Moonlight’s Story

The Story Behind this Short-Story:

My mom acquired Rahima a few months back to work for her as a domestic worker. Although it is clear that Rahima is definitely younger than me, even at this age she is already a single mother of a 2-year old toddler. Her husband left her and their daughter to remarry and never returned to her, leaving her with no male guardian since her father has been dead from a long time back. Her story epitomizes that of many young females in Bangladesh. Although my story is entirely fictitious, it was inspired out of the many Rahimas living and mixing with the crowd freely, keeping their stories to themselves and constantly struggling with life.

——————————————————————————————————

 

 

Moonlight’s Story

 

The virgin sun of the morning rose up majestically, turning the sky into an endearing shade of an aesthetic yellow hue. Symbolizing freshness and tranquility, the sun was also serenaded by a gust of refreshing, celestial breeze blowing directly from the heavens. The city’s occupants, oblivious to the morning preparations of the sun, were still engulfed by their slumbers where they dreamt of happiness and ambitions at this particular hour of the day. The birds, however, were already awake, breathing their share of the wind that had been bequeathed by the Heavens themselves.

As the sun fretted over its newly achieved aura, inside one of the many slums of Dhaka a shabby bamboo hovel was stirring up slowly. The sun, seizing its opportunity, penetrated through the countless cracks of the shack and used its rays to illuminate the different corners of the humble hut. Sporadically, as the rays shone upon them, the rats and roaches began to move out and dispersed themselves off to their darker hide-outs.

Other than the parasites, the hut also housed an eighteen year old single mother and her two year old daughter. The mother was named Khadija, after the Prophet’s beloved wife, while the daughter was called Fatima, after the Prophet’s daughter. The two of them were sleeping peacefully, dreaming their dreams of happiness, of finding love, shelter and all the other necessities of worldly life.

As the chirping grew louder with an increased frequency, Khadija woke up with a start. Affronted by the glistening sun’s rays entering into the hut, she gasped for breathe.

It’s late again, she muttered as she got up and rushed outside.

Getting an ablution, she entered back into the hovel and unfurled her prayer-mat in front of the dawn’s silky rays.

Every prayer of hers since the last two years has been but towards one objective.

Please, my Lord. Let me and my daughter live the day as we had lived the day before. Let us survive through the next day without losing each other’s company. Do not separate us until you command death for one of us.

By the time Khadija’s prayers are done, Fatima wakes up routinely to greet her mom with a pair of morose eyes. The two of them then bathe using the waters from the tube-well before getting properly dressed. Powder-puffed with the cheapest talc, Fatima escorts her mom as the two come out of Korail slum to enter into the streets of Gulshan.

Mother and daughter are greeted by the glitz of Gulshan—the towering skyscrapers and the huge number of BMWs on the roads that symbolize prosperity in this God-forsaken country—-as they walk down the pavements that support the wealthiest tax-payers of the nation. They need to enter Khadija’s work-place soon; otherwise her mistress will not fail to reprimand her.

It was a beautiful summer Friday afternoon. The decorations were complete and the village elders were all set. The noon prayers had been accomplished and as soon as the bridegroom arrived the marriage ceremony was commenced by the local Kazi. Dressed in her impeccable best, and with henna painted over her brown face, hands and feet, the 14 year old bride was married off by her poverty-stricken parents at a meager dowry. Yet, everyone was happy, even the young bride who had resigned to Fate and was still too young tobe able to gather what was happening to her. 

The mother and daughter sat down in the kitchen and Khadija began to roll out the dough in order to start making chapattis for the family she worked for. It was still very early morning, but soon everyone would be up awake and breakfast should be available on the table.

It was on the wedding night that the couple consummated their marriage in accordance with the tradition. The girl felt safe in her husband’s arms; arms that were at least ten years older; and the man found that the girl could be trusted to serve his naiveties. So he took her off to the capital city where he worked as a day-laborer. They lived in an overcrowded slum by the side of Buriganga, and while the man toiled hard throughout the day the girl maintained his house and kept whatever frugal possessions they had abreast. A year passed by in bliss, and happiness. Albeit, a short-lived happiness.

“What’s taking you so long?” the mistress asked Khadija referring to the chapattis, and then “You,” pointing at Fatima, “How many times do I have to bloody tell you not to sit against my newly-painted wall? Get off and go to the balcony.”

To which Fatima silently obliged.

The job is a blessing, Khadija thought. How else could I have earned 2500 taka working throughout the day! We would have starved to death without the job. 

But mistress wanted everything picture perfect. And fast. Mighty fast. Punctuality was on the top of her agenda.

And so Khadija worked faster to appease the mistress.

It was around a year of marriage. Khadija founded out that she had missed her most recent period. Blushed, feeling ashamed and happy at the same time, she confessed her pregnancy at first to her neighbor. But there was something wrong on the middle-aged women’s face. “You don’t know?” she countenanced. “Know what?” Khadija enquired, perplexed. “Your husband fucks whores all the time. He won’t ever father your child.” 

With the morning chores over, Khadija began to do the washing and the cleaning. She mopped the floors religiously, while Fatima stayed silent on the balcony.

She has been trained to stay silent, Khadija pondered and breathed a sigh of relief. A cry-baby was the last thing she could have managed.

“What garbage are you talking about old lady?” Khadija began a storm of assaults at her and breathed out madeup stories about how the lady’s husband sees the girl living in the next quarters and how she was sure that the lady should be managing her own home before destroying another. But deep down inside, a fear lumped down her throat. A fear that was a multipleheaded ferocious monster. A fear that weighed her down and caught her fervently…….

She meandered away with her lunch, so that Fatima could be apportioned enough to fill her hungry stomach. Gulping down the remains in one go with several glasses of water, she again set to work while her daughter resumed her old position in the balcony. By then, the maiden sun had been replaced by a more ferocious one. The glaring Dhaka heat was drowning out all of Khadija’s energy.

