Throughout the past week, my emotions started to build up, becoming increasingly mixed and confusing. I was getting too comfortable at home and second guessing my decision to work abroad this summer. Just months ago, when I returned from CMC's Washington Semester Program, I was bombarded by tales of study abroad, and I became envious of my friends' worldly perspectives and rich cultural experiences. Following a couple close friends' blogs, I realized that I needed this experience. However, I can't say Bangladesh was on my radar. I had visions of traveling to Barcelona or Buenos Aires, both to hone my Spanish language skills and gain work experience abroad. But when I received an offer for a once-in-a-lifetime internship experience in Bangladesh, I just couldn't say no.
Upon telling my family and friends about my summer plans, I faced statements like: "Wow! You're going to stand out, that's for sure" and "Have you thought about dying your hair?" Surely, the same thoughts crossed my mind. Being blonde in Bangladesh will come with its own unique set of challenges, which I am excited to face and reflect upon.
Although my exposure is limited to the 25-ish hours of travel time and cab ride to my hotel, Bangladesh has enchanted me thus far. I flew into a hazy, purple sky blanketing the capital city, Dhaka, at about 5:00 am. Luckily the high is only 91 F today, so I was able to make it out to my taxi without fatiguing despite the 90 percent humidity. On my ride home, I watched the bright orange sun rise gradually. Even during these early hours of the day, rickshaw drivers piled their vehicles high with bananas, mangos, and bushels upon bushels of rice and pedaled fervently along the roads to markets. I did not realize that all the rickshaws would be so brightly and ornately decorated.
While the people seem soft-spoken and very kind, their driving habits could fool you. Just on the front page of Dhaka's Saturday edition of The Daily Star are two stories about how prevalent fatal road accidents are becoming in the city. In 2011, 2546 people died from road-related accidents in Dhaka, and that's about 1000 less than in 2010. There's no such thing as a Minnesotan 4-way stop here. It's every driver for him or herself, racing to get to the front of the traffic jam. Even going through airport security, I had to squeeze my way in front of people and shove my passport in the travel agent's face in order to hold my place in line. I was always skeptical of the idea that Americans have the largest personal space bubble than any other nationality, but I think much of the discomfort I feel this summer will be due to this reality.
As I become more comfortable with navigating the city, I look forward to soaking in the tropical climate and stunning scenery. While the unpaved roads add a sense of dryness to the picture, the lush trees and rivers running just about everywhere give the city a majestic feel. It is like nowhere I have been in the world. It is so colorful and so urban while maintaining a level of simplicity. It is so crowded and chaotic and yet achieves a kind of peacefulness I have never experienced. Dhaka beckons adventure, and I cannot wait to begin.