So far, this blog has been a lot of Bangladesh and not too much blonde. But today, I indulged in blonde paradise: shopping. Before you roll your eyes and close this tab, you should know that I shopped at Aarong Handicrafts, BRAC's most successful social enterprise which has actually become Bangladesh's most notable fashion retailer. Aarong certainly lived up to its reputation; the fashions were to die for. Travelers are generally advised to only stuff their wallets with the cash they need for the day. Thank goodness I followed this advice. Having found my mother ship in Dhaka, I could have spent hours in Aarong Handicrafts and bought at least ten outfits, but my budget limited me to two purchases.
A few reasons why Aarong is awesome:
1. The tops are handmade by BRAC artisans.
2. Many of the fabrics are also created by BRAC artisans. BRAC Sericulture is a relatively new enterprise, and it was created to help supply silk to artisans from Aarong and other fashion retailers.
3. Despite the impeccable craftsmanship, my tops averaged $22.
4. There were THOUSANDS of designs to choose from. As a fashionista who thrives on exoticness, bright colors, and originality, I love shopping in a store where you cannot find two of the same garments.
Drawbacks included having a budget, approaching the point of too many options, and feeling like a giant. In a country where women average between 5'0" and 5'2", weigh around 100 lbs, and are never found bench pressing, I felt awkward having to ask for a larger size. Ironically, I didn't feel that bad when I struggled to squeeze my bust into a medium top; at that point, I knew that I was not the problem.
Needless to say, women's fashion in Bangladesh is really growing on me. In fact, I have already grown so attached to the purchases I made that they will come to college with me in the fall. I am psyched to return to Aarong next weekend (my "host mom" and I already set the date) and buy a shalwar kameez, which is a top, pant, and scarf ensemble. Next year, Aarong strives to launch an online retailer, an event I eagerly anticipate.
In all seriousness, I am very surprised at how much of an outsider I feel like here in Dhaka. Even wearing a t-shirt and jeans, the most basic outfit an American could wear, saying I stand out is an understatement. Maybe this is the driving force behind my newfound obsession with Bangladeshi fashion. I have also become enthralled by Bangla characters and hope to either take a Bangla language class or purchase a work book. Suddenly, I am overwhelmingly interested in making choices to help me assimilate to the culture.
Maybe I am so aware of my conformist attitude because I have felt very little peer pressure throughout my life. I was always the kid who played what I wanted to play in spite of my friends' preferences. If my friends wanted to play something else, I didn't care and would contently play by myself. This attitude does not fly in a new environment. For example, this morning a couple BRAC employees were in my neighborhood and called me to join them for breakfast. Although I would have rather stayed in and read, I knew what I had to do.
Of course I ended up having a splendid time. The walk over, like most sights in Bangladesh, was fascinating. Next door to BRAC Center is BRAC University, which was also founded Sir Fazle Hasad Abed. Just behind the University is a small road filled with vendors selling fresh fruit, fish, chicken, duck, you name it. When I heard a chicken cluck, I was especially startled to find a pair of cocks nonchalantly suspended by their feet in a man's hand. The vendors' baskets filled with fish jiggled as the creatures writhed in the oxygen rich air. Imagine this scene behind Kravis Center at Claremont McKenna or behind at University of Minnesota classroom on Washington Avenue. I had never seen a scene quite like this.
Finally we crawled into a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and shared a classic Bangladeshi breakfast of paratha (cross between a pancake and tortilla) which one tears and uses as a utensil to pick up sabji (mixed vegetables) and eggs. I tried to be as authentic as possible by just using my right hand to eat my meal. At least I did better than I do with chopsticks.
On the way back, I also saw a sight I never thought I would see. Like a girlfriend furiously upset with her boyfriend, I saw a police officer slap a rickshaw driver across the face. Everyone in proximity tuned into the exchange. They looked dumbfounded, yet powerless. After a week of thorough news reading, I am very aware of the mistrust many Bengalis feel toward their police force; they are quite outspoken about it in media outlets. Before this all happened, I tried to get a hold of my bank via phone and for some reason the comfort of 911 crossed my mind. At home, if any sort of emergency occurs, I can call 911 without hesitation. Halfway around the world, 911 is nothing but a distant memory. While gaping at this violence made me feel even further from home, it also united me with the Bangladeshis around me who non-verbally concurred that this display of authority is unacceptable in our modern world.