Dec 08, 2023
Dec 08, 2023
The Sentimental Terrorist - 2
Iftar guesthouse, Kabul
It’s nearly midnight, I have a full day tomorrow – so many meetings, so much documentation to go through – and yet I’m not asleep. And I know I’m not going to get any sleep either. Like yesterday. I keep thinking of James. The way he looks at me.
He’s so loving. So patient.
And tonight, just like so many years ago when I first went to Geneva, I feel I’m on the brink of a major change in my life once more.
‘Shall I get down on my knees, then? You know that won’t be easy for me.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous.’
James has been asking me again and again to marry him.
And I have been refusing him sometimes, seeking more time on other occasions, because it’s such a big decision, and I know it’s going to be very difficult at home for everyone to accept this.
‘Would it satisfy your family if I turned Muslim?’
‘Would it satisfy yours if I turned Christian?’ I said angrily, even though I knew his question was sincere, unlike my response, which was merely a cover for the guilt I feel because this does actually matter to my family.
James is worried that I might fall for K-Jim. That’s crazy. I’m fond of K-Jim, he’s very funny, even without trying to be, or rather especially when he’s not trying – and he makes me laugh. But I could never fall in love with him. Our sensibilities are much too far apart.
The thing is, I speak good English because I was lucky enough to receive a free education at the Christian school in Dacca where Ma worked, but, that apart, I’m very much an ordinary Bangladeshi girl to whom some extraordinary things have happened.
At the parties I attend in Amsterdam, where my charity’s head office is located, sometimes people ask what I do, and when I explain that I work in microcredit I see the bored, stiff look emerge on their faces for that unguarded instant before they manage to collect themselves and say, ‘Oh, how interesting! And which bank is that?’
When I explain that I work in Afghanistan, their expression changes at once to one of increased curiosity.
‘And how is it out there?’
Their questions focus on Afghanistan and not on my job. Few of them realise that if you work on microcredit in this country you are involved in one of the most sensitive and dangerous issues you could touch upon.
If you work as a Christian missionary in Afghanistan you are immediately a target for being killed. This is well known. But it is less well known perhaps that in this medieval-minded society, within what is broadly understood as ‘social work’, microcredit and elections are among the most hazardous activities you could participate in. DRAC – the Dutch Rural Aid Conference, the full name of my charity – has made forays into both these areas. Microcredit and elections. Who would imagine these could be so controversial?
‘You need to resign from your job and go back to Bangladesh,’ James insisted, the last time we met.
‘And should I consider your proposal once I’m back there?’ I didn’t make any effort to hide the sarcasm in my voice, even though I knew I was being cruel.
‘That doesn’t matter.’
‘I’m as safe as you are.’
‘No, you’re not. Your guesthouse is a likely target. Believe me.’
I saw concern written over his face but James doesn’t quite realise what the situation is for me. He says he appreciates that I have commitments to my family, but does he really? I have a certain perception of western men, all men perhaps – but western men in particular, despite being liberal, are not family-oriented. They cannot even adjust within an extended family. How then will James, as an Englishman, ever understand after marriage my involvement in my family? How will he accept my willingness, no, my keenness and my commitment to support my family in Bangladesh: not only unmarried brothers and sisters, but also the married ones and their children?
Does James truly understand how different our two countries are and why family is so important for us? Bangladesh is no welfare state. I wonder what he will think when he discovers that I provide financial support to at least twenty-four people in my family. It’s only because of my job that my father could get the best available healthcare and survive his lung infection. And my family couldn’t afford expensive cancer therapy for my mother in one of Dacca’s most expensive hospitals if my employer didn’t provide for medical treatment for close family members.
James thinks he knows where I’m coming from, but does he really understand? It has been a long and difficult journey for me to get to where I am. How many Bangladeshi girls with my background are able to do the kind of job that I’m doing? To earn the kind of money I earn, even if it’s something I love doing, and even if it’s in Afghanistan? It’s not so easy for me to leave.
More by : Rajesh Talwar