Reflections on the Hardest Things about Moving Home from Bangladesh

I just recently read Chelsea Fagan’s post ‘The 23 Hardest Things About Moving Home After Living Abroad‘ on Thought Catalog and found myself pondering her words as we now approach the last few weeks left in Bangladesh.

Emotionally, we’re wrecked – or would be if we had the time!

Wifey is busy getting us all packed up, looking for jobs back in the UK, desperately trying to find us somewhere to live near the school the kids will attend. All while holding down the ‘real job’ and trying to write a post-grad dissertation.

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Thing I is confused about her relationships with others and just who she is but she is managing to pour this out productively on her blog Justathirdculturekid (which I recommend you read and join, by the way – she’s good) and enjoying the fact that editors and book publishers are beginning to show interest in her work. I’m proud of just how well she’s managing but aware how little I tell her that.

Thing II seems to be the most balanced of the lot of us as he continues to blunder his way through life with just guitar, cars and computer games (and maybe the occasional girl 😉 )foremost in his mind. That said, he needs the security of his family – especially his mum – to be able to function like this and can easily become quite worried and distracted about things. He’s a bit of a pessimist really so being ignorant of most things is actually a blessing or he’d never get to sleep.

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And yours truly is as busy as ever with articles and books on the go trying to tie it all up before we leave. All the while continuing to build relationships with editors in preparation for working from our UK base. I am beginning to wonder if I’m a writer or a publicist right now. I’m really trying not to think about leaving here if I can help it.

But Fagan’s post amused me and inspired me in my own thoughts so I decided to put a few of them down here. I’ll let you click on the link above to read the full post (if you are an ‘ex-expat’ you will probably want to) but the ones which particularly rang true for me I’ve copied below along with my thoughts. Here, then, is a list of the things I’m most worried about when we’re back in the UK –

The Hardest Things about moving Home

1. Having dreams where you’re back in your old city, in your old apartment, and everything is exactly the way it way — and then waking up and realizing that, at least for now, that chapter of your life is closed. 

We’ve enjoyed having two women as our ayahs (maids cum nannies) for the last five years. They swiftly became family and possibly the hardest thing of all will be leaving them and their own families. But it also means that we’ll once again have to do all our own washing, cleaning, cooking, dusting, washing up, tending the garden, ironing and vacuuming. With Wifey being the one most likely to be back in the workplace and I the ‘house-husband’ my fear is that the whole day will be occupied with these tasks and I’ll get no work or study done at all.

2. Occasionally messing up your speech patterns and using strange syntax because your brain is, in many ways, still working in the second language and you don’t quite know how to change directions without throwing everything into reverse.

My mind is a complete mix of English, Bangla and Santali meaning the chances are, I’m going to speak nonsense at people for much of the time.

3. The three or four food items that — beyond just being the overall cuisine that you miss — had come to be your diet staples that you don’t really know how to live without anymore.

Curry and rice. It just has to be curry and rice.

5. Having to factor in airplane tickets into your budget on a semi-regular basis, for pretty much the rest of your life, because you’re either going to be there and visiting home or home and visiting there.

Coming home penniless is a real problem not because we care too hoots about money (we don’t) but because we just have to come back to Bangladesh. I don’t mean once – I mean like two or three times each year until we can finally return for good (Inshallah 😉 )

7. Becoming incredibly jealous of anyone who is going there on vacation, because you wish so badly that you could be going (and part of you selfishly believes that they’ll never appreciate it enough, or in the right way).

We have several ex-LAMB friends in the UK who all come over to Bangladesh regularly. While here, it has been wonderful to see them. Once back in the UK, it’ll be murder to see them go…

8. Suddenly remembering all of the “touristy” things you never took the time to do — monuments you didn’t see, museums you didn’t tour — because you told yourself you would get to it next month, next year, someday.

Oh man, this is already true! So many places I never got to – the Bandarbans, Barisal , Cox’s BazaarThen there’ the places I loved that I only went to the once – Sylhet, Rangamati and, of course, the Sundarbans.

9. Having Skype sessions with people back there and wishing you could reach through the screen and give them a hug, or grab something off of their plate that you haven’t gotten to eat in forever.

