Thursday night we arrived at what H. termed her "village," but what we objected was too grandiose a term for four houses grouped into a compound. They were more propserous country homes with tin roofs, as H.'s Mum in London sends money back to her family in Syhlet. We were taken inside and given a cup of milky cha [tea], then taken on a tour of the dark compound. Lanterns illuminated the shadowy figures of cows and chickens occupying prominent parts of the huts. Cows seemed to be valued more highly than the many children running around, who H. gestureted at vaguely and called her cousins. It was pitch black as the electricity was off because the family hadn't paid their power bill, but in typically Bengali fashion they assured us it was "coming." I wish I had a taka for every time a Bengali has ressured me something is "coming."
"Does that mean coming in five minutes or five days?" I was half serious.
Eventually the electricity did power on, allowing H. to takes us to a small room off the side of the kitchen to see her famous toilet.
This famous, or maybe I should say infamous, toilet also happened to be a thorn in H.'s existence.
It was a modern western commode that flushed with remarkably good water pressure. It was nice. In fact, it even had a brand new rool of neon pink toilet paper perched next to it.
"Purchased specially for the visiting bideshis?" I ventured, as Bengalis don't typically use toilet paper.
The story of this porcelein novelty was a source of great amusement for Chelsea, Joel, and I, but of great embarrassment to H.
The Tale of H.'s Toilet
H. and her Mum visited their Syhletti when she was seventeen, where their family promptly introduced her to a cousin she was told to marry her so he could take her passport and work in London, sending his wages back to Bangladesh. Yes, she was told this directly- no beating around the bush with her family. Yet this honesty is natural in Bengali culture, as marriages are arranged and frequently kept within the family. To seal the deal, her family took her to the back of the house and threw open the latrine door.
"See!" They cried exuberantly, "we built you a toilet, now you have to marry Kalique!"
Horrified at the thought of living in Syhlet, H and her Mother had refused. Technically Delwar, her older brother, was her guardian, but he was a modern thinking Cambridge student and wanted her to choose her own husband. Consequently, H.'s family was upset with her and persisted in telling her to marry her cousin, Kalique.
Soon after we arrived, they produced an old photo of a teenaged H. and Kalique standing solemnly side by side on a dusty road. The photo had been magnified to poster size, then laminated. Her family proudly passed the photo around before propping it obviously up on the mantlepiece.
Their innuendo was anything but subtle.
Kalique smiled shyly at H. and sat down close to her, his shoulder brushing her's.
The rest of the evening ticked by slowly, with H.'s aunts, uncles, and cousins grinning at us and claiming, "we like you, even though you are so quiet!"
It didn't seem to occur to them that we were quiet because they spoke only Syhletti, which is different from Bangla.
I did manage to get sari wearing lessons, with H.'s aunt to teaching me to put on a sari all by my lonesome. Now I don't have to ask my ayah to dress me.
At bed time H., Chelsea and I climbed into one bed together, while her family, continued to stare at us. My last sight before the lights were turned off was her elderly uncle smoking a cigaratte and peering at us through the mossie net.
The next morning I was greeted by the same sight, and had to resign myself to three little cousins watching me change my shalwar kameez and brush my teeth.
"Why not?" I thought when they refused to let me dress in private. "It's not everyday these kids get to see so much white skin."