………….”Do you or do you not?” she enquired after her husband. “Fuck whores? Of course not; I am your husband, can’t you see? I took a dowry from your father.” But his eyes emitted an indistinguishable glare of pretense which the young bride could easily discern. She called after him as he was leaving for work diffidently, “I am pregnant.” The husband stopped dead in his tracks, rattled at such a sudden news. Without flexing any muscle or turning back he said grimly, “Well, we’ll see about that later on tonight.” He strode away confidently, denying a wife her right to a husband; denying a daughter the right to fatherhood; denying a family the very fabric of society……

The family had completed its dinner. The leftovers were dumped for the servants and drivers. Each took their own share. Khadija had to share her own with Fatima once again. But seeing her child eating voraciously was enough to feed her hungry stomach. After the eating and resting was over, they left for Korail once again. Climbing down the stairs, Khadija felt a strange nausea of pain on her ankles. But she had trained herself to accept, and to survive. It was just a matter of getting used to.

On the pavements, the two walked hand in hand as a yellow taxi cab stopped beside them.

“Hello there, lovely ladies!” the driver of the cab began, “Need a ride? It’s free. Only the older one needs to bounce on my lap. Okay? Agreed?”

“Back off motherfucker,” Khadija shouted back at the top of her voice, “Fuck your own penis if you feel so hungry, you fuckhead.”

With that the mother took up her daughter and ran into a dark alley to take the shortcut into her hut.

It was a serene moonlit night. The drunkards were singing out loud at the top of their voices, while the drug addicts were using needles to get into a daze. As she opened the façade of her hut she found it slightly opened. “Anyone there?” she called in. But there was no answer. “Must be a cat,” she thought.
Closing the doors from the inside, she laid down Fatima and sang her back to sleep. Exhausted, she then laid herself down on the mattress to get some sleep before morning creeps in once again.

Immediately through the moonlit rays entering into the hut she frighteningly discovered that a dark black silhouette was moving squarely across the room. As the figure approached her she could discern that it belonged to a fully-grown man. The man placed a hand on her face and cupped her mouth to drown out her remonstrations. With the other hand he reached beneath her kameez and began to open the knot tying her shalwar.

Forced to fear the worst, inside the dark gloomy hut through which countless rays of the moon were at that time dancing with the love of life, Khadija felt the stranger’s body descend upon her. She prayed to God this wasn’t happening in reality.

But alas, reality happens to be one of the most enigmatic substances of existence.

With the moon’s rays as the only witness over the act, the man entered into Khadija. He did not need to drown out her voice anymore. By that time fear and physical dementia had wired her out and teleported her into her wildest nightmares. It was all done smoothly and quickly, with only a few breathing moans emanating from the man and his victim. No neighbor would ever be able to enunciate that. Wobbly and tired, the man then entered out and panted heavily as he tied back the straps of Khadija’s shalwar and got up to leave.

The eighteen year old, however, lay lifeless on the mattress, with her eyes closed; refusing to believe what had happened to her; hoping time and again she wouldn’t have to bear the fruit of injustice once again.

But injustice, also, happens to be one of the erudite forces governing subsistence.

It will be a new sun tomorrow; a new dawn. And both Khadija and Fatima will have to go on as if nothing had happened under the wistful eyes of the moon that night.

There was nothing that the moon could do, except hoping time and again that injustice would not have to bear a new fruit in their lives because of that fateful event.

—————————————————————————————————-

Advertisements

And……….. its Food, Monsoon & Ramadan all at once in Dhaka

It’s raining cats and dogs at around 12:30 in the afternoon

As August opens up and the world settles down to  calculate and fret over its profits and losses for the first seven months of 2012, here in Dhaka Monsoon is blazing with its full force. While it is the Ramadan season, it is also that time of the year when rain is ubiquitous throughout all the regions of Bangladesh, and there has to be a flood or two in this land of rivers so that the residents can at least commemorate the season with the death tolls. If it is sunny and the Dhaka glare is switched on throughout the  day, it has to rain throughout the night and the next day as well. The dark clouds are always looming ahead, and with the state of pavements in this extremely  overcrowded city, puddles and splashes on the roads are anything but a novelty. And add all that to the extremely fast-paced lifestyle that most of us Dhakaites lead, I am sure none of the pedestrians on the streets will be able to boast of a day without having had their expensive shoes mud-ridden and made unusable for the next few days. And if you are, by any chance, a Bata-slipper lover for the daily chores like me, I am afraid your feet will never be able to spend a day without getting themselves devastatingly dirty.

Unless of course if you prefer to spend the days indoors.

But then again, the season is absolutely impresionante (I am working on my Spanish you see?) if you want to curl up with a good book in your room. That’s precisely what I am doing nowadays. You can sit back inside your home and enjoy the sounds of the wind howling and raging a war against the Thai-aluminum glassed windows in your background. And comfortably gulp down all sorts of fiction or something else that is good to read.

The days and nights  are extremely windy. But even with all the monsoon and rain, night-time brings on socialization for the city’s huge and overworked populace. Although all wedding ceremonies are shunned away in this season, being Ramadan & Monsoon at the same time, almost every Thursday—the weekday before Friday, which is the public holiday here———- is celebrated with parties and gatherings of friends and family, and good food is always on the table! But before good food, it is the fruit cocktails and squashes that dominate every home nowadays. And although everyone knows Bangladesh as the land of natural disasters and poverty, food is something that is more or less cheap and abundant everywhere. The lowland delta region is extremely arable and thus able to produce a plethora of different fruits. A day on the streets of Dhaka is enough to substantiate my aforementioned claim because as you read this, the city is repleted with street vendors and stalls selling fresh seasonal fruits(and definitely not the frozen ones) such as mangoes, pineapples, jack-fruits etc. So a cold glass of a fruit splash is offered to every guest coming into a house.

Evening-parties however, bring on different varieties of food. For those of you who don’t know, we Bangladeshis are food-loving  gluttons. Our cuisine is an eclectic concoction of South Asian, Middle-Eastern and British influences. It all has to do with the history here in this part of the world. Traditionally although the Bengali food is mainly rice and fish (with Hilsha being treated as the king of fishes), due to the fact that Bengal was ruled by the Mughals (Muslim Emperors from the Middle-East) and Afghans for a time, and by the British colonialists later on, the food culture is largely diverse and widely reminiscent of our multicultural past. And of course you have all the gourmet Chinese and Mexican restaurants flooding the streets of the major cities as well.

