I spent the weekend at my brother's place. This equates to my sister-in-laws smothering via food and banter peppered with her bouts of OCD and complaints of pregnancy (she is 8.5 months pregnant). It also consisted of sleeping in my ten year old niece's bedroom and having to be the biggest, correction, second biggest fan of Hanna Montana (a US kids programme) and Power Rangers (need I say more) for my 6 year old nephew Abid.
Saima, my niece, has a passion, like many children her age, with the colour pink, shiny surfaces, all things fluffy and stationary in the most colourfully wacky shapes and sizes. I woke up Sunday morning, in the centre of a four poster bed with pink fabric peonies and daisy's hanging from one side, a soft pink warm glow of Sunday morning light and frilly lacy stuff with a princess printed over it hanging from her light fitting. For a 23 year old, it was a heady return to an unfamiliar youth (I was a bit of tomboy). Saima's room was brimming with all the comforts of her likes and dreams and necessities. From her day to day clothes of jeans and sweaters and converse trainers in as many colours as one can afford to the delicate chiffons and satins of her south asian outfits, bought by mum for eid and many other occasions. This is surrounded by books, pencils, jewellery, shoes, bags, toys and so on. Saima, like any human being, was accustomed to these objects which for her, were now necessities and facets of her normality. Her expectations were big, and dreams were set in places exotic and careers fantastic. For Saima, the roof above her head, the food being prepared for dinner, the shoes and socks on the washing line and her soft warm linen and pillow, are her rights.
I couldn't help but wonder what a child like Saima would be doing on the streets in a cold cardboard city night in Dhaka. Such thoughts had roamed on my mind for many years now. I would frequently conjur up this parallel location of opposition against my norm and wonder. Saima, is a warm, generous and compassionate child who was aware that what she has she is lucky to have and yet, simultaneously, expectant of more as all children are her age. This unfortunately is non existent for all those children, in Dhaka or any other city, on the streets around the world.
For these children, natural distaters, state economy busts, city development, city corruption etc etc are all irrelevant specs in their lives. Their concern is to find and eat food. To find and sleep somewhere where they wont wake up to a looming police officer or a dog licking their face or a kick in the stomach.
For these children, all things fluffy, shiny, pink and warm are just figments of an imgianation which too is decaying and becoming a distant memory. Waking up in Saima's bed on Sunday made me grateful of what my brother and his wife were able to provide her with. It made me grateful that she was downstairs having breakfast and watching another US teen drama and not waking up on the cold marble floor of a middle aged man's abode who may have payed her a few pennies for a nights sex. Saima, like all our nephews, nieces, daughters, sisters, brothers, and sons, is lucky to be in the location of ipods and in the climate of comfort and not caught up in the cycle of hunger and money and money and hunger.
Saima unlike the many Nilofer's, Milly's, Fatema's, Priti's, Selina's, Zahras' and Luthfa's can come home everyday to a house where food is accessible and in bounty in the kitchen and the bed is always clean and the water drinkable. While she sits and chews her way through her sandwich and gets ready for her evening Arabic tutorial, the other girls are gathering their rags to go to another part of the city where apparently there may be more food on the streets and more sex to be sold. Unlike my niece, these girls have made the dirty platforms of the railway stations, the grubby alleyways of the backstreet malls and the entrances and exits of the district shanty towns, their abode.
My niece will grow up and into a world of careers, good skin, gyms, mosques, churches, malls, tv, university and monthly pay cheques. Whereas these girls still have to find the next meal before they can contemplate a life of adulthood, which, inevitable, would either be that of a prostitute, a woman with aids laying in an infected bed in a forgotten hospital, or beaten to a pulp and sitting isolated on the floor of a kitchen to which she is shackled.
The likelihood of any of the above is miniscule. Most of these girls don't even make it past 13.
And so, I wake up, brush my teeth with my new toothbrush, apply my face cream and clean clothes and join Saima in the living room with bowl of cereal and carry on with the monotonies of my expected comfort… while at the back of my mind, thrives a growing sense of guilt and despair.
Posted by Mushroom