Thursday, November 17, 2005

Bangladeshi people are happy people.

A friend of mine emailed me this BBC story about a survey that they conducted in Bangladesh. I was already aware of most of the findings, but the last page reminded me of something I used to say all the time. "Bangladeshi people are some of the poorest in the world, but despite that fact, they are happy."

I stopped saying that after I spent nine months there, because I saw a lot of sadness and grief. Honestly, it's very hard to be happy when you are starving. Yes, people that I met briefly - rickshaw-wallahs, taxi drivers, guards - spoke of their happiness and pride in their country. They would always ask me, "English Madam, what do you think of my country?" I would reply that I love Bangladesh, and watch their face brighten in a shining smile of white teeth. They would tell me how happy they are.

But there were people that I got to know on a more intimate level - my friends at Nari Jibon, Momota - who helped me take care of Isaac, the house girls that lived with me in Malibag - they showed me the dark side of living in poverty. It is a place where happiness lies in usually unattainable things like safety, regular meals, a new outfit - things we take for granted every day in the US.

What I realized from this survey, which says that "70% of those canvassed agreed with the statement 'I am happy with my life today'," is that maybe this display of happiness has more to do with national pride and religious beliefs than actual happiness. Bangladeshis are very proud of their country - and rightfully so, since they fought so hard for it in 1971. They want bideshis (foreigners) to have a good impression of their country. Muslims believe that all the things that happen in our lives - both good and bad - are the will of Allah. Being unhappy with what Allah has given us would be a terrible and disrespectful sin. Many times, during times of hardship, I've heard people say, "It is the grace of Allah. It is the mercy of Allah. Allah knows what's best. Jak - Allah-Barashah"

Sometimes I do wonder - if, by some miracle, the grinding poverty, social inequality, corruption and tendency towards natural disasters could be lifted from Bangladesh, how would that change the expression of happiness in Bangladesh. What a glorious thought - to see the hopeful happiness that they project become reality.


TKP said...

Well put my friend. What an insightful post....

arafat said...

Hey, thank you so much for the link. Totally loved it!

I do agree that it's hard to be happy when you're starving. But that rather common saying, that "Bangladeshis are one of the poorest, but still happy," isn't entirely untrue. And even within Bangladesh, I've always gotten the impression that people in the (poorer) rural areas are generally "happier" than those in the urban areas. Bangladeshis probably just like taking an optimistic stance on life, but I think they're living proof that the index of "happiness" is not proportional to wealth. (Of course I will admit I have no right to say this, given I was not condemned to poverty by birth, and I have no idea what it means to be poor...)

Anyways, thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Darlings, Wealth or lack of it is all relative. We know that. Most of my life I have not had much in my checkbook but have been intensely happy. Sometimes I had to pretend I was happy but that served me well. If I wasn't happy it was because I was afraid some unknown person would disapprove me because I didn't have the 'right' stuff. Now, where is the evidence to support that? Folks don't have to prove to me how rich they are or how many achievements they have. I just want to look in their eyes and see a smile back. All I want is them...not their job or lack of. That's why I am crazy in love with Isaac. He has the best eyes of anyone I know. And he doesn't have a job. Signed, Isaac's Grandma