When we came back to the US in March 2007 for six months, it felt like our two years in Bangladesh were just a far off dream; that we had always actually lived in America. But now after being in Bangladesh for another two years, I feel like America is the foreign place.

First of all, driving. In Bangladesh, we use rickshaws, auto rickshaws that we call CNGs, bicycles, buses, trains, and taxis. Sometimes we get a ride in a friend’s private car, but that’s rare. But here, back in the US, it’s just a driving culture. I watched my little sister confidently check her oil before heading off on a pretty routine four hour drive home. A big contrast to me – my drivers’ license has expired and checking oil is no longer in my list of skills, let alone using stick shift, parallel parking and all that! After we had been in the US for three days, my aunt asked me how we had come to the family reunion. I told her by car. But I guess that was not the answer she wanted – she wanted to know what kind of car it was. I had no clue – – the fact that it was a car was exciting enough!!

Then there is being alone. If you look at a map, you can see how big Russia is compared to Bangladesh. Bangladesh has more people than Russia. So almost every place that I have been to in Bangladesh is full of people. When I look outside my bedroom window, I can immediately see at least five people: neighbors, people who work in the music shop, barber shop, metal working shop. I can see boys that live in the hostel across the road, servants hanging up laundry or cooking, bikes on the street. There are always sounds of people arguing and babies crying and TVs playing. Coming back to spend a week in the Blue Ridge Mountains was a huge change. I went up to our cabin while the rest of the family was in another area and it felt so strange to be in a place with no people, to see no people out the many windows, and to hear no people. Just silence.

Jacob and I went for a bike ride the other day in Harrisonburg. I realized that I was relying on him to make every decision, even the tiny ones like when to cross a road etc. And here I have lived in Harrisonburg for four years of my life! In Bangladesh, women (for the most part) stay inside. Their lives are dictated by the larger family, or their father or husband. Very few women drive. Most women do not do their grocery shopping. They don’t bike. They hardly ever travel long distances alone. Most every decision is made by the family. Most women do not do the family banking. Skills like painting, gardening, car maintenance, and ironing are jobs that you hire a man to do. That’s very different than life in the US! Here my sisters have jobs, drive, bike, paint their own houses, garden, do their own banking, etc. While I consider myself a feminist of sorts, you do adapt to your community. Some of the adaptations we made in this area were so Jacob was respected. If I spoke up too much or did “manly” things, we both would be considered outsiders, without a voice or place in the community. So now, I have to re-learn how to be my own person in a way, to shed what we consider the wrong parts of Bangladeshi culture (the sexism). Habits are hard to get rid of.

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