Last Friday we took a trip out to a village in Rangpur. We hadn’t been there in nearly three years – not since my adopted daughter, Elbina, got married and went to live there with her husband’s family.
Elbina (Bina to us) was our young ayah for three years until she married but by that time she was more like a daughter and truly a good friend. She adopted me as one of her village ‘fathers’ and invited me to check out her potential husband and give my approval. I did and they were married a few weeks later. It was one of the most heart-wrenching experiences of my life. Even now, I miss her terribly.
One year later she had a daughter and I was asked to give her a name. I called her ‘Mishti’ which means ‘sweet’ in Bangla.
But though we’ve seen Mishti and Bina several times back at LAMB, we’ve never been back to her village until now. I was shocked to realise that neither had most of her mother’s village where the rest of our Bangla family live. Such is the reality of life here. You really do ‘lost a daughter’.
I took the village daughters (plus Eric who refused to be left out) and my natural family to see Bina. It should have taken an hour by auto rickshaw but ten of us in the little petrol-driven thing doubled the time it took and, at one railway crossing, we even had to get out and push!
When we got off the main road we remembered that Bina is so much in the middle of nowhere that her village makes LAMB look like it is a busy town or city. Nothing but trees for miles all around.
Finally we arrived at her village. It was the sweetest thing to see Bina rush up to each of us and give us a massive hug. There were tears being shed just on our arrival. Her excitement was obvious and it was good to see her looking well and in control of things. Life for a village wife in rural Bangladesh is often not easy. Recently I was chatting with a British Bangladeshi friend who commented how meek Bangladeshi women tend to be. She’s right. Meekness is a necessity where a good beating is likely at any point. Defiance is not usually an option.
But Bina seemed comfortable in her surroundings and with her family – who were happy to see us and offered us great hospitality. We continue to believe Bina is a with good people and in safe hands (and between you and me, probably ‘ruling the roost’ knowing Bina).
So we ate and then Thing II went off to kick a football around with the local lads before we took a short walk up to the local Buddhist temple. Bina’s family are Christian, in a Santal village that is largely Hindu, in a country predominantly Muslim and – in the midst of all this – is a Buddhist temple. Talk about being multicultural! I had forgotten there are Buddhists in this area. I tend to associate Buddhism with the Chittagong area – in the opposite corner of Bangladesh to us. You couldn’t get any further away and yet, clearly, there is a community of Buddhist believers here.
Considering the pitiful love-hate relationships of different religious communities in the UK, it always amazes me how well different religions mix in Bangladesh. To be fair, when it goes wrong – when communal hatred stirs – then it goes badly wrong: people die and village homes are looted and destroyed. But for most of the time, people go about their business respectful of others.
As we walked to the temple, a guy came strolling past wearing the flat caps Muslim men often wear here. I mused that here he walked as all people should – freely and without fear when in another community other to his own. I wondered, would he be so safe if he walked down the average British street? In some areas, certainly not.
While I’m off-track, here’s another aside. I took a photo of one of the village homes. More than 70% of Bangladeshis are rural-dwellers and most of their homes are made of mud. They’re beautiful and usually kept incredibly clean but after the rains (which come often) they start to collapse. This picture gives you a small idea of the constant battle with nature which is the norm for most Bangladeshis.
And so, after our walk, it was time to say goodbye and a big photo shoot began. I offer a few here just to show off my family – in all their amazingly rich, complex, simple, cross-cultural beauty. These are the people we’re leaving behind in just a handful of weeks now. I love them and the thought of leaving them is, quite honestly, agony.