Not a terrible idea, right? Get a plane ticket to a place where the majority of its citizens look like me (before dark, then be as awkward as possible). Hailing from Kansas City, Missouri, I spend half the year in the Washington area and half in New York City, but still rarely see or even hear a woman from the region. I can’t recall a single time when I was asked where I was from in any conversation, or when I was even told what the Uyghur are, much less where their culture was. If I ever were to visit, I’d be thrilled to see where my roots come from, and learn some of the little-known, deeply rooted traditions that my parents didn’t know a thing about. I’d be happy to see any Uyghur carry my bag, too, and maybe even carry one of my sister’s backpacks around.
Several months into our frequent meetings, the opportunity seemed like a great idea. Naturally, the trip wasn’t going to be cheap: I’d be attending an event at Grand Central for NPR, and instead of private jets (like the flight my mother bought me for over $15,000, but I won’t get into that), I’d be taking a train from Washington D.C. to New York. The cost seems too steep, especially after she’d pledged us $8,000 to return home for Thanksgiving, the agreement even more of a drag than usual. But then I realized: With the threat of something called a “coup d’état” looming, a good deal was out there, and my sisters weren’t exactly pressing for the best deal anyway.
So, I called my mother the next morning and suggested we swap. She handed me the phone number for Kolkata, India, and also added that I had to leave my passport in our apartment because I was visiting that weekend. Once in the transit area of New York’s Penn Station, I plugged it in to find out what the deal was: Flight for three people to the eastern city of Kolkata, then daily train commute from there to New York. Cost? $1,900.
Of course, if we hadn’t been ready to fork over that much, I could’ve given the $8,000 to charity, donated to help protect the country from one “coup d’état” in an attempt to save it again from another. But on this count, my mother was right. Also, I thought, I can’t miss this chance to explore the beautiful city that is Kolkata. If Kolkata doesn’t give me the opportunity to relate my Uyghur culture to another region, then nothing will.
Here we are, fresh off our flight, excited to check out a dervish art show we’ve been invited to. It’s just so weird. I mean, I recognize the story of those on horseback, but I have no idea what they’re being used for. Anyway, I laugh. Or rather, when she’s telling me what dervishes are supposed to do, I laugh and then laugh some more until I’m ready to feel like I’m being eaten alive.
Today, we left Kolkata at about 3 a.m. For the first time, we saw our fellow passengers, and at that exact moment, the woman sitting next to us I recognized. She wore a black headscarf, over a traditional white tunic, and looked just like my mother.
At first I didn’t realize it was her. I could see a clearly discernible but loud accent in the person’s voice. And then I realized that the woman wasn’t wearing a headscarf. On a dress. But the placement of the fabric was so close to my mother’s dress that I could see it clearly.
I leaned over to her and whispered, “Yes.” I told her that I recognized her, and that I was immediately transported back to my childhood when I was told by a neighbor that a German-British yomping dog was living in our backyard. I could see the owner calling to her as she picked her up to take it away, all of this happening right in front of my mother. The German-British Yomping Dog was, in fact, my mother.
When she heard the news, my mother couldn’t believe it. She sat quiet for a few moments until her friend Anna began