Rarely do I travel out of the country. I have done so only twice in my life. However, those two trips mark turning points in my childhood, especially the most recent trip in December of 2005 to Bengal. The trip enhanced my worldview, dissipated much of my ignorance, and it overall helped me understand human nature better.
As the plane landed in Dhaka, all I could see out of my window was endless steel towers and mustard yellow smog, typical of any metropolis. I had not been in this country since I was five. I then was fourteen. When I stepped off the plane onto the runway, I kept pondering on what I would hear. Perhaps the dehumanizing sounds of endless traffic and persistent pleas of the beggars. I did hear these sounds, but I also heard the beautiful voice of the muezzin carried over from a mosque in downtown signaling prayer-time. I now look back and wonder about the significance of the voice and command of a traditionalist Muslim being heeded by all in the city. I see it today as a testament that Westernization is compatible with traditional societies.
As I travel to my grandmother’s house in a rickshaw, I counted hundreds of beggars, crippled, malnourished, and dying. Not one man hesitated to offer something to these beggars, whether it was money or food. From this experience I have gained my positive view of human nature. Zakat, or charity, is compulsory in Islam, but no one forces these modern individuals to give zakat. Yet they do.
At my grandmother’s house, I was met by another surprise: my three cousins, all four years old. What shocked me was that they could speak and write fluently in three languages, including English. Despite being kids, they devote hours a day to studies. In a society where education is not guaranteed to all children, one would think people do not value education as much as we do. On the contrary, they see it as a privilege rather than a right, and they do not take that privilege for granted. I am convinced that all of mankind see the importance of education.
The following day, I went to Bashundhara mall in central Dhaka on my uncle’s Honda motorcycle, almost unaware of the fact that I was in a Third-world country. At the mall, I stopped at a counter to exchange currency. I look around me, and all I could see were young men and women shopping with their hard-earned money. I didn’t see this when I was five, what had happened? When I got to the front, I had an eye-opening conversation with the teller about the American dream and the effect it was having on society there. I didn’t realize it then, but this reveals something important about human nature, that we all share a common desire to be successful and independent. All around the world, they know of the American dream.
The latter part of my trip was spent in the villages, riding elephants, working snowpea fields, sleeping in a hut, and wearing dhotis. My experience in the village has shown me that humans living in different circumstances do not necessarily share different values. These people value hard work, charity, education, and peace just like everyone else.
All in all, this eventful trip shaped who I am today. The primary lesson of the trip was that all humans deep down are the same. Sure, some may ride elephants and other Porsches, some live in huts and other mansions, but collectively we all share common values.
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