Little Bit of Respect
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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'.
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.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004