Dawn in Dhaka, a tale from 26

A deep breath in…and…
deep breath out………….
best way to get the dust off an old website.

Hey blog—there you are. Been. Some. Time. How’re you holding up? Still keeping the APUSH kids happy I see. Good. Oh—cobweb—lemme get that. No surprise seeing that considering there hasn’t been much of a stir around here since my last post four years centuries ago. Oh blog, I’ve been busy, but I’m here now.

Been some time. Since graduating and that trip to Japan, I found myself teetering high on the tsunami of my early twenties: landing, holding a job, then another, going through version 2.0 of puberty, moving out, moving in, and wondering how it’s already/only been 4 years. Time flies.

You read that right, reader—puberty. Had no idea there was a second one between the ages of 21 and 25. Actually, I don’t think it ever stops. I’m not talking baritone to bass or hair!? there!f?, but rather that social puberty when you hit the workforce.

Upon hatching in the office environment from my padded cocoon of privilege that was parental preening and a four-year college education, I quickly realized I knew near jack about how to carry myself in the real world™—managing multiple responsibilities, communicating effectually, leading people—and much less jack about car jacks…that is, about juggling the realities of car maintenance and a life independent. In a short span of time, I was catching and grappling a lot of new vocab, including such delightful neologisms as “timing belt” and “drain snake.”

In the work since, to define myself in new contexts, foster meaningful friendships, and give form to my values and goals, I realized I had only begun to think critically about these things…in a way that would surprise the mostly carefree, bubble-of-comfort-driven mind of the me a few years ago. As I realized the future was no longer being handed to me, the complacence I’d built up about it quickly dissolved. At the same time, I recognized by golly I have dreams, and agency to achieve them. All this to say: if you’re a recentish grad or perhaps a bit foolhardy like me, look forward to the first big wave of existential solvent. Warming up takes wiping out.

This past November, a few scraggly years-out-of-college on the chest later, I crossed into my third year as a manufacturing engineer at Medical Devices ‘R’ Us and, as if on cue, was greeted by the blade of a corporate layoffs. I can say candidly that organizational restructuring doesn’t bode well for a guy helming a product that’s long been obsoleted by the Cooler Cardiac Catheter 9000 up at HQ.

So it was at that time, after fond farewells, that I decided to hop ship and join my dad and aunt on a trip they’d been planning. I remember debating that decision; do I strike back with a flurry of new job applications and keep up the career momentum, or do I treat the break as an opportunity—a time to deliberately decompress, take stock, reevaluate, research, and ultimately reconfigure my resume and myself before reaching forward? Any guesses on what won out?

Ah, Bangladesh: the country most commonly referred to in America as “oh cool, where in India is that?” Answer? Not. As in, not in India. It’s its own little independent nation, in fact, but it’s right in there, like a sprawling, river-innervated, monsoon-dampened little brother, nestled under the tropical armpit of India. It’s also, as I’m hoping to illustrate for you here, beautiful, saturated in vivid greens, oranges, and reds, rich in its vitality and its history, largely overlooked by the West, and the country where—I can proudly say—I’m from.

I hadn’t been back since 2007, the heyday of puberty 1.0, so as the plane out of Minneapolis crested the winter clouds, I felt the novelty and gravity of my age sink in. As I stared down and out, nonetheless childlike, entire face in the hole, my mind weighed the questions I was going in with this time, I evaluated them like tools I’d use to excavate my roots. My thoughts drifted, landing ultimately on the feeling that the world had, for a while, been lacking leadership. And I thought about what the winds would whip up in 2020, the sails we all hoist, and the hopes I have for the heading of this spaceship earth, which can still be summarized as: healing, health, and harmony.

And then? I missed my connecting flight in Chicago. After landing and handing over my boarding pass, asking where to go, the United Airlines lady told me, with startling keenness, “Yes—E2! Head down there where there’ll be a shuttle that will take you to your gate in Terminal 2” which, in the exhilaration I typically feel when on my own in an airport, I’d heard as “Yes—E2! Go have a seat there, take it easy, tune out, people watch, and enjoy a fizzy drink until you realize all too late you’re in the wrong terminal and that there was a shuttle you were supposed to take—funnily enough, the last of which just left for the day!” My memory turned her words into a snarky newspaper I could handily thwop myself over the head with as I scrambled, help desk to help desk, trying to piece together the next moves.

