Welcome to Bangladesh

I’ve been trying to keep this updated more regularly and failing miserably. Can you tell? I have about 15 half-written blog posts about my time in Colombia, my time in Ecuador, my time back home…all in draft form with half-formed thoughts that I never felt like I had time to totally hash out.

And then it feels like one day I woke up and BOOM – I was actually, finally in Bangladesh, embarking on a new adventure on my second trip to Asia in six months.

It’s now been almost 11 months (!!!!!) that I’ve been on the road, and the passage of time has beens so weird this entire journey. It’s moved quickly in that it feels like the months are flying by – in a month, I’ll have been on the road for a YEAR. Woah. But time’s also moved slowly in that it feels like a lifetime ago that I had any longstanding “routine” or permanent home base. To be honest, I can’t remember what it feels like to have a permanent bed to sleep in every night, a permanent closet full of my clothes, a car in the driveway, or a 9-5 job. Have you ever read the book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (if you haven’t, you should)? In it, Harari talks about how adaptable the human mind is and its ability to normalize even the strangest of circumstances. Given enough time, even those things that we initially found SO weird (in my case, living out of a suitcase) become humdrum after awhile. We just…adapt. And that’s what’s happened with me…this life now just seems like the norm. And I’m okay with that. 🙂

Anyway. So, to refresh – since I last updated this blog, I decided to completely abandon my life plans of backpacking South America and come to Bangladesh instead. What the hell, you ask?

Well, it’s not as totally irresponsible/ridiculous as it sounds. I spent three months in Colombia and Ecuador exploring, learning salsa, and practicing my Spanish (blog posts to come about my time at Spanish Adventure as well as my nontraditional backpacking route I took through Ecuador). It was amazing, and I felt like I was getting out of the trip everything I wanted. I finally became fluent in Spanish, finally learned salsa (kind of), met some amazing people, and discovered that Colombia is officially my favorite country ever. But halfway through my trip, I started feeling restless…not bad, but just like I was ready to do more. I was getting tired of doing the same backpacker thing day in and day out. It seemed like my life was starting to become one endless cycle of free hostel breakfast, amazing sightseeing, short-term friendships, nights out, travel days, rinse, repeat. It was so fun. So, so fun.

But after awhile…it just got kind of monotonous. My brain is too hyperactive (read: too anxious) to stay under-stimulated. I wanted to work again.

I know that’s probably weird to some.  And while I’ve always loved nursing, when I left for this trip (and ESPECIALLY after my time in Greece) I was so ready for a break. As such, most of my travel time has been decidedly NOT career-oriented. But slowly I’ve come to realize how important it is for me to feel like I’m waking up with a purpose every morning. It’s not necessary for everyone, but it was for me.

And so, I realized I wanted to get back to work.

I found an organization, Medical Teams International (more here), through an old Honduras MEDICO colleague who’d worked with MTI before; I actually reached out to them to inquire about about a different volunteer project in Uganda. But they asked me a wild card – had I ever heard about the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh? Had I ever done refugee healthcare before? Any chance I’d want to go to Bangladesh and work in the camps there…say, in a few weeks?

I was taken aback; I’d heard about the refugee crisis, but hadn’t considered going back to Asia after just spending 3.5 months there last fall/winter. Plus, I’ve gotta be honest…I had a bit of PTSD after my trip to Greece. My time doing refugee work in Lesvos was rough for a myriad of reasons, but I can tie most of my difficulties there back to the fact that I didn’t do my research when choosing which NGO to work with. I also wasn’t experienced in field medicine, and starting off somewhere like Lesvos wasn’t exactly an easy start (read here for more info). So, to say I was nervous about jumping back into refugee medicine was an understatement.

I learned from my mistakes this time, though. I did my NGO due diligence. I talked to everyone I could think of and researched the hell out of MTI.  And in the end – I decided to commit to a deployment here in Bangladesh AND a deployment in Uganda.

May as well jump in with both feet, eh?

So that’s how I got here. And now…I’m here! I’m in BANGLADESH!

(Finally). I have to say, it was truly a process to get here. Getting here took some WORK, y’all! I submitted my initial paperwork in mid-February, and I returned home from Ecuador on March 21st to get my visa sorted…with plans to leave mid-April. However, an April deployment didn’t happen. It took three visa applications, one lost passport (and a replacement one), three rescheduled flights to finally get my visa sorted. And finally, on May 5th…four flights, three long layovers, and 41 hours later…I was FINALLY here.

Being in Bangladesh after all this buildup is nuts. But to back up…so, you ask…what exactly am I doing here?

As aforementioned, I’m working with MTI, a group that’s been doing work in the Rohingya refugee camps outside of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh since September of 2017. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group from the Rahkine state of Myanmar (a primarily Buddhist country), who have been forcibly displaced and have fled to Bangladesh to escape horrific violence at the hands of the Burmese military. This isn’t anything new…the Rohingya have been persecuted for years…but since August of 2017, this violence has escalated significantly. Now, over a million refugees have fled into Bangladesh since August to escape mass murder, systematic rape, and torture they face in their home country.

I can’t explain it half as well as other resources have, so check out this and this for more info. And yo…it’s truly wild that this is happening, yet almost no one in the States has heard about it. To put it in perspective – the camps here house over one million refugees. That means this is one of the largest refugee camps in the WORLD. For scale, it’s 200 times the size of all of the refugee camps I worked at in Lesvos, Greece…combined.

But like, nobody has heard about it. And that’s nuts.

There’s about 15 of us here now with MTI, mostly doctors and a few nurses. Our main aim is to build capacity for the local Bangla staff to run the camp clinics independently, which we’re doing through education trainings for the local staff. We do some direct patient care, but most of the emphasis is really on training up local staff to be able to run clinics themselves. But more on that soon…the work we do on a daily basis is nuanced and amazing and stressful and humbling, and it deserves its own post.

If you’ve read this to the end, I owe you a drink the next time I see you. More soon. 😉




5 thoughts on “Welcome to Bangladesh

  1. Amazing, Charlotte!! Thank you for sharing this! I’ll check out the links soon. You’re so right about how most people in America have no idea this is even going on. Our news media is so poorly, narrowly slanted.

    I admire what you’re doing! It’s quite inspiring. You’re doing amazing work. Keep it up!


  2. Love to read your blogs. I can’t imagine what those poor people are going through. Thank you for sharing. God bless you & all the workers there❤ Aunt Kris.


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