A New Vision

It’s been almost a year since but I am back!


This past year has been the most critical growing year thus far. 20-12 goes down as a historical year for me!

I have been to India, Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.

Performed in the Vagina Monologues in Bangladesh.

Taught over 12 english classes in one college semester in over 90 degrees weather!

Then came back to NYC and taught a community organizing class and leadership seminar, balanced two jobs in Philly, became committed to several organizations and now completed my first semester of graduate school with five full time classes.

All of the above were part of my plan… my plan of success. I was determined to be the best and achieve the most that was good enough for me and I have/did. I am proud of that but yet when I look back something didn’t feel right for a moment…

About 2 1/2 weeks I woke up one morning with this gut feeling that some fire bomb was coming my way and I wasn’t sure what it was. I just felt this utter sickness in my stomach and I felt I needed to take action. This led me to confide in who I thought was the love of my life… That feeling inside my heart, the one in which I felt something was over and I was at the edge all of the sudden… well.. it was my six year relationship. I don’t think anyone plans for love or plans for love to be over but my six year relationship taught me a lot. I am honored to have learned through my former partner and I am thankful to myself that I was present enough to feel my heart skip a beat for a second because I truly believe I dodged a bullet there. From this life event I have decided to take on a new vision on life – take risks, live in the moment, and don’t turn back. I was so focused on the finish line that I feel as though I lost what I wanted and who I wanted to be.  My biggest life lesson of 2012… Every blessing is a disguise. I am now going to take this lesson and make it my energy.

I feel as though I need to stop planning and solely focus on the present. I have never done this before, I am very scared to take the risks but the worst that could happen is really nothing… There will definitely be moments where I will be vulnerable, unsure, and worried but those are all emotions of growth and feelings that I know will make me a better person and that is probably the best gift I could  ever allow myself to have.

In order to put my new vision into practice I decided to make a irrational decision (I have absolutely no money) and travel through Europe in eleven days to three different countries: London, Paris, and Spain. I am not sure what to expect in these places but I am tired of being complacent with my daily grind and I want to return to a life filled with randomness, spontaneity, and risk taking.

This post is dedicated to 20-13, for what I believe will be my most driven and compelled year.

N.

First Day at East West

First Day: January 16th, 2012

This past week I finally began teaching at East West University (EWU) in Dhaka, Bangladesh. East West is a private college. Tuition for one year for an English major student is approximately 400,000TK, which is 5,000 USD. The school has 119 professors split amongst 15 undergraduate and graduate departments. I am the ETA for twelve 90-minute classes per week. My classroom sizes range from 35-45 students per class, which means that I almost have 540 students. I did not know how to react to this news, until I stepped foot on campus my first day. This is a blog post about my first day at EWU.

My first reaction of East West was that it was like NYC and Bangladesh combined x10! The school is incredibly over populated! Although the campus is moving to a new location they haven’t moved yet so the current campus is cramped to say the least.  It felt like I was at the Times Square New Years Eve ball dropping! In addition, to having a mental breakdown because of the crowd, I was confused with the building names since they are not titled or marked clearly. I almost cried because I felt scared out of my mind but because I do look Bangladeshi, and do not dress like a foreigner I was able to blend in with the students and act like I actually knew what I was doing; however, deep down inside I was panicking. When I finally reached my supervisors office she handed me my official schedule and sent me off to my first classes (I work with 11 teachers and only met my supervisor prior to my first day. This meant I really had no idea which professors I was working with until they walked into the classroom door). With no prior introductions to the teachers I was unprepared to teach my first day because I had no idea what the professors wanted me to teach and therefore I figured it would be a wing it/ think on your feet kind of day– unfortunately it was that and more.

When my team teachers finally met me they were surprised, because they had no idea I was showing up. They addressed me as a student and when I told them I was the Fulbright ETA they pondered for a moment and then stated, “I was expecting a White American.” I was a bit offended and sad, yet I could understand why they thought this. I felt sad because I choose to return to Bangladesh and the institution I was supposed to feel a part of for the next six months was expecting an all American blonde. For the first time (after years of appreciating I was a person of color) I wished I was white. For a moment I felt if I was white then I would have been able to provide a more authentic experience about America and more people would hear and listen to what I have to say… possibly even respect me more and teach me more about this country. This was truly depressing. As a Bangladeshi-American living in Bangladesh, people constantly question my identity, nationality, opinions, feelings, and ignore the fact that I, as much as a White American, am a foreigner in this place despite wanting to feel a connection because of my heritage and ethnicity.

