Sunday, November 26, 2017

VIDEO: Women in Kensington are doing it for themselves

I was featured in a video documenting Kensington, Brooklyn through my eyes. I'm excited about ending 2017 with this spotlight because Bangladeshi women I admire and look up to in the community make a powerful appearance over a dining room chat. We are not a formal organization and unsure if that's what we want; informal women's groups like ours exist throughout the community but are seldom highlighted. Bangladeshi women are seldom highlighted. This film was also an opportunity to share our collective vision to found a women's center in the neighborhood... I'm fixed on this idea and am playing with what it can look like from a design (what do we look for in a welcoming space? what will make it different from rundown basement offices in the neighborhood?) and resource perspective (what amenities will be available at our center? why do we need to exist?). I'm hoping the new year brings renewed energy around this collective project.

In the meantime, the intergenerational conversations will continue to flourish, even in conflicting moments, and we will carve ways to live on our own terms, whatever that means to each of us.

My sisters were home for Thanksgiving weekend. Like other reunions, this included a messy disagreement on Saturday wherein my mother critiqued our shortcomings as daughters because we were supposed to have fixed a plate of food for my father before sitting to eat -- the idea that he should eat first and then us. There was a hefty back and forth because the three of us (Sabia, Sazia, and myself) cannot keep quiet. That night I told her, "We're not the daughters you wanted us to be." We fixed him a plate anyways...nevertheless, we're not the daughters they expected to raise.

The video features my mother Rehana Hanif, middle sister Sabia Hanif, & three neighborhood aunties: Monowara Begum, Tahera Khanam, Taslima Shely:

Sunday, September 17, 2017

new job

i've joined the office of my local council member as a community liaison, primarily working to center issues impacting bangladeshis in kensington, brooklyn, where i was born and raised. it's a part-time gig (10 hours weekly actually) for now and while i'm excited, i'm sooo nervous. i'm not sure i see myself working in a government office long-term, but taking on this position is timely for me in the trump era where white supremacists (the ideology) want us (immigrants, brown folks) out of america and as i continue to navigate doctors appointments, sporadic health issues, and figuring out future stuff (read: should i pursue higher education? what do i really wanna do with my life?).

it excites me to know that a bangladeshi brooklynite woman (me!) is physically present in the neighborhood; i do office hours in a satellite space (at our favorite dr. sobur's medical clinic) located on the crowded strip of mcdonald avenue. i'm feeling out the months of september-october to think through what's lacking and already available for bangladeshis, particularly addressing lower-income families, women, children, and disabled people. i'm not sure how my position as liaison will take shape in the coming months but i appreciate the new breadth of knowledge and learning the nuts and bolts of local government and city-wide service agencies. i'm also looking to determine if there is a need for there to be someone just for bangladeshi constituents. this position is newly created and was implemented in 2016; it was the first time i had seen a bangladeshi young woman (ruby!) hired in kensington-related local government to represent the 15% and growing Bangladeshi base in the district.

so far i've been trying to get the word out that i'm here and open for the community to visit me with questions, concerns, and conversations. it is quite daunting to sit among many bangladeshi men and also having to deal with them. i had asked a shop to post my flyer on their storefront (the man made a nuisance and said flyers can't be posted); i walked by the next day and saw colorful posters of men who're running for local bangladeshi association elections, attached to the glass. i can't help but think that they don't want a picture of a young woman hanging on their door.

i'll be visiting them again with the support of my mother. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

convos with ammu: gender & sexuality

during breakfast ammu asked me, "tanzi* ki?" 

she's frying eggs for my father and herself while i'm cooking turkey bacon. i look at her with a what do you mean? look on my face and she repeats herself. her asking the same question again isn't helpful but i know where she's going with it all along. 

