From living in the Brazilian Amazon to moving to New York City, I was told I would experience a true jungle-to-jungle lifestyle. In the 3 short days since I moved in, hiking through the Amazon seems like a walk in the park in comparison to the hustle and bustle of this city. The journey from Tampa to New York may have only been a 19 hour car ride, but I feel as if I am in a foreign country halfway across the world. With wide eyes, a racing heart, and aching feet, I have tried not to blink for fear of missing out on seeing so many new things.
Three days ago, my hands were tightly gripped on the wheel as we were approaching the city. My eyes wanted to wander to take in everything as we turned on the first road in Brooklyn, but I had something more vital to focus on. I was getting my first taste of New York driving and was quickly learning how to weave in and out of cars double parks, pedestrians running across the road, and impatient honkers behind me. At every stop light I took advantage of the break from road concentration and was surprised to see such an eclectic amalgam of cultures represented amongst the pedestrians.
The most prominent group in that particular area was a Jewish community. Women walked across the streets in long black skirts and men proudly marched in their black suits and top hats, with short haircuts, except for the two curly strands of hair falling from either side of their hats. Cindy tried to point out the hair style to me, but for lack of better word – referred to the men’s curls as “doodly-doos”. I loved seeing the little boys walking around in their miniature suits, and miniature “doodle-doo” hairstyle.
A honk startled me out of my cultural fascination and it was back to the real world of driving in the city. I felt as if I was in a Mario kart game, if only I could have just power boost my way through the traffic. It took almost 20 minutes to get 4 miles from the interstate to my new apartment. As we drove closer to my street, the buildings began gradually jading. The supermarkets transformed into small corner grocery stores with handwritten signs in the windows stating “We accept Food Stamps”. A woman on the sidewalk distracted us with her flailing arms in some sort of confrontation with presumably her husband. Her eyes were bugged out as she shouted loud profanities which we could hear clearly despite our closed windows. When my GPS finally announced “I had arrived at my destination”, I looked to the left and met the gaze of a group of hoodlums in wife beaters and flat bill caps, chilling on my apartment steps. I suddenly regretted not bringing along my Bon Qui Qui Halloween outfit so I wouldn’t stick out so much.
As I pulled my luggage up the steps with the help of my parents, I was greeted by silent stares from my new neighbors. I felt overwhelmingly unwelcome, until I spotted my new roommate leaning out of the window waving down with a warm smile on her face. Once behind the bolted door, I was pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful apartment with a room bigger than I had imagined. My roommates were incredibly friendly and I liked them immediately. One from Brooklyn and the other from Trinidad, they informed me that the majority of people in this part of town are from Trinidad and Haiti. They told me it was a safe place to live as long as I don’t get stuck in the wrong part of town at the wrong hour of the night. They also warned me to be aware that my 16-year-old face and Southern mannerisms (meaning smiling) definitely make me stick out, not only in this part of town – but in every part of the city. I was going to have a lot to learn.