Men in their 40s traditionally are known for their ‘midlife crisis’ and start doing strange things. When I grew up it was the ‘Benny Hill’ mentality that they became ‘dirty old men’ who would lust after barely legal blonde and buxom young ladies. Such things are not tolerated these days (rightly) but the mentality is still there.
So, what was I to do when a 21 year old Swedish girl called Rebecka emailled me out of the blue asking if she could come and visit me to see Bangladesh? She was friends with a blogging friend from Sweden who suggest she got in touch with me to see if a visit was possible. The British male in me kicked straight into the sterotype of imagining a beautiful, blonde ‘Swedish au-pair’ dressed in outrageously sexy maids clothes. Oh dear…
The sensible person inside me tried to suggest I should just either politely decline or even possibly delete the email and pretend it never happened. But I remembered that the few times I’ve been pursued by a girl in my life filled me with fear and dread on the whole. When I was in a night club as a teenager one girl started chatting me up and I nearly leapt over the railing I was next to and onto the dance floor in order to escape. Luckily a friend rescued me so I didn’t have to embarass myself but he ribbed me mercilessly for years after about it.
So, I figured that even if Rebecka turned out to be just like the British sterotype of Swedes, she was likely to be safe from any ‘Benny Hill’ shannigans with me and I could let her come. I was cautious, of course, and we passed many emails as I checked her out to make sure I wasn’t taking on a girl with psychotic tendencies, mass allergies that would hospitalise her or someone so young and immature that her behaviour here would be dangerously inappropriate.
I must have written a short book with the emails I sent – poor girl having to cope with my kind of English! Rebecka coped admirably and I found myself warming to her with every passing email. She had visited India last year for three months and was quite well experienced in Asian life as a result. I found her to be a thoughtful, intelligent and mature young lady with nothing worse than being a vegetarian to cope with. And she loved curries which is really quite essential in Bangladesh!
So, we agreed dates and she was set to come in February – just when all the hartals and violence surrounding the Jamaat and Shahbhag groups erupted. At the time it was difficult to assess just how things would pan out but Iwas pretty certain (and correct it turns out) that foreigners were likely to be quite safe, so the trip was confirmed. Rebecka was on her way.
I chatted with my family about her and we all joked about her being ‘my Swedish au-pair’ and I realised I didn’t know what she really looked like – not good when I was going to pick her up from the airport and had never met her before!
So we became Facebook friends and I took a look at her photos.
Sometimes, just sometimes, stereotypes get it right.
Rebecka didn’t have the maid outfit, of course – she is far too stylish for that – but she was blonde and beautiful and I was very glad I had agreed and made arrangements for her visit before seeing the pictures! As it turned out, when she got here, it turns out she did work in London living with a family and looking after their children. She really was that au-pair too!
Anyway, there was nothing I could do about it now – couldn’t really write and say “I’m so sorry you can’t come after all. You are far too pretty” now could I?
So, Rebecka and I met at the airport in Dhaka. It wasn’t hard to spot her actually. Not too many blonde-haired young girls coming into Bangladesh, it has to be said. She turned out to be very sweet, very mature and easy to please. She was no trouble for the entire ten days or so she stayed with us at LAMB.
I did feel sorry for her that the hartal troubles got worse while she stayed with us and it meant she never got to see the ‘touristy’ things such as the Hindu temple in Dinajpur which is amazing or any of the sights or museums in Dhaka when I took her back. I hope she’ll come again one day to get the chance to see those things. But Rebecka didn’t really come to see those things anyway.
She was most interested in the people and how they live. She certainly got to see that. She went out with the disabled group, and to a Santal tribe birthday party. She ate in the local village and saw the work at the school, hospital and Wifey’s Rehab department. Rebecka got to see the hard and the difficult, but also the wonderful and awe-inspiring. Hopefully she felt safe with us all the time though I know that the news reports started to become worrying as Hindu villages were being attacked. Some of the other bideshis here also were not very sensible at times with their comments about the security situation. Some people love to make a crisis out of a drama and don’t think how worrying that can be for others. But, overall, I think Rebecka had a wonderful time.
I let her take some of my classes so she could tell us all about Sweden and I learned a great deal. In fact, I hope to go visit there next year if I can! It looks like the country is as beautiful as its population even if it is cold and, compared to Bangladesh, almost completely empty.
Eventually, it was time for her to leave and I remember saying goodbye to her at the airport and watching her going to make sure she made it safely through the mass crowd of Bangladeshi men pushing and shoving each other for no seemingly apparent reason. It hit me then that I was going to miss her a great deal. In fact, I still do and feel just a touch misty-eyed thinking about her as I write this. She’d gone from being a complete stranger to good friend.
I find, as I get older, that I struggle with people more and more and I am slowly turning into a recluse. I find strangers and ‘non-friends’ oppressive and frightening. This means that when I come across peaceful souls and people who, I don’t know, something ‘clicks’ with, then I become very attached to them. I’m privileged to have many friends like this from all walks of life and Rebecka has now become one of them.
I was impressed by her courage (I know friends twice or three times her age who are too scared to have ever visited us here), by her wisdom for one so young, her love of life, her love of people and her care and concern for the poor. Rebecka seemed to have an instinctual understanding of people who live completely different lives to her own in affluent Sweden and this is something that is rare and precious.
My daughter, Thing I, perhaps put is best soon after Rebecka taught her class about Sweden. She told me all the boys fancied her and that didn’t surprise me! I asked Thing I if she thought Rebecka was nice.
“She’s perfect,” she said, quite simply.
*photos used by permisson (thank you Rebecka – miss you 🙂 )