(Photo Class W/ 4 Yr Olds)
Lots of things have happened. I just had tea with the director of a lovely organisation that does participatory action research in Bangladesh and secretly teared up hearing about the low-cost community-based early-childhood-education model they created. I get involved with a lot of things I disagree with in order to eventually get access to gold like this. This guy was good and unfortunately (for me) it really is about interpersonal skills and charisma (I lack them at opportune moments). I’m visiting their projects in August so I can see for myself and return back to earth/be useful and comment with more than damn son, that’s near perfect.
A mixture of masochism and indecision keeps me here in Dhaka. I am interested in Drishtipat, the organistion I’m kind of doing stuff with. The imagined community is also a nice carrot tied to a rope. They’re hawt and attempt interesting things in the country. It would be really nice to crack open that scene for real. I think my utopian private school upbringing instilled in me a hyperactive longing for Community. Though I know that I will not find political peers if I stay here. What is the benefit of learning to live without? Honestly, I should just go home.**
Just as I wrote that (I’m at ‘the office’ right now) Guggenheim a really nice research/coordinator turned to me and we just talked for like 2 straight hours. WAW. It started with, “Hey, don’t mind me but what are your qualifications?” then attempting to drill me about development. Except 20 seconds in, we were both laughing about the BBC Hardtalk special on BRAC’s Dr. Abed. Hilarious!! Nanu came into the TV room when I was shouting to myself about him talking about hybrid seeds and the power dynamic between enormous development firms, Abed himself and the agency of marginal farmer. Anyhow, Guggenheim turned out to be awesomely fun to talk to about how NGOization has undermined social justice work and when that work is not participatory, it imports and imposes value systems. His particular argument was that NGOs have degraded social relations especially in the rural setting. Like he was talking about Mahajans like I’ve never heard before. Weird and interesting, and not full of shit like other talkative NGO heads. ALSO PLEASE NOTE THAT WE JUST TALKED IN BANGLA AND I USED WORDS LIKE PODOTHI AND ADHIKAR. Waw.
On reflection, I think I was conflating peers/community with the activist culture (as I know it in NYC). Of course I can’t find that culture of house parties and student mobilization, but I can probably find intelligent friends (who are sort of like peers) and flat-addas (equivalent of house parties). I just have to locate them better. Or I can import peers. I know there are other Bangladeshi Americans who’ve read Fannon and Friere and aren’t joining the academy. Any of them want to do something crazy like wear jeans and live in a flat without their elderly extended family for a while? Half serious proposition. I think one big factor in relocating to Dhaka is weighing just how much I’m willing to give up of my personal freedom. If I do this I need it to be an active decision, not just an experiment this time.
Grandma is awesome. My Nanu. She picked me up from the airport with her sister and the two of them have a game where they try to out-frail each other. They’re full of crap because my Nanu is a boulder of a lady. She cusses, yells, does way too much work for her age, has a real farmers tan …. damn it she talks about her village getting washed away and LAND. So she goes, Ooooh me, oooohh my, I saw all these old bags come out of the airport (my grandmother is 75, this is her humor) and it gave me a lot of courage. Her sister will be like, Are you sure, you didn’t forget to take your insulin?
This morning my cousin Tonu gets locked in his room and turns out, Nanu is a lock pick! She starts yellin, asks me if the mosquitos bit (“A few, it’s okay Nanu.” .. “Well that’s because youre an American! Us Bengoolies are used to getting bit up all our lives.” and her “bit up” sounds more like the metaphorical, we get screwed sense.) and so grandma takes the end of a spoon she’s sort of fashioned into a pick (now dont ask me how) and busts open the door.
Though I think it was force rather than technique that helped her win. Damn. That sentence sounded too meta than intended. I love these folks.
Just this morning I had a long conversation with a cousin over tea, I was trying to instigate some stuff because I’m a bad person and curious, about women. There’s a woman sweeping underneath my feet right now in fact. I can talk to her daughters but I’m intimidated to talk to her. Will do. Especially if I’m working on a domestic workers billl. My cousin was like,
I can’t even conceptualize running away from a marriage because there’s no instance where women can be alone. If I ran away what would I do? Nafisa, I can’t even sit in a park without people coming up to me asking if I’m lost.
