Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Bhodro Girl Etiquette

Mama, Hujur Bari jaben?
Uncle, will you take me to Hujur Bari?
The rickshaw puller is not my Uncle by blood,
but that's how relationships are formed and performed
in a city where my path crosses his only once.
We even argue over his hiked up bhara (fare)
as though we are related, until we reach a deal.
The rickshaw puller is not my Uncle by blood,
but I'm journeying on the rhythm of his wheel.

I'm in a loose cotton shalwar kameez,
with an untamed chiffon orna (scarf)
dancing to the dust of April's humidity and sticky air.
I tuck the orna under my thighs, left and right, to freeze the tango,
otherwise the chiffon will be locked in the wheels
leaving me exposed.
Everywhere I look I am met with curious, staring eyes.
Tara ki dekhche? What are they looking at?
Obak hoye ki dekhche tara?! What are they seeing with such surprise?!

I stare back, scanning the many men,
and imitate their gaze with an undeclared staring contest.
I'm smiling too, teeth exposed, orna draped to one side because why not?
Why should I feel threatened by gawking men?
After all, I've obediently pursued a bhodro (good/polite) girl etiquette my whole life.
What has been the result? More staring men.
Mama, dane tarpor bame. Uncle, turn right and then left. 
I hop off the rickshaw and glance once more at the men I've left behind.
I stand glorious, basking in the courage of my protest.

Rickshaw in Nikunja

Monday, March 27, 2017

a short poem

আজ আমি বাধীন
স্বাধীন ভাবে চলি
আমি নারী

today i am free
i am self-reliant and autonomous
i am a woman

resolutions revisited

being alone, unemployed, and in retreat-mode in a new city has allowed me to honestly assess those characteristics in me i want to improve moving forward in my personal efforts to lead with passion and creativity, love without resentment, and learn with curiosity, starting now. writing this list will help me feel more grounded. 
  1. i find it most difficult to support folks during their good times. perhaps i am secretly jealous or feel petty to give away love. i will show support in recognizable, tangible ways when those, especially those most closest to me, but to all around me when they accomplish and don't accomplish, remembering that their brilliance is felt and deserves attention. 
  2. be nice: i have an intimidating look, or so i get told by many that i do. i will try harder to soften my facial expression. my "hard bitch" persona it is not intentional, more so for self-protection, but in an effort to protect myself i can be a bully to those i know nothing about, often closing off any potential to build a friendship. less bullying, more believing that i can actually be nicer. 
  3. less about me, more about you and us. i am selfish and often center myself in relationships. my commitment to justice and liberation is a collective pursuit. without you and us, i won't get there. 
  4. care to know more about others, trust myself to build newer relationships and friendships rather than being stuck and stubborn on expectations from a small few and remember that love is steadfast even and when friendship dynamics transform with life things like marriage, births, more school, traveling. i may be introverted and it may be the hardest to make friends but i am not incapable of positive relationships. 
  5. initiate in places where i am least likely to speak up. i am shy, self-isolating in crowds i know no one, and more of an observer, scanning people and places. sometimes this brings me most joy, though others may assume i am bored or apathetic, but i'm actually, strangely, enjoying. however, sometimes this is painful. i will accept awkward introductions even if it's saying, "hey, we follow each other on instagram right?" or "i follow your work and i admire your art." 
  6. carry a notebook/charged phone for notes: i have to write to remember. i've noticed that i can't remember details i want to remember. this could be a medicinal side effect or anxiety. 
  7. take my parents out more, this includes having them attend events i'm attending or organizing or a weekly non-home brunch 

more to follow.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

shorir amar, shiddhanto amar (my body, my decision)

it has been painfully difficult for me to write, a complete shutdown of my fingers, even thoughts. the feeling is hard to capture in words, but in short, i feel a mixture of sadness and anxiety when this happens. i wish i exercised better writing practices. maybe it's procrastination, i don't know. maybe i should set deadlines on myself, i don't know. maybe i don't actually want to write, i don't know. some days i make up my mind about writing, i tell myself it's okay to write a single sentence, one that doesn't have to be the perfect sentence. but i'm a sucker for perfect sentences.