One thing I discovered about me is that I get on better with women than I do men not just in the UK but in Bangladesh too. This surprised me considering the rules of propriety here meaning you can’t get as physically close to friends as you can in the UK. I am now daily fighting the urge to grab my female friends as tight as I can, pick them up (Bangladeshi women are tiny) and stuff them into a suitcase so I can bring them home with us. Nothing sexual implied here, just the insane childish desire that Allah would give us  a place where all my friends – 5,000 miles apart – could be together. Skype, I guess, will be the safe, and only practical, alternative to kidnapping.

12. Fearing that, whether it’s the language itself or the person you were there, that it’s all a muscle that will atrophy if you don’t constantly work it. (By the way, there is absolutely no shame in language or country-based meetups now that you’re back home — in fact, they’re kind of an essential part of life from now on.)

Completely true. I’m taking all our Bangla books back with me so I can continue studying the language and I’m going to rely on my Santal friends to write to me on Facebook a lot when we’re back so I can keep what little Santali I have on the go.

As for meetups – British ex-LAMBers beware. I’m going to virtually live in your homes!

13. Worrying that you’re bringing up your old country too much, even if you lived there for years, because you know that people perceive it as “pretentious” or “bragging” if you talk about the place you used to live.

This is probably the most serious worry. It is well-established that those who’ve lived abroad a long time get the “yawn’ factor whenever they talk about their place of residence. When we returned to the UK for a few months a couple of years ago we experienced this quite a bit. I’m hoping that this blog will continue to help me speak my mind without ending up being pissed at somebody who’s clearly not interested in hearing anything about Bangladesh or Asia. Unfortunately, in Britain, that seems to be most people…

17. Trying to recreate some of your favorite dishes and — even if you are successful — realizing that it’s never quite the same without the surroundings and people that go with it.

This takes me back to my childhood. My grandparents were born, raised and lived their working lives in India until 1947 when they returned to the UK bringing their 7-year-old who would later be my mother with them. I grew up with tales of the Raj and my grandparents continuous lament that you ‘just can’t get the ingredients to make a decent madras curry’. Despite how impossible it clearly was, they made the best curries in the world anyway – but always grumbled about it.

Now, we get to do the same.

21. Having no one to share your love of the music from your time abroad, and having everyone look at you really strangely when you put on some obscure German rap or Argentinian pop when you have a house party.

This is going to be especially difficult as I loved Indian classical music even before I came to Bangladesh and now, after four years of training on tabla and sitar, I can’t get enough of it. Unfortunately, in my family, I’m a lone voice. Wifey hates the style and I can’t see my British neighbours being too enamored by it either. But as a former professional musician, composer and teacher for twenty-odd years, I can’t live without music and Asian classical music will be essential to surviving Western crappy pop…

22. Occasionally slipping in an expression or word from that language, without meaning to, into an otherwise English sentence (and knowing that everyone thinks you’re really pretentious for doing it, even though it was completely an accident).

This is already a toughie because all of us bideshis (foreigners – there you go! Doing it already) splice Bangla words into our English conversations all the time. It’s noshto so everything is going elomelo but jai hok because everything will be thik ache in the end, inshallah. 

23. Realizing that you’re not really sure what “home” is anymore, because even though this is technically where you come from, you’re not sure you fit into the shape of the puzzle piece that you left behind. In a lot of ways, your time abroad felt much more like home, and maybe you won’t ever really feel settled until you can actually call it that — even if you’re all too familiar with how difficult immigration is. Being where you belong, maybe not today but someday, is something you’re willing to work for.

This was a deep one for Fagan to end on and a good one. It sums us up really – nomads. Neither wholly there nor wholly here, we will be perpetual square pegs in a country full of round holes. Not that this is a bad thing, of course, but it will be tiring.

The one advantage my family and I will have is that we’ve done this already – when we came to Bangladesh in the first place – only the other way around. Much though it is not a popular thing to say this, I have to say that the one thing that helped us survive being away from family and much beloved friends back then was Facebook and similar social media. My hope is that this will now be our salvation again in the opposite direction as we all continue to meet with and share our lives and loves with friends in Asia in the virtual world.

At least, that is, until we can meet again the in the physical one.

