Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 39, Tuesday October 7, 2008














reader's chit

From a strangers dairy

His eyes were bloody red, when he walked in. He had beautiful dark skin, sharp features. I saw him smile once before when he came for the first time to my cell phone dealership store; that's how I know he has a nice smile.

But today he wasn't smiling. A man in his mid 50's with a head full of messy hair and a bit disoriented, many would have found him disturbing at that moment. But I could sense something was terribly wrong.

He looked at me and asked,"did I tell you about my daughter?" "No" I said. "She was just 28 and she died yesterday”. I was typing a report; I stopped. I looked up at him with all my attention. I couldn't understand the look on his face. He was there, but he wasn't there. He stared blankly. I guess our body has its own way of dealing with devastation; it shuts down some of our nerve cells to deal with the initial shock.

Then he said, “I cannot go back home, I won't be able to see her for the last time. I do not have papers. If I leave America then I won't be able to come back, I am the only earning person in my family. I have a son who will attend college from next year. For more than fifteen years I have been living here, never broke any rules, worked six days a week, 12 hours a day. And now, I can't even go back”. He said everything in almost one breath. I could not say anything, I knew he did not come for any business, for some reason he just wanted me to listen, and I did.

Stories like these are not uncommon here in the U.S. I work with telecommunications. We own a cell phone dealership. It is a consumer-based business, so I deal with a lot of people from all backgrounds and different ethnicity and cultures. My work is never boring and I learn a great deal from all these real people, because it is an interactive work, I sometimes bond with some of them and they open up to me; their stories touch me, inspire me, devastate me and at times force me to look at life from a different angle. As a Bangladeshi, I mostly can understand some of the issues that my fellow Bangladeshis face.

Mr. and Mrs. Rahman came to activate two phone lines for themselves. A middle-aged couple who recently came from Rajshahi by winning the lottery. They have three grown children; they told me none of them could come to the U.S with them due to being over aged; children have to be 18 years or younger to come with their parents. Both of them never traveled abroad and had probably only seen the western world through TV and movies, I guessed.

And now they are in for a culture shock. Mr. Rahman had a pretty decent government job and now he was looking for work in restaurants; the post would at best be “kitchen helper” and back home, his own children would know nothing about this job. He cannot afford the time and money to take any course and try something else. I think lack of information plays a role here as well. There are dozens of Bangladeshi newspapers in the U.S and an amazing numbers of organizations. And yet, people like Mr. Rahman are clueless about everything when they get here and they do not get the basic information or help they need.

I was pretty impressed with Mrs. Rahman. She wasn't highly educated or charming. But she had this calm aura around her. She looked ten years older than her age but I could only see the acquired wisdom over the years in the lines on her face. And you could tell that this is the woman who can endure anything that comes in her path. She spoke with such poise and grace and I thought to myself, being graceful has nothing to do with one's background or academic achievement.

I have come across people with Ivy League background, with PhDs and seriously lacking gracefulness, even politeness (of course with exceptions.) Mr. Rahman was sweet enough to let me know that his wife didn't always looked so pale; that he couldn't put his finger through her hair, because they were so thick and long and beautiful. I gave him a big smile and replied, “I can imagine!” I was happy to see that this man saw the true beauty of this pale, ordinary looking woman and wanted the world to see her through his eyes.

A couple of weeks later he came and informed me that Mrs. Rahman had to go back to Rajshahi. It was quite impossible for his three children to live alone. Torn between two places, she had to choose one. I could clearly see how lost Mr. Rahman looked without his other half. He said that this was the first time in 36 years he was without her.

In a country of opportunities lives are changing here everyday. There was a boy who worked for us in the weekend, and attended a prestigious college. For six years he worked hard in both places, kept his GPA at 4 and just a couple of months ago he was hired by the well known corporation “JP Morgan Chase”. His corporate America dream has come true. I can see him going places; he deserves all the success.

My work is done for today. I am going to take a walk. It is quite chilly tonight. Again I forgot my gloves; thank god I have my scarf and hat. I tuck my hands into the warm pockets of my black overcoat. My chin is trying to hide under my turquoise scarf. At times like these, my mind flashes back.

The luxurious life I left back home where to go just two blocks I would have my driver waiting with the car, seems unreal at this moment. As I keep walking in the bitter cold I feel that slowly my blood is warming inside. I look around and see the familiar streets, trees, houses, parks where I have beautiful memories; this is the place where I have grown into the person I am today. The person who is much more patient, confident, hard working and grateful for the little things in life. The wind almost blew my hat off and I see that my chin is not trying to hide anymore; instead I warm up to this bitter, cold, and sweet wind.

By Tasmia Karim



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