Travels from Bangladesh

December 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nargis Rahman, TMO

Lush green trees amid debris, pollution and beggars surrounded Shah Jalal International Airport in Dhaka, Bangladesh, my husband, two-year-old son and I went for an 18-day vacation to visit family two weeks ago. We clung close to our luggage and airport authorities who guided us through the crowd to a Kuwait rented bus that would take us home to Sylhet, Bangladesh.

As the air-conditioned (a luxury in the country) battered bus jerked back and forth and the driver blared the horn through the seven-hour journey, my husband and I cradled our son and braced ourselves for possible accidents. The sky was grey and the cars, rikshaws, and even cows jammed the streets.

Two men dressed in all-black uniforms, do-rags and sunglasses, the Rapid Action Battalion authority similar to the FBI in the US, zoomed past us in a vehicle similar to a pick-up truck. I tensed at their sight. RAB nicknamed the “death squad” by humanitarian groups killed nearly 130 people last year (as of January 2011) to the UK-based newspaper The Guardian.
A mile into the village where my husband was born, 30 people came out to greet us and led us to my father-in-law’s eight bedroom cement home nicknamed “America” by the neighbors. To them we were wealthy.

Bangladesh is known for its poverty. For two weeks we lived removed from the luxuries of a computer, television, heat, and a car. We relied on relatives to set-up trips, execute financial decisions from what to eat to where to shop, and how to interact with the villagers.

The village was unlike the city, with clean air and the wind blowing through grapefruit, coconut, shathkhora (a citrus fruit), and bitternut (used for chewing) trees. Rice fields, grass and vegetation were spread between far-out buildings. Adults and kids bathed in man-made ponds, also used for washing clothes and cooking water. 

While the country seemed busy and quiet from the political rumble, posters of war crime prisoners charged by the Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal were put-up in town centers and major road crossings. Five Jamaat-e-Islami and two Bangladesh National Party political leaders have been arrested and one, Delwar Hossain Sayedee, formally charged for crimes against humanity during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. His trial began November 21.

A cousin would joke of the Bangladesh Awami League meetings in the village, while he passed out literature of those who died during Jamaat-e-Islami crossfires with police, or fights with the student groups of the major political parties Bangladesh Awami League (AL) and Bangladesh National Party (BNP) on college campuses.

As I looked out into the river behind our home in Bangladesh two days before our journey back to the US, the still water gave me a vision of a brighter future for a country torn between the rich and poor, right and wrong, and past and future.

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Once Upon a Destined Time

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Siddiq Ather

Step, dip, look, hop, stumble, flail, drip, drop and step. It is always an annoyance when you accidently step into a puddle, a predicament that happened perchance because a lack of perspicacity or maybe simply put in place by destiny; drip, nevertheless no matter how many more thoughts profess it makes the water soak no less, it doesn’t clean the mess.  Since there is no use crying over spilled milk, he continued to walk under the silky sky with his big white hat and waving tie, no frown, no curse, no frustration dispersed, and maybe even a smile crossed his face. Pondering over how this was his problem in life, something so small. If he were to become angry how in the world he would stand next to those who are patient in times of real hardship. How could he stand with those who have no homes, no food, or no sight to lose? Don’t be confused, wet ankles and shoes aren’t his preferred medium of walking but everything must be put into perspective, dig?

That was his explanation to him as the bus’s speed began to dim, and it stopped.  He propped up and walked off saying goodbye to him; the doors closed and the rims began to spin. The bus darkened as its final destination for the day neared and its final passenger veered toward the exit. Though he usually wouldn’t mind to stay a bit, to chat and chit, there was something waiting, in somber solitude as it had waited for ages. Its pages waiting like papyrus cages holding words heavy on the heart but light on the sight. He hastily descended to the ground and laboriously looked around to avoid any puddles in the vicinity. Then he, quite easily, made his way to the bus stop shelter, listening to the sound of the bus leaving echo into the distance.  Walking into the glass box he heard the echo of the bus mince with the profound drips and drops falling down off of roof tops making small spots of dark gray on the pavement.

This time he was sitting in the light of day; the sun’s shining rays penetrated the clouds and went past the glass hitting those golden letters on that dark cover. He shuttered at the shining spots on the silver strap and the buckle burning brightly under the sun. He sat on the bench and exhaled. The cover sat there next to the unlatched buckle. He took a deep breath and opened the book with a quick glance at the title, Stories of the Wise and Human; the first page still held the phrase one person, one page. Flipping through the blank pages, he felt an odd texture on a page and stopped. It was wrinkled, the way paper gets after it gets wet and dries. It was brittle, hard, stiff, and stubborn all at the same time.  The page was covered in curly, but neat, blue ink; they looked like thin vines and leaves delicate, intricate, and complex gripping the various faces of the page. It was a beautiful piece of art further accented by the crinkled page behind it. The sentences twisted and turned in such a fluid manner that they seemed almost alive; he was careful not to tip the book to one side because of the fear that the liquid sapphire resting on the page might drop, in essence, a baseless fear.   Realizing his foolishness, he tipped the book side to side.  It looked nice, but what did it say?

