Thursday, January 29, 2015

Bumping into Bengalis.

I was born in Bangladesh but moved with my family to the UK when I was just 6 years old. I have always had good memories of my brief years spent in Bangladesh. It's great to think that all my relatives loved me and held me in the highest regard and talked about me with great affection. Recently I've been reflecting on how I've bumped into so many Bengalis and they've been there for me even when I was trying to avoid exposing my background.
Growing up in England, my Dad who was a pharmacist always wanted us to have a connection with Bangldesh but we never really lived in the neighborhoods in Birmingham and Manchester where the other Bangladeshi families lived. As I grew up I felt "Out of the Loop" but at the same time I was very aware that because we weren't right in the center of the Bangladeshi community we were protected from some of the community gossip and rumor mill that can happen in any community.
My sisters and I grew up in the leafy suburbs of south Manchester at a very safe distance from my fellow Bangladeshis in the ghettos of the inner city like Levenshulme and Moss Side or towns like Oldham or Rochdale. I suppose there was a feeling of superiority and pleasant feeling of distance.

 I actually felt detached from all the Bengalis around me. Although my closest friends were English girls, I remember one time I was with some young Bengali friends and I mentioned doing some thing about my English friends. There was a huge interjection from one of the boys who shouted  "No not the whites, no Englishes!"I was so taken aback because my feelings about English people did not include that type of language about English people being the "others".

After my marriage to an English guy from Leeds in Yorkshire I emigrated to the USA and felt even more distance from Bengalis. When I first came to the USA in 1985 there were not many Bengalis around at all. The first time I lived in Michigan in 1987 there were only a handful of Bengali families and one just happen to be my aunt on my Dad's side of the family.

After a brief period in California when I didn't meet one Bengali person, we returned to Michigan and again met up with my "Fufu"who was my Dad's cousin. Through her I was introduced to some Bengalis who became some of my closest friends to this day.

Some of my funniest "run ins" with Bengalis happened while I was traveling through Europe and Asia. Traveling through Italy on a family trip in 2006 and we were about have dinner at a pizza restaurant in Venice and the waiters all looked very Bengali. I didn't want to appear too inquisitive but when the young man who was asking us abut our drinks asked if  we wanted "Esphrite"instead of Sprite I instantly knew his nationality and introduced myself as a fellow Bengali. I got such a warm welcome and my whole family got preferential treatment by the staff. Whilst shopping for a scarf at the market in Florence, once informed that I was Bengali the vendor said he didn't want to charge me! I told him not be silly and paid him for it! So sweet of him!

On a visit to Singapore in 2012 where there are lot of Bengali guest workers I asked some Bangladeshis for directions. I said I wanted to walk but they said it was too far. I insisted on the walk and their reply was "Can we lend you the money for taxi if you're short of money!" I laughed my head off. Again trying to rescue me because I was a fellow Bengali.

Whilst living in Seoul I thought I was a million miles away from fellow Bangladeshis, my cousin came to visit me on a Samsung business trip and where should we end up but a Bangladeshi grocery store called the Foreign food Mart and a Bangladeshi restaurant called the Foreign Restaurant!
 My cousin was particularly amused when we met the owner of the business because his name was Sheraji Kim which was a combination of his Bengali name and in honor of his Korean wife.

The store owner's cousin owned the grocery store next door. I was totally singled out by him and treated like a princess, He said he knew that my "heart was clean" which really brought tears to my eyes some times because this was a very difficult period in my life for so many reasons. He told me he couldn't believe how many of the customers would talk to me. Well the explanation for that was simple. His shop sold foreign imported foods and all my Expat friends were in the shop so of course I was going to speak to them!
The kindness and solicitation of these Bengalis in Korea astounded me. It was people like this who I felt were my guardian angels in this city where I was a "Weiguk Saram" or foreigner. No matter how friendly Koreans are you are always acutely aware that you are a foreigner in their country.
I am in Arizona now, living in the USA for the second time in my life and again I have Bangladeshi coworkers of my husband looking after me, asking about me and feeding me.
Of course I realize no matter how much I deny my Bangladeshi back ground my fellow countrymen from the land of my birth seek me out and want to take care of me. In turn I am humbled and grateful for the love and caring that they show me. Bangladesh and Bengalis will always be a part of me, no matter how hard I've tried to get away from it.

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