Friday, August 3, 2012

Back from Bangladesh

 I feel as if I laid down on my bed at BRAC Inn, closed my eyes, and just now woke up to find myself flying home to Minneapolis. I have experienced so much learning, hardship, and growth, yet every experience feels so distant. More than ever before, I feel like I dreamt the whole thing.

I began my travel process Thursday evening and stayed with my New York bound Bangladeshi friend. Her family kindly hosted me for the night and brought me to the airport. Thank goodness I accepted their invitation because I always underestimate the inconvenience of a language barrier. With them, I also had access to the VIP lounge where I could stream USA’s Gabby Douglas winning the Olympic gymnastics all-around final!

Per usual, my flight took off an hour and a half late, accommodating for Bangladesh time. I couldn’t help but notice hundreds of bug-eyed Bangladeshi men with pink packets reading “Bureau of Man Power.” Because of BRAC’s Safe Migration Program, I knew that a large number of Bangladeshis move to the Middle East for work and send money home to their families. Just as I was embarking on my long awaited trip home, these men were leaving their homes indefinitely for a life of work they know little about. Luckily, organizations like BRAC can help these workers understand their rights and obtain proper documentation. Part of me has always been so grateful to live in the United States, but especially today, I felt just how great this gift is. Both my country and the circumstances in which I was born make me a very lucky person.

View from BRAC's rooftop.
During my flights home, I thought a lot about the country I was returning to. Especially while flying over the dramatic landscapes of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, I couldn’t help but feel confronted by my American identity. When I had called myself American just months prior, I had a very narrow understanding of what that means. Sitting in the Chicago airport, I took in America for the first time in two months; here I felt the appeal, immense freedom, and limitless nature of the place I call home. I smiled looking back at the long customs line behind me, filled with faces of all colors, shapes and sizes. For the first time in months, I saw more bare legs than body on women – I even spotted a girl with a some butt cheek hanging out of her shorts. Although slightly disgusted, I found it more remarkable than anything. How can two such wildly different cultures exist on one planet?

So that, I think, is precisely what I take home from Bangladesh: the knowledge that two such wildly different cultures coexist. On my last flight from Chicago to Minneapolis, I had a strange moment. I looked around at the passengers, assuming most were American, and for the first time in my life truly realized how small the United States of America is. Before Bangladesh, my entire world was America. I knew another world from mine theoretically existed, but now I have lived in it.

When our flight attendant spoke to me in a thick Spanish accent, I immediately wondered about his background and what brought him here. Two months ago, I would not have blinked over an American with an accent. I have gained a greater curiosity for culture and travel. I have a greater wonder of the world and a better sense of self. My world has grown in size and dimension, and I can’t wait to explore more of it.

So long BRAC and Bangladesh! I will miss you both!

The Fast and the Furious

Last week, I attended two iftar dinners: the meal which breaks the daylight fast during Ramadan. In spite of eating breakfast and lunch, I managed to eat more than everyone else at the iftar dinners, making me feel slightly gluttonous. This Tuesday, one of my Bangladeshi co-interns planned to host all the interns at her home for an iftar. Because of my remorse from last week, I decided I would try fasting. I also wanted to understand just how great it feels to gorge all night after starving oneself all day.
A typical iftar feast complete with fresh fruit, fried vegetables, rice, mishti (sweets), and so much more.
Surprisingly, I made it through the entire day without much pain. While the time did pass more slowly, my stomach only grumbled once. To truly test myself, I even sat with the other interns while they ate lunch. I didn't even have the slightest urge to grab their food or drinks. So I successfully went without food or water for 17 hours. 

When the time came to break the fast, I was not dying to eat something because I was hungry. I was dying to eat because I had not allowed myself to all day. Simply having the freedom to eat excited me more than satiating my appetite. I furiously tried every dish on the table, unable to stop myself from indulging in Bengali food that would soon be gone. After dinner, I was absolutely stuffed, more stuffed than when I had iftar after breakfast and lunch. 

The month of Ramadan is incredible to me, particularly when I compare it to the American holiday season. A daily shock to the metabolism causes many to gain weight during Ramadan, just as Americans gain weight during the holidays. However, Americans do quite the opposite of fasting. After surviving the fast, I felt a strong sense of pride in my self-control.  I wonder if this is where the holiday spirit during Ramadan comes from; everyone feels the pain of fasting during daylight for an entire month together, which creates a strong camaraderie. From my perspective, the Muslims almost earn their holiday spirit.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Meeting the Knight

The room was tense, our hearts all racing, waiting in anticipation for Sir Abed to emerge from the other side of the chunky wooden doors. I hadn't been this nervous since SCIAC diving finals in February (which pale in comparison to the olympic performances I have watched this week). Even when I met Senator Stabenow last fall, I didn't feel the same sense of rigidity.

