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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