As Hasina and I said our goodbyes this evening, she asked, "Will you forget me?" Out shot an answer straight from my heart: "No, I could never forget you!" My visit to Hasina's home where she was attacked with acid as she slept five years ago was emotional, beautiful, out of my comfort zone, and definitely an experience I would always remember.
It began at 6:00 A.M. when I forced myself out of bed, drank a much-needed cup of coffee (6:00 A.M....seriously?), and hopped into a van that would take me outside Dhaka for the first time since my arrival in Bangladesh. After two hours, our driver stopped because the road had become too narrow and muddy from the monsoon season.
Lo and behold: a nice crowd of villagers with watchful eyes surrounded us. But what else could I expect? I wasn't a Bangladeshi woman in a bright sari or dark burka like those on the side of the road.
Let's face it, I was a white girl wearing pants. And I had a camera crew! Why wouldn't they be curious?
We walked through fields of jute to arrive at Hasina's home, where her family greeted us with baskets upon baskets of sweet cakes. As the camera crew filmed Monira and Hasina, I decided to make some friends. And it was easier than I thought. Stares soon turned to smiles as I asked young girls to take pictures with me. "Asho, asho! Come, come," and the girls came and held my hand. In particular, Depa, a smart and beautiful twelve-year-old girl held my hand and never let go...even when a caterpillar-like bug managed to crawl up my pants, bite my thigh, and send me into panic.
I was overcome by the sisterhood I felt among these young women who walked with me through their homes, played with my hair, and let me hold their babies. I admired the strength of women like Hasina who has the courage to return to her town and to serve as a role model of an intelligent economically-independent woman.
Before my visit, I didn't think of these women or know their everyday lives. Here I was—a young American—spending only a day with these girls, desiring their friendship, probably never to return again. So I vowed never to forget these women: their laughter and their warmth. I vowed to make an effort to connect with more women around the world through travel and self-education. I vowed to remember them, as you can, when I declare myself an American for UNFPA and search the lives of women through Lifelines.
How easy it is to forget or never to even know the lives of Hasina, your neighbor, Depa, or the woman around the world who is sleeping as you read. Forget her not.
Join us in congratulating Nicole and showing your support by declaring yourself an American for UNFPA at: americansforunfpa.org/iam