So…as you can guess by the title, I’m going to Bangladesh!
This honestly shouldn’t be a surprise because I’ve been talking about going since the beginning of the year. It was my travel goal for 2017, but part of me can’t seem to wrap my head around the fact that it’s actually happening.
Before I start rambling,
Let’s start at the beginning.
My parent came here from Bangladesh in 1994 (yes, that’s how early I’m starting) and never went back. My dad went to college in Connecticut. After he graduated, he went to Bangladesh to marry my mom (They had already been engaged for five years and knew each other their whole lives).
They moved down here to Atlanta after the wedding. My mom worked while my dad got his Master’s Degree. I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like for my mom. In a lot of ways, she’s really lucky because she has extended family here and didn’t have an arranged marriage. (Many women come here barely knowing their husbands and without family around). But coming to a new country, going from having servants to living in a tiny apartment in Atlanta must’ve been a huge transition.
I’m digressing a little, but I might as well tell you a bit about my family.
My dad never felt a huge connection to Bangladesh because his dad worked for the United Nations, so he traveled a lot growing up then spend middle school and high school at a boarding school in Thailand. He came to America when he was 17 for college. (He’s honestly as American as I am because he went to American schools abroad.)
Even so, I’m sure they had every intention to visit Bangladesh, but they never did.
For starters, it’s expensive. It costs almost $2,000 round trip per ticket. That’s certainly was the biggest reason in the beginning. My dad was in grad school and they were just starting to build a life together. I don’t think they were American citizens yet. They might’ve been because my dad had been in American for almost 5 years, but I don’t know.
Over the years, they worked, bought a house, and traveled around America. They had me shortly before my dad finished his Master’s.
At this point, they had been living in America for almost 4 years. They had my brother Mysoon two years later, then my brother Zidan after that.
A few months after Zidan was born, Mysoon was diagnosed with autism.
//The Reasons We Didn’t Go
1. Money. After Mysoon was diagnosed, my parents got into a lot of debt meeting with doctors and psychologists, doing clinical trials and trying different drugs… many of my childhood memories are in hospital waiting rooms. They couldn’t possibly afford $10,000 for five round-trip tickets to Bangladesh.
2. Mysoon Has Autism. I feel like that’s my family’s excuse for everything, but it’s a valid reason. Getting Mysoon on a plane was out of the question (especially for a ride that long). It would cause everyone so much stress and he couldn’t handle it. This is why most of our travels consisted of road trips. Even though I’ve never left the country, I’ve been able to travel a lot. We’ve been to almost half of the 50 states and have gone to many places multiple times. (I’ve literally been to New York a dozen times. An even 12 times).
We had to work around our situation. Road trips are easier on Mysoon than plane rides, so that’s what we did.
3. We’d Get Really Sick. My mom was a hospital kid in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is very polluted and very dusty, which bothered my mom’s asthma a lot (She was in the hospital the week before her wedding and after.) Whenever she left the country, she was completely fine, but when she went back, she’d get really sick. Since my asthma is worse than hers, it’s likely that I’ll be very sick in Bangladesh. (My allergist definitely does not approve of me going.)
4. My Parents Never Had A Huge Desire To Go Back. My dad told me that he never wants to go back a few years ago. His siblings and parents are here and he didn’t really spend much time there growing up. My mom only wants to go back to see her immediate family, but she never really had plans to. It was partially because of Mysoon, but she’s also a bit of a homebody. Just the other day she told me, “I’m becoming an old person. I don’t want to leave the house and travel around like I used to.”
//Planning On Going
I had been telling my parents that I was planning on going all year. My dad was like, “Okay. Sure, sure.” like he didn’t really believe it would happen this year. My mom would just tell me horror stories about how I’d hate it there and would get sick, or list reasons why I shouldn’t go. She’d also do the guilt tripping thing about Mysoon missing me and what she’d do if I were gone (which is also what she does when I talk about moving out). I knew she would be happy if I went. She was just worried.
They both reacted exactly the way I expected them to.
I “planned” this trip the same way I plan every other trip. I save all my money and stare at plane ticket prices for months. I put “planned” in quotation marks because my parents actually surprised me with the trip a few weeks ago.
//How They Surprised Me
It started when I asked my dad to give me my money. See, last summer when I was reapplying for FAFSA, I had to move most of the money in my savings account to my dad’s. (I would’ve gotten less financial aid because my savings had grown)
He said, “Uuuuh, ask your mom,” which basically means no.