When Sir Fazle Hasan Abed entered the room, I was startled to see everyone stand up and frantically joined the group in welcoming our guest. His warm demeanor set us at ease. He asked us to all introduce ourselves and explain what we had done for BRAC during our internships. When I told him I went to Claremont McKenna College, I was relieved that he recognized my institution and named the alum who awarded BRAC $250,000 just five years ago. When he asked me if I knew the Kravis Leadership Institute (KLI), I explained that I found out about BRAC through the KLI.

Sir Abed gave us the general BRAC spiel describing the improvements in life expectancy, maternal and infant mortality rates, agricultural productivity, education since 1971 in Bangladesh. Our talk became more interesting when he opened the floor for questions. Many of us were more interested in his life as a leader so he talked about his changing role as an entrepreneur at BRAC.

When Sir Abed first started post-war rehabilitation work in Bangladesh, he thought his work would only last temporarily. Soon, he realized that his development work in Bangladesh would have to be longer term than he had expected in order to have a lasting impact. Forty years later, he still has visions for BRAC to grow and improve. Sir Abed was not shy to mention BRAC's shortcomings. In fact, he prides his organization on its ability to learn from its mistakes. Sir Abed specifically mentioned nutrition and agriculture as areas where BRAC can do better.

As most high profile celebrities, Sir Abed had just enough time to take a group picture with us before he rushed off to his next appointment. Despite Sir Abed's fame in the international development world, this was the only moment in our meeting where I felt the celebrity urgency. Otherwise, our speaker was quite honest and down to earth, soft-spoken and humble. BRAC certainly reflects the modest nature of Sir Abed, its leader.

Summer 2012 Interns with Sir Fazle Hasan Abed

Also, shout out to USA women's gymnastics! Way to go olympic champions!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

An Uncharacteristic (and Unsexy) Business Model

If you watched the short "The BRAC Model" video I created earlier this summer, you probably noticed the blurb on BRAC Artificial Insemination (AI). The images displayed in the video, though real, are quite graphic. Paging through the photos of the 72 bulls housed at BRAC's bull station titled with names such as "Fantasy" and "Falcon" provided great entertainment for a few hours.  Needless to say, I did not take this enterprise very seriously, that is until last week. After an hour of discussing BRAC AI’s evolution over the past 17 years, its Deputy General Manager blew me away by the multifaceted impact it has made on Bangladesh. 
Initially, I saw BRAC AI as a pretty obscure enterprise; it deals with a highly technical and medical aspect of development. In fact, years ago the Bangladesh government agreed with me and did not allow people, aside from government workers, to administer artificial insemination. Only the government had access to high quality semen and the proper tools to make use of the semen. 
BRAC AI began as a partnership with the government. Because of BRAC’s belief in the power of people and grassroots development, they began training artificial insemination workers. They began training 130 initial volunteers to become artificial insemination technicians. Today, BRAC AI has trained 2,141 artificial insemination technicians. Essentially, these workers are now highly skilled, financially solvent people thanks to BRAC.
BRAC has also helped dairy farmers generate greater income. Before BRAC AI, a local cow would produce 1.5 liters of milk per day. Hybrid cows have much higher productivity, allowing dairy farmers to sell more milk to the market. Hybrid bulls also generate greater income for farmers.   A local bull typically sells for 15,000 taka whereas a hybrid bull can sell for 100,000 taka. BRAC AI has made a huge impact on dairy farmers’ lives, granting them increasingly valuable assets.
BRAC AI has also surpassed the artificial insemination services of the government. BRAC AI’s services average a 61.5 percent conception rate, whereas the government’s services only average a 46.2 percent conception rate. Part of the reason for this discrepancy is the difference in operations for each organization. The government requires farmers to transport their cows to insemination centers, meaning that some cows must travel miles before treated. By the time these cows reach the insemination centers, they are exhausted from travelling in the hot sun. BRAC’s artificial insemination technicians, on the other hand, travel to individual farmers to treat the cows. BRAC AI accounts their success to the calm state in which they treat the cows.
BRAC AI amazed me: its initial confidence in local people’s ability to perform complex tasks; its success in creating a variety of income generating opportunities through a single enterprise; the quality of its services. On multiple levels, BRAC AI should be proud of its immense achievements.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

World Literature

I’ve mentioned before that I have read quite a few books since I have been in Bangladesh. I have never really been a reader, but I thought reading literature from the Indian subcontinent would help me adjust to the culture. Not only has reading these books given me a better understanding of Bangladeshi culture, but these books have been some of my most enjoyable reads.