As much as I tried to hold it in on my first day I surely ended my day with some tears. Tears of joy because I am starting a new journey teaching in a new place close to my identity, tears of sadness because I feel as though I need to prove myself to Bangladesh and to myself, and lastly tears of hope that everything will go beyond what I expect and the finish line will have new friendships and many lessons learned.

 

Lost in a Foreign Place

In the past three months I have been to four different countries and in each country I have gotten lost a few times. What I realized was when I am alone a sense of emotions hit me. All of a sudden when I realize I am lost I feel like crying. I feel like I won’t be able to find someone around that understands me and will point me in the right direction. I also hit a place in my head where I blame myself for making this happen because once again I chose to be spontaneous and travel alone. Each time I get lost and find my way back I feel liberated yet it feels like a long, draining process to get through.

This is a blog piece on 10 things to do when you feel lost in a foreign place. I am not sure if there a lot of people who actually need my advice but I decided to put this together for myself as a check list for my next trip which will be a solo trip to another country in South Asia.

1. Stay awake.

Something I never do is stay awake. While driving in Dhaka, Bangladesh I think I fall asleep in traffic at least 3x a day.  I hardly keep my eyes open for landmarks and I get lost in my thoughts. During our Bangkok lost adventure I once again dosed off in a Tuk Tuk for an hour while we got stuck in traffic. Due to the fact that I dosed off it was harder to figure out where the Flower markets were because I didn’t keep an eye out for landmarks, turns, tourist spots, and points of transportation. All in all stay awake! I realized the more I sleep the more I put myself in danger because I could end up somewhere really risky if I am not aware.

2. Take a guide book.

I always carry my Lonely Planet or Bradt Guides. In the past I used Rough Guides and Lonely Planet in Morocco, Bradt in Ghana, Rough Guides for Spain & Malaysia and now Bradt and Lonely in Bangladesh. I find that the guidebook always offers a place of safety no matter what. When I feel emotional unstable and alone in a place I have no idea about then I pop open the book and figure out something. Whether that is opening the index, looking at the map, calling a taxi because the numbers are sometimes provided, calling my hotel/ hostel, or more. The guidebook should always be your best friend while traveling. I don’t leave home without it when I travel.

3. Hydration!

While on a road trip to the Sahara Desert I got dizzy on the Moroccan Mountain areas because of how high we were. I shortly realized that I was dehydrated. Staying hydrated keeps you alert and creates lots of energy for your adventures! In Bangkok we carried two bottles of 500ML water everywhere!

4. Walk into a bank when you are lost

Most likely 8 out of 10 times someone in a local bank will know English. In Bangkok no one pointed us in the right direction until I walked into a bank and asked.

5. Don’t be afraid to test all types of transportation.

In Morocco I only took the public bus three times. There is no real way to actually tell where the bus stops are or where you get on in many communities therefore one would need to be open to getting lost also also courageous to try new things. In Thailand the people at the Bank told us to hop on the Number 8 bus. Luckily it was coming down the street and we ran across and hopped on! Asking questions on the bus helped only by pointing to my handy map- which brings me to #6

6. Carry a map!

When all fails use hand gestures. Point to your map on specifically where you want to go. In most cases many people know what a map is and can read it. They will show you what they understand by pointing and hand gestures. This helped us tremendously on the bus when no one spoke English.

7. Carry your hotel business card

In Sri Lanka I carried my hotel business card around. When I was lost I pulled it out and everyone seemed to know what hotel I was staying at since it is very touristy. Even if your hotel is not a tourist location carry the card because it holds the phone number and a contact name. In the event you are truly lost you can call the hotel or hop into a taxi experiment from there.

8. Carry a camera

This is one of the fun things about getting lost. Taking photos! When I get lost I feel as though I have found a new adventure within the adventure I was supposed to have. Taking photos of things I did not think about seem to happen when I am lost. Being lost is an unexpected feeling. Accounting that feeling keeps it in memory.

9. Try to travel in open space and not alleys.

In Bangladesh I tend to travel in less crowded spaces because I am fearful of getting pick pocketed in crowds but I realized that its more important to walk in crowds than not because of followers, muggers, and etc. In Thailand we walked through questionable allies (lots of prostitutes in many of them) but I wouldn’t do this alone. Usually I tend to stay in well lit places alone and also fairly decently busy places so people can easily hear if something was wrong.