Help yourself to Shik Kabab and Paratha people!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But most importantly, with all the religious salvation and piety involved in this season, the time is also ripe for us Dhakaites to stop fretting around over our extremely busy lifestyles and to start donating  for charity through Zakat.  Around the country scores of people are being deprived of the blessings of life. Countless are starving to death even in this blessed Ramadan season. And it is up to us to share our wealth and privileges with all those who can’t put food to their  mouths neither during  Sehri nor during Iftar.  It is imperative in order for us to be able to create a healthy society that we start coming out of our public and private spheres and start addressing the injustice and poverty that is ubiquitous throughout the many regions of Bangladesh.

The English Language & Cultural Imperialism

A rare photo of the end of British Colonialism of India in 1947

They call it cultural imperialism.

When the British colonialists finally managed to take control of the entire subcontinent back in 1757, they soon realized that it was never going to be easy for them here. They were forced to confront to a nation that was united, regardless of religious and ethnic differences, and knew that somehow this unity had to be destroyed. By creating a division they speculated that the huge nation could be transcended to a high level of mistrust and jealousy. One religion had to be turned against another. One tribal group and its leaders had to be forced to fight against another. Alliances had to be broken and discrimination introduced.

And so the first thing they decided to do was take away the people’s most important tool of unity: language.

Before the British colonization, the main language of the subcontinent under Mughal rule was Farsi—the language brought to the region by the Persian Sufis and saints, Mughal and Afghan rulers. Both Hindi and Urdu are renditions of Farsi, while Bengali is an evolved form of Sanskreet, another prominent language of the highly diverse Indian culture. During the pre-British era, Farsi was the main language of instruction. Although all other languages were equally appreciated and encouraged by the many communities of the diverse sub-continental culture, it was Farsi that was spoken in courts and offices; it was Farsi that the books in schools and colleges were written in; and it was Farsi in which art and literature achieved a modern dimension in Asia and the Muslim world in particular. The British realized this premonition of unity, and thus decided that the subcontinent must produce a new breed of intellectuals and thinkers. And all these educated people had to be learned in English. They foretold that the only way British imperialism will be indelible in this region is by making the people ‘pukka brown sahibs’— brown South Asians talking and thinking in English and trying to sport both an Anglicized accent and behavior.

And so they abolished all the educational offices and reformed them. Built them all anew with new institutions based on English imperialist policies and designs.

This was precisely the way the Native Americans had lost their languages to European colonial settlers. The way the Aborigines and other native tribes like Maoris of the Australian continent had had their languages stolen, eradicated, wiped out and robbed out of them by the English settlers.

Years later, almost 70 years after the British left the subcontinent, robbing it off of all its riches and creating enormous sectarian divide and ethnic discrimination, their imperialist policies are still omnipresent in the region. English is treated as the language of the middle and upper class. While Bengali, Urdu, Hindi and other native languages have been pushed backwards to make them second languages. English no longer belongs to the British imperialists only anymore. From America to India to Australia—all these countries have been Anglicized from head to toe.

Thus posing a cultural theft. A robbery. A treacherous malice. A new means of imperialism.

While one might argue that in this increasingly globalized world, Anglicization was necessary—-and if it was with the loss of the native tongue then so be it—it must be worth mentioning, that native tongue is what creates an identity; a culture dating back to thousands of years. English has to be taught in schools and colleges, but not with the expense of the native tongue.

The fact that the British imperialist policies are still ubiquitous in Asia under cover was realized by none other than the Chinese government. In 2010, according to Olinda Hassan, a Bangladeshi-American blogger, the General Administration of Press and Publication in China banned the use of English in Chinese media such as books, papers and on the web. The government explained this move by saying that the use of English and the English-Chinese combination was rapidly deteriorating the ‘purity’ of the Chinese language and violently upsetting the nation’s traditional cultural values. However it must also be noted that the Chinese government also lowered the age for compulsory English from 11 to 9 in 2001 and has left that policy unchanged as increasing numbers of Chinese students go abroad for educational degrees. English to them is regarded as a means of personal achievement and the language of necessity; to be used in offices and global markets and to profit out as responsible global citizens.

But in the subcontinent, English is deemed as the language that makes everyone an aristocrat. Being able to speak fluent or broken English in public means that you are an educated, literate and important citizen. No further qualification is required to attract stares and points, and the public will be enthralled by what you have to say. Unfortunately, this sort of behavior is exactly what the British rulers wanted and predicted.

It must be noted that in the increasingly multicultural, largely globalized society that we dwell in, English is a very important tool for success. According to many scientists, being multilingual actually enhances the capabilities of your brain by opening up more synapses and thus increasing the proportion of workable brain. But it should be impressed upon the fact that English must not be used as another tool of cultural imperialism the British colonialists imposed upon the subcontinent. The English newspapers, periodicals and publication for teenagers should not be filled with reviews of British and American music, movies and books every single day while the local produce is left for only the lower and underprivileged classes to explore. Foreign productions should be treated as international produce, and no matter how much we try, foreign art and culture can never be ours.

I am sure the British colonialists are laughing from their graves. The once highly patronized subcontinental languages have now largely been replaced with English as the language of the upper and middle classes. The traditional languages have been dumped for the poor working classes and all English-speakers have been made superior. And all this has been achieved through cultural imperialism!

Heroes of Gaza III——–Lauren Booth’s Gaza Diaries

This is the last of the series of three articles chronicled by Lauren Booth during her recent visit to Gaza. Although this is probably the end of the chronicles, no matter who you are, where you are or what you are doing, I strongly urge you to keep the people of Gaza in your prayers. Every drop of human blood deserves better than what the world has been able to provide for the Palestinians. Try to think of yourself in the shoes of those people in Gaza who are suffering endlessly due to the absence of a permanent solution in the region. You could easily have been in their positions—-born in desolation and poverty in one of the UN refugee camps after having your patriarchal land overtaken just because you belonged to a different sect or religion. Thanks again to My Bit For Change for sharing Lauren Booth’s enlightening experiences in the Gaza strip.

For those of you who have yet to read the first two parts of Lauren Booth’s chronicles, here they are: Heroes of Gaza I & Heroes of Gaza II .

