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!


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