Tag Archives: love

I’ve got a crush on a Bangladeshi guy

 

Visiting Medicins Sans Frontiers’ nutrition project in Kamrangirchar slum in Dhaka with my translator, Sherpa

I’ve got a crush on a Bangladeshi guy and I just told him. Over a message on Facebook.  Two hours ago.  I know, I know, it was a stupid thing to do.  He is also my employee, which makes it at least four times as stupid.  He’s a really good translator and the last thing I need right now, during my first month of freelancing, is to lose my good translator.  Before sending the message (the contents of which I’ll never dare reprint), I remembered Renee Zellweger’s famous line at the end of the film Jerry Maguire, when she told Tom Cruise, “You had me at hello.”  I realised that my translator had me at “ergo” – a word he included in his exceptionally well-phrased application for the translation job.  He’s continued to impress me on every occasion and hence I seem to have buckled.  And he’s a good writer too.  I’ve not written a sentence all day, so I decided to switch off Facebook and write this instead.

I’ve been in Bangladesh for nearly a year and this is the first time I’ve had a proper crush on a Bangladeshi.  Well, at least it’s the first time I thought I might have a chance.  There seemed to be some chemistry, between my translator and I, though at this stage it’s obviously not looking good…

I have foreign friends who have dated Bangladeshis, and I’ve got a lot of Bangladeshi friends who get out and about.  Both have tried to warn me off the idea!  It’s funny how people seem to believe that the dating experience can be intrinsically different as a result of differing nationalities.  I guess this is true, as there are so many cultural differences between us, right?  Yet when I apply this theory to the individual – in this case, Sherpa – something about it seems slightly off.  He’s himself; like no other.  Any person with a crush will describe the object of their affections like that, and we do mean it.  And if the feelings were reciprocated, I’d like to believe that my nationality has nothing to do with it – either good or bad.

Nevertheless, I took the advice of both male and female Bangladeshi friends who told me to “take it slow.”  When I blurted out to my friend Robin Gazi that I had a crush on a Bangladeshi guy, the first thing he said was, “I feel for him.”  Interesting.  Perhaps to my friends’ surprise, I took it slower than I wanted by completely clamming up and hiding my emotions.  Until now, that is.  And by spewing out my feelings in a paragraph, Robin thinks I could have mucked it.  I think he’s right.

At any rate, I am aware that dating in Bangladesh is frowned upon by many and mostly practiced in secret – and I’m not at all certain what the public response would be to a Bangladeshi guy and an Australian girl holding hands on the street.  It would surely attract a lot of attention.  We went to a pool hall last night in Bashundura City – I taught Sherpa how to play and he was instantly as good as me (okay, not hard).  I was the only female in a hall of about 80 men – and we did sort of look like we were on a date because I was grinning like a monkey.  But everyone was cool.

About a month ago I started joking – and I strongly emphasise the word “joking” – with my friends that the book I hope to write about Bangladesh would be a lot more interesting if I dated a Bangladeshi guy.  A friend from Kolkata volunteered to set up a Boyfriend Selection Committee; even said he’d do it for free…  But I wouldn’t allow it (who would?!).  And although I’ve happily spent most of my life as a single person and can’t help but agree with my mother when she says that there are a lot of insincere men out there, I’ll be the first to admit that being in a foreign city (no matter how familiar) with a person you really like is very different from just being in the city.  The colours are sharper, more luminous and exotic, and the people more charming.  And to investigate Dhaka, one of the world’s grittiest cities, as we have done over the last two weeks, has been so much better than just hanging out.  We’ve interviewed street kids and garment workers and frightened off drug peddlers; we’ve mostly worked in Tejgaon, Gulshan and Karwan Bazar.  I’ve learnt so much from him already – he’s said things about his country that I could never have learnt from books.  And when we’re out on the streets all day, Sherpa sensibly hauls me into cafes for a break, and then we get chatting about all sorts of things.  Life.  Death.  History.  Books.  I can only afford to pay him Tk 300 per hour (he assures me he’s not doing it for the money) but our ratio of working hours and hanging out hours is about 1:5 anyway… Neither of us are going to get rich quick.

Now is the time to log onto Facebook to find out whether Sherpa likes me.  That just sounds so stupid – I’m ashamed by this random act of immaturity.  “If you have something to say, you should say it to someone’s face,” goes the proverb.  What scares me most is not getting a reply.

 

One very happy month later!

 

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From Bucharest to Dhaka, with love

Published in The Weekend Independent Magazine, May 2010

In January this year, a young Romanian woman called Ruxandra boarded a flight bound for Dhaka, Bangladesh.  The temperature in Bucharest that day was minus 22 degrees and the flight had been delayed due to heavy snowfall.  Ruxandra had travelled to Dhaka many times over the last 10 years, either as a development activist or as a tourist.

This time, however, was different: she would not be returning to Bucharest.  Ruxandra was about to marry a Bangladeshi citizen and start a new life in Dhaka.  Three months into her marriage, Ruxandra talks to The Independent about the change in culture and lifestyle.

