Fear, Friendship and the Art of Praying

I stepped into the room of the Guest house at LAMB and I could feel fear rising in my throat. There must have been twenty or so people there and most of them I knew well, yet I was extremely nervous. It was only a jonmodin onusthan – a birthday party – and yet I just wanted to scream and run out of the room.

The Party

As any Myers-Briggs specialist will tell you, when extrovert people, like me, get into situations of tension, stress or nervousness they can flip to an ‘immature opposite’. This means that we tend to hide into ourselves and keep out of the way and say nothing. You could not get further from my character if you tried when I am in my comfort zones – the classroom, the seminar, giving a talk or being with friends. Truly introverted people know how to cope with others around but this ‘immature’ version does not. I have, in the past, been quite rude, cut off contact with people for a period of time, and hidden completely away – not a sensible ‘mature’ way to behave. This was how I felt now.

The Birthday Girl!

After a certain amount of chit-chat (which I tried to avoid) it came to a time of beginning properly. We were celebrating the fortieth birthday of Heather, a short- term physiotherapist who works with my wife in the Rehab centre. All the Rehab staff – including the machinists who make the wheelchairs and other equipment needed for the department – and all their families were there.

Though some can speak a little English, most don’t – hence my nerves. When under show, my Bangla is dodgy and I make mistakes. Unlike my wife who is naturally able and uses Bangla every day at work anyway, I work in an English medium school so, outside conversations with my friends and ayahs, I don’t get that much practice at it. My written Bangla is much, much better. I had no choice but to use my spoken Bangla here.

My wife passing on a ‘Chinese whisper’ in Bangla to a friend who has no Bangla! Yeah, this was really gonna work…

I knew how the formal part would start and tried to signal to my wife across the room that, as boss, she should do it. But no, too late, Heather turned to me and said the words out loud I was dreading hearing.

“Ken could you open us in prayer?”

**********************

This is not a religious blog, nor is it ever likely to be. There are plenty of blogs out there that deal with that area if you want it. But there is a spiritual dimension to life in Bangladesh that cannot be missed out. Indeed, one can say it is vital to have some kind of a faith if you want to have meaningful dialogue with Bangladeshis on the whole.

Britain has changed considerably over the forty odd years of my life though, of course, I realise that change was going on long before. Even though, by the time I was a boy, many or even most people no longer went to Church, there was still something of a feeling that you ‘had to be a good Christian’ to have any morals. Everyone had to be married rather than ‘living in sin’ and those who claimed to be atheists were viewed with considerable suspicion if not actual hostility.

Forty years later and the reverse is now true. Few go to Church and even amongst the Muslim population in the UK, at least, there are a number in the younger generation who do not go to the mosque. Having a faith of some sort is considered ‘quaint’ at best, ‘that’s good for you but not for me’ as a neutral stance and downright considered to be intellectually reprehensible and virtually evil in the eyes of many. If you are a Christian you must be a fundamentalist freak who thinks everyone should burn in hell. If you are a Muslim you must be a terrorist. If you are a Hindu you are pretty harmless – seeing as from the West’s point of view Hindus have never done anyone any harm – but you are pretty weird and, let’s face it, no one could really believe that nonsense. Perhaps not many would state it quite as plainly as I have here, but when I speak to my Muslim, Christian and Hindu friends it is clear that this is the message they get from us White Westerners in particular.

In rural Bangladesh though, you are in considerable difficulty if you claim to have no belief in a supernatural power. Buddhist, Christian, Hindu or Muslim – it doesn’t matter, the faiths are respected, but there must be one. You cannot be a person of high morals if you don’t believe in something. It is clear and obvious to all that there must be some kind of deity and anyone who does not see that must be of highly dubious character.

Let me be clear, at this point, that these are not my views on faith itself nor do I pass judgement on any of these comments. Like I say, there are plenty of blogs that will appease your sense of morality and judgement out there. I state them merely to show another difference between Asia and the West as I see it. In a country with 90% Muslim and 9% Hindu population, there are no real statistics for Atheism because it is just taken for granted that it does not exist. Those that don’t believe in God just keep quiet about it.

It was in this way that LAMB was set up by some belonging to a faith and continues to have a spiritual dynamic to it. LAMB has gained a reputation as a “safe place to talk about faith” and one where one’s faith is taken seriously and abuse avoided. Indeed, core ideals from the faiths are used as rules to help everyone work with the aim of helping the poor – ultimately what LAMB is here to do.

Things like “Equal respect for all” is something in the UK that we would take for granted as a legal right with no need for a spiritual dimension. But in a country where such legislation – if it is there at all – cannot be enforced it is essential to take a statement from the scriptures followed by the staff here to remind everyone from the perspective of their own faith background about how we should act towards one another.

It’s not perfect, of course, but the Rehab centre does a damned good job of it. Despite my fear of the evening, I love to see the ladies who work there as they have such a good close relationship. They laugh and joke and play around as old friends should do; Muslim linking arms with Christian linking arms with Hindu. These men and women have known each other for years as friends and as professionals and their comfort in interaction with each other is a joy to watch.

