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Don't Expect Anything
Malumghat, a small hospital compound in rural Bangladesh, is a child’s paradise. I grew up swinging from trees, digging in the dirt, and running in the sun till my skin turned brown. I spoke three different languages, would only eat spicy food, and constantly had a stain from cha, Bengali tea, running down the front of my dress.
My dad, and American doctor, worked at the hospital there, aiding poor villagers with healthcare. My mom would take me with her on her visits to a nearby village. I was perfectly at home among the dusty streets and goats. The little children would help me catch and hold chickens.
Everything was so simple. So beautiful.
Chittagong was so not.
Chittagong is the largest city in Bangladesh, barring only the capital, Dhaka, which is even larger. Still, Chittagong is enormous. Some millions of people reside in just one metropolis. It’s a bustling port city. And I always hated it as a kid.
Maybe it was because of the hassle it took to get there. At least two and a half hours, in a stuffy old van with bad air conditioning, on a road that had only been repaved once since the rule of the British Raj in India.
That road was murder. It actually was made with extra curves in it so that in the wartime enemies of England couldn’t fly planes along the road very easily. We used to bounce about a foot off our seats every few seconds. But we didn’t care. My brother, sister, and I just slept in a sweaty little heap.
So maybe the extreme exhaustion with which we always arrived did have an effect on my attitude towards Chittagong. In any case, we always dreaded dirty, crowded Chittagong, with its garbage piles and lack of open space. My brother always got asthmatic attacks, and out came the inhaler. My sister and I felt crammed in the rooms we had to stay in, seeing as there was no place to play.
Yes, Malumghat was perfect. But so was Penang, Malaysia, where we lived for the next four years after we moved out of Malumghat when I was six. I loved Malaysia, though it wasn’t what I had expected. I thought it would be like my only (minus a few years I had spent in the States) real life experience, Bangladesh: underdeveloped, dirty, and illiterate.
I was so wrong. Penang was modern, beautiful, and more fun than I ever imagined a city could be. So there’s the first surprise when it came to moving to new places.
After an amazing four years in Malaysia, I was told we would be living in the States for a year. This may sound weird, but I was most worried about America of all the places I ever moved to. I knew nothing about the States. I was terrified I would never get over leaving my international friends in Malaysia.
At first, it was awkward. I was scolded for throwing away 25 cents worth of aluminum.- what can I say, there was no such thing as cola can recycling in Malaysia!- and for correcting my teachers’ pronunciation (“Please, sir, it’s I rahn, not I ran. It’s Bahng lah desh, not Bayng luh desh”) on names of Asian countries. I had difficulty thinking in US dollars instead of Ringgit or Taka, the respective Malaysian and Bangladeshi currencies.
But after the initial culture shock it was wonderful. I made so many friends. I ended up having a blast. So here’s the scoreboard: chalk up two for surprise, zip for me getting what I expected.
But my biggest surprise was when we moved back to Bangladesh- this time to the dreaded Chittagong.
I took a deep, pollution-filled breath and stepped out into the dust and realized that there were bright lights across the humanity-strewn streets.
Chittagong was different. There were fast-food restaurants, nice shopping centers, and even a rather lame amusement park or two.
But mostly, it was me that was different. I was a teenager now. I found that I really liked going out to eat with friends. And going to a real school, not the tiny almost homeschool we had had in Malumghat.
I’m in ninth grade now, and having the time of my life. I have only Asian kids as classmates. I’m learning a new language, and just loving life. I thank God every day for the amazing world I’m living in, and the chances I’ve had to travel all over it.
If you had asked me when I was six, “Gracie, would you like living in Chittagong?”
I would have replied emphatically, “No way!”
But you know something? I’ve realized the best way to go through life is to not expect anything besides wonder. Be surprised. Let the twists and turns in your life’s path take you to exciting new places.
And never, ever, ever, judge anyone, anyplace, anything. After all, who’s to say that you might not be asked to cross a threshold you never imagined you’d cross?
And if you do, remember: expect nothing. Then, when it’s awesome beyond belief, you won’t have to be surprised.