A lot can change in 12 hours. You can be waiting out the zombie hours in O’Hare for a painstakingly rebooked flight one night, and soaring toward Istanbul the next. I’d been on a parallel but separate flight path from my dad and aunt from the start, and had now successfully put myself a day behind too. Miraculously though, on Turkey Day 2019, I landed comfortably in Turkey and was soon thereafter back on track toward—and finally in—Dhaka.

Even more can change in 12 years, especially in a developing country that’s been riding the wave of digitalization and rapid urban growth since winter break of 7th grade. For one thing, there weren’t any birds zooming around the airport this time. For another, I noticed, after funneling through customs and into the arms of my familial entourage, there were far fewer homeless on the highway, who would move to cajole closed car windows as we puttered through traffic on the way home. And traffic didn’t seem as bad! Or maybe it was, but I was too sidetracked by the warm, welcoming, golden-green glow of my ancestral motherland to properly assess.

As I climbed the open-air stairs to my uncle’s 9th-floor flat, I noticed there were now countless modern high rises, crowned with solar panels no less, where 12 years ago there was only dirt, dust, and a stray dog. Just a few hours into my 3 weeks, I was struck by how much Bangladesh had grown.

The secret perk of an 11-hour-time-difference-induced jetlag is how effortless it makes waking up to a sunrise. A yawning stretch in bed and boom, congratulations from the sun.

The first thing in your ears every morning in Dhaka is the azan, the Islamic call to prayer, which is followed closely by a cacophony of crows and the glittering chittering of thousands of smaller birds. Gradually, the low growl of the first commuters joins in. Then, the murder of crows mellows while the swallow-tailed squeakers maintain their madness: ebb and flow and crescendo. Finally, the first bike bells greet the day, each other, and cantankerous car horns as the sky blushes into a pastel pamplemousse.

Looking out over the horizon that first morning, I realize the city is under a thick dermis of smog. It smells nutty and spicy. I tilt my head up to a chalky blue sky, which I figure must be brighter and bluer up there than what my eyes see. My mind returns to the azan, which continues to echo, almost eerily, across the city of 9 million.

Here’s what breakfast is like when visiting your relatives in Bangladesh:

Except instead of 1998 Melissa Joan Hart and pancakes, picture me and puri, daal, and shobji bhaji (fresh-fried puffed bread, lentils, and sautéed vegetables). Hold on a sec, that begs a drawing.

Family or not, Bangladeshis are the most kind people you’ll ever meet. They’ll outright overwhelm you with it, as I was by the onslaught of new dishes, desserts, and drinks I got to try, often against my will because how ingrained it is for Bengalis to make sure loved ones are overfed. I watched myself balloon 6 pounds over the course of trip because “no thanks” and “I’m full, thank you” didn’t appear to mean anything. And…well…the food was unfairly good. Below is a selection of some favorites from the trip:

The first week was me bouncing around Dhaka for the most part, hopping (slogging through traffic) from meal to meal, uncle’s apartment to aunt’s apartment, reuniting with cousins and meeting their firecracker kids, all with dad-directed sightseeing in between. Before I knew it, I was back back.

Thanks to the magic of My Maps, I can share a window into my 3 weeks below, which was comprised of time spent in Dhaka (the capital), Cox’s Bazar (a touristy port town known for having the longest beach in the world), Shonarga (my mother’s hometown), Narsingdi and Bhairab (my father’s hometowns), and the Sundarbans (an expansive mangrove forest and national park on the southern coast, whose name translates literally to “beautiful forest”). I was poised to pack it all in.

Speaking of packing it all in, traffic. On the 7-hour sleeper bus from Dhaka to Cox’s Bazar, I got to live and breath it.