10. Have FUN!

Of course I would end with this! Being lost is not the worst thing in the world. Every time I find myself lost I feel a thousand different emotions but at the end of the day I realize how fun and reinvigorating it was to experience a sense of “I don’t know where I am!” Have fun! Experiment with different things. Explore! You never know who or what you will find. Be optimistic that everything happens for a reasons and you ‘hopefully’ will make it out ok. Always put your safety first and find ways to challenge yourself!

Until next time!

N

Thoughts

Its officially been nineteen days since I left NYC. For the past two weeks I have been going back and forth about writing topics. I am guessing much of this probably came from the fact I have not been able to fully grasp my experience into words. Luckily, last week I attended a poetry workshop in which a good friend was the  facilitator. Although inspired by many moments in Bangladesh to continue to do good work, I have failed to be motivated to write. Maybe “writers block,” not really sure… anyways during the workshop I learned how to write list poems and I figured I would share this. These are currently all, the many, thoughts, and conversations in my mind that I am processing right now.

Flying roaches

Rickskaws

Rice & Dhaal & Chicken

Achaar

Bangla

Red and Green

Mosquitos

Cultural insensitive

Privilege

White Privilege

People of Color Privilege

Race

Poor

Poverty

New people

Intelligent people

Friends

Moments

Shared experiences

Identity

Community Organizing

Action

Justice

Photography

Peace

Belief

Warmth

Religion

Eid!

Balance

Womyn(hood)

Dogma

What other people think

Halloween at the American Club!?

Salwar Kamese

Hot, Heat, Humid

Sunday is actually Monday

Friday is Saturday

and Thursday is Fruttibas Day!

Clean Water

Undocumented Immigration

Occupy Dhaka

Education

Equal Access

Pepper Spray

Mosquito Net

Randomness

Hope

1971

Revolution

Bangladesh.

Experience, a risk?

“If you want to be legendary, you do what people least expect, you take a risk that no one thinks is worth it, but you take that risk and turn it into something specular and make it worth it for yourself. That’s what a legend is.”

My friend told me this quote a few months ago when I couldn’t decide my options post under-graduate. I felt utmost blessed to have had so many options but she told me its really not about the options you have but the choices you make and what those choices could mean to you.

I never thought that I would be legendary. Never had a desire to be that special, nor did I ever want to receive that title; however, from this definition above maybe legends are people who do the things that are unspoken of. For me, its not the legendary part I am attached to rather the most significant aspect of this quote is the idea of TAKING RISKS. A majority people I have met believe that the Fulbright Fellowship is prestigious; however, the reason why I chose to return to Bangladesh and teach had no connection to the prestige of the program. In fact I think I would have ended up here within a few years doing something fantastic. Originally in the beginning of my decision making process, friends and family members pushed me to not take the Fulbright. Only being here one day, I truly believe I have taken the most challenging, worth while, risk of my life- returning to Bangladesh. I wonder if I can actually say Returning since I never lived here, was born here, or was raised in a traditionally Bangladeshi home. Anyways… I specifically choose to come here because I am passionate for women’s education and developing sister circles, creating, fostering, and enhancing dialogues between womyn related to leadership, feminism, opportunity, and most importantly experience. Experience because I believe its what truly develops who we are, experience are choices, decisions, moments, memories, and essentially experience returns us to the idea of risks, risks we take that shape our identities are a part of our experience.

This moment, where I am, my present, is part of my experience. Being here is a risk. Who I want to become, what I want to do, and where I want to go in Bangladesh is still all a mystery to me all the while being a risk that shapes my experience and also molds and continues to foster my identity as a Bangladeshi- American womyn.

 

My Truth on Finding Myself

About three weeks ago I sat down with one of my BFFs- here I am renaming her as Serina. While eating dinner we came to the conversation of “finding myself”- in this case she was saying she wanted to find herself. What does it exactly mean to find ones self?  A few weeks later I asked my partner what his goals were while I would be away in Bangladesh on a fellowship and he replied: “I want to find myself.” I was in many ways shocked to hear this. At first I was thinking- does this mean we are breaking up? and then I was thinking- I already thought you found yourself, you know who you want to be, you know where you are going, and you definitely are on the right track- so I asked him “Are you sure its about finding yourself, or becoming something better?” (not that he isn’t great enough! he sure is amazing to me!)

