Talking to Strangers

I met an Indian woman on the street last night, about mid-40s and traditionally dressed. I couldn't have been dressed more differently, in a tank top, skirt, and flip flops.

She had been walking ahead of me on the sidewalk until we came to a stoplight. She stared for a few moments, and though it appeared as if she were just another conservative woman giving me the evil eye for showing my ankles, there was something different about the way she stared. It was evident that we were not from Utah.

At this realization, Bibi, the Americanized version of her Indian name, began asking rapid-fire questions in thickly-accented English. I mentioned I was from California, and she immediately asked whether I knew her friend at UC Berkeley who had gotten a PhD in Comparative Literature three years ago. Of course not, but it was nevertheless impressive that she lucky-guessed my school in a state that's practically 1000 miles long.

In the course of our 1.5-mile walk, I find out that she is from India and came to the States to get her master's degree in Folklore at UPenn. In the course of her studies there, she came to work and study in the apparently prestigious Folklore program at Utah State University, where she is an archivist, curator, and English professor. Bibi's dissertation is on the relationship between Tennessee Williams and some other gay playwright who had a fat crush on Williams. Not exactly something to publish here in Utah.

She talked more than she breathed, like a toddler after an ice cream cone or an undergrad after forty-two sleepless hours finishing a mostly crack-induced thesis. Bibi complained about how uneducated her students are-- that they don't know, or think it's important to know, anything about the period during which an American novel was written. (Normally, I would argue that literary works can be appreciated differently outside their historical context, but I'm sorry, America is barely 200 years old. How hard is it to know at least something about the Depression? Like, that it happened?)

I was glad to have met Bibi. I hadn't expected to find a Fulbright Scholar in the entire state, let alone walking the same way home one hot August night. Hopefully, she finds an outlet that isn't her meticulously archived British theater history library with which to share her intellectual prowess.

1 comment:

lilredvwagon said...

what a pleasant accident of fate --
reminds you of what a wide world it really is,
when it's been seeming not.