I have mentioned a few times I am feeling a little holed up in Gulshan where the ex-pat community live, and I was itching to experience the real Dhaka. Step in Parvin (housekeeper extraordinaire) who invited me to her home last Friday. Shamim is her nephew, a young MBA student who it seems is the first of her extended family to attend university. He works in New Accounts in a local bank, whilst at the same time working through his MBA. I had met him previously with Parvin last week. Shamin came to escort me to Parvin’s home.
An hour and half later in a CNG, brought us to the neighbourhood of Kuril where Parvin lives. We turned off the highway onto a dirt road, surrounded by low-rise buildings and the streets teeming with people. Fresh fruit and vegetable markets were everywhere, and many shops selling all sorts of things, from phones to fabric to fish to meat. The road was being dug up by the corporation and the pipes being cleared in readiness for the imminent monsoon – this meant our CNG could go no further, so out we got.
We continued walking along this dirt road, which was as wide as two CNGs, then turned left onto another dirt road the width of a rickshaw with a little more space. Still many many stalls and shops etc, many people milling around. We turned down a narrow street with just enough room for two people walking abreast and had to duck to the side to avoid some builders mixing what looked like red rendering that was being slapped onto the bricks of a newly built building. The bamboo scaffolding took up most of the street so it was a dip and duck experience to get by.
On we went, down a narrow (one person width) laneway along the side of another building to come to a small courtyard that was paved! And spotlessly clean, gleaming in fact. This was where Parvin lived. Four ground floor dwellings looked onto this courtyard which was about 8′ x 8′. The courtyard housed one covered area that had an outdoor tap and paved area for washing and two gas burners on a raised platform connected to a gas tank. The shared toilet cum shower was located next to the washing area. A path lead to the entrance of each of the apartments.
Parvin’s home is a two-roomed apartment with an entrance door from the courtyard, and one window that looks out onto the courtyard. The first room is probably 12′ x 12′ and holds two wardrobes, a small table and a large king-size mattress on the floor. The second room is smaller, 6′ x 12′ that houses the kitchen with fridge, a counter top, lots of cooking utensils, a pantry and where much of the home’s belongings are stored. All cooking is done outside but much of the preparation is done in this windowless room.
Parvin is pretty lucky to have a fridge it seems, this comes from her housekeeping work in Gulshan and definitely puts her ahead of anyone else living in this little courtyard. No men live in this courtyard, most of the women were single moms eking out a living on their own after their husbands had left them, and I got the sense they were better off because of it.
From what I understood of the conversation, Parvin’s husband used to beat her and left the family home soon after her youngest was born. She has a 14 year old girl and a six year old boy. Both go to school (she is adamant about that) and feels they can be safe in this little courtyard when she is delayed coming home from her jobs in Gulshan. My sense is all these ladies support one another. There were at least eight kids milling around while I was there, and that did not include Parvin’s two, who had traveled home to her village to visit their grandparents with Parvin’s brother. Parvin’s niece also lives with them, she is about 12 years old and ‘darker skinned than my daughter’ according to Parvin. Her name is Natalia (at least that is what the name sounded like). She assists Parvin with the housework in Gulshan and in return Natalia gets her room and board. This is a better life for Natalia then if she stayed at home Shamim says with some foreboding. He does not elaborate why so I do not ask.
It’s clear to me Parvin earns much more than any of the women in the courtyard, and also earns more than her siblings. As a result, much of her earnings go towards supporting her aging parents and any medical bills and such for her extended family. As ex-pats move out of the apartments in Gulshan, she inherits the half-used food items, as well as clothes, bed clothes and towels. She shares these goodies with the courtyard ladies.
After lunch, one lady showed me a jar of country-style mustard she had been given and through Shamim, asked how she should use it for cooking. So I gave her a recipe for pork & apricots where I use that mustard, but replaced the pork with chicken and the apricots with raisins. She was delighted! I sure hope the recipe works out for her.
All eating and sleeping is done on the large mattress by the 4 people who live in the house. A plastic chair is brought in for me and they insist I sit on it and not join them on the floor, A spoon is also produced so that I will not have to eat with my left hand as most people do. A scrumptious lunch had been prepared for my arrival, all the stops had been pulled out. I was thankful but also felt guilty that no expense had been spared. Mutton biryani, beef curry, deep-dried chicken, fried rice, sauted vegetables, the mixed salad I have been making that she must have noticed in my fridge, followed by shop-bought cake (which they were very excited about) as well as a homemade dessert of biscuits soaked in condensed milk with raisins. There was enough to feed an army!
After we had eaten, young Natalia cleared everything away and slowly the other ladies in the courtyard drop by to say Hi. I do not speak Bangla so it was a little difficult to converse, but they examined me top to bottom and were intrigued with my grey hair and ‘young face’. Shamim asked what age I was so he could tell them, and all thought I looked far younger than my 48 years – it did me good to hear that! Siesta exists in this part of the world too, so both Parvin and Natalia lay down for a nap, while Shamim and I took a look at his resume and I gave him some suggestions on how to improve it.
Since my visit there, I also found a few jobs that I think he should apply for. He needs to work while he continues to study but come November, he will have finished his MBA and will need to find fulltime work. If you are not connected in Dhaka, it’s hard to find work, and the university does not seem to help the graduates find work – a job for my friend Heather for sure, she’d have them all working in a jiffy!
I needed a few more shalwar khameez so we left Parvin’s little courtyard and went to her local fabric store. I chose fabric for two more shalwar khameez and we dropped them off at the tailor she uses. Far cheaper than even what I paid in Banepa, Nepal. I’ll get the fully made outfits in a week’s time. Great!
It would soon be getting dark, so we walked back through the meandering streets to the highway, and soon picked up a CNG that whisked both Shamim and I back to Gulshan. I really could have done the trip on my own but Parvin was insistent that Shamim escort me. The poor lad had to turn around and endure another 1 hour journey home after leaving me at my apartment, safe and sound.
I felt pretty fortunate to be invited to Parvin’s home, and to meet her neighbours in their clean and ordered courtyard in Kuril. Again I did not take many photos of what I saw, it was not really appropriate I felt. But I did take a few of Natalia, Parvin and Shamin in the larger room of the two-roomed apartment.