Monday, August 8, 2011

Bang me, I'm Bangali. Part I.

Sit back, relax, grab some chai (tea) because this is a long post.

And also, you might not want to read this if you're fasting (because of the dirty images that might come to your mind and destructive language). Just sayin'.

Self-discovery, awareness, peace. Self. This trip is about me. And in this one month I've discovered something I probably would never have discovered while living in New York (maybe because I haven't noticed it as much): to Bangladesh, my boobs make me who I am. In every way, shape and form...I never had to utter a single word to get noticed by the Bangladeshi public. My boobs spoke to them and they were very, very pleased. 

How's that for an opener? Well, there's more to my one-month stay in Bangladesh than boob stories though I know you prefer to read something erotic and hot. Let's see what I can do.

For the past year or so, I've been trying to convince my parents and doctors to allow me to travel to Bangladesh...my roots, my motherland. My parents relied on my doctors for an answer and my doctors relied on my blood results for an answer. With God's grace...and three vaccinations and a three-month supply of all the drugs you can possibly think of, I flew to Bangladesh on June 27th, 2011. Sazia (my youngest sister) and I embarked on a journey without our parents. And knowing that we wouldn’t be accompanied by parents meant one thing: party all goddamn day and night. Even though only I lived up to this and Sazia stayed in most of the time. Moving along, economy class with bratty children and parents who didn't give a shit about them for an almost 18-hour journey with a 7-hour stopover at Dubai was not an amusing one...but we did enjoy making mean and dirty faces at the crying children (not a single drop of tear/wetness) who would stop and stare at us in uncertainty which then led me to think that they were deliberately trying to annoy us

Upon our arrival to Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport…I knew we were in Bangladesh (not because of the obvious) but because of a certain pungent smell and an overcast of dust that populated the airport. A part of my reason for coming to Bangladesh was to experience something out of the ordinary, something fresh and absurd to a New Yorker. And as everyone rushed to immigration and customs, I knew I was getting what I wished for…it felt as if the passengers were in a race to see who can get to their luggage first. Silly. After customs, I tried looking for a phone to call my brother-in-law which was a fail because the Bangladeshi airport didn’t seem to have one. We then proceeded to get our bags which took over an hour to arrive. And this was due to the obvious lack of organization. Two signs indicated luggage belts for first and business class and another for economy. The signs were useless because our bags arrived in the first and business class section while we stood waiting around the economy class carousel. In between the fight for bags, men swarmed the area to “help” passengers with their baggage collection. I fought for my bags alone as I was warned that the “helpers,” while being nice and warm during the helping process, would charge a lot of tip upon completion and if you didn’t pay them well, they would threaten your ass.

27 days.

The first week consisted of “hartal” - in my own words from Banglapedia (this actually exists) - a hartal is a constitutionally recognized political strike or protest called by the opposition party to express a political demand. This doesn't sound too bad in words, but these strikes are violent as hell. And the song that comes to mind is Antoine Dodson’s ‘Bed Intruder’ because during the hartal:

He's [some political activist] climbin’ in your windows
He's snatchin’ your people up
Tryna rape ‘em so y'all need to
Hide your kids, hide your wife
And hide your husband cuz they're rapin’ everybody out here
We're lookin’ for you [some asshole politician]
We gon find you, we gon find you.”

Not only is rape active during these hartals, cars are constantly bombed and people are constantly murdered. It was a whole lot of craziness. So during these hartal days, everyone was advised to stay home. Economically, this meant a lot of suffering for businesses. And personally, this meant rest and staying home all damn day or walking around the neighborhood if you were in a safe location. After surviving these strikes, Dhaka was drenched with a monsoon and if you didn’t have a car, well your ass pretty much had to stay in unless you were willing to swim the streets. The sewage system – yeah, we’re better off not talking about that. 