In those dull, oozing inch-alongs, I absorbed a lot in conversations with my family. When I asked whether Bangladesh has a “land of the free, home of the brave” equivalent, my dad, after some thought, recalled, “chiro shobuj shamol Bangladesh,” or “forever green Bangladesh.” Being in the city, I was skeptical, but had a feeling the main body of evidence would come later on.

It was between those car-cerated conversations that I also picked up 5 different Bangla words for mess, which can be “jhamela,” “shomosha,” “genjam,” “gondogol,” or “musiboth” depending on the circumstance and severity, and all of which can be used to describe the roads: the noisy, dusty ducts where cars, buses, tuk-tuks (or, colloquially, baby taxis), motorcycles, mopeds, rickshaws, bikes, and frantic feet all meet. Have a look:

With an average population density of 3000 people per square mile, Bangladesh has some traffic problems…to put it lightly. Everyone is working around everyone else’s point A to point B. And sometimes point B is cut off by a protest or parade. Coming from Minnesota, where flow is even and regulated, driving and being driven in Bangladesh is more like a frenzied shoving match…that’s somehow choreographed…like WWE, or how I imagine swimming in a school of snapper would be if the Brawl Target Smash music were blasting full volume in the background.

So, to get a day away from the bustle and sail over the Bay of Bengal was pure joy.

At this point in my Eat Pray Shove trip, I was fully dialed into vacation mode. All the rattling, honking, street marshalling, and shoulda-woulda-couldas fell out of my head as a parasail plucked me off the ground.

The speedboat cruised north along the Cox’s coast, towing behind it a white wake and a cheering yours truly. 500 feet below me, tongues of turquoise lapped and hissed against the white shore, where I knew my dad’s eyes were anxiously alternating between me and the megaphoned operators, ready to uncork a tirade at the slightest hint of something amiss.

Meanwhile, my face was full beam as I watched the verdant mountain range to my right scroll by. These were the Chittagong Hills. Millennia ago, they were a barrier to eastward migrants from what we now call the Middle East, causing settlers to pool in the fertile valley of Bengal. To my left waved the southern hemisphere, an effervescent expanse of emerald.

Between the gliding, oceanside ATVing, beach combing, and hiking, I learned that Bangladesh, despite being 90% Muslim, has a significant Buddhist population. This became clear on treks to Ramu Village and the remote island of Maheshkhali, the former a home to this 100-foot, just-chillin’ Buddha statue. Since ancient history, before the upwelling of Islam, Buddhism had been a widespread philosophy in the region, I was surprised to find. To discover my ancestors had been rooted in a philosophy of resilience was somehow emboldening.

Bangladesh has only existed since 1971, making my parents older than the country they’re from. Above is my artsy rendition of the National Martyr’s Monument, which my dad and I visited after returning to Dhaka, and which commemorates the three million patriots who gave their lives during the Liberation War against West Pakistan just 49 years ago.

After the British de-occupied India in 1947, the region was left in three chunks: India, West Pakistan, and East Pakistan. In 1952, when West Pakistani officials ordained Urdu the national language, the kernels of the Bangladeshi liberation movement popped as the Bangla-tongued youth in East Pakistan took to the streets, responding to it in enraged protest.

The monument tapers upward on seven isosceles triangles signifying the seven stages of the liberation movement that eventually culminated in a war for independence. It continues to fascinate me that Bangladesh would not exist if not for coordinated uprising in defense of বাংলা, the language, that started it all. Fortuitously, the last day of my trip fell on December 16th, National Victory Day.

Since achieving its hard-fought independence, Bangladesh continues to soldier uphill when it comes to providing for its people, sustaining its natural resources, and maintaining its sovereignty. Year to year, the country wrestles with political corruption and encroaching Indian interests, all while struggling to manage the clash between economic growth and the threats posed by global warming. More on that later.

One afternoon in Dhaka, my dad and I were visiting the Shaheed Minar, a monument to the original martyrs of the Bengali Language Movement. As we wrapped up our photos and returned to the car, I felt a tug on my sleeve.

