Or … “How I Became a Shut-In”
Anyone who knows me knows diet soda is my crack. I’m an addict and I’m only marginally ashamed to admit it. Friends and strangers alike feel the need to provide unsolicited warnings about the dangers of the chemicals I’m ingesting.
“Did you know you’re drinking FORMALDEHYDE?!”
”It’s really bad for your teeth.”
“Diet soda actually makes you gain weight.”
To which I always reply, “I’m not trying to lose weight. I like the bubbles … and, yes, I like the flavor.” (Turns out, formaldehyde is quite tasty.) “Oh and, by the way, how’s that coffee treating your teeth?”
So when I was about to run out of my soda stash, I was highly motivated to get more. It was Saturday afternoon and I hadn’t left the house since Thursday evening (the weekend here is Friday-Saturday), so I promised myself that, today, I would finally walk to the store alone and buy my crack like a big girl.
Except I didn’t. I sent one of the assistants in the office to get it for me.
The store is not far away. Maybe 10 minutes on foot, less than that even, but I just didn’t want to go. I swear if it weren’t for the constant presence of Bangladeshi people in the house where I live – or the fact that I teach four days a week – I’d qualify as a shut-in.
As I write this, it occurs to me that, somehow, in the two months I’ve been here, I’ve completely lost my independence. I’m actually kinda scared to leave the house by myself.
I read this awesome blog about creepiness and wondered if that was the problem. Like Arlette, I’ve experienced catcalls from young boys and inappropriate comments from older men. In addition, I’ve been
complimented propositioned by homeless drug addicts and witnessed an old man masturbating at my high school’s bus stop. But none of that has stopped me from living an über independent life. Besides, from what I’ve seen, Bangladesh isn’t full of creepy men.
So what is it then?
Finger-pointing 1: I could blame it on the fact that, no matter where I go, I can’t blend in. Within moments of leaving the house, people will stare and follow me and ask me a barrage of questions I can’t understand or answer.
Most of the time, I’m sure their motivation is friendly curiosity. But here’s the thing: I can’t trust my creepiness meter in this place. It isn’t tuned to this culture or this language – spoken or body. I don’t know what signals I’m sending or how they’re being received. I don’t trust my ability to differentiate a harmless situation from a dangerous one.
It doesn’t help that from day one I’ve been warned about safety and discouraged from doing many things alone. As a result, “many” things have become “all” things and I’m turning into an agoraphobe.
Finger-pointing 2: I could blame it on the help. Where I’m living, there’s a maid, a cook, a driver and various assistants who can help me with anything I need. Wow. That sentence sounds awesome. But don’t be fooled. It’s not as great as it seems.
My accommodations have a certain charm, but by no means am I living in luxury. After two months and countless attempts to fix my shower, I finally have hot warm water — sometimes.
Even a simple request devolves into an extreme exercise in patience, and I leave the situation confused, frustrated and wishing I could just handle everything myself.
My Diet Coke request, for example, took 10 minutes to explain and confirm. When the assistant actually returned with 10 bottles of soda and the cookies I wanted and the correct change, I was happier than a kid at Christmas.
Which just goes to show how much of a shut-in I’ve become.
Finger-pointing 3: I could blame it on the fact that there’s nothing to do around here. Seriously. I have scoured the internet and found n-o-t-h-i-n-g.
According to Lonely Planet, “… Jessore, like many Bangladeshi towns, has no real tourist sights. Rather, its attractions are all in the exotic and chaotic atmosphere and in the web of narrow winding backstreets overcrowded with possible adventures.”
Well, Lonely Planet, that’s true if by “adventure” you mean drawing a crowd every time you stop to take a photo.
I think Wikitravel sums it up more accurately, “There’s not a lot to do here, but the people are friendly.”
Don’t get me wrong. I love that the people are friendly here, but sometimes, a girl just wants to walk to the store and get a Diet Coke like a normal person!
The conclusion: Normalcy. I guess that really is the crux of the problem. There’s only so much “otherness” a person can take. Yesterday, I came across a blog that made me feel a lot better. The writer has been in Bangladesh a few years and even he said, “One additional ritual that bideshis, being foreigners, have to endure at the picnics (or indeed, anywhere they go) is the stare of Bangladeshi strangers. Wherever we stand for even a few minutes we will gain a crowd.”
He went on to say that, “Other Bideshis, who are not new here, get angry, or become rude, or just avoid going out where there are crowds.”
Oh no! I don’t want to become one of those people. I certainly don’t want to leave next June and look back on my time and regret that I didn’t experience everything I could. The title of this blog is Untitled Adventure, after all.
That settles it. Next week, I WILL leave the house alone.
Wish me luck getting my independence back.
And thank you to the Weekly Writing Challenge: From Mundane to Meaningful for helping me use my soda addiction for more than just the bubbles.