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     Volume 4 Issue 25 | December 17, 2004 |

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A Little Bit of Respect

Lally Snow

Foreigners and tourists around the world have a reputation of being unfriendly, rude and cold. I admit that at times I had sworn with tears of sweat and frustration at various drivers. I have scowled when walking, at someone call calling out, 'mam how are you?' being too hot, bothered and afraid of being taken for a fool to remember the manners my parents taught me. But it is exactly this unfriendliness and slightly superior attitude that causes sociological and nationalistic tensions. Every country is different, every culture has its nuances but some things are universal. All it takes is a nod or smile in acknowledgement to relieve some of these notions of unfriendliness.

Dhaka may not be the first choice as far as international postings go however, those working for NGO's, consulates and embassy's should know that a large aspect of their job requires much travel to far away places. Surely that is part of the attraction. So why are so many so eager to forget where they are?

I am not saying that every ex-pat in Dhaka is the same - I came across some very nice ones in fact - but I have seen too many of the bad apples to alter my view. I cannot help thinking that there is something rather false about the very idea of an ex-pat community.

I went to a party last month, organised by one of the Embassies. Waiting outside, I watched in disbelief as a middle aged European woman shouted at a member of staff. 'Don't eat your food in front of us, don't to turn your back on me while I am talking, do you realise how rude you are being?' and then the final insult, 'you don't even understand what I am saying, do you, you stupid man?' I have no idea why she felt wronged, and nor do I care. Even if her reason for being upset had been founded, she had, in my eyes, debased herself to the lowest of the low. Not only did she shout and try to humiliate someone publicly, which I think is vulgar, but also and more so, for the final insult. I would be willing to bet a substantial amount of money, that she had not even bothered to learn even the most basic Bengali.

person. As one winner collected his prize, he wheeled himself along on a makeshift skateboard, in imitation of the many desperate, legless vagrants who wheel themselves between cars, begging. Surprisingly there were guffaws of laughter at this sight of a grown man mocking the humbling, omnipresent, wretched poverty of Dhaka. For the second time that evening, I was embarrassed to consider myself European, amazed and could not believe the sheer ignorance of westerners who undoubtedly consider themselves civilised and intelligent.

I know that Dhaka is one of the toughest places to live when compared to other cities; That everyday life is so concentrated and intense that twenty-four hours can seem like a lifetime, and one wrought with angst; That in any alien environment there are bound to be feelings of displacement and uncertainty. But Dhaka has its charms - good and bad. Writing this from Dubai, which is as artificial city you can get, with about as much character as a coffee stain, Dhaka seems like a haven of vibrancy and life, every moment becoming an adventure.

There are quirks like the sweet and unexpected ambrosial smells of the flower stalls at the end of Kemal Attaturk Avenue, petals and colours standing out against the monochrome road in a riot of colour. Or a rickshaw ride in the evening through residential back streets, where people become shadows in the dark, and gloom and warmth mingle to become gloomth. Or countless CNG rides spent not knowing if you would make it to your destination in one piece. Even the mass of human life living cheek by jowl although both depressing and saddening is awe-inspiring and that each has his or her own story to tell, is something strangely beautiful and unique to Dhaka. Even the problem of not being able to speak Bangla, although at times difficult, for me meant that hearing it spoken was like hearing birds sing and chatter in spring with undulating tones, 'he he he's' and 'acha, acha's'.

Foreigners should, of course, respect the customs of wherever they maybe and never try and impose their own code of living as did the European colonialists. They should delight in the trials and tribulations they may encounter for they are part of the experience of being in a foreign place. Above all foreigners should appreciate how lucky they are to be able to roam the globe at their will.


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