Some time ago I went for a walk along some village trails I hadn’t walked before. Bangladeshis will often ask questions to Bideshis, but on this particular trip I was struck by how many started with “Kothay geyechen?” meaning “Where did you go?” I thought it was sort of an odd place to start. In Bangladesh the first question to a stranger is generally “What is your country?” “How are you?” or maybe “Any problem?” often followed by, “What are you doing here?” I get these sorts of questions on partner visits while with someone who is known to the community. The context of this particular walk was perhaps a little different. These villagers might have known about the local Bideshis so they might have had some context, but to ask the the question “Where did you go,” is to ask a question that focuses on history. There are a lot of interesting assumptions and givens in that starting place. This is maybe a question that comes from a rooted lifestyle. The questions of “who are you?” and “where are you going?” are perhaps meaningless in communities where one has spent enough time that for everybody encountered is known. Thus you wouldn’t even think about asking them when finally presented with a stranger.
That rootedness is a bit of an illusion though. I think I’ve mentioned how little rock Bangladesh has. It sits on a delta and is silt a long way down. I may be crazy, but I think that this contributes to a sense of instability at some level. Last week there was an earthquake in Sikkim and all the buildings in Dhaka wobbled. I was on the 7th story of a building close to the MCC office in Dhaka at the time and the rattling made me pretty nervous. People ran out of their buildings and were scared to return. Earthquakes are a problem that is in the back of many peoples minds. There have been big earthquakes in Bangladesh’s past, and if a large one ever hits again, all previous disasters in Bangladesh are going to pale in comparison. Unfortunately like so many issues here, nothing has really been done about it because there are more immediate problems.
I find myself thinking a lot about stability, especially now that after 3 years, my term in Bangladesh is quickly winding down and I’m not sure what’s next. I’m waxing nostalgic about where I went and how long that journey has been. There have been times of deep contentment and also pain. In a little while I will return to the US and hope to reconnect, but I will find you at a different point in your life. With this in mind, I ask the question, as you sit back and think about the last 3 years, Kothay Geyechen? Where did you go?