Thailand, 2014

“What in the world am I doing here?”

I stood in front of a small mirror in my room. My face resembled that of a Smurf, covered in blue whiteboard marker ink. My shirt and arms were covered in raw egg. 

I stumbled into the bathroom, desperate for a high-pressure shower to wash it all off. Sadly, high-pressure showers are distant fantasies in my world. In reality, I was confronted with the dreaded bucket shower that I had been avoiding all day.

I stared at the bucket that was waiting for me in the bathroom. Inside the bucket was a smaller container with a handle on it.

My eighteen-year-old problem solving skills were not exactly up to par. So, I fill up the bucket with water…but then what do I do? Do I use the smaller container to scoop out water and dump it on my head? Or do I just dump the entire bucket on my head? Surely I can’t get the floor all wet, right? So…I just squat and splash the bucket of water on me?

I just finished my first day of school. 

It was a bit different from my friends’ first day of school back in the US. They just finished their freshman orientation at university and were probably decorating their dorms and going out for dinner with their new friends in the hip and cool college hangout spots. It sounded fun.

For my first day of school, I started the day as a Smurf and ended it as a scrambled egg.

My career as a teacher was off to a great start.

I was eighteen years old. It was my first time living in a foreign country on my own. I found a job at a school in southern Thailand and bought a one-way ticket to Asia, a place I only knew about from my childhood obsession of Mulan.

It was my first day as a teacher. I experienced all the nerves that a young teacher has on their first day of school. What I did not anticipate were my first-day nerves combined with Thai heat, which caused me to sweat profusely. As I stood in front of the class, I wrote my name on the board with a blue whiteboard marker. I didn’t realize that the marker had been leaking. After writing words on the board and closing the marker, blue ink went all over my hands. I started to wipe my sweaty face with my hands. The blue ink spread all over my face. Then I decided to straighten my white shirt. Blue ink spread all over my shirt.

By the end of the day, I had blue ink all over me. It only made sense after I looked in the mirror at home and thought back to class when my students were so excited to use the word “blue” in every topic we discussed.

“What’s your favorite color?”

“Blue, teacher.” The students all burst into laughter. I wondered why every student mentioned blue as their favorite color. Doesn’t anyone like green? Or red? Or pink?

The entire day was full of references of blue. I was blissfully unaware that I was quite literally turning myself into a Smurf the more I wiped the sweat off my face with my blue ink-filled hands.

I didn’t have one person tell me I had blue marker on my face. But weeks later, they were certainly excited to point out all the pimples on my face. Cultural differences? Hmmm…

On my way home that day, I decided to grab some eggs. The eggs were given to me in a plastic bag. First time I carried loose eggs in a plastic bag. This should end well.

As I walked down the narrow road to the place I was staying, I noticed it was a bit slippery. The Thai monsoon rain had just finished, flooding the narrow road. Unfortunately, the road was made more of clay than tarmac, and my $1 flip flops slipped from under me and I fell flat on my butt, legs shooting straight up in the sky. The eggs went flying and landed perfectly over my blue-stained white shirt.

I scrambled to my feet, glanced around to make sure nobody saw my slip up, and ran inside my apartment.

I stood in front of the small mirror in my room. My face resembled that of a Smurf, covered in blue whiteboard marker ink. My shirt and arms were covered in raw egg.

“What in the world am I doing here?”

We’ve all asked this question before – some more than others.

I’ve discovered that the days I ask myself this question tend to be the most formative days – when a larger part of the story is revealed to me.

This blog is a series of fortunate and unfortunate events. It was written not as a documentation of my life, but rather of the individuals who have come into my life and sparked the journey that shall henceforth be known as Rohingya Reunions

The part where I share my story helps to provide context and hopefully a bit of humor as well.

Photo by Hailey Sadler

Rohingya Reunions is a story of Rohingya families who have been scattered across the world, yet remain deeply connected to one another and rooted in their family identity, despite the vast distances that keep them apart.

A few years ago, I managed to convince a friend I met on Instagram to join me on a trip to Bangladesh, where we would eventually start building out family albums of faces and memories to create a connection for these families who continue to remain separated.

Photo by Nihab Rahman

As the new generation grows up and the old generation starts to dwindle away, I realize now more than ever the importance of sharing the memories and preserving photos of these separated family members. 

Their stories are so incredible, I didn’t want to keep them all to myself. This blog is a platform to share their stories. Sometimes I write the occasional children’s book to illustrate their stories as well.

Some context:

No, I am not Rohingya. I’m actually just a random redhead who settled herself in the heart of the Rohingya community for over 8 years (and counting).

The Rohingya people have become my family and ultimately inspired me to do things that absolutely terrify and excite me: start Books Unbound.

I believe that the stories of these families are worth sharing – not to discuss the topic of displacement, but rather to share a story about family members who remain so deeply connected amidst years of persecution, genocide, and forced migration.

For the purposes of anonymity, we are keeping the photos in Books Unbound style – cartoonized. Representing the real people in this story, but in cartoon form to respect their privacy.

The stories are written in chronological order & based on location.


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