It’s a lovely Friday morning. I barely feel like going out because this is the worst form of winter I have ever witnessed in my entire life. I am an Indian. If there is anything that I have enjoyed during the winter, it is our hot cup of ginger tea. All I had to do was keep myself warm under the blanket.
And yet, I am supposed to behave sanely at this freaking zero degree Celsius temperature. I stare outside my window and find myself trembling just at the thought of going out. The unusual thing is, unlike me, other people are very casual. Winter doesn’t affect their normal lives. What the heck!
How am I supposed to go out in this glacial temperature? I can’t.
This is insane. I come back inside my blanket. No way, I can’t attend the event.
I am pampering myself and having the self-talk—“Honey, you preach about pushing yourself out of comfort zone, remember!”
Well…that’s embarrassing. I gotta gather some courage. I am still upset that I have to go out. I put my fur shoes on, wear my thermal wear and three more layers of clothes and sweaters to combat such severe cold.
I finally push myself to go out.
Oh wait! Perhaps, I haven’t told you yet. I am waiting at the bus stop for Richard, whom I have never seen before. He and his girlfriend offered me to join in his car for a team-building activity, happening at the central part of Slovakia called Banska Stiavnica, for two days.
I meet Richard and Eva. Eva has recently moved from Switzerland where she worked at the hotel. She looks composed. Richard speaks very fast and offers me a smoke as he takes out a cigarette and before I could deny, he has lit his cigarette and smoking happily. We have exchanged quite a bit of conversation. He has asked me — where do I come from? What I have been doing in Bratislava and do I like it here or not? I come from India, I’d say proudly. No one cares to know which part of India and I have started to love that.
We are traveling now in his car. Almost all the youngsters (boys or girls) know how to drive a car and I find that impressive. I am dumbfounded by the countryside view. As far as I could see, the paddy fields are covered with flawless white snow and the flawed moon is glimmering at the skyline. My hands are on windows and eyes wide open thinking — Holy mother! Where on earth have I arrived?
I have reached the scout house in the middle of the valley fully covered with snow. There are some old churches, castles, and cafes around. I feel like I am in a dreamland, a fairytale. The town is breathtakingly beautiful.
We eat pizza and cheesecake at a small wooden cafe before moving in to the scout house. Almost thirty new people from all over the world are waiting to meet me. Well…I just bragged a bit. No one waited for me. They all seem to be thrilled, open-minded, and accepting in nature. We greet each other start to talk in no time.
Cuanta is from France and he likes music. Macha is from Slovakia and she loves studying architecture. Blonde Lucia likes to run. Red-haired Kristine swims very well. Alexandro from Italy likes to dance. We all are talking and sharing. The shy girl from the Netherlands is talking about blueberries and weed. I feel enthralled. I have so much to learn about Europe and Europeans.
At 10:30 PM, right after dinner and introductory games, we are going to a pub to drink beer, all of us. There are few other old men in the pub. They begin to sing and cheer loudly. It feels like a carnival. Everyone is busy talking to someone. Cicile, Patrick, and I are talking about India. They have only seen India on TV and never talked to any Indian before.
After paying for my beer, I am walking back to the scout house with a handsome French guy. He is immaculately wearing a full-sleeved, knee-length, velvet black coloured coat and wearing a grey scarf around his neck. He is walking gracefully even on the snowy surface, and I am walking like an awkward unsophisticated snowman, cautious not to fall. The streets are decorated with white lights for Christmas. It doesn’t feel real to me. I touch the snow with my hand to see if it’s real indeed. The snow is very light and dry. The French guy is smiling at me and my amazement. He offers to click a few pictures of me and suggests I send it to family back in India.
The next morning, we play some fun games, participate in team building activities, solve some puzzles roaming around the city, and learn a bit more about volunteering in Europe and many more new ideas and insights have unfolded. Our team has won scarves and honey nuggets as a prize.
The reason I am writing this is to let you know that I also feel dull and sluggish before going out for an adventure. Almost at the verge of giving up, I just give myself a little kick. I have never ever regretted what has happened afterwards.
I wouldn’t have met these amazing people if I hadn’t come out yesterday.
If I hadn’t come out, I probably would have missed seeing this.
And this too…
Not even in my dreams had I’d imagined such beautiful place. I have made a new friend Eva. She doesn’t talk much but connected with me quite well. She is considerate and always keeps an eye on me if I need any help. “Shimpy! Maybe we can go to pub together in Bratislava, ” she adds.
Unlike our country, people here work in almost all the professions without having any sense of shame or self-loathing. Katrine works as a receptionist, Patrick works in bar. There is absolutely no difference and I love that about this society. We eat together, talk together, and play games together.
I have changed my mind at the end of the first day. I wish to remain available for my family and friends on my birthday, when they call me. So, I decide to come back leaving the activity in the middle. Team building activities, meeting new people, learning and gaining some insights are one thing but giving time to family and friends is just non-negotiable.
Before I leave, my new friend Cicile from France gives me a postcard and a present. She is worried that I might end up freezing here. That’s overwhelming.
The best thing about meeting new people is that I have absolutely no clue about the other person and gradually I get to learn about their behaviour, their culture, food, their whole life without succumbing to any conjecture. As a consequence, I have developed great listening ability.
After driving for two long hours through the frosty mountains and valley and through extremely dense fog, right before my birthday I have come back to my place. I have served myself a glass of my favourite wine with milk chocolate. I am pretty much relaxing on my birthday, eating noodles on the kitchen floor and popcorn on my bed, enjoying the fleeting attention. I am upset that my early twenties are gone but I am satisfied that I made it worth living.
Cheers to all the memories I have made so far.
Cheers to all the feelings I have had so far: love and heartbreak, anguish and disappointment, excitement and fear, mirth and misery.
Cheers to all the people I have come across in this beautiful journey.
And lastly cheers to this day, for no one has seen tomorrow.