"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Three More in Six Million

The most common, and nearly unanimous reaction from people upon hearing I was taking a trip to Bangladesh was "Why are you going there?!" The surface answer was simple. "I'm going to visit my brother and his family." The real reason was a bit more complicated. First, some background...

My brother Jon, his wife Sam, and their son Atticus temporarily relocated to Bangladesh in the summer of 2009, and soon started blogging about their experiences there. I was quickly sucked in, and their every blog post left me eagerly anticipating the next one. Most conversations with my family usually involved us discussing their latest post. We were all enjoying living vicariously through their experiences.

Late last year my dad planned a visit to Bangladesh. As his trip drew closer, my sister Julie and I talked about joining him, or taking our own trip there together. We spent hours discussing the pros and cons of going. In the end, both of our pragmatic natures won. We both had bills to pay, Julie was saving up to buy a house, I was training for a race, and there were work obligations. We couldn't just throw caution to the wind and go traipsing off to a third world country! So, dad took his trip, and when he returned I listened to his stories and poured over his pictures, wishing I'd been there. Julie and I still talked about going later in the year, but didn't do anything serious about making it happen. Then, in May, the unthinkable happened. Julie committed suicide, and the bottom dropped out of my world.

During the week following her death, fourteen of us stayed together under one roof. All four remaining siblings, plus our kids were together for an entire week. Jason was there too. It was Jason, Julie's dear friend, former boyfriend, and confidante, that had the courage to confirm our worst fears, finding our beloved sister and daughter, and staying with her during those awful hours while the police and coroner did their work. We'd all loved him before, but now he was part of the family. Most evenings that week were spent on the deck, talking, reminiscing, laughing, and crying. It was during one of those evenings that the idea of going to Bangladesh was brought up again. Sam issued an invitation, and the seed was firmly planted.

Life carried on, and I functioned through a dense shroud of grief and confusion that permeated nearly every moment. As I worked through my grief, there were lots of in-depth discussions with friends and family about life, its meaning, and what really matters when it's all said and done. It started to dawn on me that my well-ordered, safe little life hadn't protected me at all. The worst had still happened, and nobody had checked with me first! My good friend Aimee and I talked a lot about losing loved ones, and how important it is to make memories with people you love. Because when they're gone, the memories and experiences are all that remains. One day in early July, as we talked about my longing to see and experience Bangladesh, and to spend time with my brother's family, we looked at each other and said, "That's it. Enough talking, we're going." Since Jason was already about 80% convinced of going, he was ecstatic when I sent him the text saying "We're going to Bangladesh baby!" or something of the sort.

The next few months were a flurry of passport and visa applications, immunizations, planning, stressing about what to wear in a mostly Muslim country (for Aimee and Keicha), and detailed emails from Sam explaining everything we could expect and exactly what we should do every step of the way. If she ever decides to throw in the towel on being a historian, she definitely has a shot at a second career as a travel agent/tour guide.
Finally, the big day arrived. Off we went on our big adventure. It all still seemed a little surreal that I was traveling to the other side of the world. The reality of it started to set in at the Abu Dhabi airport. There were the three of us, tired and a little dazed after 15 hours on airplanes, standing in line to board the plane to Dhaka. Nobody spoke English, and an endless line of women in black burka's with only their dark eyes showing, accompanied by men in traditional Muslim dress, streamed past us. We weren't in Kansas anymore! We boarded the plane, and found ourselves unexpectedly, delightfully, upgraded to Business Class. Aaahh, now this was the life! There couldn't have been a starker contrast than when we left our comfortable Business Class bubble and stepped into the Dhaka airport. I really felt like Alice when she fell down the rabbit hole.

Jason & I giddy with excitement at our upgrade.

Jason & Aimee enjoy the comforts of Business Class.
So there we were, in Bangladesh. Thanks to Sam's instructions we made it to the immigration counter and placed our passports in front of the clerk. As he took forever doing whatever it was he did (we still think he was clueless, and just spent several minutes keying random things into the computer in an effort to appear official), I looked up and saw Jon waving at us through the window. Here I was at 4 a.m., in a completely foreign, unfamilar place, feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and excited all at once. I'd made it, and Jon was exactly where Sam said he'd be, on time, waiting for us. I could relax.

We drove throught the dark streets of Dhaka to Jon and Sam's apartment. It was very early in the morning, but we stayed up sitting around the kitchen table chatting, and enjoyed our very first batch of coffee made using their makeshift, modified version of a French coffee press.

Where there's a will, there's a way. No coffee pot? No problem.

Our first day was spent exploring the area near where Jon and Sam live, and getting used to the sights and sounds of one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Dhaka is 59.40 sq. miles in size with a population of over 12 million. The energy of large cities has always thrilled me, and Dhaka was crowded, busy, colorful and loud. I immediately knew I was going to love this place!