I usually don’t like to get up in the morning. It’s just so early you know? Like all we have to do is wake up at the break of dawn sweating, take a shower sweating, and then sweat through Bangla classes. If only they made them interesting but they are like so boring, and the teachers treat me like I’m in kindergarten. Hello?!
Well any day but today really. Friday, we only get one day off a week, and I can’t even sleep in. I mean I try like…but it’s like I’m conditioned or something like that. Anyway it’s Friday so I’m not about to let myself down. It’s funny how things change so fast you know?
Bangladesh used to be on my long list of last places I’d go if California got drowned in that earthquake they talk about all the time. Ha! Even the mighty Governator couldn’t do anything about that! My friends would always tease me:
“O.k. miss prom queen! Joining the Peace Corps! Wooo!”
Funnel drinking always made people stupid…
“Yeah K.C they’re gonna send you to that crazy country, with all the natural catastrophes, watchamacallit? Help me yall!”
“Yeah the George Harisson country bro!”
“Oh I know, I know:BANGLADESH!”
“BANGLADESH!!!!!!!!” in a chorus and everybody laughing. Dude, whatever!
I mean it was an easy crack, and it’s true I am an easy pick: miss high school prom queen, college football team cheerleader, joining the Peace Corps. Well, it was about time I decided to do something meaningful with my life! Screw you losers!
My life had always been so simple and easy. My father worked for Microsoft and made over a hundred fifty grand a year, my mother never had to work and I certainly never had to do anything I didn’t want to do or didn’t get what I wanted to get. I can’t believe the American Dream is getting trashed talked just because of that asshole Bush, how in hell he got elected twice is a mystery.
Nevertheless, apparently Josh and Scott were right, it was Bangladesh. Well hey if any country needed me to bring some of my American Dream and make a difference that certainly was the one. I was so totally psyched!
Hey I’m not a We Are The World chick or whatever, like let’s all hold hands and dance in a circle, or some Avril Lavigne wannabe post adolescent rebel, angry at my suburban education. I just needed a change and some direction, you know? Of course I should have opted for Fiji, always had loved the water, the beaches in Cali. No surprise I was captain of my college swimming team, but I understand that Bangladesh is flooded half the year? Definitely plenty of water there.
It was really hard leaving the family and friends behind. LAX saw a lot of tears but my parents were so proud of me. We had a big party the weekend before I left, my grandparents pulled out the barbeque in the lawn and the volley ball net was set up by the inflatable swimming pool. My aunt and uncle made the trip all the way from Buffalo NY.
Most of my college friends were halfway across the country by then, the rest who knows where, so few could attend but I got postcards and emails plenty. My neighborhood, teenage and childhood friends came though. It was nice having them with me, we had old pictures set up and Suze made a big poster to put up over the garage.
Hey, a party ain’t a party ‘til the west had it, so we hid the kegger in the back of Joe’s pick up truck, I was twenty one but old habits die hard and my parents still see their little girl. I think they knew though and acted like nothing happened.
Three days later I was in Seattle for pre departure orientation. Hey you might think that cheer leaders are stupid, but I could easily see through their bullshit. It was three days entirely wasted but at least we got to all meet each other and that was nice, but there were no cute guys, and I missed home already.
Oh my God! I had never been on a plane for so long, I had no idea how we were going backwards through time zones and still landing two days later, I was dazed, but so anxious.
I had come prepared too. My only trips outside the continental United States had been a brief trip to Puerto Rico, backpacking Europe one summer with my family before my brother went off to get shot in Iraq… oh! and St Thomas for Spring Break, and you know how it goes what happens in St Thomas stays in St Thomas! Anyway what I meant to say was that I came prepared, I had taken some small Bangla classes and had briefed up on the country’s history before leaving.
It was really beautiful, but so poor, so, so poor. And I thought South Central was ghetto, I mean seriously like if any place in L.A had smelled half as bad it would have been quarantined, but I was happy. Here was my chance to finally make a difference and help others…
Training just dragged on, and on, and on. And for all my initial enthusiasm, adjusting was harder than I thought. Stupid orna!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Who on earth decided to make them requirements huh?! Talk about male domination! Still I tried my best, language was tough but I worked hard.
The people were really friendly, the men stared too hard though and got really bold at times. The only place worse had been France, they cat call you and curse when you don’t answer. Duh! Like that’s gonna work. Well at least they didn’t try to grope you all the time. Westerners get a bad rep, and a six foot platinum blond like yours truly? Well, even in the States I didn’t get that much attention let me tell you.
But today is Friday thank god, I thought, and giggled when that brought TGIFridays in my head:
“Yeah, more like TGIShukrobars.” I thought.
Nice day out too, sunny, not overly hot, a perfect day to walk to Shavar, get a pineapple, or anarosh as they call them(they are dirt cheap in this country) go to the internet café and get some food and a sprite from the New Star on the way back.
“Share choyta ashbo amma! Abar dekha hobe!”
And out the door. I had to be quick, I mean it was already twelve and my host mom is like so adorable, but she won’t stop talking. I didn’t want to be rude, just effective you know?
My girl Jill was running up the main road here in Banktown. That was my girl. I love her so much. If it wasn’t for her and her support I would have left probably, she was like a sister. And it was good to have someone to talk too. I felt really lonely since my brother died.
“Nothin’” she retorted in that Tennessee drawl of hers. “Jus’ sweatin’ breakfast auff. I could’ve done that just sittin’ down too, but I like the exercise. You know I’m the jock girl! Whatchu up to?”
