She cannot recall those awful moments of disorientation. Like all traumatic memories they are buried deep. Or put behind a solid wall where consciousness cannot penetrate.
The rising panic.
She can remember that.
The challenge to her store of self-survival techniques; learn, learn, remember, observe, adapt, bend, keep super-alert, listen, look, be humble, smile, pretend it’s all OK.
A new place, a new country, a new language. What are they saying? Read the body language, smile, be humble, swallow the fear. Don’t, don’t, don’t do that awful British thing of shouting and insisting and bluffing control. Copy them, if they smile, smile. If they don’t form an orderly queue just mingle in the crowd and see how it all works out. Better not to offend than to get that ticket/appointment/bus seat.
But what if she doesn’t get any of it ever? Is this a place she is supposed to push herself in, a law-of-the-jungle place? Does she get crushed and left out here without bluffing confidence? Or are these people kind to the weak? She knows enough about the world that either, or neither, could be the case.
Where is her hotel? The streets a complete maze. Has she been here before, which direction did she come from, is she going round in circles?
She has a headache. Oh God, a brain tumour! She doesn’t know the word for “doctor” or “hospital”. She will die here, neglected and misunderstood.
She needs to get a grip. Observe, learn, smile, keep calm, push the panic down.
She needs to organise a permanent place to live. These people speak English and tell her what to do. But are they con-artists? She has no alternative but to trust them and with deep distrust, follow their advice.
She practises a few words in their language she has learnt. They look at her strangely. Has she unwittingly voiced some insult? Smile, smile, let them know she means well. Her cheek muscles ache.
What happens if she breaks the law here? Will they put her in jail for walking on the grass? But she couldn’t read the sign!
Time to pay the bill. Thank goodness there is a universal sign language for that. But how much will it be? Is this a normal price here or is she being grossly overcharged? She decides not to care. She has more pressing things to panic about.
She looks the wrong way to cross the road and gets yelled at stepping in front of a bicycle. Was that a friendly alert or a “What the fuck!” in their language? Smile, smile and wave. Please understand she means well.
Why did she come here? Well, she should grow into a richer human being for putting herself “out of her comfort zone”, she knows that. But she might die a few years earlier for subjecting herself to such stress.
Go home then? Back to comfort and familiarity and ease and boredom and living a grey, ordinary life. She will only move on when it feels like that here.