I often gaped at Monira as she shared stories of responding to acid survivors in extreme condition and of fearlessly demanding answers from her superiors.
On the car ride back to the hotel on my last night in Dhaka, I finally confessed my admiration for Monira to her face: "I hope that I have half as many cool stories when I am your age. Seriously, what haven't you done?!" Of course, she didn't acknowledge her rock-star status (Yes, she is both accomplished and humble). Instead, she reminded me, "Oh, you will. You have already begun the process."
And while I can't imagine ever catching up to Monira in terms of success or bravery, she was right about one thing: I already have many stories to tell. Some of the most interesting ones are set right here in Bangladesh. I've had more experiences than my blogs touch upon: a crazy taxi ride through unregulated traffic with a driver who speaks no English; an interesting and too brief conversation with Semonti on the topic of cross-cultural feminism; and temporary celebrity status and blindness from camera flashes at the folk art museum.
My experiences in Dhaka have forced me to be more open: not only to listen to others' stories but to recognize my own. On the morning of July 11th, I watched crowds of women and men march the streets of Dhaka in celebration of World Population Day. I had not met more than 1% of the women in attendance, let alone hear them speak. Yet their presence admitted they too had stories to tell, ones that involved UNFPA and its advocacy for women's rights and health.
I have witnessed firsthand the importance of UNFPA for women, for their children, and for society as a whole. Although most of my American friends have no clue what UNFPA does, everyone from young village girls to one of our male taxi drivers knew UNFPA because it had touched their lives. As a student ambassador for Americans for UNFPA, I hope to bridge that gap in our understanding. I hope that regardless of our nationality, political affiliation, or gender, we can recognize the necessity of women's empowerment and the work of UNFPA.
In the year ahead, I am sure I'll experience more of the inspiring feats of women from around the world. While my blog officially ends, my learning has only begun. I'll have more stories--both from diverse women and my own - to tell. And, while I'm at it, why not a few more cups of tea as well!