Tonight, I finished a series of short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri, an Indian American woman. She’s actually from West Bengal making her Bengali (not to be confused with Bangladeshi which means from the country of Bangladesh). The collection of stories is named after one of the nine short stories called “Interpreter of Maladies.” I was drawn to the book for two reasons. First, the Lonely Planet Guide listed it as one of the top 10 Bangladesh reads. Second, one of the stories is about a Midwestern woman who falls in love with a Bangladeshi man, an uncanny resemblance to the fate I joke about with my co-interns.

Each story includes shades of Ms. Lahiri’s cross-cultural upbringing, incorporating aspects of Indian and American culture. Her ability to write with a touch of western perspective made the book much more accessible to me. But what I found even more impressive was my ability to enjoy this book at all. I thought about if I had tried to read this book before my arrival in Bangladesh. I would not have found the material nearly as enjoyable, as it would have soared above my heard without me even knowing it. That is precisely what has made Bengali literature so enjoyable for me; because I have lived the experience, I have an enhanced understanding of the authors’ various texts.

As I make headway into my last week at BRAC, I wish I could have done more work for them. Working solely with the social enterprises limited my experience. Although it taught me a lot about how to run a social enterprise, I had little opportunity to venture into the field speak with the rural poor. However, the times I did go into the field and hearing co-interns stories from the field shed incredible light on my experience in Bangladesh. Living in Dhaka has taught me a lot about Bangladeshi culture, but it is not truly Bangladesh in the sense that it only houses one-tenth of Bangladesh’s population. BRAC gave me the opportunity to understand rural Bangladesh, and what rural poor really means.

One of Ms. Lahiri’s stories called “A Real Durwan (Gatekeeper)” describes a woman who was deported to Calcutta after the partition of India and Bangladesh. Her hardships reminded me of Bangladesh’s violent history just in the last century: a religious-based partition in 1947 and a bloody Liberation War in 1971. It was after the Liberation War that BRAC began its rehabilitation work, helping Bangladesh achieve all that it has today. Although Bangladesh has a long, culturally-rich history, it has only had sovereignty for 40 years. When I think of how young this country really is, I realize how far it has come and how much potential it really has.

Between my urban, rural, personal, and travel experiences in Bangladesh, I learned a lot about this country and life. When I decided to come to Bangladesh this summer, I hoped to come out with a fresh, more worldly understanding of, well, the world. I feel I have achieved this goal, and I look forward to my homecoming to realize just how much I did learn. Without BRAC and Bangladesh, this literature, these people, this country would not make sense to me. Upon finishing Ms. Lahiri’s book, I stumbled upon a passage that describes my feeling completely: 
“I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first. Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are time when it is beyond my imagination.” - Jhumpa Lahiri, page 198 of Interpreter of Maladies
Accepting my certificate of participation in the BRAC Internship Program.
Although I am smiling, I am so sad that it's coming to an end. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Saturday the Muslim holiday Ramadan began. During this holiday, an overwhelming majority of Muslims choose to fast for an entire month. They wake up before sunrise to eat some breakfast. Not until sunset to do they satiate their thirst and hunger.

As you can imagine, the workplace has experienced a change of pace. People’s energy levels are lower, and the workday ends at 3:30 pm so that everyone can rest before their nightly feast. When I use the word feast, I do not use it loosely. Last week, one of the Bangladeshi interns graciously invited us to iftar (breaking the fast) at her house. We ate all sorts of delicious food, both savory and sweet. Three hours after the iftar, the families eat an actual dinner, which we also stayed for. Embarrassingly, I probably ate more than all the fasters, and I had not even fasted.

Interestingly, the vast majority of Muslims in Bangladesh choose to fast. In fact there is tremendous social pressure in Dhaka to fast. When I invited a non-fasting Bangladeshi to dinner, he expressed concern that he may face resentment from local passerbys. Even Muslims who do not pray five times a day or devoutly study the Qur’an participate in the month-long fast. Needless to say, it has been fascinating to see a city cater to the needs of about 90 percent of the population.

