Tales from Chittagong

The Place

Chittagong could actually be a really beautiful place if only people would stop throwing their rubbish on the floor and spitting everywhere. The surrounding wooded hills are great to look at in the morning and evening light and feel emotional about. Unfortunately, however, as in most parts of the world the trees are being cut down to make way for lots of ugly concrete buildings to house the ever growing population. I’ve been so impressed by the wonderful variety of trees and flowers here and as a would-be environmentalist (my heart’s there but I’ve no time at the moment) I’m keen to protect and preserve whatever is left.

59302960 - map of bangladesh with the provinces, chittagong is highlighted.

The coast is quite near but the only place I’ve visited so far is Potenga which again has the potential to be quite pleasant if only people wouldn’t chuck their coke cans, crisp packets and ice cream wrappers all over the place. My seven-year-old son commented on how in this country people keep the bins (if you’re lucky enough to spot one) clean but the ground is used as a rubbish dump. It’s as if they can’t make the connection between their actions and their environment. I put it down to lack of education, social awareness and the ever-prevalent class system. In fact, the richer classes seem to be more guilty of this than the poor because the former are the ones who can afford the ice creams, crisps etc while the poor can only look on. The interesting point here is that the rich and so-called educated ought to know better but it’s the poor who you see sifting through rubbish dumps to reuse or sell bottles, cans or whatever scrap they think useful. I can’t help but admire their ability to survive in circumstances a citizen from the developed world would find impossible! I think I’m a lot more careful about what I throw away and I now use up every last drop of everything. Rangamati near Chittagong is a hilly border area with a magnificent artificial lake which reminded me of parts of the Lake District and Lake Michigan. A boat trip on the lake on a warm, Winter afternoon is something really special. Just the chugging of the boat and the murmur of the water can send you to dreamland.

Apart from Chittagong I’ve been to Dhaka and my family homes in the villages near the town of Feni. Dhaka is just polluted, noisy, fast and furious and if it wasn’t for the fact most of my relatives are there and the huge variety of shops, I wouldn’t choose to go there ever. As for the countryside around Feni it’s a real breath of fresh air, as long as you can get off the fume ridden main road heaving with mad trucks and noisy buses bursting with people. My maternal grandparents home is a village called Sharishadi and I can only describe as living poetry. It’s got a huge array of flowers and trees, smells and sensations that make you feel trully alive. The house and gardens remind me of so many places I’ve visited in the world; Summers in the South of France and Spain. Sitting by the large pond or small lake whichever size you feel it is, you just want to write poems or paint.

43800957 - bandarban, bangladesh, february 20, 2014 - people load boat with vegetables in bandarban, bangladesh.

The Job

As a teacher of English as a Foreign Language working for the British Council has always been one of my aims. It’s a great way to work within a familiar framework in an unfamiliar setting. What I mean by this is, you are using the same materials and methodology you would if teaching in Britain but overseas. I think this took away the initial worries I had of working in Bangladesh. Living here is a completely different matter though. It’s a much smaller centre here in Chittagong compared to Dhaka and we have fewer students to deal with. It’s got a friendly and familiar atmosphere about it and I’ve never once dreaded teaching a class here unlike my days as a school teacher in inner London. I can have a laugh with the people I work with and my boss is more like a friend than a manager. It’s the dream job I’ve always wanted!

The advantage I have working in Bangladesh is that even though my spoken language is basic I can understand it. This makes life so much easier because you know what’s going on around you. You do get a lot of respect working for the British Council here and even more so when people realise you have a Bangladeshi background but you are from the UK. I do feel it’s a shame when some Bangladeshis ask me why on earth I’m here when I could be in Britain. It’s as if they don’t value or want to think about the positive things they have here. However, to be fair not everyone feels that way and some people really appreciate my reasons for being here and giving my children this invaluable experience I never had.

The People

56540120 - dhaka, bangladesh - setember 17th 2007: unidentified people on road with car, bikes and rickshaws, usual traffic in the capital

The thing that strikes you the most in Bangladesh is that there are so many people! Where did they all come from and where are they all going? Everyone is always travelling around and making so much noise. They love shouting, talking, honking their horns and putting loudspeakers on the roof of the bus with blaring music or screaming political and religious dogma. Hell really exists here on the roads.

I’ve already made some personal commentary on people in general so I’ll concentrate on family members. It must be very interesting to members of my immediate and extended family to see me here and as I mentioned earlier most people are very welcoming and positive about it. What I find the most difficult part of interacting with some folk is the endless questions and it’s not as if they only ask you once. I’ve had to give the same information to the same people every time I see them. As a tired teacher who earns a living by talking the last thing I feel like doing is going into details about everything concerning my life. A super trick is to say that you’re really tired and you need to lie down. Bengalis, I’ve discovered love offering you their bed to lie down as it’s what middle-class women seem to do most of the time.

Normally they just sit and gossip about everyone usually coming out with the most absurd nonsense you’ve ever heard but you must say nothing. In order to keep your sanity and energy levels you should simply lie down, close your eyes and pretend to be asleep while they gossip. As most of it is rubbish its quite funny really but as I said don’t ever get into a rational, intelligent argument about how unfounded and baseless their ideas are about someone or something because they simply don’t understand. Even though you think you’re speaking the same language.

Normally they just sit and gossip about everyone usually coming out with the most absurd nonsense you’ve ever heard but you must say nothing. In order to keep your sanity and energy levels you should simply lie down, close your eyes and pretend to be asleep while they gossip. As most of it is rubbish its quite funny really but as I said don’t ever get into a rational, intelligent argument about how unfounded and baseless their ideas are about someone or something because they simply don’t understand. Even though you think you’re speaking the same language.62233448 - dhaka, bangladesh - aug 27, 2016 : unidentified people are processing jute on august 27, 2016 in dhaka, bangladesh

There are times when you can have a rare, decent conversation with someone so treasure the moment. I have made some true friendships here and you soon distinguish between those you want to spend time with, those you don’t and those you don’t mind seeing now and then. Do I miss Britain? I don’t miss the housework, cooking, cleaning, the laundry, as I have two maids who I pay well and treat with respect. What I do miss is talking to my friends, British television, the Sunday Times and Guardian magazines, my family in  Britain, Manchester, my car and my mum’s garden!

Asian Mums Network Blogger

Sara Ahsan former – English Language Teacher 

*Article are the views of the blogger 

 

 

 

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About the author: AMN