Before I could turn around, my dad barked at me to get in the car. I glance back to see this guy, late teens, expectant look on his face, puppy in his arms. Dad, who, for the entire trip, had grown weary of the fact that I’d been carrying an expensive camera around, now implored me to get in the car.

I was ready to, but was caught off guard by what this guy asked: “bhai, amare ekta chobi thulé dhiben?” “Bro, would you take a picture of me?” He wasn’t asking for alms, but simply if I’d take his photo. I did, somewhat stunned in the moment, and to the amusement of onlookers. He then asked if I could show him the picture, which I also obliged—to my dad’s chagrin.

That was that. He grinned and thanked me and made to continue on his way, but not before I could hand over a few taka bills.

Maybe I had been naïve, but I’d picked up a true earnestness in his voice. In the car ride home I received boka (a heated lecture) from my dad for that, about trusting the intentions of the homeless, which I took with a single grain of salt instead of my usual pinch knowing he was speaking from his experience of an older, nastier, more cut-throat Bangladesh. Regardless, in my head, I redoubled a reminder to myself to choose candor over callousness where I could.

Before diving into this next part, I’ll preface by saying there’s long been an undertow of tension between my dad’s side of the family and mom’s…which is why I was met with resistance when I put forth an appeal to visit my maternal relatives in Shonarga. Chalk it up to city versus village upbringings. What was left after a shake out was my resolve to go solo.

After sailing through a slog, reunion hugs, and awkward introductions, I sat down with my great-uncle to hear the story of my parents’ arranged marriage, how the families had known each other long before the union— and how my dad had nearly been set up with a different woman. This was all new to me, and I’ll say nothing can throw you into the whirlpool of existentialism quite like the thought of a different mom.

I wrote everything down in the green Moleskine I’d brought along for this trip, taking care to fill in my haphazard drawing of the family tree accurately. Its page came to precede a pair of pages that I crammed with the leaves and flower petals my nephews handed me as my great-aunt, their grandmother, escorted us around Shonarga later that day. Before I departed, my great-uncle expressed how grateful he was that I’d listened to my “onthorer tan”—”the pull of my blood”—that drive to learn more about one’s family origins. I couldn’t form much in the way of reply other than accepting a basket of sweets to bring back to my dad’s side of the family.

I came back to Dhaka to find business as usual: paternal family laid out in the sitting room, 9 floors up, watching Bengali music videos and positing about the next meal.

It would be dinner at Sung Garden. After I’d washed it down with a flood of pomegranate smoothie, I prepared for one last slog through traffic before a reunion with bed.

We were sitting in gridlock when loud music and hubbub from a nearby park bubbled into the car. The driver informed us it was an ongoing festival celebrating the indigenous people of Bangladesh. Tired but intrigued, I playfully proffered that we hop out of the car to check it out. As I said it, the idea started snowballing into actual what ifs. My dad and uncle groaned, responding that the festival would be on for another couple days and that we could come back later. Our schedule and their tone told me it was never gonna happen, which gave me the belly heat to venture a “Let’s go!”

I made to exit the car, which was safely stuck in place. My dad, 85% annoyed, followed, assuring his older brother a rendezvous at the flat.

I crossed the stagnant stream to the entrance of the park. Easiest level of Frogger ever. From there, I could see a colorfully lit stage, rows of glowing food tents, cultural education booths, and hundreds of delighted festival-goers, gathered in what would deeply upset a public health official if it were happening today.

An hour later, I’d learned what a bioscope was, was a bowl of chotputi fuller, and understood that in its original founding as a Bengali nation-state, Bangladesh had marginalized its non-Bangla-speaking native people.

After the festival, my dad and I wrangled a vacant baby taxi from the now-moving traffic stream. In caged comfort, we settled in for what would be more than 80 minutes of stop-and-go through a cymballic symphony of Bangladesh’s finest car horns, squealing breaks, and percussive passengers. Immediately, I had the thought to put on George Harrison’s Bangla Desh, handed my dad an earbud, and tuned out.

