She was dressed in black-long black skirt, long-sleeved black blouse, long black veil that covered her entire head, with two hand-sewn eyeholes-and she stood outside the apartment next door. Smoking.

I’m not sure why this surprised me. I don’t know of any Islamic anti-smoking prohibitions, and if anybody deserves a good puff, it’s a woman in a Burqa. She’d obviously done it before, and wasn’t going to set her face on fire.

It was just . . . incongruous. Like the parrot in the tree over my balcony, or the forty-pound cockroach in my bathroom sink. I didn’t expect this in Brooklyn.

Okay-maybe I did expect the cockroach.

My husband and I have lived in Flatbush since February. People ask us why we moved to Brooklyn from Massachusetts. I tell them Paul retired, so we moved south.

In truth, we’ve always loved to travel, to boldly go where people speak strange languages and don’t eat hotdogs for lunch. We met in Viet Nam, and later joined the Peace Corps and kicked around Venezuela until their newly-elected government declared us, shall we say, mammary glands on a bull. We’ve been all over the world. Now the kids and grandkids live in various corners of Brooklyn; it was a natural enough choice.

I just didn’t realize how much like the Peace Corps experience this move would be.

I mean that in a good way. Mostly.

It’s certainly educational. For example, I was walking down Coney Island Avenue one day, and I saw a sign in the window of a little laundry that declared “Your clothes can be tested here for Shatnes.”

I glanced down to find myself scratching my stomach. Do Shatnes bite? Can you catch them on the subway? Is Brooklyn infested??

I pulled out my iPhone and Googled Shatnes. And was relieved to find that it meant mixing linen and wool, a no-no for the Observant Jews of the neighborhood.

There was a sale on Sukkahs next door to the laundry. They were little nylon tents. The shop also sold decorations for them. Cute concept, if strange: pin a silk flower on your tentflap.

A few days later, Sukkahs sprang up in my neighbors’ driveways and yards. Nylon, wood, even cardboard tents everywhere. Decorated and plain. People sat in them. They ate in them. The one next to the temple down the block was made of canvas. I heard voices singing in it, and it wasn’t Kumbya.

Sukkahs. You have Google: Look it up.

I am, by now, accustomed to seeing guys in big, round fur hats the size of snare drums and long coats and tights. Women in saris swarm my post office. Bewigged ladies roam my grocery’s aisles. Men in white beanies congregate outside nearby storefront mosques. I wave to the Burqa Lady (she doesn’t wave back). Russian is more common than English on my subway train; riders read Korean and Japanese and Chinese tabloids. Hip-hop youth in droopy jeans hang out (literally) on our corner. My doctor’s Indian; Paul’s is Haitian. Our apartment super is Jamaican. The guys from our local gypsy-cab company are Mexican (Don’t look for yellow cabs in Brooklyn. More importantly, don’t look for yellow cabs to Brooklyn). The wild parrot? Probably from Argentina.

We even have Mormon missionaries.

We’re not in Kansas, Toto. We’re in a Peace Corps fever dream, where there’s no language training that covers all the bases, or even the Brooklyn-born patois.

A Peace Corps where there’s no clear mission.*

Aaargh!!! I’m no entrepreneur. I’m too clumsy to start an amateur sports program (and anyway, there are the Mets). There are medical clinics on every corner, and everybody who speaks English offers ESL classes. Betty Smith to the contrary, a vast number of trees grow quite nicely in Brooklyn without my help.

I am not going to start a smoking-cessation class for Muslim women.

What can I do to make my new world a better one?

Hmmm . . .

Stay tuned.

* Not that our mission in Peace Corps/Venezuela was crystalline or, for that matter, had anything to do with reality — but that’s a long, weird and, I hope, untypical story. Read about it in the Peace Corps Writers’ archives: The Non-Matrixed Wife.

— Susan O’Neill