i'm in an uber after an early evening of rain. i missed the rain, but from inside watched the city go from hues of grey to sunlight while honoring the life of feminist, social justice warrior and naripokkho volunteer and leader nasreen huq, whose death anniversary is on April 24th. naripokkho members host an annual get together to remember the woman whose brilliance shaped the organization and its supporters for 20 years, whose brilliance continues to play a pivotal role today in understanding and implementing women's right to choice, women's right to justice in bangladesh. she coined the slogan shorir amar, shiddhanto amar (my body, my decision). i'm mostly silent during this planning meeting, silently observing the six other women with me. their facial gestures, body language, and "i remember when" memories are unlike any other affirmation sessions i've sat through. it's romantic, their unconditional love is so tender and so sisterly. here and there the rain pours louder and we are interrupted. i can't help but think nasreen huq's spirit watching over us.

the rain ends just as we finish up but i decide to stay in dhanmondi to avoid the peak of a saturday traffic jam. i camp out at aarong and come out with two colorful sharees, one for myself and the other for my mother, both purchased for pohela boishakh, bengali new year.

my uber driver asks if i can help him get to banani as he's still new to uber, still new to dhaka. i share, that like him, i'm also new here. he's from bogra, newly married, and missing both bogra and his wife. he can't get himself to want to stay in dhaka. i contemplate on this and feel similarly; that i too can't get myself to stay in dhaka, that even while in dhaka, i'm reminded of brooklyn in delicate ways. getting to know who's driving me home is one of those subtleties. uber taxi has helped me navigate dhaka independently, though CNGs have also. while the costs can add up for both, my budget for living with Lupus includes transportation (read: car service). it's not always that i can ride on a crowded bus or train, especially when it's standing only, given the ongoing aches in my legs and residual reminders that i've two hip implants. if i were in nyc, i would have happily deleted the app given uber's shameful political stance in the US post-Trump Muslim Ban 1.0 while unionized cabs were on strike at JFK airpoirt. in dhaka, uber's all i've got in terms of safety, accessibility, and easy.

the following tuesday at naripokkho is hard to sit through. we are discussing the rape of three young girls (ages 3-4) in mirpur's kalshi bihari camp, one of the largest camps of urdu speaking bihari ethnic minorities in bangladesh. the identified rapist is of bangladeshi descent alongside the three girls. the rapist and his confidantes have fled from the slum and the community has destroyed their shop and home, a model punishment given that the cops delayed giving directions for immediate medical treatment, a rape kit and instead accused the parents for concocting a tale and potentially wanting to make quick money through a court appeal. from brooklyn to dhaka, young girls are denied their truths and traumas.

tuesdays at naripokkho. dhanmondi, dhaka

i arrived to the tuesday meeting early craving fresh fruit juice. i walk around dhanmondi hopelessly and am unable to spot any juice vendors. i instead stop for 10 taka chola boot, one of my favorite foods all throughout the year, not just during ramadan. new york should have a chola booter truck, has anyone done this yet? i ask for extra lime juice and kacha morich; i may have to start carrying an emergency pouch of green chili peppers with me. eating chola boot reminds me of my mother's version with potato mash, not chunks. she uses potato chunks for chicken curry, the best i've ever had, also on the list of ammu's dishes i miss from brooklyn. i miss ma's ranna and ma's ghor.

আখের রস // sugarcane juice. banani, dhaka

i am planning my return to brooklyn in may, with a trip to india and malaysia scheduled in april. the malaysia tour is for the gender and tech institute, an all expenses paid for digital security training forum for activists and rights defenders in asia. i was almost planning to stay in dhaka for three years following an offer at an international feminist human rights organization in the global south. three years, i offered one year but to no avail, is a hard commitment and that too in a place still unfamiliar to me. maybe later, not now.

at last, i am writing again.

(friends: i post more frequently on instagram, @sha.banana; write to me with your questions/thoughts about my solo travel. it'll help me to write!)

