Postcards from the Edge

of Bangladesh

Cultural exchange

Yesterday after work I showed my neighbours some photos from Bali. This took severe editing on my part, as photos of me/other people in various stages of half-nakedness on the beach is just a cultural step too far for the folks here. I must admit my photos are pretty boring, as they are mostly beach and/or sunsets. People here are much more interested to see temples and other such cultural things. It’s a way for them to learn about another country, something I just take for granted as I’ve travelled a lot and have access to the internet to discover and learn about whatever I wish. I did have a few photos of temples, and a cultural dance or two. I don’t do culture when I’m on holiday. And a holiday in Bali is sea, sun etc. I did on my last day manage to grab some postcards that at least had good photos of things like rice fields, traditional dress etc.

I also showed them some photos of my family and friends. No idea why I haven’t showed them before, because this to them is of great interest. Especially family. There was a lot of  this is my elder sister, my sister born the same day (don’t know Bangla word for twin), my sister’s husband, my sister’s husband’s younger sister, my sister’s husband’s father, my mother, my father’s mother etc. Here names for families are very specific. For example in English we will say ‘Aunt’ and be done with it, but here the exact relation is important, example my mother’s elder sister. Because that has a different name from my mother’s younger sister. And again different from my father’s younger sister. All very confusing, and when people explain their relations to me I usually just smile and pretend I am following them.

My sisters and I were rated by attractiveness/healthiness. Which turn out to be the same thing here really, and is based on the roundness on the face. I finished mid-table.

Other photos of interest were:

1) Photos of my sister’s wedding. Because a) she was wearing white (why? try explain the reason for that) and b) three of us were were exactly the same outfits (the bridesmaids, wasn’t really sure how to explain that either). There was also shock and disbelief when I said ‘no, we did not eat rice at the wedding’ (we didn’t, did we?). Here rice features in every meal. Also had to explain that people at the wedding were not just from my village, but had come from many villages.

2) Photo of a group of friends having dinner at my house. ‘Why are their candles?’ Well, we do have electricity like all the time, but it just looks nice to have candles….here candles have a very practical use. ‘What are you drinking?’ Well, that is red wine. ‘You drink wine with food?’ Here wine is something that is drunk before, but never during, a meal. Explained that it was made from grapes, not rice, and we only drink very little and NEVER too much…. ahem. Eating with knives and forks was a revelation to them, here all levels of society eat with their hands.

3) Photo of a group of friends during a winter’s night out in London. The number of clothes/coats/scarves indicated a level of cold they certainly aren’t familiar with. And in the front of a group, are two friends (one male, one female) of mine with their arms around each other. ‘They are married?’. No, he’s gay darling…didn’t say that ofcourse (won’t even know how to begin to explain that, and would just never enter that minefield), just said that they are friends. ‘In our culture only a married couple would touch each other like that’. Um, ja, well, my culture is um, ahem, somewhat different in such things…

4) Photo of me skiing in France. That is could be so cold to have so much ice (I had difficulty explaining snow, so ice was as close as I could get) around is a level of coldness they didn’t even know existed! Did my best to explain skiing. We strap like long thin planks to each foot, and we don’t walk but slide down the hill. Then we go back up the hill on electric chairs, and do it again. Not sure they saw the fun in such an activity…

So it was all a bit of cultural exchange, and lot of fun. I really do underestimate their access to information about other cultures, countries etc. While children in England or (certain children in South Africa) watch TV or international movies and have access to the internet, extensive libraries etc, here kids (and adults) have almost no access to the outside world. It’s just a big unknown space. Even Dhaka is totally foreign to most.

Next step will be to put something together on South Africa for them.

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