“I wasn’t asking your permission. I’m asking for my money.”
(The previous line sounds calm, but trust me. I was pissed.)
He said, “Oh, no, no. I’ll give you the money. I just think you should talk to mom”
After that, I went to school. My mom picked me up from the train station (which she’s had to do for the last couple of weeks because of daylight savings and it gets dark super early and she doesn’t want me walking to my car at night)
She said, “I have a surprise for you. You’re going to Bangladesh.”
I bet you’re expecting tears of joy or something along that line, but that didn’t happen. I was sort of dubious, and said, “Really?”
Basically, her brother in Australia is going to be in Chittagong in December and she had known that my goal was to go there this December, so she had started talking to him about
When my dad told her I was about to buy the ticket, she scrambled calling a bunch of people making sure that I could stay with them. And that’s how it happened.
(There were a lot of Thank You’s. I would’ve hugged her, but she was driving)
//How I Feel About Them Paying
I honestly wasn’t comfortable with it and I kept offering, but they wouldn’t have it. My grandparents are also paying for part of the ticket because they want to. (Not that my parents could stop them because my grandpa booked the plane tickets.)
I don’t feel bad about it anymore. I came to a realization that pretty soon in the future, I won’t be able to rely on my parents like this. It won’t be acceptable for them to help me and I won’t want them to. I went on two trips last month, which I paid for on my own. My mom gave me cash for both and I gave it back to her in full at the end of each trip.
I would’ve been stubborn about this trip too, but I realize that they’ve wanted to send me on this trip for a long time and they would be disappointed if I did this on my own. (They said it’s my 20th birthday present, but they’d have done it anyway) They want to help me. I shouldn’t complain. I’m very lucky and should enjoy it while it lasts. (Pretty soon, I’ll have to pay for international plane tickets on my own.)
1. Seeing A Lot Of My Family Again – I have cousins who were born in America and moved to Bangladesh later on. I’m especially excited to see one of my cousins who grew up in Atlanta with me. She was the sister I never had and her mom was like my second mom. I haven’t seen her in person in 5 years. She’s 16 now, but we talk online constantly.
2. Meeting A Lot Of Family For The First Time – Meeting my maternal grandmother is my #1 reason for wanting to go. If she died before I got a chance to meet her because I was too scared to go, I would’ve regretted it for the rest of my life. Apparently, I look exactly like her. People have been saying that since I was little and still do. (Literally, every time she comes up in a conversation with anyone other than my parents).
I’m also going to meet a bunch of my cousins on my mom’s side. They’re actually really close to my age, which is awesome because most of my cousins here are younger than me.
3. Seeing The Place My Family Is From – I am American. I was born here, grew up in the same house in the same city, and lived my whole life here. I’ve never left. But culturally/ethnically, I am 100% Bengali. Those ancestry tests are super popular right now, but I don’t need one because if you keep going back, you’re just going to find a dot in the same place until it eventually turns into a line tracing back to Africa. Unless some British person fell in love with a great great…. great great aunt, I’m purely Bengali (And Pakistani/Indian because Bangladesh used to be a part of those countries, but it’s a different language, culture, religion, etc. so that probably doesn’t count.
4. Leaving The Country For The First Time. I have never left America before. This is going to be the first time and the culture shock will be real. I will see both sides of things. I will experience and see extreme luxury, while also seeing the most terrible things in life. (disabled people lying on the streets, child labor, etc.) I am going to learn so much from this trip, both about myself and how I handle things and the world around me.
5. Going On A Long Flight – I know there are people who are terrified of flying, but I’m not one of those people. I went on a plane for the first time on my own a few weeks ago, and I wasn’t worried about the flying on the plane part. I was more stressed about the logistical stuff like checking in and TSA.
International flights have a lot more amenities than domestic flights. All my meals are paid for, so I can ask the flight attendant for food and drinks without worrying about paying (they’re included in my flight) and I’ll have access to movies. It should be a fun time.
1. Asthma & Allergy Problems From The Dust And Pollution – There is a lot of smog and dust in Bangladesh, which are my biggest health problems. My allergy doctor was not keen on me going. He gave me a steroid to take if (most likely when) I have an asthma attack. And as I’ve mentioned before, my mom had allergy problems when she lived in Chittagong, so I’ll probably have them too. Fingers-crossed that it won’t be that bad.
