We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
I dropped off the face of the earth for a while, and I apologize. I, like the Prodigal Son, left on an adventure of wasteful extravagance, and have returned home poorer, happier, and begging for your forgiveness. I sketched with Thais in the Bangkok Arts and Culture Center, I rode a longtail boat through the back channels of Bangkok with a boatman named Chamnyan, I reunited with my love for two romantic weeks of travel, I danced to the Beatles in the late night hours on the street, I ate all manner of ambiguous fried street foods, I drank fresh coconut water from countless coconuts, I collected elephants from the misty morning jungle in Chiang Mai and bathed them in the river, I learned to cook a four course Thai meal and then promptly forgot, I saw blood dripping from a Muay Thai fighter’s face from ring-side seats, I rang in the new year on the beach in Koh Samui under a blanket of fireworks surrounded by Aussies, I sunbathed on the most beautiful beach in all of Thailand, I ate kebabs sold from a boat, I got food poisoning in Railay, I explored the root-tangled ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, I received foot and shoulder massage galore, I watched glittering Apsara dancers twist their bendy fingers, I sipped on tropical cocktails, and I relaxed by blue pools in nothing but my Bikini. In short, it was heaven. But now I have returned to Chittagong and beg you to take me back.
(note: unfortunately, upon returning home my computer crashed and died right after I finished uploading and editing all my photos from my travels, so I’m sorry to say that there will be no Thailand or Cambodia photos to be had)
When I was in my vacation bliss, the thought of returning to a place without sushi, Mexican food, movie theaters, bars, cafes, or beaches one can swim from seemed daunting. I wasn’t sure how the transition back to crowded, polluted, loud, dirty, crazy Chittagong would be. But while sitting at the gate waiting for my flight back to Dhaka, I just had to laugh at the Bengali disorganization and chaos around me. Voices became louder, speech faster, lines and regulations meaningless, spitting and staring acceptable, and mosquitoes more plentiful. This time, returning was somehow different though. This time I realized that this chaos was in some way mine and I was a part of it. Rather than overwhelming me or making me recoil, I eased into it with a sigh and a laugh and embraced it as a familiar sign of home. Seeing all the lovely ladies I worked with, the smiles of the students, the wonderful professors, and our Bengali friends made me feel excited to be back. I settled in to my office, felt a sense of comfort and happiness in filling out my planner and setting my schedule for the semester.
I took a weekend retreat with my fellow World Teach ladies to the Bandarbans, an area of the Chittagong Hill tracts on the border with Burma in which ethnic groups more akin to the Burmese live. We contemplated how far we’d come, set new goals, tried to do some valuable self-reflection and processing of our experiences, and explored the area. Bandarbans was unlike any area of Bangladesh I had yet seen. We floated down a river on a small boat and got to see what life along the river was like; a collection of people doing laundry and bathing in the water, strings of bright laundry punctuating thatched huts on stilts, fields of tobacco and peanuts lining the banks, it was truly beautiful. Surrounded by lush jungle, bright flowers, cattle, vistas, cleaner air and a slower pace of life I was able to really begin to think through all that has happened in Bangladesh and how far I’ve come.
This semester is one of new resolve: to be more involved in the AUW community, to experience more of Bengali culture, to leave behind some sort of legacy once I leave, to learn from new experiences, to be more reflective about my actions and to increase my productivity. Essentially, I have about doubled the roles and things to do and only half the time to do it in! Our semester is about three months long with frequent one day holidays and a spring break in March (with plans for a trek in Nepal in the works) and there is so much to achieve before the semester ends! My official positions currently include: teaching assistant for Intro to Asian Religions and Women and Auto-ethnography, writing fellow for Social Justice in Asian Film, tutor in the writing center, and work profiling students for donor purposes. Unofficially, I am involved with a group trying to establish a research center for development at AUW, advising the newly started dance club, and helping to organize and publish the student writing anthology this semester. I’m really excited about all my classes. Each one offers me the chance to learn something new myself as well as to interact with new students who are eager to discuss their ideas and the concepts we’re learning. I feel content to be back in action, ticking things off the to-do list and interacting with my amazing students again. so far, I’ve really enjoyed leading a women’s discussion group for my auto-ethnography course, leading a poetry for self-reflection workshop, holding a dance club meeting, reading over some amazing student poetry, helping students digest some pretty dense reading regarding colonialism and religion and responding to student reflections on Hindu hymns. Overall, I’m back, I’m excited, and I’m blogging again!