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 never expected leaving Chittagong to be so hard. Saying goodbye to the students was a day full of surprise gifts, tearful group hugs, and some heartfelt thanks. It was emotional and difficult to leave all these amazing young women. As sad as it was, it was also filled with love and gratitude, reminding me of all that we’d built and gained this semester and all that I’d be leaving. There were no real words to express how thankful I am that I met and worked with these girls. I told them they were my role models and inspiration, that working with them had taught me so much, but it still didn’t really seem like enough. Even though I didn’t know these girls ten months ago, saying “I love you and I’ll miss you so much” was sincere; it was almost as if I had never really stopped to think about how strong the connections and friendships I was forming were until it was clear that we’d soon be separating. In the rush, some goodbyes were left unsaid, but fortunately, that’s what heartfelt Facebook messages are for.
There was of course, so much work to do all the way up to the very last minute, so the fact that we were leaving didn’t really sink in until my last day at school. Even while I was packing everything still felt surreal; like I was just leaving for one of our many vacations and then returning. It wasn’t until I was grabbing my bags to bring downstairs to the airport van that I paused for a moment and realized that the room I had spent the last ten months of my life in was completely empty, just as I had first found it. I began to feel tears. I set my bags down, stepped onto my balcony and took the view in for one last time. There were colorful parrots flying by, the call to prayer was floating from the mosques, and a cool breeze was rustling the palm trees. It was a perfect moment. I tried to stand there and really focus on everything, really take it all in for one last time, but my eyes felt dizzy and unfocused, like they refused to say goodbye. I gave a small thanks to Bangladesh in my head: “thank you for all that you’ve given me this year, for lessons in patience, for adventure, for personal growth, for seeing what’s important, for learning how to remain calm, for the beautiful women that have come into my life.” I wandered around the apartment for the last time, feeling in awe of how it had come to hold so much meaning to me in such a short span of time.
I turned to say goodbye to my roommate Helen (Meghan had left the night before, a watery eyed cafeteria goodbye) and instantly there were more tears. For the last ten months the other WorldTeach girls have been my friends, coworkers, roommates, support system, therapists, exercise buddies, role models… in short, we’ve pretty much been everything to each other and have been with each other through a lot in ten months. Sure we had some other friends and we forged a small social network here in Chittagong, but for the most part we stuck together and braved the isolation, boredom, challenges, and successes together. I still can’t fathom not seeing them every day.
Now I’m in Vietnam, travelling for two weeks alone until Paolo gets here. It already feels strange to think about Bangladesh; it feels so distant from the vacation bliss I’m in at the moment. My first day in Ho Chi Minh was definitely a shock. I felt a bit lonely and lost, moving from always being around so many people to travelling alone was a big transition. But I’ve eased back into enjoying time by myself, which is easy to do when you have a good mojito, a good book, and a sunset on the beach I suppose.
I just spent three days on the southern island of Phu Quoc, a paradise that isn’t yet too touristy, overcrowded or developed. It was the perfect mix of snorkeling, fishing (I caught a tiny one), tanning on the beach, swimming, Jungle exploring and eating. I was adopted for about two days by a nice Russian girl and her parents and it was great to have some travel buddies. I wandered into the forest with Kate, Basila and Ala (the Russians) and we were befriended by an odd little forest lady who took us to her forest shack and forced her home brewed moonshine on us (tasted like Kirsch), showed us her jarred snakes and monkey fetus, and then dragged us through the jungle to a little stream. We also found the most perfect beach all to ourselves; the kind that is only surrounded by small huts, palm trees and fishing boats. The water was so clear that you could see and collect all the beautiful shells on the sea floor and Ala even found a star fish. We feasted on fresh grilled seafood, tried BBQ sea urchins, and bought the most amazing mangoes from a woman on the beach. At the end of my last day, I got a $6 manicure and an aloe rubdown from these ladies who had a simple table set up on the beach and sat enjoying the sunset.
I’m regretting not spending longer on Phu Quoc but since I’m determined to still make three more stops before Paolo gets here on the 19th, I have to get moving. Next stop is Hoi An, a historic seaside town in Central Vietnam known for its cheap, fast tailors. After that, I make my way to Phong Nha, a little place in central Vietnam with the largest system of underground caves (can’t wait to swim through them). Then I head up to Hanoi in the North and over to Sapa, a hill station known for its trekking, beautiful views of rice terraces, and Hmong population.