on Bangin' in the 'Desh (Bangladesh), 15/Mar/2010 15:16, 34 days ago
It was humid today. So humid I could hardly breathe. We had three power cuts at work and then when I finally got home after an hour or so in traffic, it started raining and we had yet another power cut in the flat. Soaked and exhausted, I threw myself down on my bed as soon as I got home, and lay in the dark, listening to the rumble of thunder and lightening outside. Lying on my bed in the candlelight, I studied my room through the blur of the mosquito net, trying to distract myself from my flat mate‘s awful Euro pop through the wall… I could see that my shoes had all been lined up in a row, my garbage bin had been emptied and my laundry was ironed and folded. Laila had come today.Laila is our house maid. A young, pretty girl in her mid-twenties who barely speaks English, but between that and my basic Bengali, we somehow manage to communicate quite well. If I’m at home when she comes to clean the flat, we often have tea together to give her a break from cleaning, but it’s rarely a chance to gossip, more often than not, it’s a silent appreciation for the cha as she sits quietly, obediently, as if I were her mistress. It creates an odd feeling for me, unsettling. There’s so much prestige here with being a foreigner that already makes me feel uncomfortable, that when this feeling is replicated in your own home, it’s an even harder pill to swallow. I do what I can for her, as did Rosa when she was here; offering her any shalwar kameez cast-offs, helping her take out the rubbish, giving her a special tip for religious holidays, but overall, Laila is very insistent that I don‘t help. Although our verbal communication is fairly minimal, it’s truly amazing how much I can sense her; how kind and appreciative she is that I even offer, but I can also see so much pain in her eyes.Through our conversations I’ve pieced together that Laila is married to a Muslim man who is considerably older than her and from what she’s told me, he has severe health problems. I don’t know how many wives he actually has, but I get the sense that there are more than just her, and Laila also has two young children. Dothey all live in the house together? Separately? Was it an arranged marriage? These are questions I cannot ask I’m afraid. I only know a glimpse of her life and although I am incredibly curious, I would never want to cross the line with her and make her feel uncomfortable with me. There are certain things you just don’t ask.Laila also wears the full burqua. Now, I know this sounds naïve, but it’s quite strange for me to know someone who wears the it. The burqua fascinates me. What it is and what it stands for is physically and metaphorically, a veil shielding a whole different kind of life, beliefs and morals, that I will never really understand. For me adapting to life in Bangladesh, it has been difficult to cover up more - not showing your legs, shoulders, making sure you have an orna over your chest - and it all seems so restricted, but can you imagine wearing all of that AND a burqua? Thinking about how uncomfortable it is now that it’s getting hotter, I can onlyimagine how much Laila must suffer. She does take the burqua off when she cleans and hangs it on the door though. Sometimes there‘s an odd part of me that wants to put it on, see what it feels like to be shrouded in a sea of black, but at the same time, the burqua absolutely terrifies me. I don‘t agree with the fundamental principle of women being covered up at all. The notion of women not being allowed to expose or celebrate their sexuality, is something I will never understand for the sake of religion or culture.