2. Getting Sick – There are a million possibilities for me to get sick. Diarrhea from the food, sickness from mosquitos (My mom got malaria twice. She was obviously unlucky because she was the only one of her siblings to ever get it, let alone twice.)…just things that come with going to a foreign country. I’ll survive. I’m prepared for these things.
3. The Language Barrier – My Bangla speaking skills are good, but they’re good for an American. I’ll see how much trouble I have when I get there, but my mom said I shouldn’t have much trouble and people can speak English in Bangladesh (not everyone, but a lot).
I’m more worried about one of the cities because I don’t speak or fully understand one of the dialects. I understand two dialects of Bangla, but I’m not going to Sylhet, so I won’t need that one.
I’ll be asking a lot of questions. I am excited about improving my Bangla speaking skills.
4. Constant Socialization – On the Meyers-Briggs scale, I am half-introvert and half-extrovert (seriously!). I enjoy socializing, but I need time to myself to recharge. Otherwise, I’ll be mentally exhausted. (Theoretically, I could stay at my grandpa’s house, which is empty right now, but where’s the fun int hat.)
My dad asked me about how I feel about meeting everyone and I said, “I’m excited about meeting people, but there’s going to be a lot of small talk in Bangla I can’t fully understand.”
He said, “Well, It’s the love that matters. Not the conversations.”
5. Having Servants – It’s going to be really weird. I don’t think I’ll be able to get used the idea of having random people I don’t know do things for me.
//Logistical Stuff To Take Care Of
We started getting things done immediately. We literally sent the Visa application the day after my parents told me (It was approved last week) and booked the plane ticket that night. All the people I’m staying with and when was recently finalized. All of that is taken care of.
My flight out of Atlanta leaves at 9:20 PM. After an 11 hour flight, I’ll arrive in Istanbul at 4:20 in their time. I have an 11-hour stopover there. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet. If I can’t leave the airport without a Turkey visa, I’ll probably just hang out in an airport lounge and sleep, watch movies or write some blog posts. My flight to Dhaka leaves at 3:20. Then I’m on the plane for another 7.5 hours.
I‘ll be in Dhaka for a few days before flying to Chittagong, which’ll be a short flight. I fly back to Dhaka two days before my flight back to Atlanta. I’ll spend a day with my cousins then go to the airport the next day.
I have two stopovers on the way back to Atlanta: Qatar and London. I don’t have the times memorized for the flight back yet, so I won’t write that here. I get back to Atlanta the weekend before the Spring term starts, making this a three-week trip.
Doctor’s Appointments & Vaccinations
I’ve already met with my doctor about vaccines and my allergist about my asthma/allergy problems. I got a prescription for amoxicillin, which is an antibiotic for if I get sick, and a steroid I forgot the name of (It starts with a “p”) for my asthma.
The only two vaccines needed for Bangladesh are Typhoid and Hep A. We had to call the health department about that and I’m getting the shots next week.
I’ve also bought and packed a lot of medicine I need for the trip (Ex. Pepto Bismol, malaria pills, etc.) I plan on posting that list in the next few weeks.
Shopping & Packing
Dear god, we’ve bought so much stuff for this trip, it’s not even funny. My most recent purchase was compression socks for the two-day flight. There’s other stuff too, like electrolyte packets to put in the water to keep me hydrated, and bug-repelling bracelets to put on my wrists and ankles. Again, all of that information will be in a future post.
This post has literally taken me weeks to write. I scheduled both posts for next week before finishing this one because it was so freaking hard to write. (This post is the reason you only got posts on Monday the last two weeks)
It’s 2:30 in the morning right now.
Anywho, it’s officially announced. I’m going to Bangladesh. Expect to read all about it soon.
//Plans for the future//
My parents are planning on going in the summer of 2019. I’m going to go this month. Mysoon turns 18 in May, so we have to apply for Medicaid, do a bunch of legal guardian stuff, set up financial accounts for him……etc. There’s a lot to for him, otherwise, they would’ve gone this Summer. My mom wants to visit her mom soon.
The summer after, my parents and Zidan will go and leave Mysoon with me. That’s the current plan, but it may change.
Acknowledgement: I would like to thank my parents, grandparents, and extended family for making this trip possible. I’m so blessed to have you all. Thank you.
Where is your family from? Have you ever been there? What are your winter break travel plans?