Or so I tried, because less than halfway to our beckoning beds: signs of distress from our driver, followed by sputtering from the taxi as we slowed to a stop. Out of gas in the middle of an intersection.

My dad grew to 185% annoyed—irate—and switched on his blamethrower as I asked the driver how we could help. With a motion that seemed to be an answer, the driver got out and pulled us, taxi and all, to the roadside.

Half in awe and half in guilt from the smoothie and chotputi earlier, I thought, “Great.” There was nothing to be done on this passenger end of a gasless taxi except to pay and abandon ship. Understandably enraged, my dad lowballed him before storming off in search of another, which I remediated with an apology and a couple extra bills.

The vibe around us was a lot like this. It was around 10pm, a kind of second rush hour, meaning that every oncoming taxi we eyed only whizzed by, pompous in their lack of vacancy. On top of that, we were competing with a crowd of other hailers, locals. 15 minutes pass and hopelessness starts to creep in as my dad calls to inform base, only to learn it’d be hours before a possible rescue.

In exasperation, we decide to board this random bus knowing at the very least it would advance us toward a stop in the right direction where there might be a better shot at taxis.

10 minutes down the line, we arrive at a junction, hop off, and hunt. There are a few baby taxis, parked, with drivers, smoking, leaned against them. We go around bidding. I watch frustratedly as the uniquely American I-have-moneyso-you-will-serve-me note in my dad’s pitch falls flat on driver after driver, who grumble hard refusals upon hearing our destination until finally, an older gentleman agrees to take us on.

It takes another hour to land home. Withered and without a word, I wash up and wade into bed. Meanwhile, Minnesota breaks for lunch.

My dad is one of two sons among a sum of six siblings. While the eldest brother climbed the ranks of the Bangladesh Navy and came to serve as President Ziaur Rahman‘s aide-de-camp, my father distinguished himself in the Bangladesh Marine Academy, earning licensure in the UK to become a Second Navigating Officer before embarking around the world for 14 years via merchant ship, engaged in international trade until 1994.

During the Liberation War in 1971, he and his family had retreated to the rural village of Shararabad where my grandfather grew up, and where they’d all be safe from the violent conflict in the cities.

The next couple days for me were split between there and the nearby town of Bhairab where my grandmother’s family originates. It was in Bhairab that I’d meet new relatives in what was all too apparently not enough time, where I was treated to a level of hospitality beyond what I could rate with stars, and where, one night, I got my head handed to me by the local youth on their communal badminton court.

In Shararabad, I rejuvenated my understanding of Bangladesh’s backbone: agriculture. Though textile is the largest contributor to its export earnings (check the tag on your next H&M purchase), Bangladesh’s biggest employer is its land. In the photos above, you’ll see seas of mustard, brick fields, and a khora jal—a lift net used to scoop schools of fish at a time, which all characterize the countryside and have been worked as they are for hundreds of generations. In my two days seeing all this, it became clear that at the core, Bangladesh is a land of peace, patience, and plenty, to put it poetically. (Oh, and poverty, but that’s beside the point.)

Here was a land that produces three crop yields in a single year, endlessly green. My dad and cousins teamed up to give me a tour of the family farm, which was flush with broad beans, bananas, papaya, eggplant, and the irrigation channels that vascularized it all. My dad showed me the rivers and ponds he fished in as a kid, pointing out the water levels were now a third of what they used to be.

It was then that I recalled the dozens of agricultural research buildings I saw in Dhaka. I started piecing together the astounding amount of effort that Bangladesh is putting behind its adaptation to global warming. From developing salt-resistant rice, building cyclone shelters for the poor, banning all plastic bags, mandating solar panels, powering vehicles with compressed natural gas instead of gasoline

For Bangladesh, climate change is a hundred-headed Hydra that promises flooding, groundwater salination, and humanitarian anguish in a region that’s not only coastal, but built densely on the world’s largest river delta. I started grappling with the grim fate that awaits my native country if the world’s leaders, policymakers, and global consciousness don’t step up. I grappled with the dissonance between Bangladesh’s efforts and the world’s efforts. Did Trump really take the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement?

