Bangladesh You Broke Me


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Bodies in Space Explores Dispatch by Farhana Huq, guest blogger
[Editor’s Note:  In celebration of our April 2013 brain health theme “outside” our colleague, the inimitable surf and life coach Farhana Huq shares her recent deep think on the impact of sharing the art of surfing with young girls throughout the AsiaPacific region.  The impact, here, is both on the girls and their neurosomatic discovery of surfing oceans and cultural norms and on the blogger who reveals a singular truth about the intrinsic joy that comes from introducing the art of surfing to girls living throughout the AsiaPacific region.  
April’s Artist of the Month then is in the plural — a dedication to all of the young brown girl surfers who dare to go “outside,” step into ocean and onto the board to face the power, the beauty and the experience self-discovery intrinsic to the art of surfing.
Where in the World is Farhana?

It has been 3 months since coming back from the Surfing Possibility trip. I had meant to send out some type of picture perfect ending message from that trip, but I didn’t because I had a severe case of writer’s block.  In truth, I had no idea how to share with you the meta-story to my trip – my most cherished gold and black pearl necklace that went missing out of my bag, the struggle we felt watching the surfer girls embody freedom in the water, only to become objects of male control once on land, the lies that were told to us, the name calling, the upper respiratory illness, the food poisoning.  Yes, for all the great blogs I wrote about our adventures, I couldn’t help but feel a bit broken down from Bangladesh upon my return. I landed at SFO and rolled myself into my friend’s car after 6 hours of food poisoning where I became one with Emirates’ toilet.  It felt like a journey that required much physical and mental recuperation. 
As I was recovering from my food poisoning–come-illness (which took a good month to contain), I wracked my mind about ways to lighten the story of the heavy reality of the girls’ lives.  It was a reality that revealed itself to us in various ways.  I also tried to reconcile our “possibility” narrative that framed this awesome trip against some of these realities. In fact, I spent most of January trying to make sense of it all.  What impact did we make from taking this trip?  What was true about the interviews we captured?  Who really showed up because they were truly a surfer?  Who of the girls showed up because the “boss” knew it would be good PR for business? In this web of confusion that was also a reality of our trip, I couldn’t help but feel a little duped. 
I began to reflect back on the hours of conversations we had with our translator and with my Co-Producer, Cara Jones of Storytellers For Good.  We discussed for hours the economic situation of the girls, and the sheer vulnerability they faced with no strong nuclear families.  At one point in our journey, we were all ready to launch a full-blown surf retreat in order to employ the girls so they could have a sustainable wage.  That idea lasted a few days until I thought to myself “How am I going to do that?”  We barely raised money for my ticket to come here and I was in the middle of launching my coaching practice.  Cara was in the middle of making a full-length documentary and also ran a business full-time.   When would we have time to invest in a third venture?
Hazera holds this blue marble as part of a global movement in service to expressing gratitude for our planet and for our ocean. This was a cornerstone in building a vision for her business.
I was delighted when Hazera, our faithful translator, sat down with us one day, passion and zeal oozing from her 5’0 petite Bengali body.  She began to reveal her vision for how this could all work.  “I want to take this on,” she told us.  We were thrilled because she is such a capable, smart, entrepreneur and better yet, she was born and raised in Cox’s Bazar.  By “this”, she meant the eco-surfing camp and reality tour idea we had been playing with.  It was as if we got to witness that ah-ha moment of the social entrepreneur – the one that seizes them into a fit of inspiration so strong that propels them forward into obsessively living their life purpose. 
And I thought to myself, how could I NOT be a part of this?  My role now?  To be her coach, of course! ;)  And I too started to see a way forward and how this collaboration of sorts would work.  I’d coach this social entrepreneur pro-bono for 6 months and she’d drive forward her idea so together impact could be made. We began our sessions in late December in Cox’s Bazar and continued via Skype from there.
When I returned from my trip, I noticed something interesting in one of the Facebook albums of the Bangladeshi surfer dudes.  It was a picture of Nasima on a surf trip in her surfing catsuit (the one her husband had thrown a fit over).  Given the struggle I witnessed while I was there between her husband and the suit, I was pretty stunned to see this pic and wondered what had changed.
Behold! The catsuit prevails!!! Hmmm…What has changed???
The next thing I know, I receive an e-mail from Hazera informing me that Nasima, the 15-year old aspiring pro surfer girl, was divorcing her husband. 

