Jilted in Dhaka

August 29, 2003 - Jilted in Dhaka

On Friday morning I pedalled to work. An early Friday morning here is like a Sunday morning anywhere else: the streets are empty and quiet while everyone sleeps off the revels of the night before. I worked for a while then I phoned my friend Nick to suggest that we meet at the American Club for brunch. We agreed on the rendez-vous in a half-hour. As I flung my leg over the bike I felt a few light raindrops, and by the time I was crossing the bridge over Banani Lake on Kamal Ataturk I was looking franticly for shelter from the impending downpour. I happened to be passing an establishment calling itself the Navana Superstore which on previous occaisions I'd noted as a place to investigate for food shopping potential, but right now attracted me with its covered parking area. I wheeled in. The security guard welcomed me, admiring my top-of-the-line Chinese one-speed Phoenix bike. He assured me that it would be safe in his care, and invited me to proceed up the ramp into the store.

It was certainly the biggest such store that I've seen here, about a quarter of the size of your average North American supermarket. I had to check my pack before being allowed to enter the goods area, and while I did that, a american woman in dark slacks and a blouse with some decolletege, maybe forty, approached me saying "Will you have a coke with me? I really MUST hear English spoken!".

I got a coke and sat at her table in the patisserie area of the store. We introduced ourselves (her name is Liz) and I got the "what are you doing here" question in first. Therein lies a tale, and the reason I'm going to this effort to tell it. She had a school exercise book open before her with both visible pages full of large handwriting. I asked her if she is a writer and she said no, she used to be a ballerina, and now she's going through a bizarre experience that she means to write about and publish, perhaps.

Liz (Elizabeth XXXX, Assistant Professor of Dance, Conservatory of Performing Arts, XXXXXX, XXXX, USA, according to her visiting card and GOOGLE) had been in Bangladesh for four days. For the previous two years she lived with a young Bangladeshi student attending the college, not, she clarified hastily, one of her own students.

When he finished his studies at the college and was ready to return to his native land, he asked her to marry him. She agreed. He would return home first and after she had made arrangements to take the next semester off and leave her 7 year-old daughter with her ex-husband, she would follow, and she did. He met her at the Dhaka airport, made love to her (Liz didn't say where), and then told her that his parents had arranged his marriage to another woman, and he could not marry her, Liz. He couldn't even see her anymore, but he offered her one of his bodyguards to accompany her if she wanted to tour Bangladesh. She told him no, found a guest house in Banani with a room overlooking a shantytown on the west side of the lake, moved in and declared herself prepared to stay in Bangladesh until she has to go back to work in January.

Concerned that I would be keeping Nick waiting, I invited her to come with me to the American Club. That would be her natural habitat in any case so I figured she ought to find out about it as soon as possible. Leaving my bike, we took a rickshaw and pulled up at the club at the same moment as Nick, who took in the scene (Sid and plump american woman on a rickshaw) with raised eyebrows. Presently we were sitting in the cool expanse of the dining room looking over the familiar and comforting items of an american breakfast menu.

She brought Nick up to date on her story. Her caddish ex-fiance, it developed, had understated his station in Bangladesh. He is really the scion of the Minister of XXXXXXX, a man fabulously wealthy and terrifyingly powerful, who bestowed on his callow son a high post at XXXX, a new and well-funded domestic television station. She showed us the great man's visiting card, as though she felt we might be sceptical of her story. Should she attempt to exploit the embarrassment she could cause the boy's family? Would two million taka be too much to ask? I tried to explain that the sort of people she is dealing with here could, with impunity, do whatever they liked to her if she caused them problems, including but not limited to having her cut into little pieces and fed to the fish in Gulshan Lake. I said that if I were in her position, getting this advice, I would be on the next plane out of Dodge City, tartari. If she realy wants to get her pound of flesh she ought to find some expert help, preferably armed, and Nick and I hadn't the faintest idea what that could be. In any case, she would be in great danger if she threatened this family. She said that she has aprised people of her situation at the US Embassy and feels that this protects her to some extent.

At this point Liz needed to be pointed to the bathroom so I took her in that direction and came back to Nick. We looked at each other and said almost simultaneously, this woman is big trouble. Is she for real? Is she trying a little too hard to convince us? Will a moment come when she asks to borrow $5000? Will we feel badly not to have helped her more if she gets into trouble? Nick said he wouldn't get within barge-pole range of her and advised me to stay well clear too.

Liz came back. We paid up; Nick owed me and wouldn't accept anything from Liz, and paid. He offered us a ride so I asked him to take us to where I'd left my bike. Back at Navana I offered to walk Liz back to her guest house but she said, no, that's okay, she needed to spend some time in a cybercafe catching up with email.

A couple of days later I called her at the guest house to see how she was making out. The story had developed in the meantime. Yesterday she spent four hours with the Minister. He told her that his son had eloped with and secretly married a third woman, and that at the moment they were in some village ten hours drive away. The family is horrified and deeply ashamed of the disgrace their son has visited on them, and the family of the jilted betrothed is profoundly insulted. Now Liz appears, compounding the son's heinous behavior. All the same, Liz and the Minister got on well ... they laughed, they cried, he could not conceive of any woman he'd rather have as his daughter-in-law. A Bangladeshi father could dream of no better outcome than his son married to an American, he said.

In the meantime, Liz is the darling of the guest house staff. When I rang, asking for Elizabeth Xxxx, the concierge said, "Oh, you mean Miss Elizabeth!", in tones conveying how thrilled he was to think that he was adding to her pleasure by connecting me. Liz herself told me how she toured the shantytown accompanied by one of the guest house workers. I'm not sure to take her at face value, or even what her face value is. She seems naive but tough, looking to make the best of a bad situation and ready to take any direction that looks interesting. One thing I'm fairly sure of, though, is that the story is not ended yet.


Sent: Thursday, October 30, 2003 6:35 PM
To: stupper@cegisbd.com
Subject: Re: staying in touch

Sid, you are a day late!. I left Dhaka October 30. I am here in the Kuala Lumpur Airport being held hostage. You see, for some reason, the computers at the Malaysian Immigration office says that I am an international terrorist. Remember, I had the same problem when I flew through here in August. I filed a report at the US Embassy August 26, but apparently, it has not helped. Luckily, they have an airport hotel, so that I don't have to sleep on the floor for 36 hours. Yes, 36 hours. The minister bought my ticket home and made it a really weird flight. I am going to xxxxxxx for the holidays and to see my daughter in xxxxxx. I never saw Hossain. I decided that I wouldn't disturb him. I never told the whole truth, I was four months pregnant when I cam to Dhaka. I lost the baby October 7, almost 6 months. It just stopped kicking. I went to the hospital and they delivered "him", but he was gone. I am fine. My body is ok. It was a miracle that I was pregnant at 47 anyway. That is why the minister was so willing to pay me off. That is why the minister wouldn't see me. It was a huge scandal that I kept under wraps for "them". I do have a special friend that saw me all through this. I am coming back, but I am going to try and get an American Company job here in the states, and then move with their help, to Bangladesh. Keep writing. Stay away from the water!!!