Thursday, January 5, 2017

in dhaka

it's been three months in dhaka; i'm enjoying the slow pace non-work work but know that i wouldn't be able to permanently relocate here. well, that's how it feels for now. brooklyn is home; the bangladeshi diaspora is my community and where my drive flourishes.

i am grateful for my parents' willingness to go with my flow. it was my mother who bathed me when all i was allowed in the ICU (intensive care unit) were sponge baths; it was my father who succumbed to my craving of dollar menu cheeseburgers from McDonald's when i was bedridden, on a no-sodium diet. (by the way doc, eating them didn't kill me. yep, had more than one). their contributions and care as parents to a chronically ill older child, the eldest in my family, is above and beyond. well, they both still question my motives for this trip and what i can't express in voice, i text them. ammu on one call had asked me to return home because to her what i was doing was a waste of time and strongly pushed that now is my time to earn, monetary earning that is. she had me thinking. is what i'm doing, my choice to explore beyond brooklyn, a waste of time? there were tears and anxiety again about my decision to quit my job, transition out of various community extracurriculars, and leave my place and community of most comfort; it was a gutting demand. i later texted her explaining how important it is for me to stay in bangladesh and the need to live my passions, even if that means no persistent income in the meantime. "okay i love you my baby, you know why i worry about you. don't think so much, feel better," she responded. my father and i don't talk often (though i send him text messages in bangla) but ammu shared that he often brags to his friends about my trip, specifying that i'm an activist centering the bangla language in my work with the community. this is a proud moment for me.

my father, featuring my vision board.
since my last post, my worries about money and unemployment have dissipated a bit. i have skills, i can write and write damn well (i saved money for this trip but am also grant writing for my community; write to me if you need grant writing support!), and my community is supportive. what's there to worry about? alhamdulillah for the bounty of wealth from love and intellectual earning.

i'm supporting the work of naripokkho, one of the oldest women's movement and rights organization in bangladesh. while i've connected with other women-led, women/femme-centered activist groups to learn from and about their organizing and membership retention among other organizational foundations, naripokkho's leadership structure and grassroots advocacy stood out most. i was also interested to learn from the wisdom of older Bangladeshi feminist women whose leadership emerged during and before Bangladesh's language movement and liberation war. many of naripokkho's members have been in the organization since its birth in 1983, that makes 34 years! 34 years of belonging to a movement. this is goals. secondly, each woman member at some point has been voted in to lead the group as a shobhanetri (woman president/chairperson) for a two-year term; this leadership rotates and after term completion, she is no longer in the running, an intentional participatory and democratic strategy to build the leadership of members. thirdly, they've a weekly evening meeting every tuesday, also an unchanged component from 1983. these meetings are where the staff and members collectively receive and share updates, edit flyers and other event logistics, write and release statements on current issues (example: Bangladesh's stance on Rohingya refuge and a focus on the treatment of Rohingya women). i am learning many humbling lessons in organizing and centering the collective, not the individual; decision-making through principle, not majority.

Naripokkho member Rina Roy with torch at a
demonstration to eliminate violence against women.
i'm appreciative of founding member and older movement sisters like Shireen Huq who've graciously invited me into the naripokkho space without suspicion and continue to encourage blooming feminists. i'm also appreciative of all the sisters who encouraged my move, who instilled courage and curiosity in me; yes, i'm traveling alone, without a chaperone and connecting with organizations, women, and places as i would in new york. this is kinda like the study abroad program i never did while in undergrad or a gap year; it is not facilitated or partnered and currently, no return ticket.

on my fight from dubai, mostly accompanied by bangladeshi men migrant workers from the middle east, the two men seated next to me, strangers to each other, shared their traumas tied to returning to bangladesh, "bangladesh julum'er desh, keo bhalo na! bangladesh is an oppressive/violent place, no one is well-intentioned," all while admitting that they'd never be able to disown their desh/country. patriotic maybe, but with a sincere love for home. i carry their quote on julum/violence as i travel the desh and unpack the traumas i've escaped, with little healing, to get here.

Chitol pitha omelette.
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