Dhaka

My feet feel like they’re floating, carrying me to places I remember, yet don’t, all at the same time. So much has changed and everywhere I see eight years worth of constant tearing down and rebuilding, and yet, the heart of this city has remained the same. Warm friendly greetings call out, curious stares follow us as we meander the streets, trying to find a place for lunch. As my fingers dip into the rice and curry, colors and flavors alive, sliding down my throat, in many ways I am home again in a place that part of me has never left. My traveling companions embrace it all, and I laugh at their red faces, tears dripping, watermelon shake gulping, to try to cut the heat. We meander past tiny shops tucked in between tall apartment buildings, tea stalls, crowds of people standing, waiting, watching. Dogs lay lazily in the warm sunshine near garbage heaps. Buses, rickshaws, lorries, cars, ambulances, CNG auto-rickshaws whiz past us, horns honking as if to mark the constant pulse of this lively city. Sounds, smells and colors  come to vibrant life before my eyes. I struggle to put this city into words, for words cannot contain the life and depth of what I see. Soaring apartment buildings, schools, mosques, markets. People everywhere. 19.5 million in the space of 186 miles or 23,234 people per half of a square mile, with an estimated 2,000 more moving into the city every day.

Somehow it works. If this were happening in any other culture or country, I think there would be a massive war breaking out. The paradoxes I see here continue to amaze me. There is a gentle intensity here. People push and shove and move to the front to grab their place, yet live in a constant state of generosity. They yell and argue loudly, and then sit down for a cup of tea together. Like one extroverted body of people, they are happiest when together and personal space is a relatively foreign concept.

What if true greatness is revealed in the way we co-exist with our fellow humans, instead of our accomplishments, titles and possessions? What if the most important thing, after loving the Divine, was how we treated each other? What if loving each other is how we love the Divine?  What would it look like to truly honor the sanctity of life in others above our own safety? Who, then, would be the greatest nation?