People always classify me according to my ethnicity claiming I am either American or Bengali. I believe that I am a combination of both. My return trip to Bangladesh reminds me of this .The pungent aroma of spices combined with the fumes of unrefined diesel hit my nose. I wrinkled it in obvious distaste and loaded my luggage into the dust ridden micro van. I sighed with exhaustion and began to finally observe my surroundings in Dhaka International Airport.
A high wrought iron gate enclosed the narrow driveway. Throngs of locals peered through the rusted bars at me with curious eyes. Their continuous gaze began to make my skin prickle uncomfortably and I quickly turned away. You could feel them criticizing how I looked and stood.
Several hours later, I pulled up in front of an enormous house. The traffic zoomed crazily all around us in every direction imaginable. We had officially arrived to the most remote area I had ever seen… my father’s village. The watchman opened the gate with a nod and led me to the front door. The servants working in the yard stopped and took in my so called “eccentric” style of clothing. I saw their indiscreet disapproval at my jeans and baby doll top. I hugged my jacket closer to myself and impatiently waited for the door to open. Shopna, my eldest cousin, welcomed me as door finally flew open. I blankly smiled and nodded as she continued her greeting in rapid Bengali. With an uneasy feeling, I crossed over the threshold and into the world of my family. Returning to the “Motherland” after ten years made me aware of how much I knew about my heritage and culture. Relatives flocked towards me like magpies that have discovered a shiny new bauble. The blinding spotlight of attention was an unnecessary effect to becoming acutely
self-conscious. I could hear distant aunts prattling on and on in Bengali next to me asking each other if I knew how to speak Bengali myself…oh my look at those clothes…SUCH an AMERICAN. They then glanced at me and saw me watching, and hastily pasted “innocent” smiles upon their faces.
The week dragged by slowly and steadily. My mother put me into multiple social events in order to mingle and meet new people as well as long forgotten cousins from the past. My favorite among the never ending herd of cousins woke me up in order to show me the town one day. At this point of my expedition in the Motherland, I had learned the ways of the “people” and dressed in the normal Bengali/Indian attire. An Auntie complimented my dress, which in turn, I thanked her smoothly in Bengali. Every member of the family in the vicinity as well as villagers walking by stopped and stared in astonishment.
I smiled and flouted off with the stampede of cousins following after me. The watch man curtly nodded as we passed by and I heard the whisper of a villager speaking to her friend in broken English,” Who know she know language? Perhaps America Schmerica is not corrupting mind of young girls!” I sighed with a true sense of accomplishment. As we roamed aimlessly throughout the village, the children pointed out the ponds, rivers, favorite trees, the local school, the grumpy newsstand man, the nice beverage vendor and the grazing cattle. I strolled along with them and almost didn’t notice the resolute stares at me. The little annoyances that were absolutely unshakeable were now hilarious compared to my victory over the language barrier. To the people of Bangladesh, I proved that I was not an oblivious, bizarre “American” bred Bengali, but a successful outcome of a cultural blend.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.