Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 2, Issue 59, Tuesday August 23, 2005




Special feature

I Missed Home

One usually realises the magic of his own land when he goes far away from it. I've been away from Bangladesh for one and a half months. I've just visited a country whose foreign policies are a matter of limitless discussion and debate all over the world. I think my readers have already guessed the name of the country I have just been to. No matter what U.S.A. did, does or will do in the upcoming years, it still remains and will most probably remain as the Dreamland for millions of people.

I was there with nineteen other students from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan to take part in South Asian Undergraduate Student Leadership Institute 2005. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, this program is an effort to build better mutual understanding between the U.S.A and the south Asian region. Even though the whole program had been a very intensive one, we had our moments of fun and hours of entertainment. But amidst the picturesque rolling hills of Pennsylvania, the lively classroom discussions at Dickinson College, the bustling yet gorgeous New York City and the groomed Washington D.C., this Bangladeshi soul sometimes felt a twinge of detachment, a feeling that was earlier unknown to her. The stir-fried food, the wide range of beverages or the gustatory American desserts were at times too bland for our south Asian taste buds. Thus, evenings were spent preparing simple yet mouth-watering egg curry, plain rice, spicy mashed potato or fried eggplant in our apartments. Never before did I realise that devouring white steaming rice and begun bhaji from a huge saucepan could bring so much of contentment in one. In big places like New York or Washington D.C. some of our sincere effort was always there to locate a South Asian eating place and satiate our pent-up craving for hot, spicy chicken curry, biriyani, naan or kabab…
The 6 weeks spent in the U.S. taught me one important lesson that is, living in a first world country is not always as pleasant as it sounds, especially when no one around you can speak in your mother tongue. I know I was lucky to have 6 friends along with me but even then whenever I spotted South Asian looking people in New York, Washington D.C. or Pennsylvania I always wished that at least one of them would turn out to be a Bangladeshi. However, most of the times they were Indians… Maybe this is why it felt like finding some long lost relatives when I came across Bangladeshis working in the South Asian restaurants of Lexington Avenue or in the stores of Chinatown or mid Manhattan.

I missed the monsoon of my country while I was away from it. Rain in every country probably has its own tone. As we soaked ourselves in the American rain, it somehow felt different from getting wet in a drizzly morning in Dhaka. Every droplet appeared a strange on my skin.

I missed munching on hot crispy phuchka with tamarind juice spread on top and the scrumptious shingara available in my university cafeteria.

At one point I even started to miss certain things about Dhaka, but interestingly enough, I began to miss things which I actually disliked all my life. For instance the hullabaloo of Dhaka City. Life was too tranquil and peaceful in Carlisle, a small town in Pennsylvania where we spent most of our time in the U.S. Being brought up in a metropolitan city like Dhaka, some of our hearts cried for blare of car horn, the jingle of rickshaw bell or the stillness-shattering cries of neighbourhood hawkers…

I missed home. I missed sauntering on the land, which is mine. No matter where one goes, how much luxury one enjoys abroad, in the hush of the night one's heart silently weeps to be in that one place called Motherland.

By Wara Karim

Reader's chit

The grass is not always greener on the other side..

One of the questions that I often get asked by people is: "When are you leaving Bangladesh to settle abroad?" I respond to these people by saying: "Why, what's wrong with living in Bangladesh?" They then reply saying: "Oh, come on. Bangladesh is such a terrible country. Any other country on earth is better than Bangladesh." Having lived a significant number of years abroad, I cannot help but say that many Bangladeshis suffer from the illusion of "The other side of the grass seems greener."

I get the impression that many people here just seem to think that if they somehow manage to go to a developed country, for example USA, then George W. Bush himself will come to receive them at the airport, provide them with accommodation at the White House and also get them a six-figure salaried job at Bill Gates' Microsoft! Life would be great if that was the case, but reality is a lot different.

The vast majority of Bangladeshis who go abroad do so illegally, and consequently learn how harsh life can be. Usually there's nobody to receive them at the airport, they struggle to find decent accommodation with the paltry amount of foreign currency they bring from Bangladesh, and they find out that getting a job is one huge challenge. In order to eke out a living, they invariably approach a fellow Bangladeshi who has lived in the foreign country for many years, and this Bangladeshi usually provides them with accommodation and gets them a job. Now, the accommodation that the fellow Bangladeshi provides is usually a small and dimly lit room where they all have to huddle together, and as for the job, it's almost invariably that of a poorly paid waiter in an Indian restaurant. However, when it comes to writing a letter to family members living in Bangladesh they write about how well they are doing and that they have found the proverbial "Heaven on earth." But the truth is that they regret coming abroad and can't wait to catch a flight back home.

As for the few Bangladeshis who settle abroad legally, not all of them live a blissful life. They sometimes do manage to find a well-paid job, but even then they tend to be unhappy deep down. This unhappiness stems from the fact that most of their friends and relatives are back in Bangladesh, and so they can't spend weekends and celebrate occasions like Eid with them. Those who live in USA legally with H-1 visas don't come to Bangladesh even when a close family member living in Bangladesh is critically ill, as they fear that the American immigration officials won't allow them to return to the country. They wait expectantly for the day that they'll get a Green Card, but by the time that happens, some close family members pass away and precious moments of strengthening the bond with other family members and friends is lost.

The above-mentioned incidents raise the question in my mind: Is it really important to go and settle abroad? It's true that Bangladesh has a high rate of unemployment, but with the amount of money people spend to go abroad they can easily set up their own business and become an entrepreneur. I also admit that crime and corruption are a disincentive to stay in Bangladesh, but crime and corruption don't just exist in this country alone. USA, UK, Canada, Australia also have crime and corruption. Some of the crimes committed in New York, especially Jackson Heights, are many times more serious than the crimes we see in the streets of Dhaka. As for corruption, we've all heard about USA's Enron, Worldcom and other such instances of corruption.

Bangladesh isn't as bad a country as many of us think it is. Of course, I admit that it's not perfect and there's plenty of room for improvement, but by running away from here and settling abroad we're actually in all likelihood making life more difficult for ourselves. After all, the grass on the other side of the fence is not greener!

By Sayeed Mahmud Nizam


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