Friday, January 13, 2012

The French Nuns

My last day in Dhaka before heading to Bejing. Or so I thought. I had a million things I had to do. First of which was getting into an auto and going across town to find a cloister of nuns who make exquisite embroidery. The auto crossed the city and took me to a part of Dhaka I had never been before. Weaving through a residential area the auto stopped in front of a large gate where “Saletian Sisters” was printed on a tiny indiscriminate plaque on the door. I knocked on the large steel gate and a little French nun peeked over.

“Heello?” Her voice wavered in french mixed with Bangla but mostly old person’s accent.

She took me inside to a dark 3 story house. 8 nuns live there in simplicity since the 1960’s. There were crosses all over the wall and candles and smelled like old people. Upstairs was a large table surrounded by bangla girls leaning over their tiny perfect stiches forming vast tapestries. They took me to the table, opened the nearby cabinets and embroidery of different scenes and size poured out. Scenes of a hut on a river with women sifting through rice on the shore, a woman sitting under a tree combing her sister’s hair, flowers with stitching so fine you couldn’t see the edges. It was beautiful. I had made a little design of my own, showed the nuns and it will be made for me in April!

I said goodbye to the nuns and I hopped back into an auto, bounced and puttered across the city again to pick up my China Visa at the Chinese Embassy. Little did I know, today the closing time was 12:00pm. I arrived at 12:05. My hands were red and throbbing from the amount of pounding I did on the large steel gate. Maybe with enough pressure, my little hands would bore through?

Someone finally came over.
“Ma’am That’s not working.”

He pointed in the direction of a window to another entrance to the embassy.

“You came late. You cannot get your passport.”

I started to hyperventilate.

“But my sister, she’s getting married tomorrow.” Again.

“No tension!” They promised. And said to come back at 3.

Took another auto into the office, another auto to pick up my visa at 3, went to North End Coffee to soak in some caffeine then took a rickshaw to Nelo’s to get my hair cut.

I had to get my hair cut for Muzi’s wedding and figured the Bangladeshi’s would have a better job with my head than the Chinese.

4 women surrounded me clucking as they pulled and tugged my hair. My hair was a mess. My curls were revolted with all the plane rides and hotel beds and revolted by twisting themselves into a nest. The women did an impressive job and 3 snips later I have beautiful wedding ready hair.

I had time so I decided to explore the multi-story beauty complex I was in. On the top floor was Siam Oasis. The kind of place so serene it makes you shiver. I was escorted to the couch where I was asked about my pleasures and explained the menu of choices. I chose “java” a medium-strong massage. Then I picked my oil from a selection of smells. I was brought to a room out of a magazine with burning oils, and candles and massage table with fine sheets and a shower in the corner with multiple jets. A woman came in and for an hour she worked out all my muscles including those I didn’t even know I had.

I think I crave massages so much in Bangladesh beause of the lack of human touch. I’m not even talking about physical intimacy. Just a hug, or a tap on the shoulder. Nada. And it gets to this Brooklyn-Italian who accentuates her points by nudging the person she is talking to.

After the massage was done I was served green tea and got to take a shower in the cold, but jetty shower. I had dinner with Neelu at a fancy Indian restaurant and returned to the hotel ready to pack up my things and head to the airport for my 3am flight to China.

When I get there this is no one from the airline and barely anyone in general. Just me, my backpack and the mosquitoes that marched toward me, single file.

An hour passed and an airline representative came to inform us our flight had been cancelled. A group of us closed in on him making him repeat the cancellation over and over. In the pack was an elder Bangladeshi man and his younger daughter, both of whom had American passports and were pushy. I loved them. We bonded over our 3am dissatisfaction and swapped stories. When I told them I was working in Gaibandha they asked if I knew Shefa.

“Yes of course! I live with her!”

“She’s my neice!”

They insisted I come to stay with them. At 3am we crossed the city, once again, and took the elevator up the 18 stories he and his family owned. They showed me my room.

I had to step over the servants sleeping on the floor. I had several Eureka experiences because, it was 4am, and I was on an 18 story rooftop in Bangladesh. Something about height, rooftops or mountains, that clear me to the core.

Asalam Walaikum,

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