——————————————————————————————————-

Photo taken in Italy

Let’s resist for Gaza in order to save humanity!

Thanks to a Manchester Masjid’s fund raising in the UK, the children now have shoes footballs, table tennis kits, new tracksuits for the boys and the father. The girls have a new abaya each. The mothers are given tapestry and sewing materials to teach the girls the beloved Palestinian artistry of sewing. The family has a hot meal during our visit and is provided with wood for cooking in the coming weeks. Israel’s illegal witholding of essential supplies such as enough gas, oil and the components to maintain the utility works here means that Gaza is being pushed back to the time before electricity existed.When the power is cut, families must cook using gas from canisters. When the gas runs out – and right now, even the smallest gas ration means an eight to ten hour wait – families scavenge for twigs and light fires inside their apartments to try and cook what food they can afford to buy. It is becoming the norm for children to miss meals entirely. In this Beit Hanoun family, I ask the youngest boy of four, what his dream is, what he wants to be; “ I want to eat’ he says. “Somehow. Somehow.” This makes all the family laugh.

Next stop, Jaffa Street, Gaza city. The smart home of Mohammed Ajur, 25. He is a handsome young man with the sweet smile of faith (emaan) on his lips. He happily greets his friend who has brought me to meet him and myself and we are seated in the family salon. Mohammed was in his uncle’s home when a rocket hit during what Israel proudly calls operation Cast Lead. He woke up in hospital in Egypt having been in a coma for four days. His family were around him weeping.

What happened?’ he asked.

Habibi, you have lost both your legs’ he is told. His eyes shine with light and he smiles (smiles!) at the memory.

What did you say?’ I ask. Although by his contentment I already know the answer.

‘I said “Thanks be to God’ he replies.

I was so grateful to Allah for saving my eyes and my hands and giving me so many chances to continue my life in a good way. Many, many others in Gaza lost their sight and their hands from the attacks. Alhamdulillah, I have those. Alhamdulillah!’

Mohammed has since completed his university degree in sports education.

He laughs at this ‘yes I know sports education right! But I can do anything and I will succeed in this life, with God’s blessing, inshaAllah. My life is only beginning. I am now looking for a wife. There is so much I have to do now and I will!

He is the kind of man that makes you smile just being around him. On the middle of the table between us is a stunning urn, in copper glaze with rose workings and Arabic lettering across it. I admire it. ‘I made it’ he says shyly. He is also a talented artisan. ‘Do you like this jug?’ He asks me. I do. ‘Take it’ he says. I offer to pay but he refuses to sell it to me. It is a gift. Because I came to see him.

One final visit must be made this evening to a man whose livelihood mattered so much to my dear friend Vittorio Arrigoni; a fisherman. This father of six is in his late forties and hasn’t fished for two months. He explains that under the Oslo accord it was agreed that Gaza fisherman could sail up to 25miles from their coastline in order to fish. But Israel never honored this agreement. At first their naval forces forced the fisherman back to just six miles from the coast, then in recent years, to just three miles from the shore. There are no fish in this depth any longer due to over fishing and pollution. So, this fisherman took his boat, within his rights, to six miles and began to fish. The Israelis – as is a daily occurence for fishermen – attacked. At gunpoint he was told to strip naked and jump into the freezing February water where he was made to say for some time. Then still naked and humiliated he was handcuffed and taken to Ashdod for questioning. In the meantime the navy shot his boat so full of holes it is too damaged to repair. The livelihoods of four brothers and their thirty plus dependants – destroyed. Thanks to the same UK Masjid for donating the money to keep these families fed for the next month. After that, what will happen to them? Who knows?

As I type these words Israeli fighter jets are buzzing overhead jangling my nerves. They can be flying just for that effect or to launch yet another deadly attack on Gaza. It is 6am. The time when children are having breakfast and getting ready for school. Besides the night, this is the hour most favoured by Israel to inflict emotional terrorism on the population here. Driving through Gaza and seeing the queues of gas and petrol, I mentally titled my writing today as – Gaza’s suffering. But now the title has changed to ‘Gaza’s heroes’.

—————————————————————————————————-

Follow Lauren Booth on twitter. Here is a link to her blogs as well.

Heroes of Gaza II —-Lauren Booth’s Gaza Diaries

This is the second part of Lauren Booth‘s chronicles in Gaza. For the uninitiated, the first part has been published already. Again, thanks a lot to My Bit for Change for sharing this. The last part of the series of three will be published the next day.

——————————————————————————————————

I, a stranger here in Beit Hanoun, walk down this road at dusk. Every window with a face in offers me ‘Salam.’ The doorway of the sole shop has a family sitting in it, I wave.

Assalamu Alaykum’, they shout at me – cheerily. Yes cheerily, I feel the lump in my throat that I carry inside forming again. “Peace’ they offer to the stranger in their midst, as they bathe me in smiles of instant friendship. On the corner two young guys come over and greet me as if I am a long lost cousin. There welcome is so warm that I wonder for a moment if we have met on a previous visit to Gaza.

“Okay’ says the tallest brother, after introducing himself.
‘Nice to meet you now you come to our home to spend the evening, First tea, then you stay with us. Yalla come!’..

I laugh..

‘Why you laugh?’ asks the other boy in his late teens or early twenties.

‘We don’t joking – you come for tea now, really, Fadal.’

These boys are brimming with life. Their eyes have energy and hope in them that is utterly at odds with the grim landscape they live in. They are heroes of Gaza, the next generation of hope, the ones who will not be broken.

We can’t take tea with them and are eventually allowed to leave only with sincere promises to return to their home as soon as possible.

We have come to visit, amongst this needy populace, a family in dire need.

Through a broken wooden gate, behind a crumbling stone wall, my friend Yassir, silent and grim faced, points me into a cement building that has no right to be standing. It was once a PLO prison. Now it is ‘home’ to a family of one father, his two wives and their seventeen children. Before the second intifada the father used to work in Israel and he had enough money for his growing family. After the blockade, it stopped. So he worked as taxi driver. And that income was just enough to get by on for his growing family. Then the siege came. Food prices have shot up to parity with those in European nations whilst incomes here are Third World low. His car began to have small problems which he couldn’t afford to repair, which led to worse ones which killed it. I pass its rotting carcass and enter a large unplastered room with a cement floor. There is no furniture, no pictures, no adornments of any kind. Besides, two plastic chairs, the freezing space is utterly empty except for a small TV, on a crate in one corner. Children with hollow eyes, mill about, expressionless, wide eyed at the surprise visit of so many unknown faces. They look (and are) shell shocked.