The words of a Swedish activist come to mind.

“The climate crisis is both the easiest and the hardest issue we have ever faced. The easiest because we know what we must do. We must stop the emissions of greenhouse gases. The hardest because our current economics are still totally dependent on burning fossil fuels, and thereby destroying ecosystems in order to create everlasting economic growth.”

Greta Thunberg to British Members of Parliament

While this all came to a boil in my head, the quarter-life crisis that had been rolling around at the bottom of it like a Weeble in Wonderland began to rear its head, now a rogue wave out of Ponyo. The side of me that had wanted to stay home and apply for jobs was demanding an answer: “so, what are you going to do with your life?”

In fairness to that side of me, it was question I had begun to answer.

The way I’d been approaching it was through the lens of “ikigai,” a principle that was introduced to me by a good friend, which helps give definition to one’s “reason for being.”

I know this turn to a Japanese Venn diagram is sudden, but Bangladesh shares a red-circled flag, so how big of a leap is it, really? Bear with me. Y’know what? This is fine. We’re talking about the world right? You’re following?

Anyway, in trying to determine a course for my life, having “ikigai” to aim for has been extremely helpful.

So I thought: what do I love? Well, writing, drawing, designing. Learning. Cooking. Mediterranean food. Ooh, crispy falafel and tahini. And harissa. And while we’re at it, mango lassi. Going off on tangents. Love that. Needs? The world needs a lot of things right now. Mainly leadership. Subject matter experts where they need to be. Healing, health, and harmony. People to do the slow, hard, unglamorous, behind-the-scenes work when it comes to achieving global goals. People to support those people. People willing to learn from those people. Paid for? Depends on who’s paying. But I hope it’s an organization that values humans and improvement. Good at? Luckily, good at and love are close to being the same circle for me. As I’m sure they are for most people. Either that or I’m good at making things come together.

So that’s roughly been my thinking. Signs point to…a few things. But basically, for me, ikigai boils down to designing for a better world. My life’s narrative thus far and this trip to Bangladesh seemed to solidify that much. Where this newfound drive will take me, I have yet to find out.

We returned to Dhaka for what would be a final few days of gatherings in the city before my dad, aunt, and I were scheduled to leave for an excursion to the Sundarbans. My cousin-in-law had managed to book us for a river cruise through Beautiful Forest which would take us down to the Bay of Bengal and back. In all road tripping and dining, I forgot how much I was looking forward to it.

The morning after one last whole-family dinner, we headed for the domestic side of the Dhaka airport. From there, we flew south to Jashore where we boarded a car that shuttled us to Khulna. We spent a relaxing night at the City Inn before making our way to the boat launch the following morning.

I could write a whole separate post the same length as this one about the 3 days and 2 nights spent aboard the M.L. Utshob, where I couldn’t help but feel like I was living out the scenes of my own personal The Life Aquatic.

As the boat churned south, putting river between us and the shipping center of Khulna, the atmospheric buzz of maritime activity gradually gave way to open-channel tranquility. After a day of travel nothing but water and woods could be seen on either side of us.

As we settled in our rooms and got acquainted with the crew and fellow passengers—a total of about 50 people—what I expected to be a touristy cruise started to feel more like a grand expedition. The Sundarbans are tropical, lush, densely wooded, and a known habitat for Bengal tigers. To see one was instant bragging rights. Naturally, everyone onboard bonded over the shared objective. It turned out to be fruitless though, as I’m sure any tigers that had once come to drink at the riverbank had now grown tired of the paparazzi. We did see plenty of monkeys though, and tiger prey: deer.

The boat periodically stopped at docking points along the river, which led to nature conservancy areas, historic sites, hiking trails, and villages. At one such spot, we were shown “fresh tiger prints,” which I’d been forewarned were man made. I explained to Cynthia, my new friend from Quebec, how “pagla” that was. Crazy.

