Yesterday, while perusing the outdoor market across the street from my house for fresh aubregine, tomatoes, and onions, my new friend Annika asked me what I missed most about Canada. I didn’t have an answer. My gaze darted from the sweat-soaked vegetable vendor heckling me to purchase the ruby red tomatoes I had been admiring a moment prior, to the dissonance of rickshaws, goats, and CNGs congesting the street.
“It’s funny, it’s like I’ve gotten used to living without things… I guess I craved certain foods and people in the beginning but now, now I just don’t” I stumbled over the sentence as it came out of my mouth a consequence of my long day at work and my genuine ignorance on the topic. Had I seriously gotten used to this place? The smell of the sun-baked raw fish from the market adjacent hung in the air—an unwelcome accessory to the vibrant scene of make-shift vegetable stalls, vendors, and sari-clad women in front of me.
Since moving to Bangladesh I’ve occasionally injected parts of my Victoria life into Dhaka. The doses function both to ensure my sanity and ground me. Usually my nostalgia presents itself in the form of food. My first indulgence was a small experiment, involving some over ripe imported Australian apples and plasticky Bangladeshi peanut butter. It was during my first month, I was living in a mold-soaked apartment, constantly surrounded by bursts of brutal violence. The reality I had stepped into was so contrasting to the peace I left behind in Victoria that I couldn’t help but scream for some small relief. The first crunch of the almost-crisp apple transported me to the kitchen of my friend Andrea’s temporary home in James Bay. We had spent the day hocking our handicrafts at United Eclectic and had collectively failed to eat anything substantial. The first thing Andrea jumped at when we set foot in her small but charming apartment was a glass jar of Adam’s all natural peanut butter and two ambrosia apples. We gorged and gossiped about our success at the market—Andrea’s came in monetary form, mine in bartering bounty. The snack was glorious, the memory it inspired was delectable, but the whole affair left me craving some good company to fill the void.
Lately my Victorian influences involve dinner parties. I love nothing more than to create delicious food with my favourite people.
Later that day I thought more about what I missed and remembered a conversation I had with my friend Jeff a few weeks ago. He is also from Victoria and is visiting Bangladesh for a month or so until he fucks off to another country in search of stories and life experience. After he arrived there was a whirlwind of nostalgia. Half of our conversations revolved around our favourite restaurants in Victoria. We had in depth discussions about the Simon Whitfield Omelet at Mo:Lé and the amount we would be willing to pay for a cold Blue Buck. Jeff is actually considering shipping some to Bangkok.
Lately, I’ve been getting caught up in the amazing—whether that be degree of discomfort I feel when I have to navigate gender dynamics in an Islamic state, or amount of fulfillment I experience when encountering the sheer capacity of the Bangladeshi people. Just last week I met Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, the brain behind microfinance. In the same day I had a conversation about youth engagement and the importance of education and dialogue with the former UN Youth Ambassador, Monique Coleman. On a weekly basis I am asked my opinion and listened to by people who far exceed my qualifications and have accomplished an incredible amount over the course of their careers. I get to have an impact and more importantly I get to be heard. I suppose this is probably a good place to insert a recent personal triumph: about a month ago I co-wrote a large grant (ehem: worth half a million USD) that is apparently going through. The funding will allow my NGO to deploy countless capacity building programs over the course of the next three years. Big deal, right?
Subsequently, my Canadian life seems to pale in comparison. I remember the greyscale landscape of Alberta in the winter, and the apathy of the people year round. Unlike Dhaka, things stay the same in Canada. Sure we’ve recently had surges of youth engagement surrounding environmental movements and indigenous rights, but nothing compares to the magnitude of engagement here (if you’re interested, Google the Shabagh movement, or listen to my upcoming podcast here).
When I think about Canada I remember the incessant complaints, and I forget the vibrant art scene. I forget the small things that make me happy— taking weekend trips to Salt Spring Island, sipping on an expertly crafted beer at Smiths, feeling infinite while riding my bike down Rockland, creating amazing pizzas with glorious people.
The end of my internship in Dhaka is looming, and with it comes a total change of pace. I am painfully aware of the fate that awaits me when I return to my parents’ home in Alberta: stagnancy and an imminent lack of optimism. I have to find a way to reconcile my experience here in Bangladesh with my place of origin. Who knows? Perhaps I can harness some of the energy I’ve experienced here and share it with my community back home.
(The Market Across the street from my apartment in Dhaka)
(Galavanting through Salt Spring Island last November)
(Salt Spring Island – Photo by Andrea Zittlau)