Ruxandra first met her husband Arif in Dhaka 10 years ago when they participated in several international seminars.  The two struck up a friendship and met up in Dhaka whenever Ruxandra returned on subsequent visits.  Despite the fact that five years had passed between visits, Ruxandra and Arif realised that the friendship had evolved into something more and they decided to get married.

For most foreigners in Bangladesh, the language barrier can be overwhelming.  This was not the case for Ruxandra though – she began learning Bangla when she was 20 and continued to study the language when she returned toRomania.  By chance, in Bucharest, she became close friends with a Bangladeshi who was a pensioner.  They talked about Bangladeshi culture and he helped her to continue learning Bangla.

Within three months, Ruxandra had mastered conversational Bangla, and she can now also read and write.  Ruxandra also speaks French, Italian, English, Latin – and obviously Romanian.  I asked her how learning Bangla compared with learning these other languages.  She said, “The Bangla alphabet is very complicated, but logical. It has 52 characters, so there
is much more flexibility to express sounds.  But when the characters are combined as conjuncts it becomes difficult.”
Ruxandra said that her childhood in a small town in Romania, an ex-communist society, was “idyllic.”

As a teenager, Ruxandra loved reading and she discovered the talents of Tagore, along with a Romanian writer and philosopher called Mircea Eliade, who spent extended periods of time in West Bengal during the 1930s. He wrote about falling in love with a Bengali woman called Maitreyi Devi, who was to become the most influential female writer in South Asia.
Ruxandra said, “When I was reading those books, I never dreamed that I would live here one day.”  Nevertheless, it seems that a long familiarity with the culture and traditions of Bangladesh has made adjusting to life in Dhaka much easier.  When I asked Ruxandra whether the Bangladesh she imagined after reading books was different from the reality, she said, “I would say that the reality is even better.  Bangladeshi people are very friendly and serious, and you can really rely on them.  As a foreigner—a stranger in this country – I didn’t expect that.”  However, Ruxandra has noticed changes in Dhaka over the years, both positive and negative.  She said, “The city is becoming more crowded and society is becoming more demanding in terms of its consumption.  When I first came to Dhaka there were some luxury products, but not many.  There has been a lot of improvement commercially – it seems as though there is a boom in the economy while the rest of the world is in crisis.”

Ruxandra and Arif were married at home in Mirpur and held a post-wedding reception for close friends and family afterwards.  Ruxandra said the marriage was “made in a rush” because of her pending application for residency and her sister was only able to stay in Dhaka for two weeks.

Ruxandra said, “In Bangladesh, it’s quite a funny thing to say that it was my sister who was present for my marriage, when it would usually be your parents.  However, I have just one sibling and my parents were unable to travel.”

Ruxandra chose to wear a green sari rather than the traditional red, and she did not wear heavy make-up because she would not have felt comfortable doing so.  Before coming to Dhaka, Ruxandra met with a Christian priest to ask whether she could marry a Muslim.  He said yes.

Ruxandra said, “Now that I live in a Muslim community, I follow the rules of conduct and I have read the Koran and know some prayers.” Ruxandra said that there are many similarities between the Koran and the Bible.  She also said that there are more cultural similarities between Romania and Bangladesh than many people would assume.  She said, “People tend to think of Europe as an individualistic society with a loose family structure.  However, this is not yet true of Romania, or Eastern Europe as a whole.”

Ruxandra is enjoying living with her husband’s extended family, which includes two sisters’-in-laws and their husbands, her mother-in-law, and a niece and nephew who are both under five years of age. She said that her life is now “more sober and restrained” but that she has adjusted to it comfortably and finds that family life suits her well.  She is not missing her own family too much because she speaks regularly with them using video voice chat. And although Ruxandra mostly watches rather than participates in food preparations, she said she is confident that she could cook several Bangladeshi dishes.  It was surprising to discover that Bangladeshi markets contain the ingredients of Romanian cuisine – at least during winter, and Ruxandra sometimes makes Romanian soup and other dishes using aubergine, which is one of Romania’s most popular vegetables.

Ruxandra said, “Romanian and Bangladeshi foods are similar—if you take out some of the flavours and spices from Bengali food you would have the Romanian style.  But you would miss a lot if you did that.”  Ruxandra said that Bangladeshi cuisine is more meat-based and that Romanian cuisine uses less frying, but both rely heavily on animal fats.  She said, “Sometimes I wonder why each meal must include meat, when the vegetables and dhal are filling and tasty on their own.”

Ruxandra has waist-length dark hair that she frequently wears in a plait.  She dresses in the shalwar kameez, which she described as “very comfortable and suitable to the weather.”  She also owns some saris.  Ruxandra said, “Saris are very beautiful and elegant.  It would be a loss for a woman not to wear one.”  Ruxandra said that strangers sometimes assume she is Pakistani, and she has even been greeted in Urdu.

Ruxandra is settling into her new life with impressive ease, and she said that she looks forward to her sharing her future with her husband.  But would she go as far as to say that Bangladesh feels like home?  Her response to the question was immediate and certain: “Of course it feels like home, why shouldn’t it?”

(Jessica Mudditt is an Australian journalist currently working as a Features Writer for The Independent)
jessicascolumn@gmail.com