So now I am here- thinking about what it means to “find yourself/ myself/ ourselves?” Recently, I have been so confused with the idea of it. Frankly, I am kind of frustrated hearing people say- “Oh, its awesome your going abroad for an entire year, you’re definitely going to find yourself.” In my head the answer that speaks to me is that I believe I have already found myself. I define myself as someone who is an activist, someone who believes in changing the world, and someone who strives for love and loves with all (values I hold close to my heart). So when I hear someone talk about “Oh I want to find myself,” I wonder if society makes us want to believe in finding ourselves. Do we shop and change jobs to figure out who we want to be? Do we go to school in hopes we will find our passion? Do I move out of my mother’s house and get my own apartment and try living independently? The thing I hate the most is when people travel to find themselves- because why do “I” or “you” need to travel so some distant country that is far less privileged than your own life in order to find who you are.

I don’t want to rant about this- rather my point here is that I believe that we have all, really, have found ourselves. We may not know who we want to become, what we want to be, or where we want to go but what is important is that we are here, we are present, and we are trying to figure it out. Finding- sounds blurring, sounds like we don’t know right from wrong, and points out that the mistakes we have made are negative, when in reality I believe mistakes are moments we learn about ourselves. I don’t believe it’s about finding one’s self rather, its more about becoming a better person, figuring our what type of role you want to play in the world, and rather than pointing at yourself, myself, or ourselves- you should be pointing at the options you can take to help you become that better person. Maybe that’s about taking risks, challenging yourself with different things and ideas, or even allowing ourselves to make mistakes- even the ones you probably have already made.

I already know that I have made decisions, have opinions, and follow my own standards and values- in some ways doesn’t that mean that I have already found the person I want to be?! or does this just me this is who I am?? or doesn’t this also mean that I have “Found myself.” It’s all just confusing, so I like to think of the idea of finding self as becoming better because I truly feel we all know who we are- who we are is about our values, decisions, opinions, and thoughts, we just don’t know what type of goals/ dreams/ and desires we truly want or what type of  person this will all make us. Ultimately, I believe, that just means that most of us want to become better people- or so I hope. 

One of the greatest books I have ever read is Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Album. I have grown closely in admiring Morrie (the main character and I will end with one of his quotes:

“People haven’t found meaning in their lives, so they’re running all the time looking for it. They think the next car, the next house, the next job. They they find those things are empty, too, and they keep running… I would rather put my energies into people.”

I admit I didn’t fully go into what this quote could mean but it resonated with me because I believe it relates to the idea of becoming a better person- or ultimately what you may call “finding ones self.”

Advocate. Hope. Love

N.

Body vs. Mind, oh and my BUT!

During my last semester of college I explored writing monologues for a social justice theater class. For one assignment I wrote a monologue in the voice of my BUTT! I never had the opportunity to perform it but my dear friend Ericka memorized and performed it and gave my monologue justice.

Today I wanted to share it with the public, in particular for all the womyn out their struggling to accept their bodies. I ask myself why we just can’t fall in love with ourselves each day? Rather many of us chose to create war between our minds and bodies.

Working with young high school and college womyn I am constantly reminded about beauty and low self-esteem. After begin diagnosed in 2007 with Alopecia (a hair loss auto immune disease) I have come to realize that the mind, body, and soul all need to be equal to one another. Having Alopecia was one of the best things that happened to be because I decided to stick the middle up at all those people that pressured me to be who I am not. I learned that, through time, I am the only one in control of my own body, decisions, and beauty and the definition of beauty is fluid and different for each individual.

Today I am posting this monologue in dedication for all those womyn who feel uncomfortable in their skin because society tells us who to be constantly.

For a better tomorrow.

Advocacy. Hope. Love.

Nadila

Monologue 

Dear Friend,

Your beautiful skin feeds deep within your soul, your hair falls gracefully, your breasts empower and highlight your beauty, and your face has energy that inspires passion throughout miles. These are all positives about yourself, parts of your body that you admire. Well sister, I have breaking news for you- I am angry!  I am angry because you never acknowledge my presence.

Have you ever taken a moment to look as your ass? I know you acknowledge all other body parts but seriously you hardly acknowledge me. Shouldn’t that make you an ass for not doing that? You take time on painting your toes and doing your hair and wearing a nice bra to extenuate your attitude, feeling, and also beauty, but when have you given me the chance to actually enjoy a thong or laced underwear. I feel like I am living in a granny’s booty! Always wearing regular panties that allow full coverage.

Now, I understand that you are self conscious of me. I remember 9th grade when your sister bought you that tight denim skirt and your butt was popping out, yeah you remember! Well I remember how horrible you made me feel. You did everything to hide it. I don’t think you really understood that I was an asset to you.

