Bideshi Birthdays in Bangladesh

Today is my son’s tenth birthday.

Looking handsome in Darjeeling 2012

Looking handsome in Darjeeling 2012

Today, ten years ago, Thing II came into the world and (as wifey loves to remind me publicly) it was the only time nurses ever persuaded me to take my top off and reveal my naked upper body to the world.

Skin to skin

I like to pretend that this was because sexy women in uniform fooled me into thinking I was going to strike lucky. Alas, the women were far from sexy (though very good at their job) and, having just been present at my wife’s second C-section in three years and witness to the result of sex at its goriest, lustful thoughts were about as far away from my mind as they could get!

But I do remember the real reason for my shameless nakedness.

It was to hold my newly-born son to my chest – ‘skin-to-skin’ they called it. What a special time that was.

Now he’s reached double figures and is the first of the four ‘special’ birthdays we will celebrate this year.

Thing II will finally reach her teenage years in September, after what feels like years of waiting for her physical age to catch up with the age everyone knows she really is (just today, angrily reminding wifey she’s “not a child but an adult” with a swift kick to the shins under the breakfast table).

Wifeywill reach the momentous _0 in August. I won’t say which decade it is because I don’t like sleeping on the couch but, needless to say, she still looks just 20 to me…

Then there’s my birthday in May. I’ll be 42. If you don’t know why that’s special, I suggest you pause for Deep Thought. For the rest of you, I know you get it. J

Bangladeshi Birthdays

Birthdays in this country are strange for the bideshi, the foreigner.

Many of our Bangladeshi friends don’t have them as they don’t really know when they were born and may only have a sketchy idea of how many years they’ve been alive. Few have birth certificates or passports and those that do often have the wrong year on their official certificates because of administrative cock-ups. One of our good friends had to wait a year before beginning nurse-training because her birth certificate makes her a year younger than she actually is and so ineligible for the course. The irony is that having passed all the state exams, she was in danger of then not being eligible because she passed the exams too long ago! Thankfully, she just fell within the correct boundaries and has begun her training.

Some invent a birthday and have a little celebration each year to commemorate it even if the real date is not known. It is a simple affair with maybe a few friends from the local area coming to celebrate. Such Bangladeshis are, of course, poor ones and living in the rural villages.

Other Bangladeshis do their birthdays in style. Lavish marquees with PA systems, music, dance, copious quantities of food and everyone from the whole area/project/work place coming round to share in the celebrations. It all largely depends on money and how much you have of it.

I have to say that the number of Bangladeshis I know living in the country who are well and truly rich I can count on one hand – possibly one finger – and I have no idea how the elite of the country celebrate their birthdays. Just as in the UK, I only know working and middle class people, to my knowledge anyway. I’m not sure how to act with the higher classes – and anyway I don’t think I could bow any longer without hurting my back.

You do bow to the rich, don’t you?

Our Bideshi Birthday

Our problem with both our kids is that despite living off donations from friends and family largely in the UK (and so count ourselves as poor), a little money goes a long way. What might be considered a little ‘spending money’ from Gran is the equivalent of a month’s wages for an ayah. But there is nothing to buy and nowhere to spend it anyway. What little an occasional trip to the capital city can offer is cheap and often nasty. Generally the kids spend very little.

Hence, Thing II’s birthday has become somewhat virtual and long drawn out.

Most of his presents came in the form of Amazon vouchers for books and ‘apps’ for his kindle. The rest of his birthday came in the form of activities. On Friday, wifey and I went away for a night while both kids got to sleep in the village in the mud huts used by our ayahs. I was rather jealous I didn’t get the chance to do the same really (despite a lovely time away with my wife)! Today we made him a cake and watched a movie on a laptop together. Later this week we’ll take a trip to Dhaka so that he can meet up with some friends there at the club and maybe (if it’s warm enough) go for a swim. That’s it really.

There was one large present though. We lugged it all the way from the UK without Thing II knowing anything and it came from his grandparents:

He got a Build-it-yourself Flying-V electric guitar.

That’s definitely going to be one heck of a Father-Son activity – I know how to play the things but with my classical guitar training I never really did the whole guitar ‘set-up’ thing and know very little about putting one together. I would say I’m looking forward to building it more than Thing II is but that would be impossible – the boy is bouncing!

I don’t envy the girls in our household for the next couple of weeks as their two boys with ADHD in overdrive tackle the guitar project and eat, drink and sleep guitars until the next ‘squirrel’ comes along to take our attention.

Anyway, here’s a carousel of pictures celebrating this boy’s ten years so far. Crazy, cute but also damned annoying – he is, more than anything else, mine; and well loved.

Happy birthday, Son.

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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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25 Responses to Bideshi Birthdays in Bangladesh

  1. Pingback: The things they say… | kenthinksaloud

  2. shail says:

    Many many happy returns of the day to your son 🙂

    Like

  3. god blesses you and your family

    Like

  4. Paul says:

    Happy Birthday to Thing II, can’t wait to hear that guitar screaming in the compound!!

    Like

  5. Rinth says:

    Wishing Thing II a very happy birthday! I think Ken, after having lived in Bangladesh for so long, you have also been affected by the age conundrum. Thing II can impossibly be 10 years old! That young man looks like he’s 13, at the very least 12!

    Like

  6. Bindu says:

    Birthday wishes to the smart little Thing II ! He looks great.

    Like

  7. HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY to your son [thing II], Ken!
    🙂

    Like

  8. A very happy birthday to Thing II!! 🙂
    I have never received any birthday presents from my parents too(as they say, “you have everything you want, what can we possibly give you??” which is true 😉 )… But we do spend the entire day together, no matter what… And that, is the best present any birthday baby could ever wish for- time with the loved ones!!

    Like

  9. Audrey Chin says:

    I wonder who’s birthday present that guitar is? Looks like Thing II’s dad is looking forward to it with a gleam of lust in his eye! Enjoy.

    Like

  10. Happy birthday to Thing II and I wish you all the best. In another 10 years he will be hitting 20 at which point you will be remembering this birthday.

    Like

  11. Ruby Tuesday says:

    Many Happy Returns from me! And remember, you are giving him the very best gift, the one none of you will ever get back. You are giving him you time.

    Like

    • Aww, thanks Ruby. You’re right – we hope the time we’ve given to both our two horrors will be time invested in a way that will set them on the healthiest life choices possible. I hope so anyway. It’s difficult to get things right as a parent and I know we’ve made our fair share of screw-ups. :-/

      Like

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