Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Foriegn Ministry

After class on Monday, we loaded into two large vans for a trip to the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry, which is the equivalent of our State Dept. After our experience at the U.S. Embassy, we all had dismal predictions of waiting outside the Foreign Ministry, only to eventually be turned away.

Fortunately, this was not the case. We were greeted eagerly upon our arrival and ushered into a room in which well worn sofas lined the walls. The building was musty, the way you’d expect a haunted house to smell, and the air conditioning wasn’t working. We sat politely on the couches while a man explained to us that we were going to meet some people who were at the Ministry for a “special training,” and that we would have the opportunity to speak to them about why we chose to study Bangla.

The people, as it turns out, were the equivalent of our foreign service officers, each of whom had between two and nine years of experience. We filed into the room where their training session was being held, and they stood as we entered. They were all seated around folding tables arranged in a “u” shape, and we sat on chairs around the circumference of the room. They were as unsure of why we were there as we were ourselves, that much was evident. The man who had greeted us at the entrance asked each of us to introduce ourselves, where we were going to school, what we were majoring in, and why we were interested in learning Bangla. It seems like we went through that information 20 times in the first two days of the program (getting to know each other), and the information rolled off of our tounges. Then the room was silent. The man asked the Ministry employees to introduce themselves and their disciplines, and they did so – then the room fell silent again. We were encouraged to open a dialogue, and a couple of students ventured to do so by asking questions about where the Ministry employees had previously been posted. Their questions were met with dry, succinct answers. Then it was their turn to ask questions of us. They asked how we plan to use Bangla in the future. One woman (who received a Fulbright to study patterns of language development in Bangladesh) began to explain what she planned to research. A man promptly cut her off, saying, “I understand, I understand… but what about YOU?” he asked, gesturing to one of only three men in our group. It was a textbook case of how women are treated here (in general). Men scarcely talk to women, only to each other. There are many shops – particularly tea shops - where women cannot even enter. While educated women are treated with slightly more respect, there is clearly not gender equality by any means. The awkward silence that fell after the man cut her off was unbreakable, and we were dismissed, then led into yet another room.

In this room, we sat around a large wooden conference table in rickety chairs. A man, whom I understood to be the equivalent of an SES, came in to greet us, and we were served tea while we spoke to him. “So,” he said, “I have heard that people think Bangladesh is a backwards country and that we are behind the times. Now that you are here, what do you think?” There was only one right answer to the question, and someone bravely began to elaborate on how forward thinking Bangladesh is. I, however, looked around the dimly lit room. It was clearly the receiving area for guests, and yet the wallpaper revealed streaks where the ceiling had leaked, and the china cabinet proudly displayed a tarnished silver tea set. I thought of our “luxury” apartments, with the electricity that works only occasionally and the plumbing that works even less often. I thought of the “ambulance” we had seen on the way to the Ministry – a man whose leg was soaked in blood crammed into the back of a van with five other people, only two of whom were attending to him – the siren wailing weakly against the strains of traffic while the vehicle moved at a snails pace for the twenty minutes we were beside it on the road. I was immediately glad that I hadn’t been the one called upon to give my opinion on Bangladesh’s progress in the 21st century.

At last, the agonizing and awkward meeting was over, and we climbed back into our vans. It was a strange occasion, especially when contrasted with our visit to the U.S. Embassy. After all, the Bangladeshis had taken the time to meet with us, and a relatively high-ranking official had sat with us for tea. Their hospitality, though forced, was still a step up from the American performance.

After doing some homework and eating dinner, I invited another American I had met to come over for a movie. She is a University of Chicago student here for six weeks, studying the contrast in dietary habits between university students and their parents. Why she is doing that research here is a mystery to me, and I didn’t press for more details. It was obvious when I met her on the street the other day, though, that she nervous about being somewhere so foreign without any language skills at all. In fact, she’s probably wondering why she’s here too. I showed her our cockroaches, which disgusted her thoroughly, before attempting to watch a poorly pirated movie. In the end, we gave up on the movie and watched the BBC news. About 15 minutes after Jenny left, she called. I answered “Hello?” and was greeted with “You suck.” This caught me off guard for a minute, until she said, “Guess what I saw?” It registered quickly… Jenny had found her very own cockroaches. “Welcome to Bangladesh,” I quipped.

10 comments:

Your Favorite DISA Employee said...

Don't bring any cockroaches home with you :)

Anonymous said...

hi nor, just a quick thought, if i am here about 7 or 8 thousand miles away and i can read what you are writing, what makes you think those folks who live there and are in the government are not reading the same things i am? it is important that you share your insight with us but don't put yourself in a bad situation. love you, aunt sara

Wendy said...

I haven't meet your brother, but he already doesn't look anything like you ;)

terris213 said...

Hello smart gurl,
Glad to read another post. I too have wondered how much "truth" you should share, but I admit I love reading every word you print. YOu have a great writing style. You may not be in America, gut you are an American, so the First Amendment applies to you. You haven't named names, or told untruths, just your experience. Glad to see you have great restraint when what you really want to do is jump in their face. Good for you! Study hard and hurry home!
terri

Jo Ann said...

Hi Cutie,
I am behind reading your wonderful story but all caught up now. Please take care of yourself, love the photos and can't wait to see you in person. Class just isn't the same. I heard that Faustina's brother died so a bit of sadness there. Susan is struggling about taking Tojo's class this fall. Miss you and look forward to you coming home.
J

Sara said...

Hey Reen!!

Love the insight you are giving us! Keep up the great descriptions!

~Winchie

Rodrigo said...

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Anonymous said...

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I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Ethical concerns aside... I just hope that as the price of memory decreases, the possibility of downloading our brains onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's a fantasy that I daydream about all the time.


(Posted on Nintendo DS running [url=http://kwstar88.livejournal.com/491.html]R4[/url] DS S3)

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sabuj hosen68 said...

I am glad to you for your story .
Thanks for sharing