Monday, January 23, 2012

January 23rd

Tonight, as we rocked by the dim blue light of Avocet's night light, I cried. Tears rolled down my face while she slept, stirring only occasionally when my silent sobs jarred her momentarily awake. Luckily she was very tired, and I was able to still my chest, so quietly off to bed she went.

Today was my sister Debbie's birth date, 38 years ago. When you are a rememberer of dates, the birth dates, death dates and anniversaries start to add up. And though you think of them every day in little ways, usually with smiles, on those handful of sad dates you really think of them. Over three months ago, I drafted the below blog post. It has sat there in my drafts, more of a therapy for myself than to necessarily be sent. Today, I decided to share it. It's always hard to decide if your decisions will impact other peoples' lives, for good or for bad. I sincerely hope my decision only impacts positively.

And so the draft went:
My sister Debbie has been gone for over 7 years. I don't type today because of any significant date that is making me remember her, because I remember her every day. I miss her every day.

She had a sparkle in her eyes, a kind heart and a quiet spirit. Two years older than I, we were close in age and close in friendship. My sisters and I never needed a lot of friends, because we had each other. But anyone who called her a friend, could tell you there was hardly a better friend out there to find.

When our mom passed away unexpectedly, Debbie had a hard time... we all did. She was quickly consumed by her racing thoughts. Her once vibrant, sharp, brilliant mind was now clouded with thoughts that wouldn't grant her rest. She was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, brought on by a traumatic event. It was difficult for her to not be in control of her mind, but she handled it with grace, like she did everything. She continued to keep up at her work, as a civil engineer. Her career came after years of college on a presidential scholarship. She was so intelligent and motivated, so diligent to work for what she wanted. But in keeping up with her work life, she generally left there completely exhausted.

Medications never seemed to get calibrated just right, even after constant tweaking and changing. Therapy was regular, but not productive. Months would go by well, followed by weeks of not so well. We were all concerned and loving and supportive, but we couldn't "fix" things. We could only be there, let her know how very much she was loved and try our best to help her work through things. For over a year, she struggled to overcome.

I think the combination of emotional loss and a complicated relationship finally wore at her. Though she loved us, she would not let herself become someone else's responsibility. She could no longer endure the struggle to overcome the control of her thoughts. She was tired.

She would not be at the mercy of her mind. She would be gone too soon. She would be missed so much. She would have been a great aunt to our girls. She would have flown to Dhaka and shacked up in our spare room. She would have journeyed through the smelly market stalls and looked back at me over her shoulder with a smile. She would have been wide eyed beside me to see every pet store window and plant nursery on the side of the road. She would have asked what fish were in Gulshan Lake as we drove through town. She would have been happy with a bologna sandwich, a girlie movie and a niece bouncing on her knee for a hot Friday night. She would have watched the Little Mermaid with the girls and sang all the songs out loud... and danced.

She would never have been a burden.

There is hardly a person I've met these days who hasn't had a friend or family member with mental illness. And though it used to be such a hushed topic, it luckily isn't anymore. No, you don't meet a new friend for coffee and discuss all your baggage, but you know you aren't the only one out there either. You know you or loved ones aren't alone. If you have a bad day or a sad day, it doesn't mean you have a problem, it means you're human. But there are times when people can't control all aspects of their lives and need to reach out for help. And there are also times when people reach back, but it still can't help. There are happy endings and sad endings and stories in between. It is the stories and the sharing that can help lead to the healing and overcoming, to the crying and the smiling, and to the living. Do all these things in any order they come, but with the last to a ripe old age.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I love you Bangladesh!

It is often that I hope to see a familiar face show up on our doorstep from our group of family and friends "back home". Not just because we miss them do we want to see them, but to share a little bit of the amazing experience of seeing Bangladesh. I would love to be their tour guide, to show them the place and people we've learned to know over these past 15 months.
Me too!
But would they see it as beautiful and wonderful, as I now do, or would they rather just "stay in, watch a movie and have a pizza" because the reality of the stunning difference between Dhaka and their familiar USA? I would hope the former, but it can be a lot to digest. Honestly, it was not complete love at first sight for me either...well, it was, but the love was brief. The earth shaking way I felt newly pregnant upon arriving to Dhaka quickly sent me in a tailspin. Within 2 weeks of arriving, I felt like death, and did not peak my head from the apartment, much less the covers, for what seemed weeks.

Upon returning from baby leave in August, life here seems all that much more wonderful. Maybe it's a happy 4 year old, an unbelievably adorable (I'm a bit partial) baby or a husband I'm still insanely in love with (sorry, are you gagging yet, sorry) which make me happy. I'm sure I'd just be happy anywhere as long we are all together. Maybe it's the warm climate and tropical flora. Maybe it's the staff that work in our home, love us and have become a true part of our lives and family. Truly I believe I'm completely smitten with Bangladesh. It is raw and unfiltered, but the exoticness, beauty, amazingly friendly people and slowness of life here have me captivated.

