A few years ago I was visiting my family in Bangladesh. Distraught by the extreme poverty around me and the lack of progress in general (standstill traffic, constant power outages, violence between the two main political parties, death threats and ‘hackings’ of people speaking out in protest), I started to feel incredibly depressed. Yes, Bangladesh is poor, but it has so much potential — all this land, all this manpower. Surely there was some way we could stop ourselves from drowning (literally and figuratively). Seeing my dismay my uncle took me out one afternoon. We ended up at one of my father’s distant cousin’s houses. I had never been there before and I didn’t really know the people. I wasn’t sure why we were there. We got out of the car but before going in, my uncle took me by the road that divided the houses on either side. I noticed a lot of work going on – there was digging, movement of soil from one spot to another, cementing … Still unsure of what I was observing, I looked at my uncle bewildered …

He then told me that the people who lived in the houses on either side of the road were tired of the narrow, unpaved surface. There was hardly room for 2 cars to pass, and the road was poorly constructed. There were several potholes. Despite writing to the local council requesting the road to be fixed – cars couldn’t drive on it, people couldn’t walk easily on it, kids could not play safely on it – no action was taken. Tired of waiting for the government, the residents of the houses along the street got together and agreed that each would give up 1 meter of their own land and pool their resources so that they could hire independent workers to help expand and pave their road.

I was incredibly moved by the actions of the community. Land is precious in Dhaka, giving up any of it – even 1 meter – is a lot; however, the people on this road did not see their actions as giving anything up. They didn’t see it as a sacrifice. They didn’t get out their measuring tape and calculate whose land covered more ground and hence would be ‘giving up’ more land. They put aside their differences and they looked at the bigger picture. They worked together to come up with a solution that would make not only their individual lives better, but also their community’s lives better.

I felt incredibly hopeful as I left my relative’s house. The people and their road restored my faith not so much in my country (i.e. the government) but in the people. If we were willing to put aside our differences and think of the greater good, great things could happen.

For sure the government has a responsibility, but that was too big of a conversation to take on. The government needs a complete overhaul to even begin to address the massive levels of corruption that are going on. I don’t know how that can be tackled — however, making smaller, positive changes for the community? Yes, that’s something that I can get on board with.

It’s a slippery slope. The government officials could think – great, let the people do their own work and pay for their own changes. It’s no sweat (or money) off the government’s back … but that is not the focus of what I’m writing about today.

I’m writing about people.

I’m writing about community.

I’m writing about a road that is selflessly and happily paved with good intentions and personal sacrifice.

What struck me most was not just that everyone was working together – the people of the houses and buildings on that road were coming out and actually giving the other workers a hand – but that if even one property owner on that road had rejected the suggestion of collaboration or made it difficult by refusing to pay or commit their share of the land, it would have been an impossible task. No matter what calculations went through each person’s mind – what the project would cost; how much the giving up of land would cost (for they were actually giving up their property, not just lending 1 meter depth to the road); or just general reluctance to participate – the thought of why should I give up my property for people I don’t even know? – in the end, the growth and benefit of everyone on the road was what mattered most. It was incredibly heartwarming to see.

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I woke up on Wednesday morning (Nov. 9) and heard the announcement that Donald Trump was president. I knew there would be uproar as well as celebration. I probably should have stayed off social media that day, but I didn’t. To be honest, it was a bit overwhelming. I understand that people on both sides of the election are reeling in celebration or disbelief. Emotions are running high and people’s passion is evident. It is easy to get lost in carefully thought out, spark-creating media headlines and echoes of one-liners tweeted and retweeted via social media outlets. The impact of the moment – no matter who would have won – was huge. It happened. The people voted. A new president has been elected.

So now what?

I am not a political person and this is not a political post. I am, however, a member of community and someone who constantly advocates for equality, tolerance, respect, understanding, generosity, and kindness.

So my question is – how does this election change who you are? How does it change the kind of person that you want to be? The kind of community you want to live in and raise your family in? The kind of message you want to give about yourself to others and the world? Will you stand up for those who are unjustly accused? Will you speak for tolerance and unity instead of hate and division? Will you be able to compromise and work together for the betterment of your community? Will you be able to put aside your differences and support each other, no matter what your support placard said? Can you be like the people and the road?

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Post Script

I woke up on Thursday morning (Nov. 10) and the heated emotions that filled my Facebook page the day before had started to die down. People had come to realize that even though the campaign of the current President-elect featured discriminatory remarks, prompts of violence, and derogatory speech against women, that that was not what represented them or who they stood for (regardless of who they voted for). Instead, I read post after post about self-reflection and promises to do as much good as possible; promises to be inclusive, supportive, and loving of everyone. How’s that for a turn of events? Maybe it will take the fear of what is coming from the ‘top’ for us on the ‘bottom’ to put in more effort in our corner of the world. Maybe, even if we were compassionate before, our compassion wasn’t strong enough. It seems like the racism and discrimination that was always bubbling under the surface has been given permission to rise to the top — the only positive thing I see is that with it being more evident, it will be easier to confront and change. Maybe now there will be a greater drive to fight for liberty and justice for all.

 

Photo credits: Nadia Hossain