So you are scared to show it off… because of stretch marks. Have you no understanding that the stretch marks on your butt need attention by exercising? Where’s that special coco butter? I know people use coco butter for everything. You never apply it! How about lunges? You always give up after 8 lunges. I mean really? You are able to stay up all night, work on academics but you don’t have the resiliency to do a butt work out?  Maybe even a run once in a while? Your lack of motivation makes me feel like you want these zebra like tattoos to stay on your butt forever.

I know I mean something to you, I know that you ignore it because you want to focus on other areas of your body but I have a mind and purpose too, and I want to help you love yourself more. You need me. I am necessary to sit on, I am necessary for jeans, skirts, leggings, shorts, and bathing suits; basically I am necessary for all the things you love, enjoy, and appreciate wearing however you haven’t once tried to make me feel and stay better for yourself. When is that going to stop? When are you going to appreciate that you got me, when are you going to allow yourself to challenge your comfort zone by wearing thongs and lace panties, when are you going to allow me to strut myself in more fitted jeans, leggings, skirts, and lastly when are you going to let me soak up in the sun and get some heat from a the bottom of a bathing suit?

Listen friend, I love you, I am here to make sure you can love yourself more, but I can’t make that happen if you won’t allow that to happen. So I hope you will consider in paying attention to me more.

This is Where my ‘Writing’ Begins

Writing has not been an easy task for me. Growing up in a bi-lingual household as a Bangladeshi American I have confused my nouns, verbs, subjects, and much more in Bangla and English. In high school I felt like I hardly wrote any essays or papers and when it came time to writing my college essay I had over twelve drafts. Luckily I had a sister as a teacher who made sure my college essay was unbeatable. Although, I definitely aced my college essay and received a full tuition scholarship to an amazing private liberal arts college in MA, I constantly worried about my writing. It was no surprise to me that I received a C on my first college essay! Up until then, I never received a C. When I sat down with my Writing 101 teacher she explained to me all the issues I needed improvement on, handed me a book as reference to improve my “issues” and that was that. If I had not gone to her she probably would not have told me the issues of my writing. All in all- I had no real way in re-teaching myself all the writing methods I should have learned in middle school and beyond. In fact I hardly remember taking any grammar classes in my public school and when I transferred to private high school I remember struggling in my English classes when it came to differing nouns from verbs and adjectives. Ironically I was placed in AP English my Junior Year of high school and managed to pass with a 93 GPA but still I knew my writing needed help and yet no one actually told me that my writing was never good enough until I reached college.

I pushed myself in college- took the hardest English, Sociology, and Women Studies courses. Scheduled meetings with special writing tutors and professors and began reading everything I could.I was that student to finish my papers two weeks before they were actually due and get them proof read by everyone I could. By my senior year I graduated from a Sociology thesis class in which I won “Award for Outstanding Senior Thesis,” and received an A+ on my senior thesis titled, “A Study of South Asian Greek Life, Influence, Culture, and Conflict Redefine.” It definitely took a lot of work and it did not come easy and ironically it also did not come from my professors in the classroom.

From my experience Professors in college believe that students in their classrooms already know how to write but the truth is that college students nation wide are struggling with writing. On the first day of my Feminist Fiction class my English professor stated “that most college do not know how to write therefore I will make you write every week on the novels we will be reading,” as the class sighed about this she began to state “every college student deserves to know how to write well- especially you since you are paying the same tuition as an Ivy League Student at Harvard.” It was reality to me that day, that she was the first professor I met to push writing as an integral college experience. After being challenged with my writing for so many years- I look back and wish one of my professors would have been able to really closely sit down and assist me with my obstacles. If it wasn’t for me reaching out on resources such as tutors, and special writing coaches I do not think I would be here writing this right now.

I met my Feminist Fiction Professor during my last semester in college- it was a bittersweet feeling to take her class during that time. She was the first professor to care about my writing and suggested I begin a blog and maybe even a memoir after I graduate in May of 2011.

Now, here I am- as a Community Organizer, Action & Social Justice Teacher, English Teaching Assistant, and soon to be writer, hopefully on my way. As I read countless essays from my own high school students who are applying to college, I am recognizing that writing is a challenge but can be conquered with support. I hope that I continue to become a great teacher to push my students to become the best critical thinkers and writers. Lastly, I hope that teachers and professors all over the world can recognize that generations need more support with writing. At the end of the day it bothers me when tenure, publications, and research come before the classroom for many educators. I feel fortunate enough to have had about four professors in college who have believed in my writing when I least did.

On graduation day, May 21st, 2011, my Posse* mentor read and dedicated a speech about me during our graduation ceremony celebration and her last sentence of the speech was:

“This is where your book starts.”

Advocate.Hope.Love,

Nadila