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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Dusty Memories

The last time I was in Bangladesh was several years ago. I remember certain things, but not others. I remember the traffic in Dhaka crawling. It took an hour to get anywhere. I remember that staring is socially acceptable, so whether I was sitting in a van or eating at a restaurant, a crowd of people gathered, just to watch. I remember that the electricity periodically went out, and that the garment factory across the street had a generator so the girls could keep sewing. I remember jumping from a stoop to the back of a pickup because it was the rainy season and the water was about 2 1/2 feet high in a courtyard. I remember riding on an overcrowded ferry to a village in the countryside, where I slept under a tin roof that had holes which looked like stars. I remember that to get my passport checked in the airport that there was no queue, but simply men pushing their way to the desk. I remember accidently eating a hot pepper in a dish, thinking it was a green bean, and ruining a lovely meal with delicacies like thin fried leaves.

One of the things that stands out most in my mind was being in a village with a buyer from The Body Shop in the UK. The women sat down to hear her tell the story of Anita Roddick (the founder of The Body Shop).

Here's how it went.

"There was once a woman with a child. Her husband left her." All the women sigh. They can understand. Except that Anita's husband actually left to go trekking for a year or something, so he didn't really leave her, but the buyer never said that.

"She needed to find a way to make a living, to support her child. So she decided she wanted to start a business. She went to the bank, but the bank would not give her a loan." Again, the women nod. They know the bank won't give loans to women.

"So she went to a friend, and the friend gave her a loan." This, too, makes lots of sense to the women. A good friend will help.

"And she started The Body Shop and is now a millionaire with hundreds of stores." At this point, I'm thinking how the story that came across is colored dramatically, as the women think she's been left, couldn't make a living, and now is rich. The buyer didn't tell about the part where her husband comes back after a year because he's only been trekking.

Then, the buyer started pulling out the samples for the women--small bottles of soaps, hand lotions, and foot creams. Foot creams! In Bangladesh, one does not touch one's feet. So, as she handed them out, she gave the translator elaborate names like Lemon Froufou Foot Cream to be used at night. I heard him translate everything as "Soap," "Lotion," "Lotion," "Soap," "Lotion."

Still no word on the visa, and in typical developing world fashion, when I called the embassy today, the woman at the desk said coming tomorrow was not a good idea, because they didn't know yet whether they'd be open or not. This at 3 pm!

This just in: I can see tracking info on my passport in FedEx and it should be in my office first thing tomorrow morning. Hooray! Now I can sleep tonight and head back to the airport tomorrow without a loop through the DC embassy.

10 Comments:

Blogger JAMESEE-ST-SMILE said...

good picture

5:38 PM  
Blogger meno said...

That story of the Body Shop is a wonderful marketing ploy. What woman wouldn't want to support another woman who made it big after being dumped by her husband? Even if the story isn't true.
Good luck with the passport.

6:40 PM  
Blogger jen said...

ahhh. girl. how did the body shop story make you feel, while sitting there?

and rock on with the passport. i know you'll use it wisely.

8:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, a relief about your passport! Interesting story. It is amazing how certain facts can be manipulated to appear one way or another. Hm. :)


Peace,

TG

9:26 PM  
Blogger KC said...

Phew! I was wondering about the passport status.

What a farce that whole Body Shop propaganda! You would think they would be smart enough to do cultural research beforehand.

9:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story. Have a safe trip and I hope you blog while you're traveling.

9:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, watch the little green things in your food, too.

5:49 AM  
Blogger Citymouse said...

Safe trip woman! Maybe I should get a realestate story like that one.... hmmmm ......there once was a woman, and her mind left her.

7:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ye the art on the back of rickshaws and on trucks is almost like a separate genre in the sub continent. Allt hose things you mentioned could happen to you in India and/or Pakistan too.

Hope you get your passport on time. It's funny that story about body shop. Grameen bank headed by the Nobel winner has been doing some good work there.

How long are you going for? Will you blog from there? Pics? Have a safe trip too. Bangladesh (never been there) has changed over time (more radicalization with the Muslims). But they had women Prime Ministers too. Well I am sure you know alla bout that and them some.
Just curious have you ever been to India?

8:41 AM  
Blogger Tink said...

I never liked The Body Shop. *Spits* Patooie.

11:06 AM  

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