The Ladies of LAMB’s Rehab centre

**********************

The present – a poster for her to remember her work at LAMB when she returns.

I coughed, all eyes on me now, and started to pray aware that my prayer should be appropriate for everyone listening. Well I tried. I concentrated hard to remember all that dhormo bangla, religious terminology, that I had learned in the past and regretted that I had never bothered to learn a prayer in Bangla properly. It is bound to come up at some point. How could I have been so foolish? I worked hard to say thanks for Hannah’s birthday, how we were thankful for the food we were about to eat and how we thanked God for bringing Hannah to us.

Daughter chatting ably, me in the background doing less well…

Apart from the odd slip, turning ‘God’ into ‘Gods’ plural momentarily and, for a brief excruciating moment, where I just spoke utter nonsense that sounded Bangla but definitely wasn’t, I did ok I thought. Yeah, no Pulitzer prize but for what was really just a glorified Grace it got by without any monumental cock up. Why had I been so worried? I said ‘Amen’ and we all looked up.

 

“Daddy!” my daughter who had also been there said aloud and with obvious glee on her face.

“Her name’s Heather not Hannah, you fool! You said Hannah twice.”

Yep, I died of embarrassment.

But I was, at least, amongst friends and it set the atmosphere for an otherwise fun evening with good food and even better company. I’m glad I went, though next time, I might just leave my daughter at home.

Seriously, she could have whispered to me. I’m sure no one would have noticed…

The whole gang. Bet you can’t see me…

About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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4 Responses to Fear, Friendship and the Art of Praying

  1. crosbee@mail.com says:

    I agree with jennygeddes. Who knows how God will use what she/he said? The bible does say “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17) And I disagree that you have to be a friend for your words to have impact: I was first challenged as to where I stood with Christ, by someone I didn’t like & was rather scared of, but God used him to bring me to Christ 6 months later.

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    • I think you too have read too much into (or not properly read at all) what I wrote to jennygeddes. Whilst I intend no harm or criticism of the person or their own particular faith or philosophy, my issues were (a) she didn’t read the context of the passage she commented on and (b) this was not the forum to discuss it. I already said in the post – and say again now – that this blog is non-religious and very deliberately so. There are other venues for proclaiming your faith – whatever it might be.

      As far as your personal take on sharing your own faith, I did not say you have to be a friend to influence someone – I suggested that jennygeddes would have her particular message much more appreciated by others if she did. In my own way, though I am a little cross with the misuse of my blogpost, I was trying to be helpful.

      But I will challenge your personal example. This person you didn’t like and was scared of you must, by definition, have known and therefore had some kind of relationship – presumably face to face. None of that was the case here, nor was this a preaching venue where people could be invited to hear a message they were interested in hearing. This was not a religious venue where people came to hear that particular message. This blog is followed in over 100 countries and lists people from every major religion and even occult backgrounds. There are a fair number of atheists too. They don’t come here to be told what to believe or who to follow. There are plenty of blogs out there for just that very purpose – not this one.

      I stand by what I said, if you want to speak this kind of message then get to know a person first. You may have made a decision to believe a certain faith through the words of a ‘scary’ person, but I don’t think it is the norm and you live in a world where such an attitude only stops people from wanting to hear more. All the Christians I have ever know and admire for their faith have shown nothing but peace and love…

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  2. jennygeddes says:

    You talk of Christians as “fundementalist freaks who think everyone should burn in Hell.”
    I DO NOT personally WANT people to burn in Hell, but this IS what the bible teaches will happen to those who refuse to repent of their sin of rebelling against Jesus, and instead place their trust in Christ’s death to save them from the penalty/punishment they deserve. (John 3:18, 2 Peter 2:4-17, Matthew 7:15-23)

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    • Jenny,
      I’ve allowed this comment on because I think people should see it. I understand mine is not the only site you’ve been trolling on. I did not allow another comment you made elsewhere giving a dodgy link because it was totally irrelevant to what the topic was about. That is called ‘Spam’ – please don’t do it again.

      I’m sorry, but your comment clearly shows that you did not actually read the blogpost here very carefully and, as a result, you have very definitely shot yourself in the foot. I was actually saying that this view of Christians is taken by many and not that this is what I think myself. I hope to heaven that no one thinks I think Muslims are ‘terrorists’ as I also made comment about at the same time.

      But then you make the mistake of deciding to preach here and I really don’t know what you thought you were doing. Do you really believe that anyone reading this blog will look at these verses and go “Oh my goodness! How could I have missed this? I must convert right now!”?

      No.

      I’m afraid that most reading your comment will think “fundamentalist freak” and ignore your message. I know you think you are trying to be helpful but, seriously, you’re not. If you want people to listen to messages like this then trying becoming a genuine friend to them first. Earn the right to speak about what you believe. Don’t think that, somehow, by thrusting random verses at people that they will magically listen. They won’t.

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