Leaving Dhaka by Parvez Kamal by Parvez Kamal

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I still remember the day as if it was yesterday. 8th August 1996, the day that I took the biggest step in my adult life. I was leaving my family, friends, and country behind to come to the United States of America. Have you ever had the feeling of being excited, afraid, and sad? All at the same time? Then you will understand what I was feeling that day. I didn't know what waited me in America. The idea of starting a new life, full of promises and high expectations, and the risk of failure frightened me. The thought of living all by myself frightened me. I grew up in a culture that holds families close together. No one is expected to leave their parents and live by themselves when they are eighteen, specially, not thousands of miles away. What frightened me most was the uncertainty.
The day started differently than usual. I remember waking up in the morning and thinking, "Today is the day!!" My mom was up before me; her eyes told me she didn't sleep much. I started packing. I bought lots of things because everything is expensive in America. Especially when you convert from Taka into Dollar. Anything that a person would need to survive in a strange land was there. There was no way that I could fit everything in two suitcases! It was a never-ending task. Finally, I was finished by ten. Then my mom noticed my hair was too long and I badly needed a haircut. One can't possibly go to a new country without a decent haircut. Besides, can you imagine how much it will cost to get a haircut in the States!!

By the time I came back, looking a little more civilized, our house was full of relatives. My dad is the eldest in a family of eleven brothers and sisters; my mom is also the eldest in a family of eight. Therefore, they had to come to see off the eldest child of the family. Those who couldn't come were calling on the phone, wishing me luck and giving me advice. My standard response was to ask them for their blessings. My friends were there too. My best friend Mehnaz gave me some farewell gifts, each individually and painstakingly made by her. I knew that it would be hard to find another friend like her, most probably never. My little brother Purno, who was eight at that time, was running up and down the house. Most probably he couldn't fully grasp the idea of what was happening. Maybe he was just excited to see so many people and to play with his cousins. My dad was busy entertaining the guest, answering the phone. My mom was cooking. All of us were trying to keep ourselves busy somehow, to help avoid thinking about the inevitable.
Lunch was served in a festive mood. There were at least ten different items on the table; and I was forced to eat a little from every item. It was going to be a while until the next time I could taste authentic Bangladeshi cuisine. Even then, not anything made by my mom. Somehow, everything tastes better when your mother cooks them.
My flight was scheduled to depart at 8:00 p.m. and we had to be in the airport at least three hours before departure. I was saying goodbye to my relatives. My youngest aunt, who had stayed with us often, was close to breaking down.

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