake our groggers to blot out the name of Haman, an evil man who wanted to exterminate the Jews of ancient Persia. The boys’ favorite parts of the holiday were eating the hamantaschen that I prepared and hanging out at the Purim carnival on the weekend closest to the holiday. After we moved to Colorado, these family traditions fell by the wayside.
All of the Israeli guests arrived at the Chabad Purim gathering in colorful and creative costumes, and they all spoke Hebrew fluently. I regretted that I never mastered my Hebrew. Ariel read from the Megillah, a scroll with the story of Esther written in Hebrew. It was the first time that I had attended a Purim service that didn’t include the handing out of groggers. It seemed strange that people would clap. A gesture I usually associated with approval was now being used to show disproval.
Jews often remark how comfortable they feel wherever they go because Jewish traditions are common worldwide. To a certain extent this is true. I have been in synagogues throughout the world and sensed God’s presence during the services; and I’ve felt symbolically connected to the people standing nearby. Yet in this scenario, something was amiss. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it. What was missing? Ira and my sons, of course. Jewish holidays are always meant to be celebrated in a community setting. But the core ingredient for me—my family—wasn’t present. I longed to be back in Colorado rolling hamantaschen dough in my own kitchen and then filling it with jelly or melted chocolate.
As I lay in bed later that night, I had mixed feelings about the day. On the one hand, I was incredibly sad that I wasn’t in Colorado to share this joyous holiday with my family. On the other hand, I was growing as an individual. Until now, I had been leery of going off the beaten path by myself because I was worried and anxious over unknown consequences. I was proud that I’d found a way to communicate with the dispatcher and the driver with minimal effort. I had passed a major hurdle. I was learning to be more receptive about taking chances.
** Ariel and Shira are not the actual names for the rabbi and his wife.
Until I started to take control of my situation, fear and uncertainty wrecked havoc with my ability to live outside my comfort zone. It was an uphill climb as I faced each new experience. Some events were easier to handle than others. If I had any chance of surviving as an expat, I had to be flexible and more accepting of differences. I could not remain isolated in my own cocoon. During this enriching process, I grew as a person. However, I always struggled with being separated from my family.
Being an expat is just one way to step outside one’s comfort zone. Less dramatic options are available without leaving one’s hometown. I highly recommend that everyone take steps to occasionally do something unexpected. An adventurous spirit expands one’s horizon.
I share my journey in May This Be the Best Year of Your Life. I sincerely hope that my words will encourage you to take a step away from your predictable behavior and enjoy life to its fullest.