Uttama found this poem by Anoopa in her belongings after we cleared her apartment in Atlanta on March 17, 2005. Anoopa spent about four months in spring of 2004 in Bangladesh working on a public health project with CDC. Her mentor was Dr. Carin Burn at Emory. Anoopa had a great time in Bangladesh. She also collected enough data and anlysed it over the Christmas Holidays 2004, and wrote a very complete draft of her research paper....Anyway, here I want to share Anoopa's poem entitled "Living Bangladesh"
I am taking a bucket bath
with cold water in the morning as
steam comes off my body,
I am standing on the roof of the apartment building watching the men
at the rice mill spreading out the rice to dry,
I am eating breakfast while
Raheem the cook watches me (to find out what I like best),
I am walking into the village as men stare
and children trail along behind me with curiosity,
I am entering the village and I am smiling
because I see Rafiqul Islam,
and he recognizes me from our interview last week,
and we are smiling at each other
and I love his eyelashes.
I am practicing my Bangla with him, our conversation
Me: Are you well?
Rafiqul Islam: Yes, I am well. Are you well?
Me: Yes, I am well.
Rafiqul Islam: That is excellent.
And we continue walking.
The ducks are swimming in the ponds,
an enormous cow is blocking my path,
I am chasing after ducklings in the courtyard of a household,
I am picking up a baby goat
after watching a small child to see how he does it,
I am cooing at a baby as her mother, or sister, holds her.
Now I am holding the baby, gingerly, and hoping she won't cry.
I am watching a woman grind red chilies on a stone,
I am asking her her name, and where is her daughter?
She is smiling
and pleased that I have addressed her,
and that I remember her family.
I am interviewing villagers and learning about
the bribes they pay
to doctors and nurses
for the privilege of a supposedly free
hospital bed and supposedly free
treatment for their illnesses.
I am detailing their costs,
their shops abandoned,
their pregnancies complicated,
their mothers lost and replaced,
I am watching a man moaning with fever,
I am watching a father hold his young daughter,
pointing to the spots on her skin where parasites still grow,
listening to him list
the trips he took,
the income he lost,
the land he sold,
the bribes he paid,
to care for this girl, who he swings in his arms.
I feel tears rising unexpectedly to my eyes,
I am thinking of my own father,
of our relationship but also of his humble beginnings,
in a place not unlike this one,
I watch the boys with their English books and I wonder if they,
like my father see education as a way out.
I am walking and talking with Rajib,
who translates for me,
and teaches me most of what I cannot observe myself,
and so much that I do observe,
how he interacts with all the villagers,
right now he is making faces at children,
offering them our leftover lunch,
drawing them out of their shells,
while I, just by smiling at them,
make them retreat back to their shells,
hiding their faces or ducking behind each other.
The sun is shining on these children’s fathers,
who are bent at the waist,
inserting rice seedlings in rows into a wet field,
they are covered with mud and working methodically,
pausing only to watch us pass.
We are stepping over small waterways for irrigation, traveling on raised
pathways through paddy fields in every shade of green.
We are listening as a shout is heard,
there is a fire in the village,
and all the children are running in that direction,
coming back to report only minimal damage.
We are waiting for our next interview and.
Rajib is telling me about all the problems of his country,
the bad governance,
he tells me he wants to get a PhD overseas and then return,
to share what he has learned.
I tell him my dad was like him,
but he never came home again.
Rajib insists that he will, and I believe him
because I know his heart lies here,
in these villages,
with these children.
We are riding a bicycle rickshaw home,
we are stopping in the market for bananas,
men are staring at us and asking him where I am from.
We are back on the rickshaw and Raheem, the cook, appears out of nowhere
and jumps on.
Through non-verbal communication our affection for each other is confirmed,
me, an Indian American of 23 years,
and he, a 60-year old Bangladeshi man with
two wives and a village background.
I am arriving home,
I am drinking tea,
I am wondering if it is really possible that I feel a connection with
that woman in the village,
the one grinding chilies,
is it possible to see omens so
far from home?
I am eating fish and removing small bones from my mouth,
I am eating guava with salt and
spitting out seeds,
I am sitting at the dinner table,
with Raheem watching again,
and discussing local politics,
political leaders who go back on their word,
I am watching the rice mill where
they are sweeping up
the rice for storage overnight,
I am reflecting and daydreaming and thinking about friends,
I am wondering about the future, about India and Nepal,
I am debating whether I could ever live in a village and
deciding it is too late for me now,
I know too much and
I owe too much to these villagers themselves,
Since I am privileged and educated.
I am marveling at the beauty of some of them,
How the ones who are
gorgeous by western standards just strike me,
and the irony that they may never be seen by another westerner's eyes,
and that their beauty
may not matter in a village like theirs.
I am wondering
why everyone stares at me,
how do they know just by looking at me that I come
from a place far away?
I am feeling my energy waning but my contentment increasing,
I am arranging my bed net,
I am climbing under the covers as a few remaining rickshaws pass,
their bells tinkling on the road below,
I am drifting off to sleep now,
and all the while
I am Living Bangladesh.
By D. Anoopa Sharma
Spring of 2004, in Dhaka, Bangladesh