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.
Somewhere in the near 29 hours I spent staring out the window of a bus and van this week, I began to cultivate my first real feelings of love towards Bangladesh. Not just an interest towards the exotic or a fascination with the new, but the first stirrings of affection and appreciation beyond the initial culture shock. I can feel Bangladesh inching its way into my heart and clawing out a little corner against all reason. Driving through the countryside to the capitol city of Dhaka and then south to the oceanfront of Cox’s Bazaar allowed me to sit back and take it all in from a broader perspective than our fishbowl life in Chittagong. Bangladesh as a whole, not just our lives within it, took shape in my mind’s eye.
The incredible energy of the people, the shocking palette of colors, the look of dried fish stands lit by a single light bulb at night, the near hit and miss encounters with cows lounging in the road, the smell of fresh pineapples against the stench of mountains of garbage, the families of ten crammed into a tiny rickshaw, the taste of salted guavas on the beach, and the sound of our driver Halim’s bangin’ Hindu music combined to create a sensory understanding of the country on all five fronts. Sometimes it’s true that to begin to know something/someone is to love them. It’s a love that doesn’t equate with adoration necessarily, but has more to do with comfort; It is a closeness that begins to silently anchor you to a people and a place that you never before thought of as your own.
In this last week of traveling, I’ve begun to grasp that to love Bangladesh is to surrender to uncertainty. In America, we like to think of ourselves as masters of our own fate. We assume that for any problem there is a solution. We believe that we will be able to find it and fix it in a timely fashion and have minimal patience for those who don’t. We do our best to avoid uncertainty and disaster. We like to feel in control. Living in Bangladesh with this attitude will get you nowhere. Our lives here are defined by uncertainty. You never know when the power will cut out just as you need to send an important email, you can’t predict when you will or won’t get stuck in 7 hours of standstill traffic, and you’ll almost never have a day when absolutely everything goes your way. What you can control is your reaction to these circumstances. You are not the master of the world or even of your own fate but you are the master of your own emotions and perceptions.
Whether you choose to let the mishaps destroy you or you laugh them off and turn them into adventures is about all that is in your grasp. When you learn to live like Bengali’s do, walking the fine line between control and surrender, it’s freeing. I don’t have all the answers and I now accept that certain things are beyond my control. But coupled with this surrender to fate (circumstance?) is the knowledge that I will survive most things if I can find the good in them, that I can decide whether they turn into setbacks or simply sidesteps. I think that after this year, Bangladesh will have taught me the most important lesson of all: everything is what you make it.