Hi everyone! This one will have to be short, as I have a thesis deadline tomorrow that I am soooo not ready for, eeeeeeek! But I have all day tomorrow to work on it, so I will have something to show for my efforts. I hope.
Anyways, I made the long, arduous journey back home today! I suppose it wasn’t that long and arduous, since I only live an hour away…but still! It took forever to get all my stuff into the car, and since Cornell is kindly redoing my floors over winter break, I had to basically clear out of my room. It looks pretty sad-sack right now, and I couldn’t bear to take a picture, because it reminded me how I’m moving out and onwards so very soon…but once it’s decorated again, I shall take a picture and write a post about it!
I was just on the phone with my dad, and I asked him what to write about, and he suggested I write about how I’m not going to Bangladesh this winter. As you all probably know, my parents emigrated from Bangladesh in the ’80s, and so I still have family there. We try to go back as often as we can, but this year was going to be particularly special, as my cousin is getting married!!!
I’m not going to lie: I have lots of mixed feelings about going to Bangladesh and being there for an extended period of time. On the most basic level, my mobility is so much more limited there than it is when I’m on campus or even when I’m at home. There’s no way I could navigate the traffic there, public transportation isn’t exactly safe for a single woman in such a large city, and even I could walk anywhere from my aunt’s place, I’d get lost in a second. Not to mention the fact that I stand out like a sore thumb: I may look like everyone else, but I walk, talk and dress very differently. The language barrier is another thing that’s so frustrating: I’m nowhere near fluent in Bengali, although I understand it pretty well. But as someone who loves language and is normally good at expressing herself, being reduced to the vocabulary of a precocious two-year-old is pretty dreadful. But most of all, facing the poverty that most Bangladeshis live in is heart-breaking and incredibly guilt-inducing. Children run between cars and beg for money, old men with cataracts plead with you, and no matter how much you give them, it doesn’t do enough. I don’t know what the solution is–I’m wary of NGOs that, however well-intentioned, claim that their mission is to “fix” the problems of third-world countries. I don’t think throwing money at the problem will change anything. But I can’t just stand by and watch either, can I? I wasn’t born there, but I still feel as if I have some sort of duty, some sort of obligation.
But I was willing to put my personal feelings aside for my cousin. And then the Bangladeshi election season began, and the situation, especially in the capital, Dhaka, became more and more violent, and finally, my parents decided it wouldn’t be safe to take my sister and me. So my dad is going alone. He’ll be there for ten days, so he won’t be back until the new year.
I don’t really know what to make of all these changes. On the one hand, I completely understand where my parents are coming from: because of the protests and riots on the street, people aren’t going out, which means that if we had gone, it would have been even harder than usual to get around. But on the other hand, I was excited about being there during such a time of strife. I guess my ambivalent feelings about Bangladesh are partly rooted in the fact that I have a hard time understanding what it is the Bangladeshis are fighting for. Both my grandfathers were part of the Bengali language movement in the ’50s, a political movement that allowed Bengalis living in what was then East Pakistan to reclaim their language and their culture. My parents were barely in elementary school when Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan in a bloody civil war. And as much as I believe in self-determination and radical political change, every time I go there, I can’t help but wonder: is this why people fought and died? So that their children would have to eke out a living in the factories and pay exorbitant bribes to government officials just to get by?
So I guess that while I was looking forward to celebrating my cousin’s wedding, I was also hoping for another chance to try and understand why my grandmother counted down the days until she could return when she came to visit us, why I can’t just simply throw up my hands and completely disregard this part of my heritage. And as much as I’m grateful for a quiet staycation with my mom and sister, I can’t help but feel disappointed.
I know that at the end of the day, everything happens for the best. There must be a reason why the Powers that Be decided we weren’t going to be there this time around. So I’m going to make the most of the situation and hope and pray that my dad returns home safe and sound.
Sorry if this post seems rather gloomy, but those are my thoughts for now. Sleep well, and look for another post tomorrow!