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A handful of nails in my
mouth, I repeated to myself:
“Don’t swallow.” The last
thing that the rickshaw pull-
ers needed was an American
kid with a punctured stom-
ach. Carefully, I spat one nail
out into my fngers, aligning
it in the upper left corner of
the tape with one hand while
gripping the hammer frmly
in the other.
The nail sunk halfway into
the aluminum casing of the
rickshaw with a satisfying
thud; I gave it another clean
2013 AFSA Merit Awards: Best Essay Winner
Some Nails, Some Tape
stroke to pound it home. I
worked the way the mechan-
ics at the rickshaw garage
had taught me: keep your
ammunition in your mouth
for maximum efciency, use
two fngers to secure the nail
and two hammer strokes to
drive it in.
My fascination with rick-
shaws began the moment
I stepped out of the Dhaka
airport to meet the dizzying
armada of trafc, people and
dust. Oh, how the colorful
painted skeletons of the
rickshaws stood out: blurs of
pink, blue and yellow weaving
past potholes and honking
horns! I see rickshaw pullers
as the bloodstream of Ban-
gladeshi culture, transport-
ing millions around the busy
city, allowing it to function.
With straining backs and
determined rhythm, rickshaw
pullers shuttle me home
from school, their kind eyes
and white smiles concealing
their hard work. Without rick-
shaws, my home would lose
the perfect chaos that infects
me every time I step into the
Riding home one night,
I felt extremely unsafe and
vulnerable to the speeding
cars that swerved around me.
At night, rickshaws become
completely invisible. That
night, I recognized an instant,
yet pivotal improvement to
the safety of rickshaw pullers
and their patrons.
A week later, three friends
and I set out into our com-
munity armed with ham-
mers, nails and refective
tape. The rickshaw pullers
were extremely eager for us
to attach refectors to their
rickshaws. As word spread, a
line of twenty soon formed.
Working over the course of
fve trips, we attacked more
than 200 rickshaws, my ham-
mer skills becoming more
adept with every one.
For me, the Rickshaw
Project is service in its truest
form. The best service is
done in small, specifc, yet
innovative ways. Like a bird
escaping from a cage, the
fnal rickshaw pedaled away,
carrying the last piece of
evidence of our hard work.
The next morning, the
rickshaw-pullers awoke to
fnd no perfect world. I’ll
never know how many lives
our refectors saved. But
every time I see a rickshaw
pass by, bearing a refector
that I hammered in, I am
reminded why service is so
important to me. Maybe in
ten years, it will become stan-
dard practice to install refec-
tors on rickshaws. Maybe I
did make the rickshaw pull-
ers’ jobs a little easier. Maybe
I did save a life or two. The
possibility, not measurability,
of positive change is what
drives me. In the end, some
nails and some tape can
make a huge diference.
Ambassador Lange Schermerhorn, AFSA Scholarship Committee
chairperson, accepts a $2,500 check from Public Members Association of
the Foreign Service President Dr. Granville Sawyer Jr. AFSA will award the
scholarship for the 2013-2014 year to an AFSA member’s child enrolled
in an undergraduate course of study leading to a career in the Foreign
PMA Funds AFSA Scholarship
Brett Fouss is the son of Jamie Fouss
(State) and Esmeeh Fouss. He gradu-
ated from the American International
School in Dhaka, Bangledesh and
will be attending Tufts University,
majoring in international relations.
He is the Joanna and Robert Martin
Scholar and AFSA’s Best Essay Award