In my first two weeks in Glasgow I’ve already experienced a great many things.
I accompanied a group of 12-year-olds as they volunteered at 'Diversity Day', where they represented Judaism to 300 11-year-olds. There were tables for all the different religions, as well as accompanying activities like 'Baptize-your-own-baby' for Christianity and 'try-on-a-saree' for Hinduism. There were also stations for both Bollywood and Israeli dancing, where all the children followed along to Hava Nagila and London Thumakda.
I've settled into my office, as well as many of the partner sites where I'll be working. I've cleared off all of the tables and hung photos of my friends and family on the wall. I have a brand new dayplanner and I've even got a string of twinklelights for my new bedroom.
I've been invited to beautiful Shabbat meals by different members of the community, both locals and newcomers like me. I've schmoozed at shul kiddushes and attended community events, including a London-born Israeli beatboxer who wowed the elderly crowd with the noises coming out of his mouth. I watched the first-graders (P1s in Scottish terms) at the Jewish school receive their very first siddurs, and sing Shabbat favourites at school-wide Kabbalat Shabbat including 'Put the Chicken in the Pot' and 'A Dinosaur is Coming for Shabbos'.
As I sat in shul this Shabbat, I thought about what a huge difference a week has made, and how I'm getting used to this idea of shifting into new communities. I thought back to how I felt after my first two weeks in India (read that post here), and how much I learnt through my time there; How much better equipped I am this time around to integrate myself into a new community.
Yesterday afternoon I lay sprawled out on a bean bag on the floor of the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow watching a video installation. To my right was a slow pan tracing the shelves of an elaborate Eastern antique shop. To my left was a sort of documentary of hardships around the world. Shots of flaming buildings in Baghdad flickered to refugees crossing mountain passes to children begging along highways in India.
It sort of reminded me of the place I’m in right now. I go to work and am busy and absorbed in my new country. It’s lovely and pleasant and I’m really enjoying all of the opportunities here. But at the same time, it’s so easy to forget all of the places I’ve come from. Amongst all of the wonderful and elaborate and beautiful things I saw in India, I also saw horrible suffering. I saw disfigured beggars, and people who would never rise from their hardships. And until I saw it projected on the huge screen in the middle of the fancy colonnaded art gallery, I had sort of forgotten.
And while the screen on my left shifted through workers in sweatshops and children in poverty, the screen on the right showed beautiful artefacts, resting gently on the shelves of the shop. Are these my memories of India, resting gently like remnants of a past life while I decorate my bedroom with new things from Primark and skip around to museums on a Sunday?
And so I'm continuing to settle into my new life here. I miss India a lot, and I'm going to switch to an unlimited data plan to keep up with all of my WhatsApp calls to my friends there. There's a Pakistani restaurant with a great lunch special where I sometimes sit and speak in Hindi with the owner and reminisce about how I used to eat Indian food thrice a day. But I also have a 'Contemporary Scottish' playlist saved on Spotify. I'm getting pretty good at deciphering the elusive Glaswegian accent. And I'm excited to spend the next two years immersing myself in my new community and making a home here as well.
*If anyone is interested in checking it out, the show I'm talking about is called Disorient by Fiona Tan, on show at the Gallery of Modern Art Glasgow until January 29, 2020 - read about it here.