Published on People Move

The Other Indian

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“Name’s John. Hi!” he said.

“Thanks. Glad to meet you. My name is Dilip,” I replied as I put my carry-on bag on the seat and moved aside the pillow and the blanket to make space for myself. After a hectic week at Dakar, I was hoping the seat next to me would be empty. But it wasn’t.

John, my co-traveler, was short, brown, and middle-aged. There was a nondescript baseball hat on his head through which his pony tail hung behind him, long, more pepper than salt. He was wearing brown jeans and blue shirt. He had taken off his shoes and was wearing socks from the travel kit provided by the airline.

“You going to DC?” I asked.

“Yes. And from Washington DC, to New Mexico.” He said he lived in the Navajo Nation just south of Colorado.

“Are you returning from the game in South Africa?” I asked.

“Yeah. The first time I saw a soccer game in my life. It was great. I’m a coal miner, in New Mexico. My company sent me to watch the World Cup. We were 150 of us from all over the world. We were there for 5 days.”

I opened the overhead locker to put my bag in before the take-off. “Is that your vuvuzela?” I asked.

“No. Probably belongs to the lady over there.”

“Football, or soccer, is the number one game in the world,” I said.

“That’s right. It’s getting popular in the US, although number one for us is still the other football, the kind you play with your hands. Also some say the number one sport is rodeo, you know, where you ride a bull. I am going to watch the final on Sunday with my wife. I am going to encourage my granddaughters to learn soccer, you know.”

 “How many children do you have?”

“Three, all grown up. My wife and I been married 26 years!”

That remark revived a nagging guilty feeling associated with business travel during one’s wedding anniversary. I also felt that I owed him some personal information, but I was also curious how he might react to meeting another kind of Indian, one directly from India.

“I am from India,” I said.

“Oh, that’s a great country! Lots of camels, right?” He remarked.
“Yeah, and lots of cows too. India is a big country, with deserts, jungles, mountains and plains.” I said.

“And you have those pyramids too?” He asked.

He was confusing India with Egypt, I thought. I changed the subject. “At school they told us that there were red Indians in America. I suppose they were referring to skin color.” I must have said this out loud, because he said, “It’s the blood, you know? It’s red, whether you are white or brown or black. I say that to my children and my grandchildren. Treat everyone alike, treat everyone with respect.”

After a pause, he asked, “what do you do?”

“I work as an economist at the World Bank.” I had a feeling that he didn’t quite appreciate the difference between the World Bank and another bank that might have been involved in the mortgage crisis.

“How is the economic situation where you live?” I asked him.

“Not so great,” he replied, “Obama doesn’t like coal-fired power plants.”

“Are you afraid that might affect your job?”

“Yeah. I’ll probably work as a policeman if that happens,” he said. The Navajos are the largest nation of Native Americans. “Now there is a lot of crime in my nation. We need more policemen,” he explained.

In the morning, as the plane approached Dulles airport, I could not resist asking him about immigration. “Are there many migrant workers in your city? How do you feel about them?” I asked.

“Yeah, we have many of them, but they don’t bother me. We have a big country. There is space for everyone. I feel sorry for them. They’re here because they don’t have a job back home. Only there is a lot of crime these days with drugs and all. We need to go after the crime.”


Dilip Ratha

Lead Economist and Economic Adviser to the Vice President of Operations, Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, World Bank

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