In a place that lacks structure (societal, governmental), in a place where due dates don’t matter (time and schedule can be adjusted accordingly especially if you have money), for every excuse you can say: “There was traffic…” is where I came to find myself. I needed to get away from New York. I should feel ashamed for wanting this but after settling in Dhaka, something felt right. And just to clarify, this wasn’t a study abroad trip. I needed a break from Lupus and that’s what I got. Though I went with a list of “What not to do/eat,” I took some precaution while breaking all my written rules. I ate everything (while balancing my low to no carb diet). I rode on most of the transportation that put me in risk for a broken bone or death. Namely, the rickshaw, van, and CNG. Pictures below.

A van. Clearly not your ordinary New York van.
Photo not taken by me. Courtesy of Google.
Hanging from the back of a van. Rita Apu (sister/cousin) and I.
The rickshaw.
Inside a CNG. Congestion and crappy hair.
Not to mention sweat and extreme body odor.
After going to a place like Bangladesh (I was in Dhaka - the capital city - for my stay) from a place like New York you realize that you live in some sort of a Paradise. (Even though some of New York is quite rough but nothing compared to Bangladesh) Garbage piles in most street corners. The very rich in their hotshot cars. The very poor laid out in the slums, basically every other street corner. Beggars crowding around you and your family. Don't get me started with the beggars. The two that were prevalent during my stay: 1) The Unified Beggar and 2) The Clever Beggar. Some beggars work together in a union or alliance. If a beggar approaches your car and you happen to give him/her some dough, they tactfully call their brother/sister beggars to one-by-one knock on your windows because they know you have cash/taka. The clever beggars - now, this I found hilarious because these men (I only ran into men) lined themselves up near a speed bump. Obviously, cars have to slow down while crossing the bump and thus have to look over at the beggars in their way and give a little somethin' somethin'. Mostly stares and laughter.


While living in Dhaka, my sister and I were princesses. Servants, chauffeurs, chefs...we had it all. And I'm not bragging or being conceited...anyone who is middle to upper class can afford one or all of the above. And certainly, having all of this the life. The good life. At first I was quite hesitant in asking the servants to do things  for me...but soon enough I was in the diva mode that everyone who knows me is familiar with. However, I wasn't crazy with the "Do this!" demands or "Why are you taking so long?!?" (when only a few seconds had elapsed). I tried to stay polite and make my youngest sister do all the dirty work. JUST KIDDING


Onik and Taslima, two of the servants, were the most entertaining. Onik's job was to take care of my 4-year-old nephew, Tehzeeb. And by the end of each day, Tehzeeb, belonging to a higher social class, would have hopes and dreams of becoming a rickshaw driver or a fuchka (popular street snack in Bangladesh) salesman (jobs suitable for Onik, because it's hard for a lower class person to move up in social status). Tehzeeb, who attends an English-medium school, is taught to speak either English or proper Bangla. However, with Onik as a playmate, he has managed to learn the slum-slangs and dirty curses. No big deal. And the most memorable scene of Tehzeeb is of him trying to take over Darwan Chacha's (Security Guard Uncle - I know it sounds funny translated in English) gate duty. Whenever we arrived with the car, Tehzeeb would run over to pull the enormous gate. 
Onik (taller) and Tehzeeb.
Eating FUCHKA in Niketon. Yummmmy.
Taslima, who is probably in her early teens, was in charge of the kitchen (heating up the food, setting up the table, etc). The laziest person I have met. And I'm not being rude here. She didn't do any work. Any non-Bengalis reading this are probably thinking that I'm horrible for secretly writing shit about her. But let's remember, servants are getting paid - getting paid to WORK. There was this one time during lunch when she gave us at least two types of fish - head and tail pieces - pieces that Sazia and I don't eat - like really though, who eats those pieces?, cold/frozen daal (lentil stew), and salad that came after we left the table in anger. She would do just about anything so we would avoid asking her to do shit for us (this sentence makes no sense so you may need to read it twice). Smart technique though.  