In the lulls between disembarkations, I mingled with new friends and played chess against my dad. Over the course of a few face-to-face sit downs on the bridge, equipped with pen and notebook, I determinedly asked him to recount his sunken ship story. A true story about a cargo ship sailing from Madras, India to Palembang, Indonesia. A real page-turner which I’d like to do justice someday. It might start like this: “On the 7th day of the 9-day voyage, the enormous logs in the cargo hold started to shift…a 28 year old Rukun, second in command, notices visible listing, 20° to the starboard side…” and maybe end something like this: “The Japanese captain’s face shone like an angel’s, glowing, as if behind it were the the power to bestow life.”

We eventually reach the end of earth: a silver beach on the edge of a mangrove forest. I kick around a soccer ball with the mates and shot a photo of this odd, singular mangrove, stark and spindly against the white-gray Southern Hemisphere sky behind it.

On the final day of the cruise, a local salesman pulled up to the side of our boat. As I exchanged 100 taka for a coconut through my bedroom window I thought, “only in Bangladesh.”

Despite their daily hardships, what my uncle says about the essence of Bengali people—and I what I think of all people—rings through: they always find a reason to smile.

Sometimes that reason is a Bengali with a goofy American accent. Other times, it’s his camera. I met some incredible individuals in Bangladesh, made lifelong friends, and reconnected with my roots after 12 years. In doing so I realized, more than anything, that how we operate as individuals has reverberations across the entire globe.

Suffice it so say that in the years to come, we owe it to ourselves to act as best we can with intentional attention, compassion, humility, and intrepid curiosity. We owe it to ourselves to treat others how we want to be treated, and to treat ourselves how we want others to treat Earth.

And that’s all I got.

I know, a lot.

As I write this, Cyclone Amphan is digging into the Bay of Bengal. I wonder if that lone mangrove is still there.

So, how can we change the climate trajectory?

  1. Inform ourselves. Choose sustainability with dollars. And lend support to legislative change. The Natural Resources Defense Council is fighting the good fight for our globe and has some tried and true ideas. I’ll also add:
    • Instead of saying “don’t,” present alternatives and choice—better luck changing minds that way.
    • Think of every choice as potentially habit-forming
    • Buy a Lumpy Baby Earth sticker from my shop—I donate 100% of earnings from it to the NRDC
  2. If you can, support UNICEF in the daunting humanitarian tasks at hand.
  3. Stand up to ignorance with compassion, education, and storytelling.
  4. Start seeing growth in yourself in terms of growth of those around you. Adopt a teacher’s mindset.
  5. Imagine a green future by drawing inspiration from and supporting organizations like
    • Terracycle, which is working to eliminate the very idea of waste by finding ways to recycle material generated by manufacturers.
    • Cradle to Cradle, which is pioneering sustainability in the product design, development, and lifecycle space.
    • US Solar, which is working to make solar power accessible at the organization and community level.
    • Tare Market, which sells bulk grocery items using a zero-waste methodology and zero packaging.

Wherever you are, think global, act local. See the world not for what it is, but what it can be.

Advice to anyone creative, whether you’re working on a new piece for your portfolio or a new path in life: befriend uncertainty. Or treat it like clay in your hands. Either way, embracing it is the first step. Grow comfortable enough with uncertainty to say to it, “get in loser, we’re going on an adventure.” You’ll see that to confront the unknown is to champion the future. Uncertainty is cooler than comfort anyway.

