TODAY -

US Sojourn
- Part 1 -

By Yumnam Rupachandra *


On November 29, 2008, I landed at Washington Dulles International airport at Washington DC, allegedly the most powerful address in the world. It was about 6 weeks ahead of the new President of America Barack Obama taking over. The Capital city was abuzz with the transition activities as the new team under Obama prepares to take over from the outgoing team led by "much maligned" US President George Bush. It was hectic time for bureaucrats. Six weeks later they will be under new bosses and they were helping them ease into their roles-pity we do not have this method of passing on powers in India.

This was my first visit to the United States of America and everything I saw was so "foreign." America, like in Anurag Mathur's humorous novel "Inscrutable Americans" were full of …Americans-black, red, yellow, tall, short, fat and what ever.

Jokes apart … I was there as part of International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP), a US State department sponsored program. Every year the United State sponsors over 4500 people from across the world under this program. I was one of the fortunate seven to have made it to this program for the year 2008.

With me there were three others from India and one each from Kazakhstan, Nepal and Afghanistan. Kazakhstan by the way is one of the many former USSR provinces that became independent following the Prestroika. It is north of Afghanistan and its Capital is Almaty. I don't think the other two countries need any introduction-Afghanistan is forever on international pages and Nepal is too near for us to miss.

Each IVLP was conducted under a theme and the common thread that bound seven of us were HIV and AIDS. Perhaps my works as journalist in the field of HIV and AIDS won me a place amongst the seven who were experts in the field.

IVLP, I found out was one of the prestigious programs US Government takes up annually to help US shape a freer, secure and a more prosperous world by promoting personal, professional and institutional ties between private citizens and organisations in USA and those of others around the world. This is amongst few other exchange programs that US Government takes up including the Fulbright fellowship.

All IVL programs start with mandatory familiarisation workshop on the working concept of what is generally acknowledged as the world's most successful democracy-US democracy, its people, its history and its culture. It was also an opportunity for seven strangers to get to know their companion of next three weeks. It proved to be interesting as we discover one another. I didn't know that the Kazaks liked Horse milk and meat till I met my good friend Solpan Karzhaubayeva who works as Deputy Director of National Healthy Lifestyle Centre of Ministry of Health of Kazakhstan.

Dr Farzana Wali from Afghanistan paints a completely different picture of her country notoriously known for Taliban and Mullahs.

Manipur to them was as Latin to them as Latin was like Greek to me. Of course it did not take me much time to upgrade their geographical as well as geopolitical knowledge about the region. I gave them each a Loyum Phee so that they will remember Manipur for some time to come.

My other three colleagues from India Dr Milind Pandurang, Dr Ilanchelhian and Sampath Muthuvelan, an actor cum social activist from south India knew of Manipur because of our HIV and AIDS statistics only. The only participant who knew of Manipur was our Nepali colleague Mrs Puspanjali Thakur who happened to have a distant relative in Manipur. IVLP gave us all a chance to get to each other better. But what bound all seven of us through out the trip was Ronn Francis our advisor as he likes to call himself.

A New Yorker, Ronn is settled in DC and works for US State Dept and he was our English Language Officer for the program. "Americans value their space, so do not crowd around them" was his first advised. "Americans are punctual so be in time for all appointments," was his second. I say…...this was real foreign. In India …..we push one another and except to cinema halls we prefer to be late.

Incidentally I am not the first to be on the program from Manipur. Kolkata Consulate of US has been quite active and my good friend Babloo Loitongbam, a Human Right Activist, N Bikram an NGO activist and another one had already preceded me.

As expected of any first time visitors to US from developing and under developed countries, what amazed the team most was the infrastructure across 6 cities we visited. From Washington DC in the East coast to Seattle in the west coast and then to Miami down south after a 4-day halt at Austin in Texas, the infrastructure and its maintenance can best be described in how the Americans usually say "AWESOME."

When our Chief Minister O Ibobi went overboard with his experience in US after his short visit to New York I was skeptic. I guess I was wrong, he must be as impressed as I was. The only problem is he seems to be trying to turn Manipur into America overnight……the result as you see is all dust and grime.

Coming back to what impressed us all-the infrastructure-yes, it was one of the finest I have seen. For miles and miles from DC to Baltimore or from Austin to San Antonio the roads were of one of the best with grasses and the trees on either side trimmed and pruned. The traffic is always heavy and every one just seems to be driving. I know this not the actual picture but if you look at the American Highways it seems almost every American possessed a car.

I have also seen the homeless and dispossessed so I know this is not the actual picture. At Miami in Florida, a rail track was a clear demarcation between those who had and those who didn't. Under the shadows of massive flyovers carrying swank cars, there were plenty of them homelesses, all their worldly belongings in a suitcase. The trees here were a stark contrast from the rows of uniform palm trees one is so used to associating Miami with.

Another awesome feature is the massive airports Americans have and recession notwithstanding, some of them are still expanding. From Dulles in Washington DC to Miami International in Florida we crossed 7 airports with few hours of layover at two of them and every one of them were busy and that made me think if every Americans kept on flying-which of course again is not true.

to be continued......



* Yumnam Rupachandra wrote this article for The Sangai Express .
This article was webcasted at e-pao.net on 04th April 2009.


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