Sunday, June 24, 2007

Birthday In Bangladesh

Wednesday was my birthday, and I had a strange feeling all day, sort of wistfulness for a classic, American birthday – hanging out with friends & family, having cake, being embarrassed while people sang to me, etc. This is only strange because I haven’t had that sort of “classic” birthday in years, and have never cared much at all about my birthday.

Class was routine and not at all exciting. I had only done one out of three chapter’s worth of homework, and found my eyelids heavy as we learned new letters.

After class we went to the U.S. Embassy for a security briefing. If you’ll recall, we had endeavored to do this once before, and were turned away after 45 minutes of waiting outside. This time was more successful in terms of getting into the building, however, the briefing itself left much to be desired. We were not exactly welcomed at the embassy, but rather herded through the hallways (while I tried my best to peek in every doorway so that I could figure out exactly what it is that they do in embassies) to a conference room (only slightly larger than the one SPI4 uses at DISA). We were met by the Regional Security Officer (RSO), whom, for the sake of how pitiful his briefing was, I’ll not refer to by name. He was a young guy, in his early 30’s who has been at the Bangladesh Embassy for just under two years. To put it mildly, his briefing was not only culturally insensitive on a general level, but downright offensive coming from someone who is supposed to be a diplomatic representative of the U.S. His transgressions were too numerous to recite here, but for starters, he had a very clear delineation between “us” and “them,” which he reminded us of throughout the briefing. I’ll try to quote you some of the high points:

“I’ll give you a brief rundown of the political status,” he said, pulling up a PowerPoint slide with photographs of the leaders of the two main political parties, “Here we have tweedle-dee, and to the right, tweedle-dum.”

“It’s nice being the police in a police state.”

“I haven’t had to do much work since the military started running the show.”

“Sometimes ‘they’ get all riled up after going to the mosque, and, since they have nothing better to do, ‘they’ start demonstrating in the streets.”

He continued to tell us more about localized, common crimes, and continuously cited that we should not use rickshaws as a transportation method because they are “dangerous.” (I should mention now that one-fourth of the Dhaka workforce is rickshaw oriented – whether it be actually driving rickshaws, or repairing them. Rickshaws are the primary means of transport for the average person, especially for us, because we are not literate enough to even attempt using public busses.)

“I drive a Ford Explorer,” he began, seemingly proud of his gas-guzzling monstrosity, “And let me tell you – many a rickshaw have tried to go head to head with me and I win every time.” He then proceeded to tell us, with a degree of pride, how he had once sideswiped a rickshaw, overturning it and throwing both the driver and passenger into the street. He elaborated then how “they” (Bangladeshis) proceeded to throw bricks through the windows of his car.

Why are rickshaws dangerous? Because of people like him.
Why do people around the world dislike Americans? Because of people like him.

When the briefing was over, we all filed silently out of the building and back onto our bus, at which point everyone, including our program director, exploded in disbelief over what we had just heard. People started railing against “government employees” who are “all so insipid.” Quietly, and rather unlike me to be so quiet, I pointed out that they were being equally discriminatory with their stereotyping. “Oh that’s right,” someone said, “She’s one of them.” “Yes,” I said, “I’m one of them, and you should know that there are lots of us who are perfectly nice, intelligent people.” No one said anything for a long moment, which I was not sure how to interpret, but then one of my roommates said, “Alright, since it’s your birthday we’ll cut you some slack.”

I did some homework before going out with four others for a b-day dinner. We walked an incredibly long time to get to a Thai restaurant, but it was very good and well worth it.

Returning home, I found several birthday wishes and two excellent “gifts” awaiting me in my email. My friends and co-workers (you are both to me) had made a video of themselves singing “Happy Birthday” and e-mailed it to me. They had also constructed a “Dateline DISA Birthday Edition,” which I loved (there couldn’t have been a better way to make a b-day card for me!). I just want to tell you guys how much that video meant to me – I have never enjoyed hearing that song so much in my entire life. Thank you.

Giving myself a birthday gift, I decided not to finish my homework and went to bed :-)

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

happy b'day my little enchilda.
i love the blog and have to admit i was a blog illiterate until now.you have grown into a very thoughtful person. we are all very proud of you. you must take after your young and beautiful aunt sara. ron says "hey"...actually you spot offers insight to a world i never give much thought to. it is wonderful to get a first hand account from someone we know and and respect. take care and don't let the bigots get to you..

Ryan said...

Chic,
Glad you are surviving...We've been reading all your comments and the boys think it's really cool. Happy Belated-Well make you a cake when you get back-any kind you want. We all love your comments and your window into a new Culture.

Love glor

Sara said...

And people wonder why Americans are hated so much. Such ignorance on our parts! I appreciate you standing up like that to those people. How can they honestly think they are any better?

I love your picture!! That's my girl! ;) How is the weather there? Does wearing the traditional clothes keep you cooler at all or just more covered up? ;)

Miss you Reenie-Beenie!! :)
~Winchie-pooh

terris213 said...

Love the two outifts! Carol showed me the blue one, but MY fav is the green one on the blog. You look mah-velous! You must wear one to work one day.
Now, you have experienced firsthand just a smidge of what adoptive parents have experienced with the State Dept. Add to that mix the snide remarks from some of the Homeland Security folks and you get the whole realm of jumping thru hoops just to bring home a child that needs a home! I really beleive to my core that they just can't be bothered with international adoptions anymore, so just let the babies ROT! "Keep 'em out of our country, because 'they' are not one of 'us!'" UGH!!!!
Glad you had a great b'day. I miss you like crazy!
terri

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