Monday, January 16, 2012

Saying Goodbye to Sumaita

  So... now I have returned to the states.  But since I traveled back in time 12 hours to get home, I figured I might as well do a reflection on my last week in Bangladesh, since I seem to be reliving every moment anyway.  (Three cheers for reverse culture shock!)
     After spending all night packing the insane amount of beautiful gifts given to myself and my American family by my Bangladeshi family into my checked luggage, I could barely sleep.  I woke up early the next morning, at about noon arriving at Scholastica. The day still had a couple workshops, a massive survey, and then we had some freetime. We spent the day out in the sunshine on the roof of the school, signing yearbooks, drawing henna on each other's arms, and taking pictures. We laughed and acted like a ton of really happy teenagers. Hanging out like a bunch of kids with inside jokes and favorite songs. What a crazy experience, getting to know people we thought were so different from us. I was an individual, with my own experience and take on being an American, just as Sumaita had her own story, but that stuff really didn't count. Music, junk food, laughter, henna. That mattered.
    Emotions were rampant throughout the US students, who had grown accustomed to coming to Scholastica every day with their Bangladeshi host siblings, who had grown used to the food, familiar with the noise and the language and the dress. Just as we started to feel at home in Bangladesh, we had to say farewell.  Steve, a wonderful senior from upstate New York, shared an "epic" poem that left us laughing and crying all at once. We dished out some personalized awards we thought fit each other: "Best Smile,""Future Prime Minister", "Last American Standing", "The Laura Jr. Award", etc.
   Then it came time to leave Scholastica and load our luggage into a bus that would take us through the scary traffic one final time to the airport. The students cried a lot, and Americans clung to their host siblings in an attempt to thank the Bangladeshis for their hospitality, inspiring work, and every gift that was given to us during the exchange. Not just gifts like henna and bangles and Lay's Magic Masala chips. Gifts like solidarity, phrases of Bangla, a room and shelter, goals, and an ally for the future. We had everyone's Facebook, email, Skype, and Twitter account recorded in at least one spot.
     Saying goodbye to Sumaita was a lot like leaving my best friends at FAIR School Crystal for the summer, except a little bit more intense. I had bonded with her, confided in her, and shared so many challenges along side her throughout the exchange, it felt like I was about to be torn in half. She is such an inspirational person, a student with such talent and motivation. I've never met anyone like Sumaita in my entire life. There is no one else like her in the entire world. How lucky I was to have met her, to have been given the opportunity to travel to the other side of the world, to share a moment in time and countless learning experiences with her.  My gratitude left me so overcome and all I could do was repeat over and over, "Dhonobad, thank you for everything."
     We left Dhaka in a daze, rocked by the culture we had grown so used to, now again so far away. Dubai, Germany, all a blur.
     In Washington D.C., the US Students had to divide up by region, with about fifteen minutes to say goodbye. I kept it together when the California region kids went to their gate, but after hugging my New York posse goodbye, I couldn't hold it back anymore. We cried some more, hugged each other in shuddering masses, and promised to keep in touch. Waiting at the gate for the final plane, all I wanted was to be home. The hours in spent in the air, the homework, the dashing to keep up and catch flights, the crying, the initial reverse culture shock, and plane sickness had me, in two short words: f@!*ing exhausted.
   At the same time, I wouldn't take back a second of the traveling and discomfort, because it made coming home even sweeter. I said farewell to my brave Minnesotan crew, and met my mom and little sister at the baggage claim. We were without a doubt the most emotional reunion of the entire flock of families, but at the time no one thought twice. I thanked my wonderful Minnesotan educator, Katrina, one last time. I said farewell to Fil, Kerry, Pajnucci, Mai, Sam, Kaitlin, Leah, Kelsey, Shelby, and Sartu D2.  I began to readjust right then and there to my American life, never to be the same.
    Since our farewells, the Bangladeshis and Americans all keep in contact via Facebook and Skype and all the modern technology/social networking that revolutionized the globe.  It's crazy having friends who eat lunch when you're supposed to be asleep (sure). All of our Facebook feeds are insane with people tagging pictures and leaving comments about reverse culture shock and hostility and American food, yada yada yada. I have been keeping in contact with the lovely Sumaita, the articulate Drubha, the inspiring Natasha, and stayed connected with the amazing people I know will soon become prime ministers and owners of social businesses in their own right. 
     So, I feel like I've been confiding in the internet for far too much tonight. Who'da thunk blogging would be such a therapeutic way to document a trip?

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