tanzi ki? as in what is tanzi? in english. my mother is curious about tanzi's gender and sexuality. they* stayed over during the week and are spending time with me at my place more often. despite my friendship with tanzi existing for over three years now and having seen and talked to them before, today is the first time my mother asked about their gender identity. i gauged further to know what exactly she wanted to know because i'm curious about how she'll frame the questions. my mother then responded with, "well, does tanzi have periods?" i smiled at her innocence and wasn't surprised at her focus on tanzi's period, in other words, her wanting to know about tanzi's biological sex. tanzi is gender nonconforming and identifies as a trans-person. i explained some of this english language to my mother, often drawing comparisons to the third gender or hijra communities in bangladesh. i also spoke about how transitioning works and that some folks choose to take hormones to express their gender, which may stop periods but her trying to understand tanzi should not center periods. 

there are no literal translations of gender nonconforming in bangla and transgender identities hold different meanings to those like my mother whose exposure to respectful and comprehensive conversations about queer & trans identities are nonexistent. even bringing up hijras isn't valuable to this conversation because our association with hijras are their feminine, saree-clad bodies roaming the streets as dancers, beggars or sex workers. thus, while trans-folks are on the margins universally, their identities hold diverse meanings according to space and place. i can't actually talk about hijras in bangladesh to understand trans-communities in america. nevertheless, my mother only wanted to be educated and this was our first open conversation about trans-identity. during my senior thesis year (i wrote a paper on queer muslims in nyc), she was conservative about my choice to pick at the qur'an for sexualizing homosexuality and didn't ask questions. three years later we are finally talking. she then shared how when she arrived to new york in the late 1980s, there was a woman who was romantically interested in her. she recalls this memory as her introduction to queer people existing. queerness never occurred to her while growing up in chittagong and dhaka. 

my father has also been making comments, ammu added. he apparently said, "munmun now hangs out with lesbians." tanzi is an androgynous butch in their clothing style which reads lesbian to my father. he was worried that tanzi may be interested in me because we shared the same bed several times. i laughed. 

ma, sleeping on the same bed doesn't mean we're intimate. have you thought this way when girlfriends slept on my bed? you and abbu shouldn't sexualize my friends like this, lesbian or not. them being a lesbian doesn't mean they're interested in me or other women in our group. a more in-depth lesson on queer identities coming soon. 

i ended our little chat by letting her know that tanzi's not the only one. other queer, trans-identified, beautiful souls have walked and dined in our home. they are my friends. 

tanzi*: original name has been changed; gender pronouns: they/them/theirs

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


i'm having such a difficult time writing this summer. there are pieces i've started that lay unfinished. i've been feeling purposeless since returning from bangladesh and am still figuring out whether or not i want to stay in new york. i'm starting a new job, part-time at an elected official's office. i'll be more public about it in september, when i start. i'll be working in brooklyn near home with bangladeshis in the district. a part of me feels excited, but overall, i am confused and anxious about working again. i hope that when i'm back in a routine, i feel better to finish the unfinished writing. do you need a routine to feel productive? i am need of structure but am miserably failing right now.

though i'm feeling purposeless in terms of what's next for my career: should i pursue higher education? what makes me feel whole?, this year has been one of personal growth. i went through a friendship breakup, which was the most difficult emotional thing ever because i felt off balance, unworthy, and incapable of making new friends or deepening the ones i have. i was reflective about my needs in friendships alongside thinking about the ways i can be a better friend. i feel good about the breakup and where i'm headed as i build with friends. i'm learning to address those hard to talk about feelings as they come up rather than avoiding them; i'm letting go of my stubbornness and the need to hold more power in friendships by way of punishing friends for tiny issues (at times i'm quick to give silent treatments); and acknowledging that all's not hopeless, that i'm loved and so so capable of loving deeply.

this summer i'm home more (unemployment) and the only one at home with my parents. sabia and sazia live away. i was devastated with the both of them moving out and visiting on a weekend basis. their moving has actually been a blessing in disguise. i have more time for self things, feel more in control of spending time alone, and i value the quiet as well as the chaotic (when they're home). i've also learned to love them individually and look forward to their visits. i don't feel tied to existing as a group of sisters, but it feels good when we get together. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