One of the wives makes an attempt to smile. The husband in his shame at the poverty of his family mutters ‘salam’ and looks at the ground. Their sixteen year old son has a limp, I ask what the matter is, ‘has he hurt himself playing?’.

His trouser leg is pulled up and a large plaster ripped off revealing a fresh ten inch wound with stitches. His ankle is also bandaged. Two years earlier the boy (then 14) had been collecting rubble in the wasteland, once orchards that Israel has now stolen as its ‘buffer zone.’ His job was to sell the rock for whatever he could, to scavenge then, in the hope of some money for the hungry family. An Israeli sniper at a long distant shot him in his leg, shattering the bone. He has finally after years had the pins put in his shin. It is likely he will limp for the rest of his life.

A smaller boy of around ten is brought over. His dirty tracksuit bottoms are pulled above the knee to reveal strange white patches. White phosphorous, the napalm of the 21st century was blown across this area when Israel rained it, by the ton, onto one of the most densely populated cities in the world.

Another son of around seven, shoeless and silent clings to his father’s legs.
This boy’ he tells me, ‘has developed mental problems since the attack in 2009. The soldiers came many times into our home and wake the children up, shouting. Now he doesn’t talk and doesn’t act normally. Doctors can’t help him.

Cooking is being done in the kitchen i.e. an empty cement space with a fridge that is empty except for four cauliflowers of questionable age. Due to the ‘cuts’ – twelve hour electricity blackouts – no family can chill or freeze food anymore. Fridges are just storage cupboards in Gaza. There is nothing else in the room except on the dirty floor, a single, ancient electric ring on which, now, a pan of chips is cooking. Chips that are enough for perhaps three children in the UK would here feed a family of 20.

It is Salah (prayer) time. The smaller of the wives takes me to another empty room. This one is called a bedroom because it has blankets in it. She lays out a prayer mat for me.

As I pray, I can see my own home, my own happy, educated, well fed, daughters. All the luxuries of London flood my sight and tears come. Besides me the mother makes her prayer. Behind me one of her daughters hold a torch on me as the room has no lights and no electricity anyway. It’s not the poverty that gets me it’s the evil of humanity that pours agony on almost two million Gazans, year in year out for 63 years. It is so much worse here than when I came four years ago, that words can barely describe the new cruelties Israel has designed to torture the people in this vast concentration camp.

Habeebiti’ says the mother beside me. ‘Please don’t cry.’

Her concern for me makes me sob even more. I can’t speak with the weight of my grief. ‘Oh God’, I think to myself. ‘Don’t let her be kind to me, please, I can’t take it’.

But she is. Of course she is. She is Palestinian.

‘My dear, why do you cry? Are you alright?

I…I..hate this for you...’ is all I manage to utter.

She looks into my eyes. Mother to mother.

What? Don’t cry for us, it’s okay, you can stop now, shhh’.

Then, she says the words that almost break me, words that make me feel so humble. I fear, I may never stop crying. Tears that begin as frustration and sadness -become tears of love and respect.

We are so happy. We are Muslims, we know this is our test and we must be patient. We are happy, really sister, we are. Allah will reward us if we can just be patient’.

These are the exact words I have heard in EVERY home I have entered in Gaza at this terrible time.

—————————————————————————————————-

Follow Lauren Booth on twitter. Here is a link to her blogs as well.

The Jeddah Jazz

As the countless Japanese cars snaked through the many flyovers of Jeddah, my Bangladeshi driver cum guide drove his new Sonata with an ease I had never before seen present in any of his counterparts back in Dhaka.

It is around 11 o’clock in the morning. But since the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sleeps by the day and works at night in order to adapt to the high temperatures throughout the day, the offices and shops were mostly closed.

“There are so many cars here. But the traffic is always on the move. Unlike in Dhaka, where the traffic is mostly gridlocked into a standstill.” I mused more to myself rather than saying anything to him. But immediately, I was forced to regret.

“Huh, Dhaka. What a horrible city filled with the worst of humankind in this world,” came his embittered, callous response. “I would rather drive here in the 44 degrees Celsius desert than go back to that hell-hole of a place.”

With my pride of being me disheveled by one of my very own countrymen, I stopped pondering out loud and looked out through my closed windows to grasp in the concreteness of Jeddah.

But for my driver, silence happened to be one of the lowest issues in his agenda. As he drove past the countless air-conditioned cars and transited from the desert to the roads beside the beach bordering the Red Sea, he pointed to me Egypt.

“There’s Cairo, the land of the pharaohs. Only a few hours from Jeddah by the sea, but possessing none of the wealth and glitter of the city. Full of beggars and pricks, I tell you. And mini-skirted females as well.”

I chuckle and coerce myself against roaring into laughter. I had yet to see a Jeddah female without a veil, and the contrasting sight of Cairo only a few hours away but possessing mini-skirted females made me giggle.

“What happens on the roads at night? I mean if people here sleep during the day to work at night, but still the avenues and flyovers somehow manage to be flooded with luxury cars even at this hour it must be quite gridlocked in the dark.” I enquired after him, trying to make him see that Dhaka wasn’t as bad as he felt.

“At night all those jewelers’ markets open up,” he tells me pointing to the monstrous elegant shopping malls located inside the buzz of Jeddah, “and makes life harder for us drivers. Nevertheless, it doesn’t matter. The traffic jams are always under the control of the police and you never have all those filthy public buses and rickshaws and CNGs loitering around.” Clearly, he had anticipated my lucid trials to uphold Dhaka in his eyes. “Oh and look at that”—- he cuts in all of a sudden.

I grasped in the direction to which he was pointing. And what I beheld made me feel like the smallest being of existence present in this universe.

