The Aiya in New York

I’ve been here for a while now and almost everyday I keep getting asked if I’m Indian. In turn I have assumed that every brown skinned person I see is an Indian.

Saturday morning around 5.30am we were driving back  from a night of partying in the city and we stopped at a Dunkin Donuts to pick up some dinner/breakfast. A male friend and I walked in and I stared  bleary eyed at the menu trying to figure out what I wanted. The nice Indian guy at the counter assured me it was okay to take my time since I wasnt holding anyone up.

After much pondering I finally placed the order and also decided to take home some munchkins. While we chitchatted about the flavors he casually asked us where we were from. But when we said Sri Lanka, he stared at us like we were aliens. Assuming he hadn’t heard of SL, I was about to say something scathing about his ignorance when he said

” Nangi mama dehiwala, oyagollo koheda?”.

So we talked, him referring to us as malli and nangi. And it turns out he has been here doing odd jobs for 10 years in NY while his wife and kids are back home waiting till he sends for them. He offered us tea and a part time job at Dunkin Donuts for my friend till he finds work after graduation. When we got home I opened my bag of munchkins to find that instead of the five that I paid for there was a bagful.

Thinking about how happy this guy was to meet us, as if he was starved for Sri Lankan company, made me wonder if its really worth being away from your family and friends for a decade even if it does pay better?

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16 thoughts on “The Aiya in New York

  1. I guess we appreciate home more when we are away from home… there was an interesting story told to me by a previous boss of mine of a schoolmate who was in USA – who he didn’t know that well – who called often and most of the time Spoke in sinhala using expletives as he rarely got a chance. Guess the grass is always greener on the other side 🙂

    1. lol. i think i know what he meant. even when i’m here on holiday i sometimes stay with people who dont speak sinhala and then when i do meet someone who does its kinda like a relief to use sinhala expressions and not be met with blank stares 🙂

  2. Good question and one that all immigrants have faced.

    They usually tell themselves that they will return at some point but often, never can.

  3. The Largest DD franchise in NY, which covers 100% S.Island and somewhat NJ and rest of NY, highly employ Sri Lankans for some reason. Even most of the managers are Sri Lankans. it’s pretty much guaranteed if you walk to any of those shop, you can order coffee in Sinhala.

    I can’t agree with the fact he don’t get to speak in Sinhala in NY – if you go to S.Island even cops are Sri Lankans. if you leave a note in your illegally parked car, something sound like “අනේ ටිකට් එකක් ලියන්න එපා” – there is a big chance you may not get a ticket in S.I. If you walk in to any Sex Shop in the city, you can ask for a dildo in Sinhala (If you know the Sinhala word for that).

    But, it’s entirely possible he may not get to talk in Sinhala with a pretty girl as often as he likes about her munchkins.

    Hey, it’s not just for better pay. You get to stay away from relatives and their judging fingers.

  4. I can related to that, and I haven’t been away for that long either. I feel that you just take things for granted too often and then suddenly BOOM…. the moment of realization. Its of course a choice we make, and then find out that the grass aint that much greener on the other side.

  5. Koluu, i didnt say he doesnt get to SPEAK sinhala. i’m sure he does. because his co-worker was sri lankan too. what i meant is that this guy seemed so happy to meet new sri lankan people.

    lemonade, you are right. its a choice and a compromise. but sometimes maybe a necessary one 🙂 hang in there.

  6. I’ve met a gigantic spectrum of people in my 10 years out of the country. There are those who want to come back because they ha a relatively comfortable life here, into which category I guess I fall. Then there are those who had nothing here and have made it to a certain extent there and will not even think of coming back. A lot of my friends talk about coming back, but I think have reached a level of comfort in their little niches that the only way they will come back is either for a holiday or in retirement. The chap in question probably won’t be able to come back til his kids are sorted which probably will be until he is quite old 😦

    As being someone who has a level of comfort in SL to come back and no responsibilites I found the immigrant experience hard. I can’t imagine what it must be like for those without that comfort factor and with responsibilities like kids. Ok…I’m rambling and will stop now:)

    1. couldnt agree more. as i toy with similar plans i keep wondering which category i would fall into. probably the same as you.
      and no, it wasnt a ramble by far 🙂

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