At 3:30 pm many leave work to go to the bazaars to collect heaps of food for their iftar dinners. Some even go the bazaars at 3:30 am to gorge themselves for the day. At the restaurant where I ate dinner tonight, the entire indoor seating was reserved for people breaking their fasts. While I have enjoyed diluted traffic in the city, it also reminds me that people are bonding with their families, enduring the hardship of fasting with their loved ones. When we attended our Bangladeshi friend’s iftar, all I could think about was how much I wished my family was sitting around this dinner table and laughing together.

Ramadan has also heightened my religious awareness. While eating dinner tonight, a man approached our dinner table and asked if he could speak with my girlfriends and me for a moment. Thinking he just wanted to find out my name and where I was from, prompted by the blonde hair, we let him proceed. He asked if he could tell us about Hinduism, clearly unaware that I was sitting with two women of Indian descent who grew up in Hindu families. He informed me that the pants I was wearing, depicting the om (aum) symbol were offensive because according to the Hindu gods, the symbol should only be worn on the upper half of the body, not the lower half. One of my sharp Indian friends retorted, “Oh, God came down and told you this?” Embarrassed, and without anything to back up his statement, he surrendered. I proceeded asked him, “Would you prefer if I took off the pants and sat here in my underwear?” Totally humiliated, he laughed and scurried away. Maybe I crossed the line, but none of us appreciated his sermon especially when I had no intention of offending anyone. As he left the restaurant, he apologized to us, and my Indian friend reminded him that we are guests in his country and the Hindu gods also say to treat your guests with respect. That shut him up.

Even though my Indian friends made really good points about the Hindu religion, I still felt really embarrassed and slightly ignorant. Since Christianity has no wardrobe restrictions that I know of, it has been challenging living in a country where your appearance says so much about your beliefs. First off, my blonde hair is a dead giveaway that I am not Muslim. Yes, there are blonde Muslims, but not nearly enough for anyone to assume I am Muslim. Second, wearing the traditional salwar kameez verses the makeshift salwar kameez that I throw together sends a message. The women here have an uncanny ability to match the most unique, colorful, and intricate prints together. Their outfits look far more put together than my dress plus leggings plus pashmina scarf.

Maybe this month of Muslim festivities left this Hindu man feeling especially vulnerable. Either way, I am not wearing my om pants until I return home. Appearance means far too much here for me to take the risk.
One fun part about standing out is the curiosity that ensues. Literally three seconds after I stepped out of the CNG and onto Hindu Street in Old Dhaka, Bangladesh National Television spotted me and asked if I could comment on my experience in Bangladesh and why I was touring Hindu Street. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Sundarbans

4:30 am, my alarm went off. Without even thinking, I turned it off. 15 minutes later my back up alarm woke me, and I remembered that I had a train to catch. And quickly gathered my packed bags. In just a couple hours, I would leave for the Sundarbans, a National Forest and UNESCO World Heritage Site in the southwestern corner of Bangladesh. In fact, the Sundarbans straddles the Bangladesh-India border. The Sundarbans houses the largest mangrove forest in the world, fiddler crabs, dolphins, and the man-eating Bengal Tigers.

A picture of our guide taking a picture of us
admiring the view from the longest bridge in
As usual, our train was delayed. It was actually so delayed that our guide for the weekend rode over to our train stop and boarded with us. His enthusiasm, charisma, and humor absolutely charmed me as well as the entire crew. If you could create the perfect tour guide, he was it. When he asked me about my experience in Bangladesh, I immediately spilled my worldly revelations and personal growth from living here for the past 7 weeks. After 10 hours of talking, sleeping, and reading the book Hungry Tide, a novel that takes place in the Indian side of the Sundarbans, we arrived in Khulna, Bangladesh. Naturally, we walked 5 minutes to a waterway and took a boat to our small cruise boat. That night, we moved into our cabins, gazed at stars from the roof of the boat, played cards, and ate a delicious meal cooked on board.  I kid you not, the home-cooked meals on the boat were the best food I have had Bangladesh.

The next morning, a group of five other foreigners joined our tour group: three Americans, one Canadian, and one Korean. Once they settled in, we embarked on our three-day cruise. The first day on the boat was spent traveling down the Pusur River in order to reach the southern tip of Bangladesh. Unable to leave the boat, we spent most of our time reading on the roof of the boat, soaking in some much needed sun and retreating indoors to avoid periodic downpours, typical of monsoon season. We bonded with the other tourists over games of Bananagrams, Hearts, and of course our travel experiences inside and outside of Dhaka.

