I know the life I live in the US goes on around me, invisibly, like I have stepped outside of a circle into a parallel universe.
I try to keep up. I try to stay connected. But it’s hard…
And sometimes that’s a good thing.
Living and working so far from my closest friends and family can be draining on everyone, but to fully immerse myself into a new environment, I have to get lost. At least a little bit.
The past month has been hectic. Hot. Humid. Noisy. Full of papers. Data. Interviews. Emails. Stifled grumbles. Laughter. Tears.
Sometimes I just need some space to breathe.
Remember… this is a country with 165 million people squeezed into the land size of the state of Georgia.
My work has been going well. I am continually learning and expanding upon the skills I had only just begun to develop in the past year. The diabetic retinopathy trial I spoke about last time is up and running, and we finalized a draft report mapping all nutrition intervention taking place countrywide. My main focus has been on developing and revising a research project from which I will gain the data for my thesis paper. I finalized my research question a few weeks ago: How does gender awareness and nutrition training influence health seeking behavior among women in Nilphamari, Bangladesh? I conducted preliminary interviews last week to trial my interview guide and I will be returning to conduct interviews with women, their husbands, and their mothers-in-law to gain qualitative data to support and add robustness to the quantitative data being collected. I am also developing questions to be incorporated into the end of project survey to work towards answering my research question.
Now that my interview guide has been revised and the participant selection has been set, I will travel back to Nilphamari for a full week of interviews starting from Sunday. Traveling in the northern region of the country is interesting: a gorgeously serene landscape dotted with farmers tending rice and jute fields and dusty roads leading into the green abyss. But beneath that beauty is the dichotomy of a deeply rooted tradition. A tradition into which women conform and accept. Why wouldn’t they? They have never known anything else.
You see, traditionally in Bangladeshi culture a woman is permitted very limited access to the world outside of her home. Much of the country has changed and developed; however, you still see this is every day life.
For example, one of the first observations I made here back in May was the abundance of men compared to women out on the streets, in the markets, shops… everywhere. In rural, more conservative areas, this is amplified even more. Women are housewives. They clean and cook and take care of the children. That is what they were born into this life for.
Once they get married (by law not until the age of 18 but in rural areas sometimes as young as 14 or 15) they move from their parents house into the house of their in-laws, quickly shifting them to the bottom of the pecking order.
This is why the work we are doing here is so important. Empowering women while simultaneously encouraging their husbands and mothers-in-law to give them a voice in the home, in the community, is vital to their becoming strong, independent, and healthy.
Quite simply, they just need encouragement to realize they have a voice at all.
Outside of work life has been equally as busy. I was hired for a consultancy for a week in Cambodia, so I flew over there for nine days. It was lovely to see friends in a place that feels so familiar.
Then for the fourth of July I just had to attend the annual embassy cookout. There was no John Deere tractor like in the Phnom Penh bash a few years back, but there was a Bangla cover band in leapord print tights singing sultry love songs from the 80s.
My time here is going by shockingly quickly. Next week I will be in the field conducting interviews, then in Nepal for a week to take some much needed down time. The following week I will be back to the Dhaka office for a week before wrapping things up and heading back over to Phnom Penh for another week of work. My only concern right now is that I am going to come stumbling off the plane in NC in mid-August, eye glazed, head bobbing for the first days of class!
And before I forget- Ramadan Kareem! The month of Ramadan began today so a shift in daily activities and the pattern of schedules changes as the whole country fasts during daylight hours until Eid al-Fitr on August 6th. So happy I will be missing the Eid al-Adha though… ‘feast of the sacrifice’ where the streets literally run with blood…
So much to learn so little time!