“Behold: the KingdomTower under construction. The first 1 km long tower in the world. Built by Prince Waleed’s Kingdom Holdings and the Saudi Binladen Group, it will surpass Dubai’s mediocre Burj-al-Khalifa.”

Truly representing the oil wealth of this indolently luxurious Middle-Eastern city, the majestic skyscraper rose up into the sky symbolizing power and riches, and obstructing the views of the horizone. Any outsider who has never paid a visit to Jeddah is bound to think that the city is still sitting in the Middle-Ages. Thanks to all those stereotypes by the Western media. But nothing could be further from the truth. And the gigantic Apple adverts substantiated my aforementioned claim. Although it is true that Jeddah is a remnant of an Arab civilization that has been extant since the 600 AD, the grossly metropolitan city is a violent concoction of Western modernity and Eastern identity.

In a way, it can be justified by the fact that Jeddah sits in between the East and the West.

But then again, I had yet to find all those traditional Middle-Eastern bazaars here that I had seen in ‘World Café Middle-East’ on TLC where they regularly showed Syria, Turkey, Palestine and many other states in this region. Here the bazaars have all been replaced by vast chain super-stores like Bin Dawoud (which of course is the Saudi Binladen Group’s version of Walmart) selling every brand of European chocolates and designer dresses and outfits for both males and females.

As I reached my destination, my driver dropped me off. In the ancient civilizations and the tales from the Arabian Nights I am sure anyone would have referred to Jeddah as an oasis because of the huge amount of life it can support. But due to the heat and the invention of air-conditioners which is ubiquitous everywhere in oil-rich Middle-East, what my eyes were affronted to was definitely not life.

It was buildings and cars everywhere. No sign of life. All locked up in their air-conditioned homes, offices and cars.

But as I strode off, I felt secured to find a middle-aged man sweeping off the grounds in front of an office with his broom.

I chuckled again as I noticed his brown skin.

A Bangladeshi again! I told myself, jubilant. My driver had previously told me that even if you are lost inside one of the worst desert-regions in Saudi Arabia you will surely find a Bangladeshi nearby. Three million expatriate Bangladeshis are living here and toiling under the glaring sun in broad daylight and struggling amidst desert-storms at night, while the Arabs slept soundly inside their air-conditioned rooms during the day and went to the posh shopping malls at night; with their Arab kids being taken care of by the Indonesian servants employed by these families. And in case you didn’t know, most of their expenses are paid by the government as well.

I inquired the Bangladeshi man for my address in Bengali. He smiled and gave me back the directions and then returned piously to his sweeping. I wondered for how long he will have to do that with the afternoon heat switched on with its full blow.

After my chore is done, as I come out of my destination I was greeted by a gust of extremely hot desert wind. My loose trousers and cotton T-shirt gave in to the dust-breeze and fluttered back and forth.

For the first time that day, I saw a Jeddah woman around two yards ahead of me; trying to get into the front-passenger seat of her car before the wind assaulted her.

Never before having seen women here dressing up without the burkha, I was quite taken aback on this particular occasion as the damsel in distress was fighting hard to prevent her veil from being flown off, because I noticed that she is dressed up like any normal European or American women with skin-hugging, above-the-waist T-shirt and jeans beneath her veil.

I chuckled once again. I had no idea what the woman was thinking of me as I had not lowered my gaze—-a custom followed by everyone in this extremely religious part of the world—-but under her niqab I thought I could discern a contempt for me.

By then the horizon had already been darkened by the shroud of darkness, and as the malls and offices began to open up, the streets began to be filed with men and women and cars—–a lot of cars. I noticed more women coming out on the streets dressed in European low-cuts and all forms of Western outfits, some of them having iPod earphones plugged into their ears. A large portion even without the niqab. I noticed men donning the traditional long Middle-Eastern shirt and the turban.

Conflicted with the fact that the Saudis had only recently allowed their women to work outside their homes in gender-segregated offices; the notion that women here aren’t allowed to drive legally; and weird laws that permitted an 80 year old man to marry a 12 year old girl, I got into my car and enquired my verbose driver about the traditional Jeddah culture.

“Jeddah is the Kingdom’s most liberal and modernized city. The Saudi families have big homes equipped with swimming pools, segregated discos and bars—-“

“Bars?” I cut in disbelievingly, knowing that alcohol is banned in Saudi Arabia.

“Alcohol-free bars obviously. The population here is extremely Westernized. Half the women here on the streets wear low-cut European dresses and mini-skirts under their veil.”

With that he pushed on the ignition and drove off into the city of lights. By then, night had settled in and Jeddah was fully illuminated.

“If you feel hungry, there’s Al-Baik nearby. I will stop and you can have something inside your stomach.” My driver had somehow understood that I was feeling starved and dehydrated.

“Al-Baik? Is it good?” I asked ostentatiously, knowing about the quality of Al-Baik back in Dhaka.

“It’s the best in the country,” he returned confidently, “much better than KFC.”

So as he led me into a one-storied posh shopping center, I cashed out some money from the ATM booth nearby using my father’s international debit card and strode off into Al-Baik.

Standing in a queue, and worrying over how I will be able to converse in Arabic, I was absolutely ecstatic to find out that even the salesmen here are all Bangladeshis; thus sparing me the trouble of a language barrier.

I sat alone at a nearby table and picked at the delicious-looking chicken drumsticks. My driver was right. Al-Baik produces the best chicken here and their produce is also much better than the sprawling chicken stores back in Dhaka.

I was reminded of a few online articles about how Saudi Arabia is still stuck in the Middle-Ages like Morocco, while its regional enemies sitting in Tehran & Tel-Aviv are enjoying rapid boons and developments in terms of military, science, art and economics.

“What a farce!” I muttered out so loud that the people sitting around began to stare at me disapprovingly.

 

At War With the Fireflies

Drunk with a stillness that resuscitated itself with every turn of the wind, the night imposed an eerie atmosphere into the components concealed under its gigantic blanket. Here and there, the green fields, pregnant with corn and rice plants and seedlings, resonated a belated exuberance for having met the recondite creatures whose enigma and incandescence had eluded them forever.

Intermittently, the fireflies moved among the plantations, and my eyes could distinguish them as they moved.

