Published in The Weekend Independent Magazine on 9 September 2011
So much has happened since I first wrote about having a crush on my Bangladeshi translator, Sherpa. Most notably, we got married. Nowadays, to think of describing the love of my life as a “crush” feels about as silly as the Facebook message I sent over a year ago declaring my super-sized interest in him. Though you may (reasonably) cringe at my sappiness, I can’t proceed without first declaring that there’s enough electricity between Sherpa and I to light up Dhaka. Day and night, all year round. I feel really lucky.
Now let’s turn to the main event: our wedding. Despite the fact that there were traditions from two cultures to tap into for wedding ideas, ours didn’t resemble anything either of us knew about them (which admittedly wasn’t a great deal). In fact, our transformation from employer-employee to husband and wife was unconventional from the moment I proposed to Sherpa and, after he finished laughing (it must have been the shock?), slipped the silver ring over the only finger it fit: his thumb. We hugged and shivered next to a deserted, moonlit lake. We’d been dating just four months. A couple of weeks later, Sherpa snuck out and bought me a ring, then “re-proposed” in that same special place.
Our parents weren’t to learn of our engagement until much, much later. Sadly, Sherpa wasn’t able to be with me when I made the announcement in Melbourne. This was tough, because my parents had never met him; we lost that opportunity when Sherpa’s applications for an Australian tourist visa were denied. Ironically, the immigration officials – who I’d put money on as being the toughest in the world – didn’t believe our relationship was genuine. When I returned from Melbourne, our little flat was adorned with drawings (depicting our reunion at the airport), streamers, and colourful cut-out letters on the doors, saying sweet things, like “Welcome Home, Princess.” I was so happy I cried.
Sherpa’s mother was remarkably calm when we told her we were getting married – in two days’ time. She has accepted me as part of the family, each of whom are incredibly independent and kind. Sadly, I’ve not met his father, a professor of Islamic Studies in Chittagong, because he passed away while Sherpa was still in high school. It was he who gave Sherpa his unusual name.
As it turned out, Sherpa and I didn’t get married two days later; nor the next week, or the one after that. This was due to a case of jitters – not our own, but a qazi’s. Although the qazi initially agreed to marry us, at the last minute he had second thoughts and gave us an ultimatum: either I convert to Islam or he’d have no part of it. This put us in a pickle, as I had no religion to convert from. But fortunately for us, a friend in-the-know persisted with his inquiries and found us a lawyer in Motijheel and we hastily scheduled a date. But even though it took us very little time to get ready for the big day – I wore my favourite Bangkok jumpsuit, a simple one-piece attire – somehow we managed to arrive half an hour late, and found the lawyer bristling with impatience. Refusing to delay things any further, we signed the marriage certificate before our close friend and witness Shahnaz had the chance to return from where she’d been waiting for us. Afterwards, I pulled my camera out of my bag to take the pictures that would be treasured forever, only to discover my lens had smashed en route. “Who cares,” we cried, “We’re married!” and off we went to join our close friends at the Nordic Club, who had a bottle of champagne at the ready. The cork was signed by everyone and kept as a memento – a French tradition, said our friend Cat. Sherpa and I ended the public celebrations by eating posh cakes in egg-shaped chairs at The Westin.
Sherpa’s mother was keen for us to have a large wedding, but a couple of relatives objected on the same grounds as the qazi, so we didn’t proceed with that. We also thought about having a beach wedding in Melbourne, though this remains out of the question until Air Asia credits Sherpa for the flights he paid for in January…
Yes, we’ve faced many struggles, as these few short paragraphs reveal. But we get through everything as a team, and have emerged stronger, closer and more determined to build our life together. Our first apartment, for example, had no natural light and a correspondingly high mosquito population. Construction work continued almost unabated, day and night, and it took just six steps to reach the front door from our bedroom. But we bought an aquarium and six fish, and decorated our home with a lot of enthusiasm. Even though there were times when we didn’t have quite enough to eat, it was a happy place, and we recall those days fondly.
Soon after we moved to a much larger, brighter place; now we not only have a view, but a rare one for Dhaka: our house overlooks beautiful trees – and the flowers are just about to bloom.
There was one wedding tradition we didn’t want to forsake: a honeymoon. It’s taken us a few months to get there, but by the time you read this, we’ll be hand-in-hand in Kolkata.
Have you also married a Bangladeshi? If so, The Cross Cultural Club could be for you. It’s an association of spouses who have married Bangladeshis or people of Bangladeshi origin and are now residing with their families in Bangladesh. It was established in 1990 and strives to assist newly arrived men and women who are struggling to make a new life here with their families. We endeavor to provide guidance, assistance and camaraderie.
We have regular, wonderful lunches and I’ve met some fantastically interesting women as a result.
Please click here to to visit the The Cross Culture Club’s official website.
Or send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve also created a Facebook group called I married a Bangladeshi guy, which I hope will be useful for wives meeting other wives (or wives to be!).