It had been six months since I landed in a university town in Illinois for my graduate studies. Following some interesting turn of events, on a particularly snowy day, I found myself on my way to Switzerland. I was going to meet my penfriend for the first time. Now this was the age of slow Internet, expensive long-distance phone calls and needless to say no social media. There was no Google. Having a penfriend meant one would get hold of a pen and a piece of paper, write a letter and mail it. We had done this for years. We had never talked to each other but we had shared our worlds with each other. Mine as a city girl growing up in India and hers from a small town in eastern Switzerland. We were about the same age, we both had younger sisters and we were thousands of miles apart. Now thanks to a university friend’s online searches, my penfriend’s phone number was tracked down and arrangements were made for me to fly and spend my Winter break with her.
I landed at Zurich airport and wandered around, unsure of how to find my friend. Neither of us had cell phones and in that state of half excitement, half bewilderment, it was pretty useless for me to try to remember the plan we had discussed. I thought I heard my name on the airport’s announcement system and before I could assemble it back in my head, I saw her. I don’t remember what ensued next but I think there was some laughter, hugs and squeals of joy.
The details are blurry now but I spent the next few days in her university town, visiting different places every day. There was a day trip to one of the quintessential European castles, a visit to a cheese factory and just strolling around. I pulled together some Indian meals for her and her roommates, and she taught me the mannerism of her land. Like how certain number of pecks on cheek are customary when greeting someone and more importantly, how the number increases as you move closer to the French border! I spent a few days at her parent’s house where her family treated me like a princess. There was local food to eat, places to see and kind grandparents with twinkling eyes to hang out with. I remember distinctly a Celine Dion CD that I saw in her apartment. It struck me as odd; it was the only clue reminding me of my new home in the USA. I had walked a few bridges from India to get to USA and a few more to get to this corner in Switzerland whose address was too familiar to me. An address where my letters had obediently landed all these years. There was snow everywhere and I was in a winter wonderland.
I noticed that my friend had a soft voice and she talked carefully in English. While growing up, she would write her letters in Swiss German and her mother would translate in English before mailing them to me. Eventually when she decided to learn English, it was a pleasant surprise for me and a matter of childish pride as if I had something to do with her decision. Now we were talking in the same language and yet I could see that her demeanor was much different than mine. Maybe it was the effect of her land where there was tranquility, a slower rhythm to everyday life and natural beauty abound. It was as if instead of singing a melody, they had simply decided to live in the melody.
As my winter break approached its end, we bid goodbye. With some goodies packed in my bag and mixed emotions in my heart, I left that place. With the hope that we would perhaps meet again sometime. With a promise to keep in touch. It will soon be twenty years to our meeting and I must say, we have kept that promise.