(gossiping) aunties

(গসিপিং) আন্টিরা—
আমাদের একসঙ্গে, মিলে মিশে থাকা লাগবে
এই পুরুষের দুনিয়ায়।
আমি আপনার বেপারে খারাপ বলব, আপনি আমার বেপারে খারাপ বলবেন,
এইভাবে বদনাম চোরাইলে আমরা
টিকবো না।
কথা বলুন, বলুন কিভাবে স্বাধীন ভাবে চলার ক্ষমতা বাড়ানো যায়।

(gossiping) auntyra—
amader ekshonge, mile mishe thaka lagbe
ei purusher duniyai.
ami apnar bepare kharap bolbo, apni amar bepare kharap bolben,
eibhabe bodnam choraile amra tikbo na.
kotha bolun, bolun kibhabe shadhin bhabe cholar khomota barano jai.

(weak translation)
(gossiping) aunties—
we've got to support one another
in this man's world.
if i'm gonna talk shit about you and you're gonna talk shit about me,
we will not survive abusing one another.
talk, talk about how we'll (women will) achieve liberation.

Monday, July 10, 2017

the cane, part 1


you've noticed my limp,
the slowing down while going up and down a flight of stairs,
accompanied me on the longer route to the mezzanine in musty elevators, even when it was one flight up,
known my tolerance for pain & how on most days of the week, it is absolutely invisible.

you've watched me concoct new recipes for inflammation and joint relief, with hopes to undo it all,
go from Ibuprofen to Oxycodone to Tramadol, staples for my Lupus survival;
like me, you worry about my inability to hold a job in normal ways and the fight it takes to hold a job in other ways,
but you've fought with me.

seeing me with a cane is new for you,
you ask if i'm able to walk without it because you've yet to learn the politics of disability,
that sometimes invisibility is the hardest script.
i share that with this cane i can walk a little longer, stand a little stronger,
that it's almost like a third leg,
and how on crowded trains and buses, the most painful of journeys,
i can have a seat.

description: a brown woman in a red & black flower wrap dress
struts confidently with her cane

Monday, June 5, 2017


taken from my facebook:

my journey with #Lupus (#SLE) has been magical and mystical all through the cycles of chronic pain and fatigue, going from immobile to semi-mobile to bionic woman thanks to my artificial hips (finding balance across the disability spectrum is not easy nor a straight path; disability is queer), and lessons (and still learning) for disability justice and liberation. as i hit close to a decade living with this degenerative autoimmune disease and in remission now, more functioning and having gained back a little power over my body, some of my earlier Lupus stories are hard to think of as truths... like damn, did i actually survive all of this? was my pain actually enough for me to handle so fiercely?

i hear it's #NationalDoctorsDay (even though y'all already get so much attention for becoming a doc in the first place) but petty aside, i have worked with dozens of doctors over the years trying to make sense of it all, many of whom have left lasting impressions on my life. while i'm critical of our shitty capitalist medical institution and the pharmaceutical industry and scared af to actually return to the US to manage my disease, i wanna thank some of the specialists i've had the pleasure to build with and see practice medicine with empathy.

thank you Dr. Laura Barinstein (rheumatologist; she diagnosed me with Lupus); Dr. Irina Kazachkova (endocrinologist; always up my ass to lose weight but supported me through Steroid-induced diabetes and high cholesterol); Dr. Ajoy Sinha (no doctor was prepared to perform a hip replacement surgery because i was too young; thanks to Dr. Sinha, i have a functioning left hip); Dr. Juan Kupferman (nephrologist); Dr. Alana Levine (adult rheumatologist); Dr. Kenton Fibel (orthopedic surgeon: knees and shoulders); Dr. James Chevalier (adult nephrologist); Dr. Edwin Su (orthopedic surgeon difficult to book an appointment with; my right hip needed immediate replacement surgery, i had no health insurance, and this guy cleared his schedule to perform the surgery within days). thanks for making it a tiny bit easier to navigate the mess chronically ill, disabled folks face with doctors, in hospitals, etc.

