I am probably the last person in the world who should be trying to do a project in Bangladesh.
I realized this from talking to Mikey Leung – a fellow Canadian in Bangladesh. Like me, Mikey is here to try and make a difference in Bangladesh. He works for a charity, raises money for flood victims, and is working as an IT professional in Bangladesh. But, unlike me, he has no extended family in Bangladesh. For me, having family has made this project feasible – I don’t have to worry about spending money for a place to stay, I get great home cooked meals, and I can even bum a ride most of the time. But, more often than not – it means I’m restricted in where I can go and what I can do.
As a kid, I used to resent this overprotectiveness. As an adult, I now realize that this overprotectiveness comes from a family traumatized by their experience in Bangladesh….
“Please Don’t – You’ll Get Kidnapped”: For example, while most people who come to this country take a ride in a rickshaw or CNG (aka motor rickshaw or auto rickshaw), my family has made this impossible for me to do so. This would be a funny story of needless family overprotectiveness if it wasn’t for the fact that a son of a family friend was recently kidnapped while riding a CNG. They surrounded the CNG and knocked him out (presumably with chloroform). This isn’t actually the first time that someone close to my family has been kidnapped. Nor is it actually the worst experience my family has had.
“Did You Bring the Money?”: About a year ago my grandmother called my family in Canada. She was scared – she could barely speak. She was panicking. Someone had threatened to kill her and her son (my uncle) if she did not give them money. She was so scared that she did not even want to call my uncle – for fear that he might do something out of his normal routine that might put him at risk of being kidnapped. Instead, my grandmother called my aunt. The police got involved and the story then turned into something out of a police drama.
At over 70 years old, my grandmother helped the police pull off a sting. The police needed to catch the perpetrators. So, after tapping my grandmother’s phone, they asked her to make contact by phone and agree to give them the money. At first, the people asking for the money wanted her to come to a location by rickshaw, get off and walk to a nearby bin, and then drop the money. Feigning herself to be an old and frail lady – she pleaded with them to not make her walk and asked them to meet her at the rickshaw instead. They agreed. A cop – dressed up as my grandmother – took her place on that rickshaw. When the cop was approached by a stranger asking “did you bring it?” in Bengali – the police swarmed in. The perpetrators are sitting in prison as I type.
“Why Did They Kill His Dad?”: When I was still in elementary school, my dad had one of my cousins immigrate to Canada to live with us. My dad took good care of my cousin: he sent him to one of the best private schools in the city, tutored him in math at night, and later paid his way through college. As a little kid I was often jealous of all the attention my cousin got. I would frequently ask my parents why someone else couldn’t be doing all this stuff for him instead. At first, when I was very young they would reply with “his father’s dead”. When I grew a little older, that answer expanded to become “his father was killed”. As an adult, I now know the full story – or at least as much of the story the family can bear to tell.
I know his father worked at a shipping port in Bangladesh during the War of Independence which turned East Pakistan into Bangladesh. I know he was killed because his loyalty was in question. I also know it was done execution style by firing squad. My cousin now lives in the United States and has a wife and kids. Despite all that my dad has done for him – we don’t hear much from him. Even this I used to resent – until a family member explained why. To my cousin, Bangladesh is the place that brutally murdered his father. He hates the place and all that have to do with this country. He hasn’t been to this country in decades – nor does he plan to return. My family is no doubt a reminder of this country – which is probably why he doesn’t call more than once every two years. Ignoring us and his place of birth is the way he copes.
In the same way, my family’s overprotectiveness is their way of coping. In many ways, I admire and respect them for it: they never want to lose a loved one in a traumatic way ever again and they don’t want me to ever experience anything like what they have gone through. It’s this history that makes me want to make a difference here – but it’s this same family history that makes it so difficult for me to do so. These are just a few of the many stories which have traumatized a lot of my family members. I might share a few more stories in the future.