It’s now just over one year since I stepped off a plane from Heathrow airport and onto Bengali territory, where I’ve made myself a temporary home. So much has happened during that time, but reflecting back there are a few things in particular which stand out in my mind as being key learning from this amazing and crazy experience.
Top of my list would have to be that in Bangladesh power is such a strong drug. Everybody wants it; from the very top, right the way down, with everyone fearing who currently holds it. As an ‘outsider’ this wastes so much valuable time, creating huge confusion, causing my head to reel and on occasion making me want to jump off the merry-go-round that is life out here. The worse thing to stomach however is the injustice it creates and the fact that it clogs everything up by shifting focus and energy from where it’s really needed.
I personally have first-hand experienced of what it feels like to become a pawn in the power game. As a foreigner my cooperation represents a desirable association. But for me, calculating the impact that association might have through the ripple effects which will travel through the community is crucial. Any negative impact depletes my ability to work successfully, it’s like running to stand still. Calculating with any accuracy is virtually impossible, so what to do? The sad thing is that we all inevitably end up playing the game, trying to work our way out of this maze. I felt like I was slap in the middle of a mine field.
While there appears to be a general acceptance of ‘the power game’, hope for the future, pride in Bangladesh and a wicked sense of humour abounds. Polite and welcoming people reach out to assist at a moments notice. I’ve even been invited into a Mosque by a couple of women to join them in prayer: an amazing honour and treasured experience.
Personal learning is also high up there. Working through enormous stress and difficulty alone is a major challenge. To cope without normal outlets for frustration, which will inevitably build, is an acquired skill, and one for which there is no short-cut. You simply must face the experience to establish new coping strategies. I can say it has been a fascinating journey however, to be able to reflect so clearly on my own particular personal response, which has now become familiar. But what cost this growth!
While music always has played a big role in my life my iPod has become a lifesaver, helping me to connect with, express and work through the emotions of the moment.
Deciding who to trust in such a transient community has also extracted a measure of pain. The common mistake is to view all foreigners working under the same conditions as being part of a tight and reliable group. Unfortunately not the case, as was demonstrated fairly early on. That said, I have met some pretty inspiring people here, making a small number of very close and treasured friends in the process. Important people in my life who I will continue to hold dear when we all move on to pastures new.
To round it off, the most important thing I’ve learnt is that there is never an easy way out, and so, I stand my ground.