Diaspora Diaries: Chapter 3

Photo by Merideth Morgan

I love this city’s energy, but it’s not easy.

An early lesson, is being comfortable with aloneness. New Yorkers seem to be scared of physical interaction. Passing someone on the street in Trinidad, hopping in a maxi, entering an elevator, require an audible “Good Morning” greeting. Not here. There is no eye contact, no speaking  nor smiling. People sway numbly on the train, blankly staring at the ads above the windows. Even though there are hundreds of people around you, you feel like you’re riding solo.

Even banking here is so impersonal. You don’t even need to step into a branch. Everything can be done online with certain banks. No tellers, no breathing down your neck from the creep standing behind you in the queue. Actually, this limited contact thing can have its perks.

But it isn’t silent. You hear people talking, seemingly to themselves. Enter the Bluetooth headset. Personally, I’m not a headset type of girl (yet) but almost everyone has a device stuck in their ear. It’s some Black Mirror type scene, seeing people talking, nodding and laughing while they stand on the side of the street smoking a cigarette.

Last week I stood next to a girl on the train with an ice cold expression on her face. I was close enough to her to be able to hear the dutty Dancehall she was listening to. It was so weird to me! How does one listen to Alkaline and not move? They’re like robots. Music pumping in their ear drums, while their toes remain untappable.

They’re obsessed with Instagram; it being the centre of many conversations. They love to DM. They love text of all sorts! Yet, when there is an actual human person standing next to them… *chirping crickets*.

I once wrote on my blog that I hope I don’t catch their coldness. Caribbean people are know for their warmth and their vibrant expressiveness, and I have held on to that with desperation. But I can see how this place hardens you.

The day runs at high speed. They don’t call it a New York minute for nothing. The sun is up early, and down late, but with to-do lists a mile long, it often feels like you’re toting 3 heavy grocery bags through 5 blocks, and up 80 steps to get to your door. Wait, that’s not a metaphor, that was my actual Thursday. There are so many rules for everything. I mean, this is great. I love order, but I come from Trinidad. You think you like rules until you become a non-resident, legal-to-work alien, trying to secure a lease with a 2 week old Social security number.

I knew it would be tough. They say getting here is half the battle. Wouldn’t that have been nice? It’s actually just the preface. I’ve barely begun the first chapter. I’ve barely gotten to step two. I’m on Step One and one eighth. Just getting started. And I’m tired. People are complaining that I’m bailing on them, and not sticking to plans to meet up and lime. But it takes at least 30 mins to get anywhere. And with things being expensive to begin with, then taxes being added, and then the ever so nagging custom of tipping everyone for everything, liming is no longer a top priority.

One thing that stood out to me the first time I was here, was how much people spoke about money, and not having any. I would look at patrons pull out coupons for free drinks at restaurants, and walk an extra 15 minutes to avoid the $2.75 Metro ride. How quickly I have become like that! Adulting here is on a whole new level. What I was doing in Trinidad was not adulting. Even when I stood in line at FCB for 2 hours. Nope.

A born and raised New Yorker once said to me that I had Grit. It was an amazing compliment, not just that it came from him (he who once told me I looked a bit fat and tired. These are the men I date, ladies and gentlemen). Grit is the best word to describe what it takes to make it here. Many times I feel overwhelmed and near defeat. I have seen strong people crumble under the pressure. You need to be twice as strong, twice as persistent and twice as diligent as you ever were back home. They say if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, and I’m so up for the challenge.

 

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