Just got back from some late night shopping at a souk here in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. As usual, my husband and I spoke in Urdu to the stall holders since most of them come from a South Asian country. A young guy with pleasant manners and a slim build serving us at a particular stall looked distinctly Bangladeshi.”Where are you from?” I asked in Urdu.”Bangladesh,” he answered, careful not to make any eye contact whilst showing me a handbag.
“I’m Bangladeshi too!” I said in Bengali.
His face lit up.
He looked at us both as he spoke with a huge smile. “I’ve been working on this stall for six years and you’re the first Bangladeshi woman I’ve met as a customer.”
Feeling an instant connection or comfortable with a person doesn’t happen very often but when it does, as it did tonight, it feels amazing. I felt as though I’d inherited another brother; I wanted to hug him.
We chatted in Bengali in between me translating to my Pakistani husband. My new Bengali brother said it felt good to be speaking in his own language and insisted on giving me a gift. When I heard this, I put the pair of earrings I was holding in my hand back on the stand because I knew he wouldn’t take money for them. I politely declined his offer of a gift, as is expected in our culture. He carried on insisting, as is expected in our culture and placed a hair clamp and some scrunchies in my bag for free.
“Sister, come again if you need anything” he said as we left. I almost cried.
A lot of immigrant workers, especially those doing menial jobs here in Saudi Arabia, often live in cramped conditions, are expected to work long hours and are refrained from going on leave to their respective countries for years at a time. I’m guessing he hasn’t been able to visit his family in Bangladesh in all this time.
It’s times like this that I really appreciate connecting with people who speak my mother tongue.
© Rabia Bashir 2013
To feel like you look beautiful is one thing; to feel like you are beautiful is entirely another. Neither of which are easily attained states. Nor are they permanent. I know because I have spent many years chasing them both. I managed to catch hold of one or the other at different points in my life, but it’s been difficult to achieve at times.What makes it so difficult? Societies defining and limiting beauty to physical appearance…worst still, to the colour of our skins. Continue reading “Who’s The Fairest of Them All?”
Background: I love to cook and have started a small catering business here in Riyadh. During the month of May 2013 I took over the restaurant in the compound I live in – to offer Curry Nights once a week. This is what I wrote (and later told my Dad over Skype) after I hobbled home and fell onto my bed:
I stood in my dad’s shoes for a mere 9 hours today…something he’s been doing for longer than I’ve been alive. My throbbing feet force my mind back to my childhood when he would finish a stint at the restaurant in the early hours then get up to take us shopping for Eid clothes. I always wanted matching jewellery with my outfit and back in those days, Asian fashion shops were scarce. So my dad took us out for hours – hunting for new clothes (and my matching accessories). As I would insist on finding the right shade of bangles, I don’t remember him ever complaining – not about him being tired and not about him spending his hard earned money. His feet must have throbbed from the night before, or at least felt heavy with the anticipation of doing it all over again after our shopping trip.
It’s amazing how parents have the capacity to put their needs and wants aside to make their children happy. I’m truly blessed to have such parents.