So one day when I was in Bangladesh I decided to videotape the riksha ride from the passenger’s perspective… until my camera ran out of memory (hence why it cuts off).
So… a nice thing when you are halfway across the world is to read a note from home.
A friend, who had gone to Bangladesh before, wrote notes to a few of us on the team that she knew. One for when we’re having a good day, one for when we’re having a bad day, and one for when we’re missing home. I cherished these notes, but the last one ended up turning into a rather funny story.
Stories… not stones… how could I have read that wrong? Also… it makes a lot more sense.
Anyway, at the end of the note on missing home, it says “bring back some stones”… or at least that’s what I thought it said. I also thought it was weird. Some of the things that crossed my mind were: Is this a metaphor that’s going over my head?; or does my friend have a hobby that I don’t know about?. Maybe I was meant to read it wrong, maybe she was meant to write that ‘r’ and ‘i’ a little too closely together. No matter, it was thought provoking. I was growing in respect for the insights she had, and I figured if it has meaning then I better figure it out, so as not to let her down. Or if it’s literal and she actually just wants some stones, then I better bring some back.
Through the trip I thought: maybe it means that I’m shedding my old stony skin, and bringing back the precious God-formed jewel underneath; or maybe it means that I will be moved so much by this experience that sometimes what I learn will seem like a stony burden. I pondered these throughout ideas throughout the trip and came to the conclusion that while it was a weird metaphor, it could work, at the very least it made me think.
Just before we hopped in the van on our way to the airport, just in case it was just a literal request, I grabbed a couple stones from the alleyway. They are still sitting in my camera bag. I was a bit worried that Bangladesh might be one of those countries where you’re not allowed to remove sand or things like that– like I was gonna be questioned over a couple stones (paranoid I know). I figured no matter what, the worst case scenario I toss them in the trash. I didn’t, my camera bag was not searched, we made it back all the way to Canada… me and those stones.
So… I meet up with my friend once I’m back in London, and we’re chatting, having a better conversation than I think we’ve ever had. Recalling experiences and epic language fails, I imagine she knew exactly what to ask because she has lived it, and she also knows me better than I often give her credit for. And suddenly I ask her… “why did you want a stone?”. she looks at me confused, and I say “in one of your little notes… at the end you said ‘bring back some stones’ -why?”. Suddenly it dawns on her that I read the note wrong, she blames it on her handwriting, and I say “no no- I have trouble reading a lot of people’s handwriting”, she explains it probably says “stories”… and we can’t stop laughing. She wants the stone now, although I’ve yet to get it to her.
When I’m back at my apartment I look at the note again and it does indeed say “stories” not “stones”.
But when I think back on how much thinking that it made me do… I think I was meant to read it the way that I did. And it really is a great metaphor for cross-cultural experiences. Things that seem like common pebbles (things we take for granted) turn out to be precious gems that we give new value because of our awakening, and the things we think are precious gems (things that have surface value) are really common rocks in disguise.
There are two kinds of #firstweek experiences to talk about: first week in Bangladesh and first week back. In the spirit of chronos (sequential time) I will go in that order.
There were so many firsts to experience… although those lasted throughout the entire trip. The first day however- that’s special. As I said in the previous post, it was a little nerve-wracking going through immigration but we all made it through without a huge amount of trouble. The traffic was something I had been worried about- I had heard that it was… well different… and I have been known to get car anxiety sometimes; thankfully God answered my prayers and even though I could still feel the anxiety it didn’t become overwhelming- and with the help of music and conversation with team members (not about the anxiety- about other things that helped distract me) I got through it.
In the early afternoon, despite our extreme exhaustion and jet lag, we split up into small groups and took walks around the area. I was a bit nervous, not knowing what to expect and stuck very close to the people in my group. Some of the local Bengali people took pictures of us which we were told to expect but it was still a little surprising when it happened- I never did become comfortable with that aspect of the culture. It was hard to walk around, partially because when I say we were exhausted I mean I was ready to just pass out on the street #noexaggeration and partially because there was SO MUCH to take in and so much heat- it was a bit overwhelming for my at-the-time limited capacity sensory data intake. We had lunch, rice-dal-vegetables-and I can’t remember but there was probably chicken as well. That afternoon,(probably) due to the combination of exhaustion, heat, and very oily veggies- I officially became the first team member to get sick. This stirred up some fear in me because I was afraid even before we left that my body wouldn’t adjust well (it’s not something I’m known for) and I would be violently ill the entire trip– thankfully though I was able to adjust. I avoided super oily foods and monitored my body’s reactions closely. The first evening prayer we decided to do in groups of roommates; we went through a litany and shared with each other our first-day-experiences. I felt it was a truly great bonding moment.
The first Sabbath- for us Saturdays were our sabbath, the first one was more busy since we got into Bangladesh on a Friday. We had 3 Bangla lessons and went shopping for showaler-kamis (local dress) and had a guest speaker come in. Some of what was said didn’t sit well with me and it is something I struggle with when I think about it even now, haven’t resolved that one, but I’m still trying.
First day of placement: well… communication… that’s a thing. It turned out there had been some communication issues somewhere in the line (I’m not sure where) and the placement I was in (Children’s Uplift Program) was not expecting us. That said, they were very gracious and accomodating- they gave us a tour and we got to meet all the kids before going back to Grace House. That evening we had small group and team discussion about how everyone is doing. There was some tension in the room at points but overall it was a good talk with resignation points.