I must also mention Nuru - my favorite of all the housekeepers. He was very respectful and worked so diligently. He was always mindful about providing us with "American" foods so that Sazia and I would feel at home. For an evening snack once, he asked Sazia if she wanted "sausage" which he pronounced as "sauces" - I know my Bengali folks understand why he pronounced it the way he did. Sazia stared at me in confusion because after answering "Yes..." he proceeded to ask her if she wanted chicken or beef (sausage or sauces as he kept saying). She looked over at me saying, "WTF, chicken or beef sauce?" While being entertained by the scene I told Nuru that we'd have chicken sausage. Sazia was dumbfounded...and we couldn't stop laughing. Oh the memories...and at the end of the day, with the servants and all, we were a happy and hilarious poribar (family). 


With all the hartal, monsoon, and servants' craziness, I managed to squeeze in some shopping - not at the fancy air-conditioned markets because Rekha Apu, (my cousin), a fashion designer and an expert when it comes to the shopping scene, took me to the large wholesale outlets. Once in a lifetime experience. For anyone visiting Bangladesh, you must go to these markets even if you are not shopping. Or if you want to torture someone, these markets are perfect for humiliation and harassment. Islampur Bazaar and Gausia Market. Touching, squeezing, grabbing...that's all I remember. Oh yeah, and some shopping. Gausia Market is dedicated to everything and anything women. But you'd be shocked to know that among all of the women's fabrics, almost 70% of the crowd is made up of men, mostly young or middle aged - who are not shopping. In fact, all they're doing is pushing and shoving against the women. Keep in mind, this shopping complex has no air-conditioning and is crowded as fuck. For my foreigners (New Yorkers) to get a taste, picture yourself during the morning rush hour while getting to school/work in a train or bus. Ass to ass. It's tough enough just to stand in place while being shoved and groped on...now imagine shopping for fabrics and bargaining prices and being smothered with fingers and hands in places strangers should not be touching. One man just grabbed my left boob and walked right into my body. Due to the crowd and heat, I lost him instantly. Islampur (Manhattan's garment/wholesale district) was a whole other experience because the only way to get to it is by rickshaw. Anyways, once again shopping wasn't the most memorable part. While returning home on a rickshaw, my poor right knee was smothered by the rickshawala's (rickshaw driver) ass. He was "ridin' dirty". It's much harder to write out this experience, if I see you I'll definitely perform the scene. 


This next story cannot go unwritten. While driving to Gausia Market, my cousin (sitting in the passenger seat) saw a 'woman' riding a motorcycle. She looked over at me and said, "Look at that woman riding her bike!" I was really excited upon seeing this (being that I was the feminist-type among the group) and announced, "This is how it should be." I even went on to explain how it's illegal for women to drive cars in Saudi Arabia and that "Here we are in a country like Bangladesh where women are riding freely." And while we all stared at 'her' in excitement, it wasn't until our car passed the bike that we realized the person was not a woman, he was a man! Long hair in a pony tail, gray tunic, slim figure...he fooled us. 
Random couple on a motorcycle - the trendy ride in Bangladesh.
Every night in Dhaka was composed of a lot of drunkenness or passionate rooftop... conversations. You thought I was going to write rooftop sex, didn't you? With all the new drinking and smoking, I've become a more enlightened Shahana. You live life once and what's life without at least one drink accompanied by a cigarette? Useless. And this is exactly what I've learned while staying in Bangladesh. I took the trip on my own risk. Risks, while sometimes endangering your life and well-being, are opportunities to find yourself. And I believe some risks are good risks - chances that test your strengths/abilities to overcome hardships. Whether it was crossing Dhaka city's impossible streets, climbing up seven flights to go to the roof or my cousin's flat, fighting through the muddy roads while wearing slippers, getting wet in our own rain (water hose) and waking up with a fever that lasted for five days and having a taste of Bangladeshi medicine, drunk dancing after one shot of tequila, four glasses of vodka, and six cigarettes till four in the morning and waking up with the worst leg/ankle pain I have ever felt, walking through the slums during the midnight hours and experiencing a revelation about life...that no matter what condition we live in, we need to embrace the goodness and badness while appreciating the one life we have.
On the roof in the rain. Me, Rita Apu, Rekha Apu.