As if under an aphrodisiac, the fireflies worked their magic with the light that the Creator had so skillfully architected into them.

The lights are on.

The next instant they are turned off.

Again, the lights regurgitate themselves over the fireflies’ tiny exoskeletons chaotically.

Attempting to bring order from chaos, the flies turn them off again. Trying their best not to give themselves up to my eyes.

The cognitive processes inside a firefly’s brain occur faster than those inside the human brain. And you don’t need to be a PhD-holding scientist to be able to discern the aforementioned fact. The frequency at which fireflies are able to turn their lights on and off is a direct observable evidence that nerve impulses travel at a much more rapid rate inside their bodies. In a way, they are actually more advanced than the average human species.

In a way. Yes. That’s the correct phrase.

“But why do you digress, eh? Fireflies aren’t your specialty,” the Pessimist that lived symbiotically inside me, told me that my time was precious.

“Why do you care?” I snap back at the Pessimist, “You have made me what you wanted me to become.”

There is a strange stillness in the air.

As the autumn wind blows past me—–raging a war against my subtle nostrils and ruffling my already messed up hair——I revere the evanescent illumination of the fireflies with a piety and religiosity unprecedented in my life. Affronted with a desire and a need to be my own self for a few minutes in my mechanically secluded lifestyle, I had rushed into these open fields tonight. I do not know what it was that had accrued me towards these fields at 12 o’clock midnight for an arduous two-hour drive from my comfortable apartment equipped with all the urban necessities. And neither do I have any idea what it was that I was going to take back with me through this visit.

“Here is an antecedent to your feelings,” the Pessimist began, “The fireflies will fail to bring you any food.”

Yet I stare at them continuously. Discounting the omniscient Pessimist, I find something in those lights. I see them as they are, in their natural surroundings. Where they truly belong. I use my prescience to discern their likes and dislikes, their needs and wastes. Discontinuous, discreet particles of matter enter into my vision. For a while, inside my mind, they cast a beautiful castle of thought and splendor, of wealth and wisdom, of sense and sensibility. But keeping in line with their discreet nature, the particles leave immediately leaving everything behind a blur.

Despite my bluntness in poetry and philosophy, there was something in those regular periods of light and dark that fascinated me. That told me that no, everything was not lost as yet.

Being a man of pragmatism, and one who believes in worldliness and flesh and blood, I do my best to win against these fireflies. I hedge my bets against them and try to barricade them from entering my thought process. I strive hard to shun them away. I make myself reason and weigh the facts at my disposal. The poison must not enter into my life. It might just destroy my prosperous, urbane existence forever, and so I must win this war against these wicked creatures.

I had forgone a lot already. And tonight I must not lose any more to these enchanting beings.

I decide to strike back at the Pessimist inside me.

“All hope is not lost as yet, you idiot!”

Yes, there is hope. There is still hope amidst my dream-less life. There is hope for a better truth; for a more illuminated fly; for a firefly that remains alight for a longer period of time; for a firefly that proudly upholds its shimmering rays on its suggestive breasts.

There is hope for a better enlightenment; for a better light to be reached.

Yet there is a strange stillness in the air. And on this particular occasion the stillness is making me numb with an exodus for peace and tranquility; for hope and dreams; for simplicity and serenity.

Like me, the moonlit night had also begun to reciprocate its infatuation for the winged beasts. The flies, however, did not countenance at either of their suitors. They had a more important task at hand, and all those courtship rituals could wait.

But for me, there is still hope for a better survival, towards an existence unmarred by desire, towards a lust that was yet to be consummated, and towards a piety without any shred of sycophancy.

Still, it must be said, that there is a strange stillness in the air.

“You bloody fools, how dare you wage a war against me? You can’t so easily destroy the castle I have built with such skill and perseverance.”

But the castle was already disheveled. And it was a matter of time before it was finally dismantled to the ground along with its pride. The dexterity of the handless fireflies was too superior. The forts had been destroyed and the ammo had already been exhausted.

It was too late to win.

Yet, hope was still there. And it definitely was the one thing the fireflies were unable to win from me.

Amidst the stillness of the night, under the moonlit sky’s green eyes, with the corn plants hitting puberty as my witnesses, I confessed my defeat to the winged creatures. I swore defeat and proclaimed my allegiance to their periodic impressions of light and dark. I pronounced my faith and responsibility towards their superiority and their immaculately beautiful existence.

I announced my abstinence from dreamlessness and betrayed the Pessimist in order to coexist with Hope symbiotically.

I swore that I was conquered. Conquered by trust, by lust, by the desire for existence.

Conquered by the debauchery of the fireflies.

Conquered by all, except the darkness and the stillness that stopped escorting me from that instant onwards.

And instead I was supplanted with hope, dreams and aspirations for a worthier life. Everything was superseded with a belief in a Moderator, and my timorousness in the face of superior beauty was truly evident to me.

 

The girl who was in love with the mountains

Of all the things Zainab wanted to achieve, mountain-climbing was the most important and perhaps the most idiotic dream a 12 year old could have. It was not only because of her abject poverty—a state from which people like her will never be able to escape—but also because she belonged to the dominated sex in a male-chauvinist society. Yet at English class when Mr. Kumar asked all his students to write a 300 word essay on ‘Reaching my Dreams’ the eccentric girl felt no hesitation in talking about an imaginary expedition to a hill-top.

Living in a lowland village where television had not as yet set its foot at that time, Zainab was unaccustomed to having seen any mountains in her short life. Ironically she did not even know the proper difference between a hill and a mountain despite her regular attendance at the Geography class. And yes sir, it was far superior from her knowledge that the world’s highest peak was located in one of her neighboring countries and also the fact that the river she used for drinking, bathing and playing actually originated from that mountain. These were things that her geography teacher had not as yet covered and so Zainab eagerly anticipated the time when she will be told more about her love in the aforementioned class.

So how do you think a girl who has never seen mountains or even read about them actually became infatuated with such an existence? It was her brother. Her dear brother, the most precious person in her life after her father, was a soldier in the army and also the one paying for all her tuition fees and petty yearnings. He was the one who had seen mountains and trained among them in extremely hostile conditions. The name of the place was Boderbon, no Bonderban. Gosh! She could not even spell or pronounce it properly. According to her brother the place was more than a week’s journey from her home. But once you reached there it was bound to feel the most heavenly place on earth. It was like you are the most special and the only one living in this universe. Nothing else mattered. Everything was for you to use and command.