The next morning we started off with sending a part of the team off on their trip to Khulna (both my roommates were on that trip- it was then that I went to have a few nights of sleepover in one of the other rooms), then after breakfast we had morning prayer, that morning was done in Lectio Divina… if you don’t know what that is see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lectio_Divina
We went through it with Psalm 116: 1-9 (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalms+116%3A+1-9&version=ESV) It was very moving (as the Psalms usually are for me), and a nice familiar comfort of doing prayer in one of my favorite styles. We had placement again (every Sun-Thurs) and the kids were a bit more shy, I also worked in the upstairs with Basha Ltd- a social business. In the evening we did manuscript-style scripture study… I’ll be honest (after all the title of this blog IS “if I’m being honest”) I was not a huge fan of manuscript style study for a number of reasons… but it was starting to grow on me and that evening it felt better.
The next morning (May 13th) it was my turn to lead morning prayer. I read a piece of scripture and then opened the room in prayer, inviting the group to silently reflect (and journal if they so desired) on the message God was speaking through them, closing with a prayer of commissioning we headed out for placement again. One of the older girls at C.U.P. was withdrawing and it was disheartening to see that so early on- I wished I could bring stability and simplicity into her life. That early evening we had our first kola (banana) walk where we purchased a bunch and went out intentionally engaging with people in the community (it’s also a really good way to practice Bangla). It went very well although ended early when we got caught in the downpour. As you can see we were very wet. Photo credits go to Alice Ws Kim.
On May 15th I decided to award my dear friend Melina the titles of “unnaturally early riser” “wake up all your roommates EXCEPT the one who would sleep next to fireworks going off” AND “her very first cockroach kill” not to mention “tiniest cockroach kill” **note it was the same cockroach…. all of these earned at about 4AM. That day at placement I matched old sari material to be made into blankets and went down to see the kids in the last bit of time. One girl that had been clinging to me immediately ran up to me and would not leave my side… it turned out to be a habit of hers for the rest of the trip. That evening part of the team left for the Chittagong Regional Conference… we prayed over them in the same fashion as we had over the Khulna group. It was beautiful but it left a strange feeling because we were now half a team left in Dhaka. That night we all ended up wandering into Suji and Candy’s room and just gabbed, answering random questions of each other.
First Bengali church service. OK- admittedly it is an English-speaking church, but the passion present was beautiful. We had also had morning prayer before church and it involved singing and Isaiah 53 and more singing and reflecting on who God is to each of us. We also got to meet Max… a local student who has become famous across the years to the various teams. He is very charismatic and friendly. We visited North End cafe in the afternoon and saw Max again … because he works there. There was free wi-fi there and I was very happy to receive a message from my sister… it was sweet and touching. I was also getting very excited for the visit to the botanical gardens the next day… nature-nerd that I am.
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My first week back in Canada has been a whirlwind. There were certain people I contacted right away but for the most part it was busy because of arrangements regarding my summer job… had to clean and pack up my room at my parent’s house and 1 week and 1 day back I moved back to London… now I’m sitting in my new condo writing this. I also had to get a wheel on my car de-seized, summer tires put on, and gas up… meeting with the prof I’ll be working for… and well… I’ve been busy but now I have a little time to transition more. I miss Bangladesh, people keep asking me if I’d go back- and my answer remains the same: a resounding and definite yes.
WOW… I don’t even know where to begin… well since that’s the case why don’t I begin at the beginning.
Last January I applied to a trip that would take me halfway around the world. Why? Because God called me, and I’ve run away from calls enough to know that eventually it catches up to you anyway. In March the team of 17 met up in Toronto to meet each other and have some initial orientation. We fund-raised like crazy and somehow God convinced a whole bunch of donors to believe in us, because we all made it. We saw each other again on May 1st, as we bus-ed from Toronto to Ontario Pioneer Camp for MarkCentral/ Bangladesh Orientation… I like to call it ActsCentral, because that’s what we were studying when we weren’t orienting ourselves.
On May 7th there was lots of heartfelt goodbyes and prayer, we left Muskoka, dropped off some people in Toronto, said our final goodbyes… oh and a quick bathroom break… and headed to the airport. It was so exciting I could hardly contain it, although I was also exhausted from the week spend up North. One of the fellow team member’s parents brought us sushi and fruit as a snack and we were extremely grateful.
And so some might say this is where the adventure started… but really it started in January, because discerning a call, and fund-raising, meeting new people, studying scripture, all while trying to scramble and get all your assignments in on time because the school year is ending… is definitely an adventure in and of itself.
On May 9th we landed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Immigration was a little nerve-wracking, especially when there was a minor mistake made with one of our visas… and then as we walked through the doors to where Brother Peter (our host) was waiting, even not knowing what he’d look like it was easy to recognize him from what we’d heard about his Hawaiian-esque shirts and his beaming smile, and of course the laugh… it’s a laugh to remember.
And the HEAT!!! I thought at first it might just be extremely boggy in the airport because there are so many people in such a small space… nope… we step outside and there is “fresh” air but it is still too hot to think. But along with the heat there was also beautiful palm trees and so much color, in stark contrast to the dark grey of the airport.There was color in the sky,in the people, in the clothing, in the flowers… everywhere color– and I was glad.
Well I don’t want to unload everything at once, so that is where I’ll leave it for now… if you are interested in having a one-on-one chat with me, feel free to contact me by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by other means if you already have my cell # and whatnot. But definitely be watching for more blog posts….
Until then… Abar deka hobe (See you again)