Our Boat!
Over the past month, I have met the most well traveled people I have ever met in my life. Their passports are packed with visas and stamps, and their stories are filled with wisdom and worldly advice. They all similarly advise me to see the world as much as I can. While I find their hunger for travel inspiring, what I find most impressive is their ability to date people from all over the world. Freshman year of college, I decided that I would never be able to seriously date a non-American. I couldn’t imagine ever finding a cultural medium. Meeting countless multicultural couples (and having a few Bangladeshi crushes myself), I observed that these relationships have a surprising amount of strength. In a way, the partners are forced to learn about one another more deeply than when culture is mutual.  They challenge each other to think in new ways and deepen their understanding of life, which I find both mind-blowing and romantic. 

After a month in Bangladesh, the thought of securing a full-time job in Minneapolis after college seemed quite comfortable. I thought, “I am just not born and bred to be an expatriate, world traveler.” But, meeting numerous expats empowered me to travel non-stop on the weekends and soak up my last weeks in Bangladesh. The more I traveling I did, the more excited I became to see more of the world. Maybe I am more cut out for this lifestyle than I gave myself credit for. After all, Dhaka is one of the hardest cities for foreigners to adjust to, whether from other parts of Asia, Africa, Europe, or the Americas. Having met people from all of these continents, I know that Dhaka is one of the most culturally shocking cities in the world. Interns, expats, and locals joke, “Now that we’ve done Dhaka, we can get by anywhere.”

I enjoyed meeting more expats and taking part in cross-cultural exchanges, but my favorite part of the ride was observing the fishing-town lifestyle here while reading Hungry TideAs I read about Piya and Kunai's adventures, I became more eager to enter this mysterious and poetic place. I actually finished the book on the boat, adding to the intensity of the cruise down south. The strong head wind paired with the last 100 action packed pages of the book made for a dramatic entry into the Sundarbans.
A row of fishing boats traveling together.

Narrow waterways
As we ventured deeper into the south, the rivers became increasingly narrow. Finally our boat began trolling silently through the mangroves. I had expected to see stunning, breathtaking scenery, but instead I found the Sundarbans more eerie than anything. The terrain consists of hundreds of islands that flood from the Bay of Bengal’s daily high tide. In the mornings, trees stand tall on top of muddy islands, but by noon, water covers the snarled networks of mangrove roots and tree trunks.

At 5:30 am, our guide took us on a rowboat through some of the most secluded, narrow waterways in the Sundarbans. We quietly paddled close to the islands, looking desperately for a Bengal Tiger. We sufficed with colorful birds, hundreds of crabs, and 20 different species of mangroves randomly placed throughout the Sundarbans.

After a couple hours, we returned to our cruise boat for breakfast and to prepare for our leisurely hike on one of the islands. When we first stepped foot on the island, we made our way through thick mangroves, but after just a couple meters, grasslands stretched for miles. Spotted deer speckled the fields, nervously fleeing as we approached their territory. Butterflies, only found in the Sundarbans, fluttered in the squat shrubbery. Within 45 minutes, we reached the other side of the island, where the mangroves again resumed. This time, the mangroves were met with the sound of powerful, crashing water. We had just reached the Bay of Bengal.

At low tide, we could see the mangrove roots poking out of the ground.
The roots emerge from the earth since the sand does not provide enough
oxygen for proper growth.
The tall waves would have made the Bay of Bengal a great surfing spot if it wasn’t for the tree stumps lining the coast. Crawling out to the water was a process, as a few of us stumbled into tree wells before reaching a comfortable depth.  Once I reached the hard sand bottom, I felt the freest I have felt in months: kicking my bare legs under smooth water, submerging myself periodically, both feeling and hearing the muffled tide crash above me. The highlight of my swim was on my way back into shore. I stumbled over a tree stump just when a wave crashed behind me. Without many options, I ducked under water. Lucky to not poke an eye out on one of the stumps, I gasped for air and found a root to hang onto just in time for the next wave. When it hit, I was forced underwater. The only thing keeping me from losing control was my strong grip on the tree root. The water tried to pull me into shore, but I didn’t give up on the root. For five seconds, I felt like I was in an action movie.