As if that wasn’t enough news, after 3 coaching calls, I woke up to find this link posted on my Facebook page from Hazera – a fully developed Wordpress website, with the vision for this surf camp retreat strategically woven into Hazera’s social business named ‘The Coconut Club’.  I teared up upon seeing it.  At that moment, I had a shower of insight too.  This was the work of the new social entrepreneur – to actually be in the field, collaborating, inspiring, coaching, and exploring possibilities and not behind a desk running database queries  and asking people for money – to really be IN IT.  Brown Girl Surf seemed like such a crazy, indulgent idea when I first started it.  And now I was beginning to see the exploration leading to something I never imagined possible.

Nasima’s divorce has since been finalized.  The last I heard she was getting papers ready so she could get a passport. In a recent Skype coaching call with Hazera, she went on and on about her idea to start a surf shop, and her vision of traveling to the west to talk about her project and to share the gem of Cox Bazar with the world.  She more recently rented office space so she could start English classes for the surfer girls ,who ironically were some of the most brave and risk taking females we met on our trip – most apparent when they were in the water. Hazera’s plans to access their bravery, freedom and risk taking perspective in the water and bring this to their learnings on the land is the critical insight of this venture.  She has very fittingly names this venture ‘The Surfing Girls Education Project.’  (I am attaching the executive summary, just in case some of you are interested). 

And how cool that shortly after launching, she attended a weekend long event in a think tank with Nobel Laureate Dr. Muhammed Yunus where she discussed her plans for her social venture:

Hazera shares the social business idea with Dr. Yunus
And so, that’s how it all panned out….Barely a month had passed since leaving Cox’s Bazar when I started to get reports of these changes.  I thought I’d be telling you all about the sad ending and the hopelessness of the situation of girls actually being free and empowered to live in their possibility.  Instead, it took an unexpected turn (as all good stories sometimes do), and I’m able to leave you, my dear readers, with a story that is truly about the possibility that results from human connection.
Brown Girl Surf has certainly taught me innumerable lessons from this trip.  Mainly, you never really know what is going to happen, and so you just have to start and feel your way forward sometimes (this is true I think in early stage entrepreneurship in general).  How fortunate were we to have met Hazera and how fortunate we had an empowerment through surfing agenda which Hazera knew how to work with right away.  She is galvanizing the girls and the surf community behind this vision, at a time in Bangladeshi history where all the beach front land has been leased out for 99 years to Bangladeshi companies, most of them illegally, for so called “development.”    Her role in empowering the surfer girls of Bangladesh means so much in this era of globalization.
Hazera (right) meeting with Nasima (left) at the beach.
This is not only a story of surfing possibility, but of the possibility for change to be made at the ground level, by the leaders and people of the community, faced with the imminent tsunami of global capitalism hungrily eyeing this peaceful beachside town.  If anything, the seeds have been planted and a link has been made for some of the surfer girls and boys of Bangladesh to have a stake in the economic development of their country via tourism.  Perhaps there’s a new vision here for a surf tourism industry that’s unlike Bali, Indonesia or Sayulita, Mexico, where it is carefully crafted, owned and led by its locals, including its women. 
And if Nasima ends up living her dream, and doing what she wants to do, helping to shed some light onto her story is so worth it.  All it takes is one person to set off the spark to inspire others of what’s possible.  In fact, her story is so important that our dear friend and talented film maker, Heather Kessinger, has been on a mission to create a full length documentary of Nasima’s story for the past year and a half (her team is about halfway through production).  The name of the documentary is ‘The Most Fearless, an Unexpected Surf Story’.   Brown Girl Surf will be partnering with Heather to ensure that all of these stories get out into the world and can seed a tangible impact for some of the world’s most vulnerable girls.
For those of you who are local, please mark your calendar for May 9th in San Francisco (venue to be announced)– we’ll be debuting our Surfing Possibility Profiles: Stories of India and Bangladesh’s Surfer Girls.  I’d love to see you all there for some fun mingling, inspiring stories, drinking, chips and dip!
I am not sure where I’ll be off to next. But hope to see you soon, in some far off land!  Oh, and I almost forgot!  Guess who just took their first surf lesson?

None other than Hazera! (She may be the first known Bangladeshi woman over the age of 18 to surf!)

Happy Spring!  Hope you have a healthy supply of Zyrtec close at hand.
Farhana Huq is the Founder of Brown Girl Surf.    She is the daughter of pre-partition parents born in Pakistan and Bangladesh and as the blogger herself notes, “is a product of the partition (no pun intended).”

Farhana is also a Co-Active Coach®, Consultant & Speaker.

Posted on April 7th, 2013
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