Behind Positive Impressions
her days in Dhaka,
Mary Ann Peters leaves behind a legacy of love
is suave, sophisticated and sincere. The departing US ambassador
to Dhaka, Mary Ann Peters, is perhaps unlike many others
preceding her in this vocation. While representing the US
among 130 million Bangladeshis since September 2000, she
made it a mission to know as much of the people as any enterprising
foreign envoy would.
traveled from Teknaf to Tatulia, dined bhuna fish and rasgollah,
and befriended many to live with the legacy of her love,
cordiality and candour for years to come.
the length and breadth of our social contours, Peters became
from an envoy to a lover of our mainstream chores: attending
local parties with local friends, bemusing with the ambience,
hiking in the far flung and participating in matters of
bilateral interests with a touch of closeness.
“ I will shed tears while flying out of Dhaka,” she said
not being emotionally soaked as the editor and publisher
(Mahfuz Anam) and senior assistant editor
(M. Shahidul Islam) of The Daily Star met
with her on July 8 for a chat meant to be informal, personal
and devoid of hard-hitting political conundrums.
of days like 9/11, experiences of the 2001 general election,
visit of Jimmy Carter, Colin Powel and her parents and family
members to Dhaka were woven into a lucid narrative as she
responded to every question through a parlor- like exchange
recollected how-- exactly a year after she arrived in Dhaka--the
Twin towers got blown off in New York the Pentagon was hit
by suicidal terrorists and the general election in Bangladesh
enticed a voter turnover 'enviable to US'.
wish the turnout in my country were as good', she lamented.
struck you most about life in Dhaka, we asked? She
sighed and then narrated with graphic details of the hour
immediately preceding the breaking of fasting during Ramadan.
Before iftari, those street vendors, jilapis, waiting (laugh),
....... Count down. I enjoyed those half an hour”.
Star and Peters conversed over the ups and downs of Her
Excellency as she so popularly discharged her assignments
in Dhaka at one of the most volatile times in the US and
global history. She complained of no trouble in the post
9/11 turbulence. “ We didn't have to close our mission as
was done in many countries.”
assured her in the beginning that the interview would be
an informal one, matters political not being our focus.
Peters did not fail to remind us of her deep appreciation
for our tale of successes in eradicating polio, enhancing
female literacy, and successes in a number of other socio-economic
It sounds flat, but we really did broaden relationships”.
Bilateral relationship is much better today in the economic,
military and social fields," she claimed.
Peter recalls how three years before her arrival, she had
had the inkling of this posting while being the deputy chief
of mission at US embassy in Ottawa.
hearing the scoop, I did make my view known that I would
like to be an ambassador to Bangladesh”, she said.
is a big country...130 million people'. As well, “there
is a good American School here”. Myself and Tim (husband)
knew things about Dhaka. The American school was an ideal
place for Tim who teaches. We always heard that the people
here were hospitable to the hilt.
one point, she shared her experience of an earlier visit
to Dhaka at the fag end of Ershad's regime. “I've had a
soft spot for Bangladesh since”.
the optimist in personal life, Peters did not hesitate to
exude her optimism about Bangladesh's future too. She was
appreciative of our successes in micro credit, religious
moderation, pluralistic democracy and homogeneity of things
rarely seen in many countries.
maintained that Bangladesh is not selling herself well in
the international arena. “ It's a shame that international
press focuses on those (negative), not on success stories
like micro credit and women's education”.
about what seems to be the downs of her time in Dhaka, she
said, “ Headlines have been depressing at times. Violence
and law and order situations... put you down.”
my brief stay in Dhaka in 1988, I saw the city full of rubbish
as the floodwater receded. It's a different type of city
if she was surprised by the extent of our political divisiveness,
she responded, “ Yes, it does”, adding, “look at countries
where divisions are innate. My own country is held together
by values, not by common cultural and ethnic heritage.”
ambassador's depth of perception about the land and the
people was indeed impressive. She uttered with observable
body language, firmness, sanguinity and sincerity that “Communal
relationship has not been as bad here as is the case in
A. Peters predicted the arrival of moments in South Asian
diplomatic history to be characterised more by engagement,
visits and dialogue. She would like to see progress made
in resolving the Kashmir issue.
also working with Sri Lanka and Nepal. Some Maoist activities
in Nepal are terroristic”, she claimed.
She candidly confessed of having expected tough questions
as she met various religious groups, particularly the Muslim
Imams. But that feared moment did not come to pass. “I also
had several small gatherings at my residence. We don't agree
with conservative Islamic polity, but dialogue is nice.”
all things that might entice her toward a nostalgic spell
upon departing , mangoes are at the top of things she will
miss the most. “Bangladeshi mangoes are best in the world”,
tried to learn the Bangla language, but had to give up at
one point. “People here generally speak superb English”,
epilogue to the conversation included her liking of our
rivers, recasting the memory of family cruises in the Sundarbans
and the camping in Chittagong of the entire staffers from
the embassy in September 2002.
seemed in a haste to say good bye to our Prime Minister,
with whom an appointment stood scheduled; but not until
leaving with us a word of wisdom for her successor, Harry
Thomas. “ He will also see the potential (of this nation)”,
our politicians and leaders, her advice could not have been
more poignant and appropriate: “Issues must be cleared up
to reach the potential. Politics here being unnecessary
divisive, I hope people will narrow down their differences.”
Ann Peters' next assignment will be in Germany. But her
love for Bangladesh will surely outlast her career. While
in Dhaka, she seemed to have transmuted herself as one of
us. Dhaka will certainly miss her charming presence.