This month will be goooood.
NAFISA IN DHAKA
everything will become rose-colored in a few weeks but just so i remember the reality, I got fucked over this year. in so many ways. i got fucked over and it hurts.
im in shimla right now, in the woods, with internet. with 4 long days ahead of me. im in death-mode and no human contact will be genuine or pleasant. i feel like shit right now and that’s how I should feel.
This morning I was walking with two giant cakes in my hands and I slipped on some soapy water that a driver was hosing his car with. The cakes were okay. Safe! But I got up as if I had hit my head. The ‘scene’ was just so pleasant. See, that leafy green monsoon has finally hit Calcutta. I’m walking down my lane and I pass three hijras in green purple and red saris discussing babies. Just in front of them is a sleepy guard. The guard starts yelling for the key-walla (the guy who makes keys) and so the monkey-walla, with his two baby monkeys, yells to the cherry-walla who yells to the key-walla and this game of telephone happens as I slip slop down the footpath with my chocolate cakes.
4 more days! The last two weeks have been rather eventful. I have an awesome boss. The cakes are going to be consumed in an hour because it’s my official going-away party at work. Though I’ll be back on Wednesday. Have been carrying my camera with me so I suppose I’ll have some photos of the last week. Hurrah!
a few years ago, there was a night we spent at a tea garden in syhlet where i heard some really incredible songs by plantation workers. so the indigenous folks of syhlet include manipuri, shantals, tripura (just mentioning more recognizable groups) and a lot of the lyrics were hard to understand. BUT (and i love this) there was one song that I remember clear as day, that I might have secretly recorded if i go looking for it, that translated to roughly the following: ‘oh you can fall in love, but don’t sleep with the white man, because when summer rolls along, he’ll leave you!’.
imagine it being sung by a bunch of nice ladies with drums and hand clapping.
what - a - trip.
**in my head/heart Shamara just yelled “PLANTAAAAAAATIOOOOOOOOOOOOON!” Oh love.
.. watch Prince of Persia that is. Why Krishna Pandit Bhanji (I mean Ben Kingsly) whyyyy? Hahaha. At least the ticket was cheap. WAW I WISH I WAS BACK IN RICO’S THIRD CINEMA CLASS RIGHT NOW. I know I know, Hollywood is all about white male fantasy but this was absurd. Allah was wiped from the movie,only being referred to as “the creator above” and “god” and the ever-trustworthy Friday sacrifices himself, again. Doh. Maaaan, I didn’t even enjoy it. At least Avatar was aesthetically poppin. The best is that every bloody Hollywood fantasy flick creates the same postracial BC era. To where Alexander can walk past Prince of Persia, shake hands with the Galdiator, and have a Coke with the Scorpion King, while Achillies smokes a cigarette. It’s all basically a hyperorientalised mortal kombat background showcasing another cock fight. At least in Mortal Kombat they used fog machines.
Maybe it was a pre-Islamic fantasy. Yeah yeah. Kill me.
Also, Hassanisans? Haha. My dad better watch out in the airport. He might be mistaken as a descendant of a secret pre-Islamic and/or Zoroastrian assassins group. Whirling Dervishes man! WHIRLING DERVISHES?
India has me hungering for N.American popcultural fixes every few weeks and this was a reminder of the baseness of the mainstream. Next up, getting aquainted with the music of Justin Beiber. (This one I seriously CANNOT WAIT FOR. God I hope his career isn’t over by the time I get back.)
Oddly, in the bathroom I bitched out a nice hijabi girl for not flushing the toilet. Then 3mins later caught my class-privilege and realized she might not have realized the metal ball in the middle of the wall as a flusher? Is that me being ignorant and presumptuous? Probably.
My breakfast route and the fruit-men.