Lupus Foundation of Bangladesh Visit

#DisabilityJustice post: the universe continues to bring hope and strength in my life in the most unexpected ways. thanks to my Lupus article in The Daily Star, i connected with and met up with some of the board members of the Lupus Foundation of Bangladesh (LFB) on april 3rd, 2017.

LFB consists of doctors, patients, and allies that serve Lupus patients in Bangladesh with access to clinical support, counseling, funds for medicine and the many other costs of having a life-long illness, and are in the process of creating alternative job/career opportunities for patients (Lupus patients are predominantly women) who can't work full/part-time or at all thanks to capitalism, hostile workplace environments, and ableism which reinforce practices that make it difficult for Lupus patients to stay employed -- even if the workplace is supportive and have wellness measures in place, we are still unable to continue working because of the disease's unpredictable symptoms (we quit). there's a lot of guilt around not being able to work like able-bodied folks (we get tagged as unreliable or dishonest), even if we've got skills.

it's hard to imagine the perfect workplace when as a society we've not learned to be inclusive or practice inclusivity in ways that create alternatives for the bodies that can't keep up in the one we've modeled as standard. i'm learning too as i navigate spaces where naming what's going on in my body (as hard as it is), is important for my personal wellness and for allies to learn (as hard as it is) to support a disabled body. we will #survive! #lupus #lupusawareness #lupusfoundation

my lupus sister farhana (middle) & mithila (right)
with some of the members of the Lupus Foundation of Bangladesh

Spoonie/Differently Abled Allyship

By Shahana Hanif, thanks for contributing Emily Wynter

The purpose of this document is to name intentional ways for able-bodied friends to support friends with chronic illness(es) and (in)visible disabilities outside of just checking in about their day (the italicized is as important). Many of us struggle with naming what’s listed below; many of us (especially adults) struggle with access to support and care. The point of this list is to shift and transform the way we care and show up for our friends- so feel free to apply this guide in all your relationships. I envision creating a support network to help meet the needs of spoonies. *Please contribute to this list*:

  1. Accompany them to a doctor's appointment (sharing breakfast/lunch together before or after is a plus). Sit in when the doctor is meeting with your friend
  2. Help with grocery/medicine purchases + deliver to their homes. Support with funds if needed
  3. Read over / help write appeal letters when the medical institution is a pain in the ass about treatment, health insurance, and medicine costs 
  4. Visit them routinely (at their place of choice) 
  5. Offer to drive/pick up if you've got a car
  6. If they’re comfortable, rather than asking “how are you?,” ask them about their treatment process, check to know if they’re taking their meds, and how they’re doing emotionally/physically.
  7. Offer to be an emergency contact when the workplace/school/hospital/doctors are unable to reach your friend
  8. Share songs that lift their mood, videos of cute cat/kitty/puppy/seal/sloth/any cute animal they like, or if possible, recordings of you verbally sharing words of affirmation and healing with them, that you love them, that you fully accept them and think they are awesome/magical/any definition you are comfortable with.
  9. Read together. What worked when we were in grade school is still ok! Read a picture book of their choosing. Color in a coloring book. 
  10. Read up to date articles and new development around different ability advocacy. Find an organization that is helpful in educating you and advocating for your friend(s).

ramadan for the spoonie

for my friends practicing Ramadan & seeking a spiritual boost this month while surviving chronic illness, mental health issues, eating disorders, on medications requiring food/water, praying in different but legitimate ways because of physical disabilities, may the coming days be easy and kind on your body & faith.

you owe no one an explanation about the unconventional ways in which you are deepening your relationship with yourself, community, & God.

*if any of the above applies to you and you've not felt supported or don't know how to not feel isolated during Ramadan, i'm happy to share with you some of my practices.

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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