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  American odyssey - 1
  By Anand Muttungal  
  MY friends and well-wishers organised a very memorable farewell party, a day before my departure to take part in the International Visitor Leadership Programme organized by the United States of America.

I was overwhelmed by the large turnout of people at the Bhopal airport to see me off early in the morning. I was eagerly looking forward to visiting the US. It was in Mumbai that I came to know about the volcanic eruption in Iceland.

The American Consulate in Mumbai informed me that many airports in Europe were closed and many flights to Europe and America were cancelled. Fortunately, the lady told me, our flight was not cancelled.

It was with this good news that I reached the Mumbai airport in the wee hours of April 17, 2010. But at the airport I was told that my flight to Washington was postponed indefinitely. The time was 12.30 am. As instructed by the American Consulate in Mumbai, I called up the programme in-charge. She advised me to stay in Mumbai till the morning.

In the morning I was told I would be accommodated in a flight leaving for the US via Dubai two days later. She made arrangements for my stay in Mumbai. I did not seek any allowance but the Consulate provided an allowance for the period I remained in Mumbai.

After a long waiting of 12 hours at the Dubai Airport, I was shocked to learn that the volcanic eruption had affected our route to Washington too.

The airlines announced that the volcanic ash could affect the journey. They requested 62 passengers to opt out voluntarily from flying and wait in Dubai for another flight the next day.

In a short time they got sufficient passengers who opted to go the next day. After a long flight we finally reached Washington. It was definitely shocking news for me that my luggage did not reach.

To be frank, it did not sadden me even though I was left with only one pair of extra dress. Of course, my travel documents were with me. This was because I was happy that the passengers were all safe.

I came to know from someone at the airport that the aircraft had to fly above the normal height to avoid the volcanic ash. So the flight did not carry many luggage pieces.

While I was waiting for my luggage to reach my hotel, the US Department of the State arranged money and a person to buy me necessary things including dress. This was also done without my request. I realised that hospitality and courtesy were part of their culture.

All through, I received smiles and heard soft words and polite expressions. I experienced this at the shops I went to buy things and from the driver who drove us to different destinations, the people who served us at the hotels and the persons whom I met to learn about the different working systems of American society.

I noticed a very good thing -- everyone stands in the queue to get his work done. The queue system is followed everywhere -- in markets and in offices. So we find order everywhere. People do not crowd around for their work to be done.

I wondered how these people have become so polite and courteous. When I visited a lower primary school, I got an answer to my query. The children were coming in lines to take part in a book distribution ceremony. The teacher kept telling them, "keep smiling and speak soft." I noticed it at all the centers I visited.

I understood that the training children receive at a very young age is what characterises a society. Of course, there are exceptions but they are negligible. I believe good hospitality, soft talking with natural blooming smiles and courteous words are the stepping stones to success. No one knows this better than the Americans. (To be concluded)
Photo caption: The writer is the third from the right
The writer is PRO and spokesperson, Catholic Council of Bishops, M.P, and Director, Vishwa Kalyan Ashram
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