Postcards from the Edge

of Bangladesh

The Others

Moanoghar is currently hosting some Rotarians from Wales. Or at least it’s one Rotarian, and a few other folks who have come along for the ride and check out Bangladesh and what happens here.

It’s been interesting watching their embarrassment and modesty with the fanfare that has been laid on for them. As a foreigner (or actually any donor or sponsor) the level of effort put into your visit, in the British sense at least, is off the scales. It’s basically people standing on attention and fawning over you, constantly offering you food or tea, and just generally making one hellava fuss. Through their reactions I’ve managed to gauge some of the changes in me since being here. When I arrived I was very self conscious of my perceived status, and all the ensuing fuss.

It’s interesting how the different cultures collide on this. Bangladeshi’s believe they are honouring their guests, and just this act of honouring actually gives them great pride. From a western standpoint, the guests are uncomfortable and try to deflect as much attention as possible. I think for many it serves as a unpleasant reminder of colonialism, and how the foreigner was deemed to be superior to the locals.

But I’ve learned that the best way to deal with all this is with gratitude and acceptance. You will be treated as a special person, whether you like it or not. And trying to deflect this or attempting to reduce your elevated status, can often been seen as a slight or even potentially as an insult. Take for example flowers. Guest will always receive flowers in Bangladesh. It’s the thing here. While in our western mind, we see this as an unnecessary expense, especially since we can’t go home and put them in water to enjoy them. So often we feel that the right thing to do is to thank them for the flowers, but to return them at the end of the day or presentation, as they will be much better enjoyed by the locals/whoever presented them to you. We see this as a kind and modest gesture. But Bangladeshis are likely to feel insulted or slighted by this. Durng my time here I’ve figured that it’s far better to accept this token from them, while making it clear that it’s unnecessary, and to try not think of the waste as you enviably bin them on your way to catch a bus/flight.

There is a line somewhere between slighting your hosts, and perpetuating a myth that foreigners are superior and deserving of such fanfare. I no longer see things in the black and white of my pre-Bangladesh days, and have eventually learnt that there are varying shades of grey and sometimes there are situations which don’t have a ‘correct’ way to deal with them.

In health news: Feeling a bit better, although it still feels a bit like there is something eating me from the inside. Or at least slowly nibbling my intestines. Let’s see what results the drugs produce in a few days.

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