It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog and meanwhile so many amazing things have happened. I’ll try to keep this brief. The best decision I made last year was to come to Bangladesh and attend BRAC University. I had two incredible semesters and just finished up my final exams for my last semester there. Just a few notable mentions about my professors: all of the professors in the Economics and Social Science department are so passionate and knowledgeable about what they teach; I was humbled to be able to learn from them over the past 9 months. Most of them completed their Master’s or Doctorate’s in the U.S.A. and they literally speak better English than any of my professors in California community college do. The first couple weeks of class I had a hard time understanding what they were even saying (and they were speaking English with a slightly British accent!). The reading material they assigned was equally as challenging. We read authors such as Max Weber, Karl Marx, Michael Foucault, Talal Asad, Franz Boas, Emilie Durkheim, and many others. As a student from the United States studying in a post-colonial state, I was challenged on so many levels. I was able to weed out a lot of my own stereotypes and ignorance on a variety of issues. Prashanta Tripura, a prestigious anthropologist here in Bangladesh was my professor for three courses this semester: History of Anthropological Thought, Biological Anthropology, and Research Methodology. Prashanta Sir belongs to an ethnic minority group that has been marginalized by the rest of mass Bangladeshi society. He taught me so much about what it means to be human, how scientifically useless the term “race” is, and how ignorance of variation among humans can cause a plethora of problems. My course History of Anthropological Thought with Prashanta Sir opened my eyes to how theories about the unilinear evolution of mankind from “primitive” to “civilized” societies that were prominent up until the 19th century, along with eugenics, led to horrors such colonialism, the Holocaust, and many other genocides that followed. In this course I also studied a lot of Franz Boas’s works, who after a life of activism through scientific study, his last words were “One must never tire of repeating that racism is a monstrous error and impudent lie.” Before catching the plane to attend BRAC University, a lot of people were questioning my idea of getting my higher education in Bangladesh. To everyone who thinks that so-called “third-world” countries have nothing to offer but ready-made garments, cheaply made stuff you buy at Wal-Mart, and corruption, I beg to differ. The education I have gotten here has been exceptional and I would recommend anyone who wishes to become a truly global citizen to study in a country that is as different from your own as possible. Even some of the Bangladeshi students I had the joy of meeting along the way, seriously speak clearer and more advanced English than I do. It was all-around a mind-blowing and enlightening experience for me.
Another reason I wanted to study here was so that I could continue working with underprivileged children while I continued my education. Every day on the way to school I traveled through a few different slum areas, seeing how colonialism, capitalism, and the idea of the modern nation-state being pressed upon this country’s beautiful, resilient people has made life completely miserable for a large chunk of their population. The opportunities to use my education for social change were presented to me daily through the children who come everyday to beg in front of BRAC university. I got to sit with them during my breaks between classes and teach them English and provide a simple lunch of rice and curry at the small “illegally” built shops near my anthropology department building. I was greeted every day with huge hugs and smiles from around 10-15 children saying “Susie Apu!” and continuing on to tell me all about their quarrels with the other beggar kids. Most of them live in a slum that is located directly behind my university, which is ironic because the BRAC head office is also located just a two minute walk down the street. It makes me wonder why they have such a giant head office (approx 20 stories, beautifully built and landscaped) when there are still thousands of marginalized people — the people they claim to be assisting — living in squalor right nearby. BRAC is the world’s largest Non-Governmental Organization in regards to the amount of services and people they reach and has been voted the #1 NGO in the world for the last 2 years straight. Anyway, it is all just quite perplexing to me.
Since I have been very busy studying the likes of Marx and Weber and haven’t been able to dedicate as much time to the kids as I would like (preferably 24 hours a day) but I know that there will come a day soon where I will be able to. I have basically been giving them food to take home to their single-moms who also make a living through begging. When I can, I give them things like soap, toothbrushes, shampoo and other necessary personal hygiene items just so they can feel a bit more confident. People treat them horribly wherever they go and no matter what they are doing. When people see them with me they assume they are begging from me or disturbing me so they either yell at them or hit them as we walk by. Anytime I try to take them in to a restaurant to sit and study English they are immediately turned away when they walk in the door. I have to explain over and over that they are my students wherever we go. These kids experience socio-economic barriers in each and every area of their life and I hope somehow together we will be able to overcome some of the major ones. When people see the kids skateboarding with me there is a completely out-of-the-norm response. People want to talk to the kids and ask them questions, take their picture, etc. It is like they go from being completely disregarded to becoming celebrities all of a sudden with all eyes on them. This is why I think skateboarding will be a useful tool in helping them overcome some of these mass society stereotypes and exclusions from anything and everything. Not only do the kids gain more confidence while they skate, they get along with each other much better and get all the health benefits that comes with participating in a sport. Mass society will only start to see their potential through something radical like skateboarding.
This is getting long. I am hoping I will have more time over the next few months to keep writing. Thank you for following!