“An island in the sea may just be the top of a large mountain, and our personality is like that island. We don’t know the great depths of our being, therefore we cannot measure ourselves.” –Oswald Chambers
It was only just three days I ago that I was perched on the edge of a vangaari chatting aimlessly with friends on the way to Rabindranath Tagore’s (the Bengali Nobel Prize winning poet) bari out in the peaceful countryside. But so much has happened in the last day that it seems like it was a different lass (to borrow the Irish term of my dear friend Est)-certainly not the vulnerable girl I am now.
The woman on the vangaari was an adventurer, a determined warrior out to prove the adage that "anything boys can do, girls can do better." Challenges have always been fixed parts in my life; I need the endorphin rush. No, I crave the adrenaline that comes with some new obstacle for me to triumph over.
"What's that you say? I can't swim around the island in a race? Well, I will!"
"Eh, third world living is hard? Betcha I can handle it!"
"Only lunatics run half marathons? Just watch me do it."
My mom says anything I declare I will do, I do; I've inherited the Baker determination. Sometimes this include all the macho bravado of a man. Walking alone at night in shady places is no problem for me, and I comfort fearful female companions by announcing I have a fierce right hook and a knockout jab. I'm sure men view me as a self-sufficient female not in need of their chivalrous protection, and I thought this, too, until last night.
Last night I had a rude awakening, where surprise, surprise, I discovered I am NOT an island.
Scratch my tough facade; you get just a little girl.
So in the past few weeks there has been a huge rise in crime in the area around where I live, and this is all because of the long awaited elections happening, doot doot doo-tomorrow! The military rule has been lifted and consequently there's been marches, parades, celebrations, and a plethora of crime leading up to the supposedly "free and fair election" on the morrow. Three teachers I work with have been robbed at different times, one of them badly injured and her laptop stolen. A close friend of mine’s sister was knocked off a rickshaw and both her feet were broken.
None of this worried me hugely, other than to feel terribly sorry for the victims and offer my condolences. However, last night around midnight I was rickshawing it home from a friend's. In the rickshaw next to me was Josh, headed to a street nearby mine. On the way our shaws were separated as Josh's took a different route. Once I noticed this I asked my waller to wait for him to catch up. I had my urna pulled up around my head so only my face peeked out, but I immediately started to feel nervous when I noticed the place I’d chosen to wait was where two robberies had occurred in the past couple of weeks. Suddenly a white car drove by me, stopped abruptly when the men inside noticed me, and reversed next to my shaw. The Bengali men stared at me. I panicked. Tears poured down my cheeks as I realized I was alone late at night and these men were in exactly the same color car as the one that had robbed my friends.
My lips formed silent words.
“I’m alone. Alone. Alone. God protect me!”
By God’s grace the car unexpectedly sped up and drove away.
Josh was no where to be seen, so I told my equally scared waller to burn rubber getting me home. When I arrived at home Josh rang me and I couldn’t keep the tears from coming as I talked to him. He’d made it to the Noolan’s place, where he was staying, just fine. Worried about me, he insisted he and Steve Noolan walk over and take me back to the Noolan’s to stay the night. When Steve and Josh came to my door and walked with me back to the quiet safety of their house; their big, physical presence calmed me. Just having their comforting height towering over me soothed my shaking nerves. Once in the Noolan’s I crawled into Jeannette’s arms and wept. She let me soak her pillow in tears, and only after I’d stopped and apologized did she give me this gem of insight.
“Don’t ever be ashamed of your emotions. God gave us feelings to guide us, so if you need to cry, go ahead and cry. Your intuition guided you tonight; it told you something was wrong and something was wrong. You are lucky to be safe. You are one prayed for girl.”
Jeannette was right. I am a girl. Just a little girl. All my bravado was stripped away as I realized how much I need protection from others. Not just protection given by big strong men (and yes, I’m considering hiring a mammoth-sized body guard) but defence by my immense God.
After several bouts of sobbing, Jeannette gave me a sleeping pill and let me fall asleep curled up next to her in bed. Big-hearted Steve generously let me stay in his spot all night and snoozed in another room.
When I awoke the next morning the fear was still there, but mellowed enough to allow me to smile and ignore the fact that my stomach had apparently taken up origami and was folding itself up into bits. Throughout today tears have randomly caught me by surprise, but after getting through the unpredictability of the election tomorrow, maybe the feeling of aloneness and uncertainty will disappear.
It’s true what they say, you do learn something new everyday. Yesterday I discovered I’m not the brave adventurer I thought myself to be. Still, I’m glad I’m in Bangladesh and I’m glad to be travelling this particular adventure with the Big Body Guard Upstairs.