I can’t quite believe that I’ve been in Bangladesh for six weeks already and the halfway point is fast approaching; in fact, in less than a week, we will be heading back to Dhaka for a couple of days and our Mid-Phase Review. In some respects, the time has just flown by; in others, life in England feels like another lifetime ago. With the temperature and humidity starting to rise here, it’s hard to imagine London in the cold February rain.
The six-week point is an odd one. The novelty factor has definitely worn off but, at the same time, I feel very settled now; the rhythms of life here now feel very natural. The drumbeat of each day marches me gently through each week.
It is very easy to live life one day at a time. There is just so little to worry about: no cares about the latest fashions or trends, no comparisons with friends or strangers, no pressure to be ‘seen’ doing exciting things or in the right places. The only plans I really have or care about are those around the project but, even then, there is only so much planning one can do in Bangladesh!
I’m also learning to practice gratitude and mindfulness in a way that I always struggled with back home. When there are so few comforts in daily life, you become incredibly grateful for the small things. You really appreciate the small kindnesses people show you, the feeling of clean feet after walking in the dust all day, hearing from friends and family back home.
I don’t know how I feel about the reality that people here face every day of their lives. I suppose they don’t know any different but it’s hard not to feel bad that I get to leave after three months and go back to my comfortable life in England. Because life in such a poor, rural community can be really hard and it’s funny the things you miss. I miss choice and variety, especially around food – 84 meals involving rice so far! I miss the conveniences of modern life – I can’t tell you how much you suddenly start to appreciate washing machines when you’re working up a sweat washing bed-sheets and towels. There are times when I miss being able to walk down the street anonymously or sit at home without a crowd of people staring at me as if I were an alien or an animal in a zoo. I try to take it all in my stride – I know I will miss being able to smile at strangers or say hello to old ladies or play outside with children when I go home – but I guess there are some things you never quite get used to in such a different culture.
But when it’s all said and done, I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s just the reality of life in Bangladesh, in a developing country, where nearly forty per cent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day. This is, hands down, the most rewarding and satisfying experience I have ever had. Making the decision to volunteer overseas wasn’t easy but my being here almost feels like destiny, like this is completely the right place for me to be right now. And that feeling is simply indescribable.
So it’s worth it. Every cold shower. Every mosquito bite. Every plate of rice. They are all worth the opportunity to work with a wonderful team of volunteers, to help shape their experience and their futures. They’re all worth it to be part of the global fight against poverty, to have the chance to help some of the world’s poorest people, to create job opportunities in a community where more than a third of the people have no regular source of income. Nobody said volunteering overseas would be easy. It isn’t. But I am so glad I’m doing it.