In the name of the most merciful, may peace be upon anyone reading this book or writing in it. The world works in funny ways with nigh pitch black nights, and sunny days.  With its twists and turns, it is more like a maze.  Every soul follows its own path, converging and diverging with the lives of others.

It was one of those cold Chicago days you hear so much about, with the wind chill way below zero and piles of snow everywhere. I never really thought gloves were necessary until that day. You wouldn’t be able to identify any walking passerby as a person; they just looked like moving piles of cloth. I was wearing a sweat pants under a long skirt, a sweater, jacket, and a cloth scarf. You know how in the fall when it gets mildly chilly you always chance upon seeing that one determined individual in the morning, jogging with only shorts on in the “cold” weather, it is always such a juxtaposition  and deserves that “are you crazy” stare. Well, the tables had turned and everyone was giving me that “are you crazy” stare.  I didn’t know I would be standing in the cold for this long! I thought all I needed was something warm enough to get to the car and back. Turns out my car got towed. You would think they might have a shred of mercy in this freezing weather and seeing my out of state license plate.

Turns out my wardrobe hadn’t been the only reason I was getting the “are you crazy stare.” According to a round and fluffy tan jacket with what seemed to be a raccoon hat wrapped in a beige scarf,” taxis don’t really come round here. You should try the bus stop a few blocks down.”  From where I was standing, anything was better than standing here in the cold with the glacial gusts blowing right through my clothes and freezing me to the core, I was wrong. Trudging along buildings through about a foot of snow, completely oblivious as to whether I was on the sidewalk, grass, or shoulder of the road, was way worse. I had a cozy hotel room I could’ve been in, but no, I wanted to see “the town.”  After taking a few wrong turns I found the bus stop. Luckily or unluckily, I waited next to an old purple coat with an elegant air and a small energy filled pink jacketed munchkin that wouldn’t stop running around.  The purple coat had a black fur scarf, and was extremely well versed in how the Chicago bus system worked and the history of Chicago. When the bus came I sat with her part of the way to the lot where my car would be. She said I should call anybody I knew around here in case something went wrong. I called my best friend who I had come here for in the first place, she didn’t pick up. She was probably busy preparing for her wedding, which was tonight. I was busy the whole night before I had flown here early yesterday morning, and had slept the whole day. That’s what prompted me to venture into “town” today.

I exited the bus and walked to the end of the street where I found the “prison” where my car was being held.  Because of various reasons which I couldn’t explain if I had to, it took hours for me to get my car back; luckily, I had prayed beforehand. I took some hot chocolate from the vending machine and ran to my car. I thought why I had to go through all this trouble, why all these bad things happened to me. I turned on the head lights, reversed, and drove out. It appeared that I wasn’t the only one in a hurry; some of the cars around me were driving just as fast, despite the snow. A green light turned yellow, but I needed get back fast. The light turned red, and I braked. The problem was my car didn’t stop. I had no control and no grip. I heard loud honking, and as I looked through my window I saw a car coming at me from the side, its lights getting brighter and brighter. Everything went by very slowly. Suddenly, the car skidding behind me, bumped me forward, just enough to be missed by the oncoming traffic. Not looking back I heard what I thought was the car behind me and the car that was about to hit me crash; the sound of bending metal and shattering glass permeated the air. My car got grip again and I parked on the side of a road, and called the police. A few moments later an ambulance came and took the people out of their cars. Most of them were able to walk away, but some were taken in the ambulance to have some injuries treated, at least that’s what they told me.  The police said the main cause of the accident was something called “black ice” around the intersection. I talked to the officer about the whole incident, in the end they said to drive safe and have a good night.

I sat in my car and cried thanking the most merciful. I remembered something my mum said before I left,” no matter what happens always say alhamdulila.” I said the supplication or dua before driving a vehicle and drove back to my hotel.  I received a call from the friend whose wedding I was missing. I could tell she was uneasy about something as soon as she picked up the phone.  I told her the whole story and by the end she was more worried about me than whatever had happened. Apparently, it was so cold that some pipes had burst around the hall they were using, so everyone was moved to a random empty hall in the middle of the wedding, and by the time everything was sorted out most of the guests had left. She said that I shouldn’t worry about it though, and that they were holding a smaller function at her uncle’s house with close family and friends. She sincerely apologized for not calling sooner, but after hearing about how busy she was all day, I understood.  We talked most of the night, and she said she would pick me up tomorrow, I declined.  She insisted it wouldn’t be much trouble. I told her I found out there was a bus which went straight to where she lived, and it was pretty close to my hotel, she finally accepted saying she would be waiting at the bus stop. I told her the departure and arrival times, and went to bed.

I walked to this bus shelter and found this odd but interesting book, and couldn’t help but write down the events that had transpired. I just got a call from my friend; she is actually across the street. She said she’d be waiting at the bus stop but asserts that she didn’t mention which one; she also says I should come quickly because my hot chocolate is getting cold. The snow has lightened up a bit, and is not as bone chilling as yesterday. I guess I’ll be going soon so I will end with a final bit. If you’re in Chicago or any other city, watch where you park, prepare for the weather, and if the times get tough, trust in the most merciful. With every hardship comes ease.

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