The roof is like the Westerner’s garden — it’s the place to be! People hang their laundry on the roof. They keep potted plants and wood piles on the roof. They come to sit on the roof to clean and grind their lentils and chat with each other. When the weather is hot during the summer, people retreat to the roof when the power goes off. The night breeze cools us all off! During the winter, people come up to get some sun. In a place where women have to be mostly covered when they go out of their homes, the roof is one place where we can bare our heads and let our arms get some sun.
This is the view from our three-story apartment building. The road is usually busy with bicycles and motorcycles during the day. The buildings are a laundry shop, a music shop and a metal working shop. Behind the stores, you can see an old Hindu temple.
My tutor, Monira, and I were reading a story yesterday about
I asked my tutor if she knew that historians think that for women,
Monira’s mother was in tenth grade when the war started. Her uncle could speak Urdu, the Pakistani language, so he pretended to be on the Pakistani’s side in order that his family would be protected. For a while, even though Morina’s mother’s village was right near to a military camp, they were safe. They listened at night to other girls in the village being dragged away to the camp, screaming. They found the corpses afterwards. Soon the Pakistanis found out that the uncle was being a traitor. They killed him, and the family had to flee. The newly widowed aunt was getting elderly and had trouble walking. When the army started approaching, she told her two young boys to hide in some holes dug into the dirt. She said that her life was not worth much, and she didn’t care about what the army would do to her. So her two sons jumped in the hole and they quickly covered the top of the hole with wood and dirt and branches. When the army had passed, they uncovered the hole to find both boys dead, from snakebite. Now the aunt had lost both her sons and husband, even though she herself survived the war.
Monira’s family fled through the jungle, crossing rivers and living off of a few bites of food per day. Being in the jungle was hard with the snakes and mosquitoes and with the uncertainty of not knowing who was friend or foe. After the war, Morina’s mother and her family returned to their village. In the house that they had rented, they found a skeleton, in the kneeling position of prayer. It was the landlord. The Pakistanis had tied him up and shot him in that position. Monira’s mother got upset at seeing all the corpses and refused to look. But one of the older family members admonished her, “Look! Remember!” Then you can tell your children all that happened.”
So now I know the story too. 3 million Bengalis were killed in that war. And it is estimated that 200,000-400,000 women were raped during that 9 month period. War is never pretty, and unless we face the gory details, we will forget that fact.
We took a walk along the
The call to prayer sounded, and the firecrackers soon joined in. Someone had seen the moon! The month of Ramadan ends when the moon is seen. This year the calendars had predicted the 12th, and everyone had been out looking for the moon that evening, but no luck. The neighborhood had been all silent as people got ready for another day of fasting. But tonight we passed a group of men, peering and pointing up into the sky. “I can see it! Look at that small sliver, right above the tree! Do you see it?” We saw it too, a tiny white sliver in the pink sky.
On the rickshaw ride back, little crowds were out peering into the twilight sky. The men were buying meat from roadside butchers and little boys were shooting off firecrackers. Several people passed us on bikes, pots of sweet curd hanging from their handlebars. When the electricity went off, the sky’s last light peaked round the trees, and the little lanterns hanging under the rickshaws twinkled and swung as they rounded the corners.
Our doorbell rang mid-morning and I went out to the veranda to see who it was. A small wiry man called the name of our househelper, so Amena went down to talk to him. She was gone a good ten minutes, and she came back looking tense, on the verge of either tears or laughter.
“That was my husband. That devil took the tin off our house two days ago to sell for herion.”
“But it’s raining! How can you stay there?”
“I didn’t. Yesterday after work I didn’t go home. I went to my aunt’s house.” She looked at me with a triumphant but sad smile. “That’s why he’s here now. He wants to take me home. He’ll beat me if I don’t go with him.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“Run away!” she told me the different roads she would take to get past their neighborhood without being seen. It sounded like a long walk to me.
“What about your son?”
“I’ll take him with me.”
“Good! He’s no husband anyway.”
“He’s a devil. He just wants me for my money. He lives off my hard work.”
Amena is a tiny woman, always smiling and laughing. She finds most everything that we foreigners do funny. You gave too much rice to a beggar, haha! You wore that outside? Hahaha! Did you see them staring at you? Haha! Amena has been told that she has no brain, that she is useless. But this ‘dumb’ lady has learned to cook bread and cakes without a recipe, she has learned to iron and cook beef stroganoff and use the blender. She can whip out meals, clean, scrub, fold in no time at all. Life in
She got married at a very young age to an older man. She had her one pride and joy, her son Babu. Then her husband died. And since she’s nothing in this society unless she marries, she married her present husband – as his second wife. He worked as a garbage man, when he wasn’t high on drugs. He didn’t give Amena anything, except societal acknowledgement of her position as wife (not even sex!). He stole her trunk. He beat her up numerous times. He would take anything in a second and sell it for drugs. One time, when the co-wife wanted to marry off their daughter, both wives bribed the police to arrest him on a fake charge and put him in jail so that they could have a hassle-free month or so. Then they bribed the police to get the poor man out – who was promising and begging and sorry – but back at his addiction all too soon. And now he was sitting in front of our gate, waiting for Amena to finish her work so that he could make sure she went home with him. I wished I could call the police and tell them that he was stalking her, abusing her, using illegal drugs. If it only were that easy.
Today I decided to make meat curry her way, so that my cooking skills would not get rusty, so that our Bengali guests might enjoy the curry the way they like it, and so that Amena can take some precious meat back to her household. They don’t get much meat, especially during the Ramadan fast as the food prices go up. Amena supports her absent husband, her son, her father, and her sister’s daughter. While we were playing with Elias and talking about babies, she told me that her son was born at home with the help of a midwife. She had been too scared to go to the hospital, because her sister had died at the hospital.
“She already had one daughter. Her husband was no good, and all day long all she did was stay at home. There wasn’t enough food. So she threw three babies out.”
“What do you mean, throw it out?” I had never heard of abortions in
“Get rid of. Take it out. The
“Leaves. She pounded them up and ate them, and died.”
“So she killed herself.”
“Yes, she killed herself and her baby.”
“But there is medicine to take so that you don’t get pregnant!”
“It made her head spin. And the man, he won’t do anything.”
The meat curry was finished, with the freshly toasted and ground cumin spread on top. I filled a container for Amena. Her husband had left his spot in front of our gate, so I assumed that Amena would make a run for it and leave that troublemaker.
“So what will you do?”
“I don’t know.”
And, as she put her shawl on, picked up a bag full of our recyclable paper and her umbrella, “Are you going home?”
“Everyone’s fasting, they need to eat . .” she said vaguely. Her eyes were resigned. I felt sorry for her, but happy for her sister’s daugher and grandfather who would get to eat tonight.
Whew!! A busy month is over.
|Jacob with Elias on the porch
|Strange new world..
|Lots of family preparing for the wedding
|Bethany & Steve’s wedding
|1020 Shenandoah St … the Tobin house
|We spent almost a week at a cabin up in the Alleghany Mountains of NW Pennsylvania — owned by the extended family.