Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 4, Tuesday January 22, 2008

 

 

Under a different sky

By
Iffat Nawaz

Shelter

She was all shaken up, after that day, after that night. I heard she cried, I heard she felt insulted; she should have. She was meant to be insulted, undeservingly but so what, someone was happy to have made her feel that low.

When she came to the USA she didn't know many people. She was a brilliant student with a scholarship to go to school in New York. As a natural step her father spoke to a close friend's daughter who lived in New York to find his daughter a place to stay. Like many helpful Bengalis, the friend's daughter offered her own place. She said something in the line of “oh she is like a sister to me...it will be wonderful...I stay home all day while hubby is at work...it will be great to have some company...we have a bedroom ready...can't wait!”

So she arrived with her luggage full of Dhaka; at the airport her so-called “sister” met her. When she got home it all felt fine, there was everything that made a home comfortable. She had her own bedroom, a plate full of rice, daal, meat, and veggies, a working bathroom and whatever else one needs to feel like they have proper shelter.

It was a few days later that it all started, those strange orders and patronizing behaviour that made her feel like she was not a 27 year old but a 10 year old. “You don't know how to wash your plates well,” “Don't close the refrigerator door so loudly”, “why are you sitting like that” “don't turn the television on before 8 pm” “Don't close your bedroom door, what are you hiding anyway?” “Who are you talking to on the phone?” “How come you were 15 minutes late today, did you already find a boyfriend or what?”

It kept on increasing, those odd remarks. An over-controlling mother might say these things to her little daughter, but coming from a distant friend of a friend, to whom you pay rent, made things more and more unbearable. But she didn't speak out, or talk back. She tried to make the least noise around the house as she could, followed all rules that were set for her and on following that, she froze during her first night of winter in America: her “sister” insisted not to turn the heater on at night, her rent didn't cover electricity bill.

In Bangladesh, she was as free as a bird; ironically in the land of the free she lived like a prisoner. Her parents had never questioned her motives, her character, and she had always been that 'lokkhi meye'. Why then, all of a sudden was she treated so poorly, with mistrust, blame and insult?

To get away from it all, she got in touch with a friend who lived in a state nearby. She spent a great weekend with a group of her long lost buddies. When she returned, her “sister” asked her how her weekend went. Relaxed after a long time she answered, it was fabulous. Her 'sister' then responded with “of course it was, a whole weekend of drug and sex, why wouldn't it be great!”

She was left astonished, insulted, not even sure what to say. How can she convince someone who has been living in America for so long that a weekend away with friends doesn't equal to drugs and sex. A woman in her 20's is an adult and her every action doesn't need to be criticized, scrutinized.

A phone call came later that night, from her parents, concerned as they got the news of their unruly daughter, partying like a 'prostitute' over the weekend. It didn't take long for her to convince her parents otherwise, but when she hung up she didn't know what to do- how could she live there anymore?

She started looking for a place but within her budget she couldn't find much. Her only option was to live with someone else, the same way she had been living since she came to the States. Her 'sister' called all possible Bengali landlords telling them what bad character she holds, and under no circumstances should she be given a place.

She finally left. She is living with a girl similar to her age now. Her 'sister' has labelled them all characterless, shameless Bengali girls. But that doesn't bother her anymore. She is trying to recover and learn what American is, beyond a sick woman's fantasy and some bruised tales.

 

 

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