But the English master Mr. Kumar was up to no such romanticism. He taught his students with iron-clad rules——both in terms of grammar and the students’ behavior——and always believed in grounding up facts. For him therefore, ‘Reaching my Dreams’ was supposed to be an essay about what you wanted to do in the world of pragmatism. Whether you wanted to be a doctor or an engineer. Or a policeman or simply a house-keeper. And outrageous as it was, mountain-climbing could never be a factually-grounded student’s dream. And never so in the case of a girl born in the cradles of the destitute.

And hence, slapped with an F in the English essay with a detention to boot during the tiffin break, Zainab was unable to enjoy the hide-and-seek matches during the break period today.

The village she lived in was located in the outskirts of a district that had never seen urban life in its entire existence. The only buildings composed of cement were made by the government in ‘a plot to bring the people under a legal system’ as described by the leader of the village council. As for the government, no one was really bothered about them. From the building bearing a huge ‘Department of Agriculture’ placard, men in clean and expensive English clothes occasionally came to the fields owned by Zainab’s father and the other locals. They called themselves the ‘agriculture scientists’, although what the profession meant or demanded was a huge point of entertaining political debate in the road-side tea-stalls and shops for the illiterate villagers who remained sitting there most of the time engaging themselves in every single conversation they could get hold of. The so-called agriculture scientists inspected the crops and the fertilizers and advised the farmers on the what-to-dos and how-to-dos for maximum output. Although most of the locals eyed these English-dressed Bengali people with skepticism fully encouraged by the village leaders and clerics, Zainab’s father knew better the value of education. Although a complete illiterate himself he had educated his only son till the 12th grade—one of the very few young people in that particular village to have achieved such a feat. And so it was with great pride when he had enrolled that worthy son of his at the Bangladesh Army to serve the country. The entire village had proclaimed him to be a model father of a model son, and such was his value in the rural community that he was always the center of attraction at every single village occasion.

But what about a girl’s education? Now that was somewhat of a dilemma for the illiterate father. Although Zainab was being given lessons on the religious doctrines at home by a female teacher and also had been sent to the primary school for learning her letters, he was doubtful whether educating the girl would bear a fruit. It was the soldier brother who had asked his model father to think better. Not only would educating the girl allow her to contribute to the village community in the near future but also make her a good mother and house-wife, and also a good religious devotee. And besides she could even join the Bangladesh Army or the Police to serve her nation. Although the man was not really idealistic about the latter, he eventually gave in and decided that Zainab should continue education, learn about mountains, write essays in English, read history and recite poetry. And so yes, in a way you could blame her father and brother for Zainab’s depravity at the English class.

After the class was over, on this particular Spring afternoon as Zainab came out along with her class compatriots she was surprised to find out a piece of paper lying folded on the bench in front of the headmaster’s office. Actually this was not a single piece of paper. It was a bunch of papers all folded together in an extraordinary fashion to preserve all the pages inside it. For us city-folks, one look at it would suffice to tell us that this was a daily newspaper. But for a 12 year old who had seen cement buildings for the first time only two years back, who had never even seen or heard about televisions or radios, newspapers were definitely something she was unaccustomed to. Her family’s and other neighbor’s only connection to the outside world was through people like her brother, who came home only once or twice a year with tales of unseen forests, religious extremists who made bombs, robbers who had evolved into political leaders and of course, the usual mountain-clad stories which fascinated the young Zainab most.

So the girl, perplexed with the printed pages that bore a strange semblance to her free books, tried to decipher what they said.

This was no ordinary book, as she realized. It was abuzz with tales from around the world. But the first thing she noticed on the top of the first page was the image of a young girl with heavy glasses and clothes as if she was in an extremely cold vicinity, at least much colder than the winters of her village as judged by the heavy clothes she was wearing. In the background of the woman what she saw made her heart skip a beat.

It was a huge land turned ninety degrees or more to one side. The land was covered with a bed of green grass, or perhaps, forest. It was impossible to tell from the distant photograph. The land rose up slanted and at many regions was covered by a prevalent layer of something brilliantly white. Gradually as the land ascended from the ground it emerged into a peak, a peak that seemed to point towards the Creator who had created it with such artistic hands, towards the Architect who had built it with such classic beauty, implicit precision, impeccable appearance and the enormous possibility of touching the sky.

Except that it did touch the sky.

The weird woman was standing atop one of these peaks holding a flag, which unmistakably belonged to her country, and a smile on her face boasted her achievement of having reached the sky.

What lay behind those rotated green fields? The silly girl wondered. Maybe a huge djinn or something?

By then all her class-mates had left her and gone ahead. If she did not catch up with them she will have to walk the three miles to her home all by herself, something she really did not want to do.

But still in deep consternation, she still stared at that image.

As if someone had merely whispered it to her she immediately understood what those rotated lands represented.

Her eyes gleamed with a light of warmth, pride and disbelief as her thoughts were confirmed by the headline below the photograph: “Bangladeshi woman climbs the highest mountain ranges”.


Eyes glistening with a pride and passion more fierce than anyone looking at her at that moment could have discerned, Zainab gently put the newspaper back to its resting place. Unknowingly her hands reached her soft cheeks and quickly rubbed away the tear that had manifested itself all of a sudden. It was as if she was filled with a bliss of the dreams that she saw every night. As if the diaspora of her heart to meet the mountains was not going to go fruitless after all. As if she knew that if this woman could do it, there was no reason why she couldn’t.

Except that the woman had not merely climbed mountains. She told herself. She had touched the sky.

For the first time in her life, Zainab had seen mountains, albeit in the way she least expected.

———————————————————————————————————————————–
This fictional post is dedicated to Wasfia Nazreen, the female Bangladeshi mountain-climber whose achievements make all of us proud. The impetus for this piece was derived from Aminatta Forna‘s brilliant novel Ancestor Stones when one of the characters described her feelings of having seen the sea for the very first time in her life.