Lately, I've been a "go to girl" at the embassy for new people's questions: where to (frame art, buy xyz, do henna, etc) information, best bakery advice, how to hire staff, etc. It feels nice, and I thoroughly enjoy the interaction. Maybe it's because people can tell that we genuinely enjoy life here, be it because of where we are or who we are. And maybe it's just because we aren't the newbies anymore, but are becoming one of the "older families".  I hope it keeps happening, and I hope that the people we talk to fall as in love with life here as we have. I hope more people will see the Bangladesh in front of their eyes, which is exhilarating and vibrant, colorful and beautiful, hospitable and hard working. I hope many love it here and portray to Bangladesh what wonderful people Americans are.

This is what we expats that live here signed up for. We can walk away at anytime, but most choose whole heartedly not to. And when we do leave, which I am starting to dread, none shall walk away the same as when we arrived. This place and its people have carved too deep a mark on me, and I'll miss it dearly.

I love you Bangladesh!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sylhet Tea Weekend

Last week, my good friend called with a proposition... a ladies' weekend to Sylhet, Bangladesh. The idea of a weekend away is always welcomed in my mind, but the reality of leaving the girls was difficult. I discussed it with Chris, who insisted I go and enjoy a few days of a camera in hand with no distractions of children and responsibilities. Love him.

We journeyed by mini-bus from the Canadian High Commission (yes, it was 7 Canadians and moi) to the airport in Dhaka, by turbo prop airplane from Dhaka to Sylhet and by 2 private vans from the Sylhet airport to the Nazimghar Resort. All the while, my ears were tuned to the ladies, but my eyes were enjoying the view.
Upon arrival to the resort, we dropped off our luggage, enjoyed a quick lunch and headed out to the tea plantation and a quick hike. December through March are a quiet time in the tea gardens. Aside from pruning, there isn't a lot happening with the tea other than growing. It's still pretty :)
We hiked into the "rainforest"... guide less. Our drivers pointed us in the direction of a map, while they guarded the vans... in the middle of the jungle. We veered from the path, which wasn't marked too well, but recovered and made our way back. It was dimming as we drove our way out, and though we couldn't take any photos, we got a got glimpse of sunset and the busy village life as workers returned home. We ended the evening with a tasty Indian dinner and a lovely invitation from the resort owner, who was a charming Bangla man raised in Sylhet, but now living a beautiful life between there and Dhaka. He told us stories and history over drinks on his screened veranda. We were wooed and engulfed in conversation.

Day 2 would be the highlight of our visit. Breakfast was followed by a drive to the river, where we boarded the resorts small boat which led us for more than an hour up and down the Sharee River to the border of India. The water was an unbelievable turquoise. Though I'd seen pictures online and in my guidebooks, I wouldn't have believed it existed in Bangladesh, had I not seen it with my own eyes. In several shallow spots, you could see to the bottom.
Life was vibrant along the river, people boating, washing and busying about on their days. Upon asking the night before about tea production, our charming host had arranged an impromptu visit to a stunning estate along the river. There was a small crew processing the previous season's crop, while several people trimmed the fields and a colorful group of ladies transported water to the processing area. We received a brief overview of the process from field to teacup. As we left the estate, the owner's elephant and mahout wished us adieu.
We returned to the river and meandered down to the Lalakhal Resort, another property of the Nazimghar. Lalkhal is at a beautiful spot where the Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya, India enter Bangladesh. This is a new establishment, with a restaurant, watersports, a lookout and soon to be tent resort accommodations. Here, we enjoyed a lunch of fish, daal, vegetables, rice and a brief visit from our resort host, who checked in to be sure we were enjoying ourselves. Indeed!

Vans transported us from the Lalakhal Resort to the town of Jaflong, where our destination was the Khasi Punji Village across the river. We walked from the vans atop the hill, down to the waterfront, where we boarded small boats to cross the river. Crowds gathered around us, taking photos and asking us about ourselves. This area doesn't see a lot of foreigners, and our group of Caucasian women was an oddity. As we arrived on the far side of the river, you could see the char (land exposed in the low season along the river) villages, which would be gone once the next monsoons arrived. It's amazing to see how many nomadic people still live in these temporary char villages.
While out and about, the hotel had arranged for masseurs to meet us upon our return for foot/leg messages. As their regular spa employees were gone, they hired ladies from a local villages, bracing us with the fact that they had no idea of the quality of services. Basically, we had a lovely 30 minute foot scrub, as really no massaging went on. And with our lack of Bangla language to discuss this with them, we just nodded and smiled. Chock one up to an experience for conversation. I had brought 2 tubes of henna/mehendi paste, so I asked if anyone could mehendi our arms. So we salvaged our time with the ladies by getting some beautiful artwork done.
Day 3 took us back to Sylhet and a brief shopping visit. Our plane was late, but we still made it home to Dhaka before dinner. At the airport, a baby was crying for minutes. His cries had me missing the girls. As we walked to security checkin, I shooshed and spoke to him, as his father brought him my way. He quieted down, probably wondering what this silly white woman was saying. It was all I could do not to cry my way to checkin, missing our girls. By the end of the day, all of us with young families were missing home.