On the morning of the 15th, Rafia Chowdhury came to meet me at 8 o’clock. It was such a change to be in an air-conditioned car that did not honk as we paraded through Dhaka. We headed to Dhanmondi, an old residential area where many schools are located and it was fascinating watching children head to school. We had breakfast, fresh hot parathas and chapattis with dhal and bhaji, fresh cooked vegetables, along with chicken curry (hmm I used to consider this a lunch when I would go to a South Asian restaurant at home…wherever that is). Rafia also took me around the environs of Dhaka University, and also on a tour of the Girl Guides Association, a respectable organization based on empowering females and giving orphans a chance. The Dhaka day did start to wear me down, though, so after stopping by her house for some tea, I was done with my day. At noon, basically.
That afternoon, I went with Micah to Coffee World, a place that tells your best logical defenses, No. It is a place where you can get the confusing varieties of coffee akin to the selections you find in any of the name-brand coffee shops in Tokyo or Los Angeles, where you can get sandwiches, cakes, or chips and sit on comfortable leather (real?) furniture and sit in air-con. Sitting in one in Dhaka just didn’t make sense, but it was all I really wanted. There were 3 men sitting beside us, speaking in English. They all looked Bengali so I was confused; I proceeded to ask Micah in Spanish why they were speaking English and he answered that it was a class thing, and they wanted to show off the fact that they were able to speak English; that they were well-educated. The absurdity of this made me laugh, but it was also the cruelty involved; speaking to the lower class employees of the establishment in English, when both of their native tounges was Bangla, just to prove their superiority. How disgusting.
We proceeded to delve into various topics swimming around my head; beggars in Dhaka; the last thing I want to do is ignore any human being, but every time I look into the eyes of someone coming up to any vehicle I’m being transported in, it breaks my heart and how is it even conceivable to give to every begging leper, polio victim, acid attack victim, starving man, woman, and child that solicits me? We talked about treating people as human beings, of the starvation of people from human touch, which when you think about it, could be seen as even more heartbreaking than deprivation of food; I recalled in Burma how the kids in Bagan had simply wanted to hold my hand, nothing more; no food or money was involved. The fascinating thing was that Micah himself had experienced so much of what I was currently deciphering and analyzing, but after 2 years here his views have taken a realistic turn from the idealistic foundations that we share. It was a refreshing, inspiring conversation that I’ll remember for a long time to come.
That night we headed to the Bagha Club, i.e. the British Club. I relished my grilled cheese and fish and chips with Benton. We then went to the Nordic Club for gin and tonics; there was a DJ and the scene was strangely high-school-dance-esque, a lot of people dressed up with big smiles and makeup, many that didn’t know each other, many sticking to their small groups of designated friends, not venturing out of their safe social circles. As a group of high-school students arrived, presumably an international crowd, it struck me what it would be like to live in Dhaka for a few years as an international high school student and then return to my home country, say, for instance, the USA. How difficult, if not impossible, it would be for me to assimilate back into teenhood at home? Where I grew up, in suburban Maryland, ages 15 and 16 were sitcoms and Friday nights at the mall and experimentations with alcohol and makeup. In Dhaka, on a daily basis you were seeing people your age working, often times plain old hard, manual labor, maybe even you had a child servant working in your house or if not, then at least in your building. What a crazy world, or worlds, that we are living in.
Benton and I decided to leave the Nordic Club around 1am, but we were both hungry so we headed to a lounge called PM, Past Midnight. As we went up the stairs, several uniformed men greeted us (or so I thought) with a big smile, said Good Evening, Sir, bowed, and opened the door. No Madam, I noticed. For the next 40 minutes, I was invisible. Sir was asked where he wanted to sit, Sir was asked what he wanted to drink, Sir was asked what he wanted to eat, Sir was asked to pay the bill. I smiled, tried to place my own orders and voice my opinions but it was as if I had ceased to exist. Frustrating for a girl like me who is startlingly independent in almost any context I’ve ever been placed in. Discussing it with Benton, he explained that it’s out of respect, which is kind of messed up anyway, but the philosophy is that if they were speaking to me it would mean they thought I was a whore. Hmm there is something wrong with this picture. Sigh.