We are in total crunch time right now. In the past two days I have literally looked at every single photo I have taken in the past 8 weeks. Through this visual journey I am finally realizing that I have transitioned into the final phase of my time here, a reality that continues to reveal itself… Two nights ago the 25 Afghanis who have been my family in Bangladesh left. Hallie, our dear friend, fellow BRAC intern and TARC resident, also went home. Our home that we have shared for the past eight weeks feels different, empty.
Sometime in our first few weeks here Patricia and I were eating dinner in the first floor dining room, a large room that is split into three parts with one section distinctly labeled “Only Afghan.” Due to our common inability to handle the extremely spicy flavor of Bengali food, we ate in the Afghani section for every meal. While serving ourselves dinner (which is e.x.a.c.t.l.y. the same every night) one of the TARC staff members turned on some hindi dance music. None of the Afghani men had come into dinner yet, and immediately most of the 8 women began clapping and dancing. some enthusiastically sang while I eagerly pretended to sing. The moment Habib walked in everyone immediately froze and sat down, within five seconds everyone was sitting, focused on dinner. Patricia and I were suddenly the only ones dancing, which perhaps took me a few seconds too long to realize (I tend to get really into it). We ate the rest of dinner quietly, but I kept thinking how unfortunate it was that simply the presence of a male meant that we couldn’t dance.
The next evening at dinner, while sitting with our best girl friend Shefiqa (who I wrote about in one of the first blog posts), we came up with the idea to have a movie night where we could all hang out, watch a movie and dance. Girls only. We would have to take over the classroom that their training was held in (which has a projector). Most of the men would be in there watching the world cup and using the internet. We would have to convince them all to relocate. We planned it for the following evening and let all the other women know. The next evening at dinner we excitedly discussed our plans and Shefiq (one of our best guy friends who is always playing jokes- like flicking giant cockroaches on my foot) begged us to allow him to attend. We joyfully refused him even as he offered to be a bodyguard for the door, preventing other men from entering. After dinner we took survey of all the pirated dvds we had purchased and decided that Momma Mia would be a fun choice. At 9pm we met all the other women in the classroom as we performed the impossible- convincing 20 Bengali and Afghani men that they should leave the room so that we could have our girls only soiree. It was not easy, they were persistent and extremely eager to watch the movie with us, but all us women all worked together, pushing them towards the door and resolutely refusing the most desperate pleas from Shefiq, Wali, Mujib and Bismullah. At one point Shefiq came pretty close to tantrum status. Once they were all out, Shefiqa and a few others even taped paper over the door so that the men couldn’t look in at all. We locked the door and started the movie.
I cannot begin to describe how fun the movie was. From the first song we all were on our feet dancing and clapping, with different women taking turns in the center of the room. Kareema, who can always be heard from a few rooms away with her loud laugh, filled the room with her melodic explosion of joy. When I explained the plot the whole ‘One woman slept with three men around the same time and doesn’t know which one is the father’ gave a everyone a big shock. We danced throughout the movie and at one point, one woman (who shall remain un-named---- I know you read my blog wali ;) even danced on top of one of the tables. The evening was a joyful success. I don’t think I realized how much the evening meant to the women until the night they said left. As we were saying good-bye almost every woman mentioned how they would never forget the night we took over the room. As the van pulled away, taking eight sobbing women to the airport, and two sobbing women behind, I was overwhelmed by what a beautiful privilege it was to get to know such courageous, resilient and kind souls.
This group of 25 (plus Hallie, Craig and Patricia) were my family in Bangladesh. I will never forget when Delow Jan, who I call my Afghani grandmother, gave me a one hour head massage after I told her I had a headache. Or when she massaged Patricia’s belly with a technique that involved slapping both her stomach and the bed. Or when she brought me into her room and in the course of an hour communicated her family’s story with hand gestures and only a few words and pictures.
Shefiqa and Delow Jan <3 <3 <3
Or when Shefiqa stood up to Aayoub during a conversation about women’s rights, arguing that Islam does not require to only have one eye showing and that women should be able to move freely in public. Or when Shefiq, Zabi, Wali and Mujib kept me company when I was working late in the computer lab. Or the way Delow Jan covered my face in kisses every time I passed her in the hall. Or when an entire bus of us women (on the way back from their closing ceremony) sang bollywood songs at the top of our lungs. Or so many other moments and interactions that convinced me time and time again how lucky I was to have found an Afghani family in Bangladesh.
Impromptu dance party in the van
"Oh my darling, I love you!" <-- Bollywood song that plays EVERYWHERE
All dressed up at their certificate ceremony at the end of their training.
Who doesn't fit in?
Noori, whose smile always made my day
Wali- an incredibly ambitious 20 year old who raised $50 from all his colleagues to buy a rickshaw wallah his own rickshaw.
Habib with Enayat in the background
Atiq. nuff said.
Me being modest for Aayoub who thinks women should only show one eye ;)
Shefiqa and Patricia