  • My parents had a comfortable life in Bangladesh, but for the sake of a better future chose to face the discomfort of hewing a new life in America. For that, they were able to raise me and my sister in a country where educational opportunities are lightyears ahead.
  • A year ago, I was 60 pounds heavier, and even heavier in the years before that. I was lethargic, and that fed my complacence. I knew my lifestyle choices weren’t sustainable. So, I took it upon myself to dive into the discomfort of exercise and a better diet. Choice by choice, I picked up momentum, tipping my trajectory toward self-care habits and fitness. Now, I have an engine behind my goals.
  • I often hear about how difficult of a challenge global warming is, mainly in the form of two reasons: it seems like there’s nothing we can do about it, and that whatever we do doesn’t seem to matter. I would argue that addressing global warming is a matter of choice in our daily lives. Just being cognizant of the effect our habits can have on the environment goes a long way. Climate change is a pesky problem in that the results of our actions aren’t always seen right away. But they certainly matter in the long run. The goal? 50% reduction in emissions by 2030. Step 1 isn’t “give up.”
  • Money might be the root evil, but it can be the seed of tremendous good. Take a look at the work of Muhammad Yunus and Unicef in Bangladesh. Take a look at the sustainable development success in Cuba.
  • It’s my belief that if we collectively reorient our individual values, the system will follow. Of course, it’s one thing to say, and another to implement. Molding capitalism into a more egalitarian system will require sustained effort at the individual, community, state, and federal level. For the sake of the planet and its future parents, it’s something we need to internalize. Lookin’ at you, Mitch McConnells of the world.
  • Change your inner narrative for the better. Replace unsupportive self-talk with supportive self-talk.
    • I don’t need to learn this -> What would my future look like if I did?
    • I’m already fine at this -> Am I really? How do I compare with my peers?
    • This is boring -> I wonder why others find it interesting.
    • I’m terrible at this -> I’m making beginner mistakes, but I’ll get better.
  • Keep in mind that ultimately, what our brain wants, even requires, is the dopamine of the unpredictable.

Whether you skimmed through or scrutinized, thank you thank you for scrolling through what has been a rusty return to writing for me. Let me know if there was a part you particularly enjoyed, had strong feelings about, or questions on. I’m all ears.

To wrap up, I’ll leave you with some seeds:

5 Books I recommend:
1. New and Selected Poems – Mary Oliver
2. I Think, Therefore I Draw: Understanding Philosophy Through Cartoons – Thomas Cathcart
3. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory – Caitlyn Doughty
4. God: A Human History – Reza Aslan
5. The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday – Rob Walker

5 Spotify playlists for the early 20s:
1. merchant marine, or as some might call “dad music,” named for mine
2. joy juice, for when I need an IV-drip of exuberance
3. felix felicis, liquid luck in the form of serendipitous sound waves
4. inner over, for bearing down and soaring on
5. greenline!, a collage I made in Bangladesh

5 podcasts I’m listening to:
1. The Tim Ferriss Show
2. The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos
3. Where Should We Begin? with Esther Perel
4. Life Kit
5. RISK!

Some YouTube that’s gotten me through:
1. The Crazy Story of My Stolen Bamboo Bike and How I Got it Back – Rob Greenfield
2. Liz Can Have It All – 30 Rock
3. Dogs Reuniting With Their Owners – The Pet Collective
4. Musician Explains One Concept in 5 Levels of Difficulty – Wired
5. An Invocation for Beginnings – Ze Frank

If you’re a job seeker like me, resources I’ve found helpful:
1. Job Search Guide – Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development
2. Career and Education Explorer – Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development
3. The Best Questions to Ask in Every Job Interview Round – Lifehacker
4. How To Emphasize Your Personal Strengths During an Interview – Indeed
5. My family, friends, and acquaintances

My favorite writing utensils right now
1. Pilot G-2 07mm. I mean c’mon, that’s day one everyday, baby.
2. LAMY Safari 017-umbra fountain pen. Sublime. For journaling.
3. Faber-Castell PITT artist pen, Black, B. Great for bold, brushy linework.
4. uni-ball Signo RT1, Black, 0.28mm. Great for scratching and hatching.
5. Staedtler Mechanical Pencil, 925 series, 0.7mm. We go way back.

Morning routine right now:
1. Jot out dreams when I remember them
2. Rinse, release, razor—y’know
3. Write down and review my intentions for the day in a planner
4. Write down an idea, thought, or vision to power those intentions
5. Boil some water for tea, and stretch while I wait

Nightly routine right now:
1. Brush
2. Call mom
3. Write out/amend plans for tomorrow, the week, the shapeable future
4. Draw and journal (drawrnal?)
5. Review the places, things, ideas, experiences, and people I’m grateful for

Thanks again for reading.


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