It is the summer of 1997. I am 15 and have just spent the last month in a small village in Bangladesh.
Every morning, I wake up on a thin mattress on the bottom bunk, surrounded by mosquito netting. I shake out my boots, frogs flying everywhere, and grab a roll of toilet paper – running for the squatie in the half-dark, hoping I can make it there in time. Although we eat mostly canned foods and pump our water by hand, everyone is plagued by diahhrea.
We march to our work site, carrying tools and water canteens. Our task is to build a school for children – walls of bamboo, a roof of wood. The children are gaunt, but beautiful – their tortured eyes terrify me.
We take malaria pills and drink grape koolaid with dehydration tablets (it tastes so bad I throw up half of it).
On days of luxury, we take timed showers two-by-two in bamboo rectangles, cold water but we don’t care. We wash our laundry in paint buckets with powdered soap and then hang it to dry – our clothes are hard and starchy by the sun.
Five times a day, the loudspeaker calls out the obligatory prayers of Salah. Sometimes, the sound wakes me in my sleep; I am frozen. The sound of anti-freedom.
Mail call is my favorite time of day (either that or when the rains come). Every letter that I receive from home, I read at least fifty times, reminding me of a different place.
On one of our last weeks there, my friend Lauren leans on her shovel, “Do you think you’ll ever want to come back here?” I feel guilty about how quickly the words form on my lips, “No. Never.”
At the JFK terminal, I cry from sheer joy when I see the American flag. I buy a bagel and a bottle of cranberry juice.
* I spent the summer of 1997 with 20+ teens and 5 leaders on a short-term project with Teen Missions International.