It has been a long, long time since I last posted anything and quite frankly, there is no hope of crafting a summary of everything Dani and I have experienced since my last post in October. From now on, I will make a renewed effort to record what we see and do, not only for the folks back home, but primarily for my own sake. I am forgetting many of the people, events and experiences of the past six months and I really should be writing them down. Starting today, I hope to do just that.
One of the intriguing things about living in Dhaka is that everyone seems to assume we are more important than we actually are. Danielle and I often feel like celebrities with paparazzi locals chasing us around snapping photos with their grubby mobile phones and crowds of thirty to forty Bengalis surrounding us…simply to smile and stare. Despite occasionally feeling like an undeserving rock star in our interactions with local Bangladeshis, some of our student’s parents do indeed lead star studded lives and have important diplomatic connections. This occasionally leads to the Ryan family being invited to events that we would never have had a hope of attending as average, everyday educators in Canada.
On February 17 we were invited to a large event hosted by the Libyan Embassy for the commemoration of the “Glorious National Blood of our Martyrs Liberation Day” marking the first day of the Arab Spring in Libya and the beginning of the end for Muammar Gaddafi’s longstanding regime. We really had no idea what it would be like but there was free food and we theorized that we might find baklava there as well…so we were sold!
We arrived and I immediately knew this event was way out of my league when I heard a well dressed man in front of me introducing himself as prince so and so of Saudi Arabia. Wow. He’s a Saudi Arabian prince practically soaked in oil money and I’m a twenty three year old English teacher with a mountain student debt. Awesome! As we listened throughout the rest of the night we heard snippets from a plethora of interesting looking people. “Traditional wear” was the garb of the night, so dressed up Italian ambassadors, Iraqi diplomats, Sudanese cabinet ministers and Eritrean officials with their wives and kids in tow all mingled together in one of the most intriguing cultural mixes I've ever experienced.
After waiting for half an hour for a Bangladeshi government representative who was (surprise, surprise) running late and actually never showed up, we listened to the Libyan and Bangladeshi national anthems, attempted to glean a word or two from a few speeches in Arabic (smiling and nodding respectfully despite the fact that we had no idea what was being said…other than the occasional Allah) and finally a speech in English. The speech was, other than the food, the highlight of the night for me personally as it gave me a little bit of insight into Arab Spring from a Libyan perspective. It was a controversial speech; with gems such as “Libya is the safest country in Africa,” but what was memorable about it for me was the raw emotion clearly apparent in the Libyan delegation as they mentioned the bloodiness of their recent revolutionary struggle. As the speaker detailed the vital importance of remembering those who died fighting the Gaddafi regime, he choked up. I could feel the intensity of his emotion and it was a truly different experience attending a remembrance ceremony for soldiers who died recently rather than remembering the sacrifices of men two or three generations ago.
After a prayer to Allah in sing-song Arabic, there was a chaotic rush for the food. I ate my fill of couscous, mutton kebabs and shwarma then devoured an embarrassing amount of baklava. As we left the flag-covered hotel, we received an issue of The Islamic Times celebrating the “Febryary 17 Revolation,” a surprisingly nice photo-book displaying Libyan landscapes, a “Touristic Map of Libya” and a mug proclaiming in English and Arabic that “Libya writes history with the blood of the martyrs.” All in all it was a pretty good haul!
The uniqueness of this experience astounds me. If you had told me a year ago that I would be living in Bangladesh, attending a Libyan Embassy event frequented by Saudi Arabian princes and delegates from as far away as Iraq, UAE and Maldives, I would have laughed in your face at the randomness and absurdity of such a suggestion. But that is exactly what I did last night.