I scavenge for food on my way to work everyday. 2 blocks from my house is the tea-walla. I have spilled my own tea, stranger’s tea, brought friends who spill their tea on this poor guy and he never over-charges. Curses, the mostly-milk tea and my guilt has secured my loyalty to his stall forever. When I get to Taratala, there’s Ticked-off Fruit Man. This guy just scowls and yells at people but he has a giant hoard of fresh fruit everyday. Lychees are gone, but cherries just started. Today I picked up a giant mango that is in the process of freezing in the office fridge for after-lunch. Then after a 20min auto, I get off at 3A Bus Stand and say whats up to my banana guy. I eat 2 bananas everyday for breakfast, 2 cups of tea, and whatever fruits are around the neighborhood. Every time I buy nuts, the ants in the house get them but I need to make friends with the Nut-Guy next.
You know.. my parent’s house in Queens has a lawn and garden in the back. It would be really easy to convert the roof/drainage system to harvest rainwater to feed the garden. I don’t think we have access to the roof so installing the filtration “system” would have to be done carefully. Big deal. & when it doesn’t rain, if we switch to organic soaps then collecting bathwater is enough to feed the lawn.
It would be awesome to convert UNIS Queens into a rainwater harvesting center too. They have a flat accessible roof. If I proposed it, I could probably get paid for it. Crap, the kids could even use the tanks as math exercises and measure the liters every rainfall.
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And I say to thee, race is discursive not visual-biological. So, I got a perm today.
Begin shpeil » » » I’ve been changing my appearance frequently and radically throughout my post-adolescent career as a ferocious asshole. The fact that I haven’t at all while in Calcutta (and feeling like I am lying through my teeth every-day for reading as a ‘nice’-little-girl) is almost a testament of my personal stagnation. Two days before I boarded my flight to India I went to cut my hair Off, as a deliberate public marker. Why wouldn’t I want to become invisible in India, I wonder.. hah.
Having your body read is a tedium that is keenly -experienced- and one that I like to think, is especially fun for POCs to pick at. In the US I’m not just brown. I’m a glorified brown person. I can confidently claim a particular politicized community there. There has not been any sort of mainstreaming of this type of identity [read:me] in any sort of public culture. Nor does Race in the larger american narrative have a fetishized “hip” South Asian. There’s abundant fantasy about terrorists, Mouglis and Jasmines, Sanjayas?, or the new tanner model minority geek. Boring. Though it’s nice to think that my existence, and the small group of peers is a confrontation between these different lines. See, I also often glorify myself.
I’ve been balking since high school at any sort of racial fetishist banner. Maybe a little too much to the point where I felt physically ill wearing a salwar kameez in the presence of a non-South Asian person. Ask my parents. Certainly the treatment I got as a youngin (“Nafisa, what does that mean, beautiful water lilly in Asian?" verbatim - high school english teacher) made me feel like a perpetual fan-dancing Other.
In other words, frequently chopping up my hyper racialized hair to obliterate it from resembling “Oh-Can-I-Touch-It” S.Asian hair was an early, admittedly simple, impulse.
But I cut my hair 2 days before my flight with eyes towards India (or rather Dhaka). Initially I was most afraid of being buckled into a patriarchal straight-jacket because of my long locks. That’s my baggage from being stuck in the paternalistic headlock in Bangladesh. I’m certainly no stranger to squirming under various gazes or exercising privilege and access because of the way I look. Similarly, I wanted to cut it in a genderblender way referencing how I was back when I was organising. Man, my short hair had currency then. Then again, nothing a part of that identity mattered much when I was living with family in South Asia. Why I thought it would matter much living in Calcutta, is beyond me.
So I’ve gone ahead and permed my hair straight. Certainly not as a way to edge a seat closer to White beauty (or what’s a little more immediately relevant is edging a seat closer to the perfect South Asian beauty, which I hope I alluded to earlier and how it still makes me vomit a little). I’m in a completely different train, of circulation, symbols and norms. It’s been interesting, like living with a (faint) phantom limb. I don’t have to deal the same fetish-object relationship here. Haha. Instead, this haircut is a little more about me not drowning in invisibility in India. Hair has been a veritable obstacle this year. More later and why it’s been good to be “ugly” this year.