The (treacherous) Bay of Bengal!
After our swim, we hiked back to the cruise boat for a rest. I proceeded to nap for a couple hours until our next activity: the grueling hike. After high tide, the water leaves the islands extremely muddy. Because most tourists don’t come prepared for this terrain, the boat has a stock of retired Bangladesh army boots to lend to passengers. No matter the footwear, we all struggled hiking through the mud. Our feet frequently stuck to the ground, taking some extra umph to release them. The smooth feeling of mud between my sandal-covered feet, I could hardly resist picking up a pile of mud to run through my fingers. A like-minded travel buddy of mine from BRAC quickly helped me initiate a mud fight among the more adventurous few.
High tide covers the islands almost completely. As you can
see, the stumps are barely emerging from the water.

For minutes, we slid through the mud and covered each other head to toe with the slick mud. Like all such activities, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Having become too friendly with our young guide, he retaliated by rubbing mud on my face which naturally got into my eyes. So that ended the mud fight for everyone, and we proceeded more deeply into the island. We reached the high points of the island which serve as tiger perches during the high tide. We weaved through thick trees that I decided would make ideal sceneries for music videos.  

Toward the end of our mud hike, we reached the Bay of Bengal shoreline. Lines of tree stumps covered the edge of the beach to about one kilometer inland. Under the dark blue, cloud covered sky, the scene had a sort of freaky serenity, almost like the eye of a storm. Having used this analogy, it may not come as a surprise that these stumps remained as damage from a cyclone five years ago. For most of my life, hurricanes have meant displaced people and damaged property, but in this part of the Sundarbans, the trees and animals had experienced this cyclone alone. What made the Sundarbans so remarkable for me was their estrangement from civilization. While the villages further north of the Sundarbans faced extreme hardships from this cyclone, I could not see past the striking damage on the waterfront, completely uninhabited by humankind.
Posing on a tiger's high tide retreat.

Back on the cruise boat, we took the most refreshing showers. Those of us who were covered in mud asked our guide if we could just jump in the river to rinse off, but the possibility to hungry crocodiles prohibited us from taking a river bath. That evening, Ramadan began, a holiday where Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. The fasting lasts for an entire month. The poor crew, especially the cooks, had to smell our mouth-watering food while they complied with their religious obligations. 

To take full advantage of our last night in the Sundarbans, a couple of us laid on the roof of the boat, staring at the stars in silence. It had been a while since I looked at the sky this way, seeing millions of stars so clearly. I closed my eyes and felt the remoteness of national forest, virtually uninterrupted by civilization. All I could hear was the sound of small waves brushing the boat's hull. I thought back to the song "Somewhere Out There," a song my mom used to sing to me every night when I was 5 or 6 years old. The lyrics resonated with me, as I always found security in them: "And even though I know how very far apart we are, it helps to think we might be wishing on the same bright star. And when the night wind starts to sing a lonesome lullaby, it helps to think we're sleeping underneath the same big sky." No matter how far I ever traveled from friends and family, I felt closer thinking my loved ones were under the same sky as me. Instead of yearning for home, I actually grew quite sad that my time in Bangladesh was coming to an end soon. Although my friends here would continue to share the same sky with me, all the things I would miss in Bangladesh rushed into my head. I felt incredibly lucky to have this life-changing adventure.

Over dinner, our guide proposed two activities for the following day; either we could take another 5:30 am boat ride or spend the afternoon swimming. The thought of floating freely in fresh water, feeling the current run against our bare bodies sounded absolutely alluring so we unanimously vetoed the boat ride. After six hours of cruising, we anchored the boat and spent a couple hours diving and flipping off the boat. In my element, I even practiced some of my basic competition dives.

The last supper on board was a sad one, as we parted ways with our newfound friends and a couple BRAC employees who planned more extensive travels. At 7:30 pm, we boarded the midnight train. It looked like a ghost train as it rolled up to the Khulna station, dark and abandoned. After some good laughs and conversation, we drifted into slumber and found ourselves suddenly greeted by the stuffy Dhaka air. Although the Sundarbans trip was totally different than I expected, it provided some of the best memories I have had in Bangladesh. Maybe it was the sheer freedom of bearing my thighs or reuniting with fresh water. Maybe it was the wind blowing through my hair or the sun scorching my cheeks. Our trip to the Sundarbans was an escape from civilization and the social protocols that comes with organized society. 

We all laughed at this image, thinking back
to the sophisticated intercom systems in our
Western countries. Here, this crew member
simply shouted to his colleagues on the
other side of the horn.