“Bayre Jabo!” I said and laughed.
She got serious though:
“Bayre? Girl you betta take out your Bangla books girl cuz this is a hartal. You ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
She was right! Ornas are bad but I forgot the hartals! Some kind of superstrikes, we’re on lockdown basically. Everything is closed or so they say, no transport or so they say, angry mobs or so they say. Well fuck them. I have one day off a week, and I’m not about to blast it, I mean there were a lot of people out, the traffic was a bit lighter but… So I told Jill where Peace Corps staff could stick it and got on my way.
The walk was nice. There is a lake on the Banktown side of the road to Shavar. It was really nice in the light. Had me thinking about home, and John Keats’ tombstone: “He whose name was writ in water”, or something like that. Always loved the water and that was just so poetic. Of course it is right next to a factory so it’s got to be really stinky like, but with the sun shining on it it was nice, no swimming in there though. Nope, not for a million dollars or a date with Brad Pitt.
I can see Shavar. Ew! As Shavar got closer, things started getting nastier. Let me tell you about Shavar. Now imagine a big dump with twenty story trashcans built on sewage. Add some two stories smelly shoeboxes with people cooking roaches in them, and selling them to the rest of the people, roaming around wearing tore up news papers while floating in the sewage. You might get close to getting Shavar right, but you would still be miles away. I mean there’s like levels of filth that can’t be described.
Well for a hartal there were still a lot of people. First thing I did was to get my anarosh. I think I’ll bring it home to amma, she likes them. The dokanwalla tried to get fifty taka out of me. Always does, everybody here always does. For some reason they think that after a month of seeing you they can still pull the stupid tourist tricks. I bargained him down to twenty. I was still getting ripped off, but at least now he knew he had to start lower. Four or five taka isn’t much, but it’s the principle. I’m not made of gold and I am not making anymore money, hey probably less, than he did.
I walked down the road to the internet café. There were a couple of others along the way, but PIS had the fastest service. I mean the guys were pricks but the price was the same. Only thing was the smell. I don’t know what they did or how long they stayed in that hallway without changing clothes or washing but it is nauseating.
No news. Well, a few mails from my friends, but not from my parents.
Jimmy was o.k his girlfriend had broken up with him, and he was all heart broken. I mean get a life jimmy! He is twenty-three drinking in the dug out like he’s still sixteen and stole a bud. Of course his girlfriend dumped him!
Leah was pregnant. OH MY GOD. Leah, I love Leah but she has a bad cocaine habit. Not saying she would be a bad mother, I just hope she can stop before the baby gets an addiction. She doesn’t believe in abortion, she had only been with Geo for six months but they seemed to really love each other.
Off to cnn.com, International Herald Tribune, People’s online (I’m such a girl, just have to stay ahead of the gossip)…and it was five p.m already. I had to be quick, I went back to my email account to delete whatever spam or Viagra commercial I got when:
“Dear favorite daughter in the world,
Surprise! Bet you hadn’t expected to hear from me huh? Well I got news for you pumpkin, you might take a girl out of the home, but you’re not taking home out of the girl. Meaning that I am on mission in Thailand and writing from Bangkok. Your mother told me you can’t have visitors but I can’t be this close and not come and see my baby girl! I’m flying into Dhaka tomorrow… now rush home and go get ready for your daddy. Big kiss sweetheart, I’ll call you when I land.
Daddy! I couldn’t believe it! I mean wow, that was hysterical, I almost cried. The guys at the café looked at me like I had gone crazy, but what did I care. I had to get a bite to eat and off home.
The New Star wasn’t bad, pretty good actually. I know Peace Corps didn’t want us eating in any of those “street food” places, but I’d been there a few times already and I was just fine. I was nearly knocked down on my way in by this funny looking couple: an American looking Black guy and his Bangladeshi girlfriend. Apparently they were in too much of a hurry to apologize and besides they were holding hands in public oblivious to everybody.
I sat down, placed my anarosh on the table and ordered some nan kabab, spicy beef with sweet bread. I hear you, sounds fatty right? but so yummy. Seriously, they should have this kind of food on take out in the States the way they have Chinese food, you know?
It was getting dark by the time I was done. Now I wasn’t scared or anything but there was also an increasingly loud noise and the patrons at the New Star were hurrying up with their food and leaving speedily, so I picked up my pineapple, left the money on the table, and left.
I turned around to see a mob of at least five hundred people with sticks and torch lights closing in on the New Star. On the far right I could see some of them beating a rickshawalla and breaking his bike. The poor guy was bloody. As soon as they saw me, the mob turned crazier than they already were and ran towards me.
I threw my anarosh to the middle of the road and ran up to the closest rickshaw I could find, hoped on it, waved a five hundred taka bill and urged him on. Something in his orange teeth and grin was not quite right, but I thought: hey! another greedy rickshawalla.
There was a nasty mud stain on his back, and he looked sickly but he put distance between us and the angry crowd. I looked behind at them.
“Wow that must be what they mean by hartal!” I thought.
I turned around to see the rickshawalla looking back at me, and had just the time to close my eyes before he swung something heavy right in my face, and I passed out.
How long afterwards I woke up, I don’t know. I could feel my hands tied behind my back and a dirty sweat tasting handkerchief in my mouth while I was dragged by my feet through dirt and garbage. In the distance I could see the factory by the lake near Banktown, feel the cold tingle against my skin, and the splash of the rickshawalla’s feet as he dragged me under.
I should have listened to Jill. My last thoughts went to John Keats and Daddy, he would be here anytime now, anytime….