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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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24 Responses to Reflections on the Hardest Things about Moving Home from Bangladesh

  1. Pingback: 30 Final Days of Bangladesh – Day 10 – A Teenage Biday | kenthinksaloud

  2. Pingback: 30 Final Days of Bangladesh – Day 9 – Bargain shopping | kenthinksaloud

  3. Pingback: 30 Final Days of Bangladesh – Day 2 – delivering furniture | kenthinksaloud

  4. delia says:

    (I miss the storms..)

    Like

  5. delia says:

    On the roof. The white light fills every thing, with a luminescent fork in the middle – and echo of blood vessels in my eyes? Or a blaze of lightening in front of me? or both?
    Thoughts forming but scattered by the crack and rip and boom of thunder that I (stupidly) duck from. The sky is being torn apart by light.

    And then it happens again. A little further away, then behind the palm trees so that light and shadow cut sillohettes against the sky before again, to the east. Light and sound play chase across the glowing clouds.

    it sounds like waves crashing. Rain falling like a vertical tide. All of the majesty of the ocean, above me. All the majesty of God Around me.

    It washes away the heat,
    the irritability
    the fear of anything… paling against the fear of being killed, by standing on the roof watching the rip and crack and boom.
    So back to bed.

    Like

  6. Tim Naylor says:

    Come home soon Kiddo! We’re looking forward to having you back and helping you settle in again! And you know we have fears too: we haven’t changed, we haven’t moved on, all the problems have not be fixed and all the good things have gone to wrack and ruin, the materialistic western lifestyle has made us worse and worse….and you’re coming back having done such amazing things (and we’re just the same and really boring and never do anything different)……….so you get the picture…..we’ll just have to help one another through it!
    Caio marra!

    Like

    • It’ll be good to see you again my friend. I suspect we’ve both changed and both NOT changed in ways which will surprise us both. For a start off, neither of us are dads to little children any more! Scary… :-/

      Like

  7. Even though I can relate to many of those factors, as I had a very small taste [4yrs living in London and then coming back to Greece] it is nothing compared to your situation, so I can only wish you the very best, from my heart! Oh, and one more thing… all those years and experiences you had are already treasured in your hearts – you will always carry them with you.

    Like

  8. What a beautiful post! While I am sad to see you all packing, I know there are great things waiting for you on the other side. I really look forward to reading your blog as you settle down and adjust. Till you guys are back, I’ll leave you with the Poet Rudra Muhammad Shahidullah:
    চলে যাওয়া মানে প্রস্থান নয়, বিচ্ছেদ নয়
    চলে যাওয়া মানে নয় বন্ধন ছিন্ন করা আর্দ্র রজনী।
    চলে গেলে, আমারও অধিক কিছু থেকে যাবে,
    আমার না থাকা জুড়ে।
    May peace be upon you and yours.

    Like

  9. Anonymous says:

    Really, Ken, you haven’t been to Cox’s Bazaar?? (Says she, who has never been to Sylhet… And your sentence, it seems so familiar. throw in some Dutch words and there you go, our every day conversation 🙂
    But anyway, I am happy that we still have a chance to see you before you go! good luck with all the saying goodbyes and packing up!

    Like

  10. Norah says:

    Reading your posts and also Amory’s post about leaving Bangladesh… I feel like I’m there with you guys experiencing the same things! And it’s so sad! Because when you empathize like that, there’s absolutely nothing you can say to comfort the one who’s actually going through the stuff! Nevertheless I’m still excited to read about how your lives will turn out when you return to the UK. And don’t worry about the Bangla, ami achi na ;)!

    Like

  11. great post, and you and your family have done great things, and your children are so advantaged by this experience. surely the move will be hard. may God bless you
    doug

    Like

  12. Judy says:

    Great post and I’m sure you expectations are pretty accurate. You’re right about staying connected over the internet in various ways. Of course you must and will make new connections back home, but staying connected with your friends and the places you’ve lived through the internet can help with the inevitable grieving process. Even now I’ll sometimes go on Google Earth and look down on the cities I’ve lived it, almost like a bird hovering over them. It makes me feel closer and confirms I didn’t just imagine it all.

    Like

    • Thanks Judy – and thanks for sharing the original article on Facebook which inspired me! Yes, I do the Google Earth thing already. Done it a few times for back home in the UK but planning on doing it much more for looking at LAMB in the future. Thanks for commenting 🙂

      Like

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