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Bangladesh | Part III : Basha

If you haven’t heard of Basha prior to this post, I urge you to go check out their website and learn more firsthand. https://bashaboutique.com/ They are one of my favorite organizations, EVER. Here’s a VERY brief explanation: “Basha creates high quality, unique, handmade products which reflect the love for the traditions of Bangladesh while employing women at risk and survivors of trafficking.” They are doing things right.

Friends. It’s so hard for me to try to convey an experience that requires CONTEXT. It would take days to TRY to explain the country of Bangladesh with all it’s cultural nuances. That’s a huge part of being able to truly understand. I want to sit here and tell you the names of the women of Basha and the powerful stories they have to tell. I want you to know their hearts and where they’ve come from. I want you to know what they have overcome and the hope they have. I want you to FEEL all the emotions and experience all the JOY. These women have endured unfathomable tragedy but are now breaking the cycles of poverty and abuse and exploitation. The Basha women are legit superstars. LEGIT FRIGGIN’ SUPERSTARS.

I hope the following images speak louder and clearer than I can.

Also, my friend Marita recounts one of our experiences so beautifully here: http://kahiniwalla.com/blog/dignity-restored/?fbclid=IwAR2dvuvFnC1nRYpyJzi-oJTyse8E6Xpv_Rqe5087WY8mt73SauvLfkN6otg

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Bangladesh | Part II : The Rohingya Refugee Camp

I’ve kind of been avoiding this post for a few weeks now. My words fail me.

I visited the world’s largest refugee camp, a place that houses ONE MILLION refugees: the Rohingya people. They have been fleeing from Myanmar to Bangladesh for a few years because of ongoing genocide…GENOCIDE. Let that sink in for a minute.

One of the young men that walked with us (for HOURS) through the camp told us his experience. My dear friend, Carissa, recounts his story beautifully: “A kind young man was assigned to be our tour guide for the afternoon because of his ability to speak English, along with four other languages. You could say he was very smart. He told us of his previous life across the border and of the day his Buddhist neighbors ran to his house, yelling for them to leave quickly because of the military force sweeping the area, burning all Rohingya homes. He and a brother fled on foot, stumbling through thick jungle and swimming across rivers for seven days until they crossed the border and found themselves safe in a foreign country.”

His story is literally one of a million.

The Rohingya have been left with no country. They cannot return to their homes in Myanmar, for obvious reasons, but they also can’t enter into Bangladesh, or any other country for that matter. They are stuck in an actual limbo, a permanent state of uncertainty. This refugee camp is both a safe haven and a prison.

But here’s the crazy thing - We’ve all seen images or watched news reports of refugee camps across the world and they look horrific, right? I was prepared for that…as prepared as you can be. I expected to arrive into a place of complete and utter despair. The situations these people have experienced is indeed horrific and the trauma they are enduring is unimaginable but this particular camp is…well, it’s clean and organized. There are schools, medical clinics, and even jobs. There’s not enough but it’s a work in progress…and there’s PROGRESS.

So, what now? Good question. Honestly, I don’t know. I hope this sparks a holy discontent within us all. We live in an amazing, terrible, awesome world and I hope my experience helps to broaden our horizons and affect change somehow.

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Bangladesh | Part I

Ok. I’m giving myself a little pep talk before I try to express SOME of the crazy in my head. I took a big trip to a part of the world I’ve never experienced before (and I’ve been around the block a few times…). Bangladesh. I figured it would be valuable for me to try to write down some thoughts/reflections. I used to do this more, but you know, motherhood, life, busy-ness. Hopefully, this will be the first of a series of posts because there’s so much. Anyway, here goes nothing. :)

My dear friend, Marita, put words that perfectly express my insides: “You would think I would be used to this by now, or maybe I am just more aware this time of my own prejudice and Western expectations and the labels I am so quick to apply. Each day I was gone, those things were ruptured with a shocking but beautiful reality. My brain struggles to turn these experiences into words that you would understand. I will try, because the brave and beautiful people I met deserve to have their stories told and because we in the West have so much to learn from those unlike ourselves who we label as “other”.”

I think I’ll probably start by trying to describe my surroundings. I’m not sure you could pick a country/culture that is so vastly different from my own. It felt like I was plucked from one universe and dropped into an entirely different one, overnight. But please hear me, it’s DIFFERENT, not inferior.

The cities are ALIVE and some of the most densely populated IN THE WORLD! I walked around wide-eyed, trying not to miss a thing but also acutely aware of my physical differences: PALE, TALL, BLUE-EYED. I found myself wishing (AGAIN) that I was darker, shorter, less “American” and then catching myself…We are all created in the image of God.

The patterns and colors in the clothing are breathtaking. Women drape fabrics beautifully and intentionally around their heads while men do the same around their waists. (Yes, many men wear “skirts” and it’s very practical and kind of awesome.) The streets are overflowing with every form of transportation you could possibly ever imagine. I know I can be dramatic, but seriously…it’s something to behold. Bikes, bikes pulling people (rickshaws), tiny “taxi’s” (CNG’s), buses, double decker busses, cars, trucks, pedestrians, and animals all on the move, and not usually in the same direction. Ha! Street vendors line the sidewalks, honking sounds fill the air, and there are people EVERYWHERE. EVERY.WHERE. (!)

Then there’s the food. Oh the food. Y’all. You know how much I LOVE food, right? Well, there’s only one catch: my poor taste buds have little tolerance for SPICY food. And you guys, the food in Bangladesh is FIRE. It’s filled with flavor and color and texture and SPICE. You eat with your hands in order to be fully connected with the experience of food and eating and community, and it’s amazing. BUT IT’S FIRE IN YOUR MOUTH. (Feel free to laugh at any time). I basically turned red and had tears running down my face for every meal. And then there was that one time I accidentally took a bite out of the hottest pepper known to man because I thought it was a green bean. A GREEN BEAN! What was I thinking??? DEAD. I was dead. LOL

But there’s more: I hesitate to even bring up some of the “negative” because that tends to be the only thing we hear when it comes to something different. But I want to be honest about what I experienced. With all the beauty there is also ugly (this exists everywhere in the world, including the West). Trash. Friends, there was so much trash, everywhere. The smell at varying points was so overwhelming that I had to cover my face with my scarf. Mosquitos. I literally didn’t spend a moment without making sure I was covered in bug spray and I grew very attached to my mosquito net. :) Art, or lack thereof. It’s a bit of a paradox because the colors and patterns are so vibrant but most of the urban architecture was composed of tall, dirty high rise buildings and we had to HUNT for any kind of street art, which I LOVE. The rights of women is another issue that I promise I’m not ignoring. I’m just not quite ready to address it.

So, now I’ll leave you with some images to hopefully put legs underneath all this and help it all make a little more sense. (Does that analogy make sense to anyone else, or am I nuts?)

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