30 Final Days of Bangladesh – Day 3 – Ayahs and Vangaris

As I was working in my bedroom-cum-office I became aware of voices coming from the ranna ghor, the kitchen. Two of them I knew to be Surola and Hiramone, our ayahs.

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Technically speaking, an ayah is a nanny and looks after the children but at LAMB the title has become the normal term to use for all housemaids whether or not there are any children. I suspect this has happened because so many families – like mine – have come to work at LAMB from abroad over the years.

Anyway, there was a third voice in the kitchen and I went to look. It was another ‘ayah’ who I knew and a regular visitor to our home. I often have no idea how many women are in my house or who they are at any particular point. These are working women who, once they finished cleaning and washing our floors, clothes, pots and pans and cooked our meals, then go to their own homes and do the same there. Some ayahs are live-in and rarely get to go home to their own families. Others, like ours, work six days a week and have Fridays off. Unlike the UK, the working week is six days in Bangladesh and not five.

I find it fascinating that these women gather together in ranna ghors all over the compound and, I suspect, all over Bangladesh gossiping and sharing the highs and lows of the day together over a cup of lal cha, a kind of black tea. When I started taking photos of them, they laughed at the pagol bideshi but they’re quite used to my odd behaviour.

I’ve said it many times over the years but never tire of it, the woman doing my dishes, Surola, is probably the woman I admire most in the world. She turns conventional thinking upside down in so many ways. She is poor and doesn’t live in the best of circumstances, yet she radiates peace, joy and dignity. She is very intelligent and I could imagine had she grown up in the West, she would have been a very ‘successful’ woman. Yet I can’t see how a western education and upbringing would have made her any happier or more content. In fact, I think the opposite would have been true. She is, absolutely, family – and we’ll all miss her.

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Later in the day, some friends came to collect some furniture they had bought from us. The standard form of transport is the vangari which you can see here.

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We use these to transport people, bags, furniture – even huge bales of hay! I love journeying back from Parbatipur railway station on one of these at night. It’s such a peaceful journey.

As our friends took the chair we realised they were also taking our three quail and the huge cage we had made for them. A quick rearrangement was needed but finally they set off with their new items. It was quite a sight!

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Yet another few things gone from the house. But the ayahs will be pleased there’s no more birds to feed and clean up after!

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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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8 Responses to 30 Final Days of Bangladesh – Day 3 – Ayahs and Vangaris

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