The following is a post from AUA Mosaic Fellowship recipient Anina Tweed. Anina is currently volunteering in Bangladesh during the summer of 2012. To find an amazing volunteer opportunity, search the AUA Directory of Recommended Organizations© today.
I can’t explain the itch I get to travel to the places I know the least about. When I told people I was leaving for Jerusalem as not only a non-Jew, but a follower of no organized religion, I was met with a resounding “why?” Now, as I announce my latest decision to move to Bangladesh for a year, I’m met with even more blank stares. It seems that not everyone understands my love for conquering the unknown. The feeling of transforming from a fish out of water in a new culture, into a (semi) suave resident finally grasping its complexities, is unparalleled. Venturing outside of my comfort zone has taught me how to adapt, laugh, listen, and be patient. Above all, it has given me the ability to see issues from multiple perspectives and to value viewpoints different than my own. I am convinced that there is no other experience that can leave you feeling all at once more ignorant and more wise than moving to a foreign country.
That being said, I REALLY don’t know much about Bangladesh. My decision to move to Chittagong is based more on a desire to challenge myself and learn than on any intimate knowledge of the country’s politics or people. As I suspect most Americans do, I use India as my main reference when contemplating Bangladesh (same thing, right?). I vaguely remember having a classmate from Bangladesh and I know enough to realize that Islam is the majority religion. I have a sense of floods and development projects and poverty surrounding the country. I also see a lot of bright colors, exotic spices, and beautiful fabrics in my Bollywood-tainted minds eye. I know that Mohammad Yunus is a big deal and that Bangladesh is the birthplace of the Grameen Bank and the women’s micro-finance movement. I know that it used to be a part of Pakistan. This may be more than the average American knows, but it probably isn’t enough to recommend me as a future resident of the country. My more ignorant thoughts wander to questions of what exactly I’ll be eating there and whether they do yoga there too? What are the chances of spotting a Bengal Tiger and of finding a place that serves french fries? How much does it really flood and is the call to prayer broadcasted from speakers like in the Middle East?
Feeling a bit insecure, I started asking my friends and family what they know about the country. Turns out, they know even less than I do. No one could tell me where Bangladesh was on a map, no one guessed that it’s a Muslim majority country, and most people assumed it was a place in India. Those closest to me have begun frantic google searches to fill in the gaps, but these overwhelmingly produce daunting tales of flooding and struggle; a google image search of Bangladesh does not muster the most beautiful pictures. The fact remains that Bangladesh is almost invisible in the average American’s consciousness, even among my most educated and worldly friends. It seems that no one including me truly knows what to expect of my adventures in Bangladesh and perhaps it’s better that way. The amount I have to learn and experience seems daunting, but after realizing what an enigma the country is I am even more resolved to explore it.