Friday, October 2

Finding a Diamond in the Rough: The Case of 'Absolut' Beauty

Who would have thought that I found myself at the birthday of a woman who rented out a floor of the Regency Hotel for a party with 250 of her closest friends?

Well, I certainly didn’t expect it when I showed up in jeans and a T-shirt, and all the women were in beautiful cocktail dresses. It never occurred to me to bring a knee length dress to a country where there are still recent accounts of acid thrown on women who disobey husbands. But low and behold – there is some good fashion here! I also didn’t think that I would be handed a shot of tequila in Bangladesh – but what’dja know…

My good friend Sayaka invited me to her friend Nadia’s party. Everyone I met over the next few hours were from all over the world: Morocco, Turkey, Britain, India – and plenty of Bangladeshis who have lived abroad. And apparently there was a famous Bangladeshi singer there (forgetting her name) that I sat in the booth with as we drank champagne bought by the son of a Turkish ambassador.

Not to assume that any of these people were ignorant elites; but I will say that it is entirely possible to never see the torment and destitution of Bangladesh if you tint your BMW windows dark enough. If there is a middle class here, it is miniscule and hidden – but the upper class is too ostentatious to not be noticed. I’ve personally been struggling with the reality of this nation because I walk on the street, passing slow enough to see the desolation, the un-organization and the systematic corruption. Now I found myself screened from it all behind frosted bottles of Absolut and green strobe lights.

To a point, I can’t blame anyone for wanting to hide from it. I do myself when I wear my thick coat of armor on the street: chin up high, not glancing down at the deformed beggars or up at the pestering rickshaws. If I do, I’ll find myself buried under endless levels of misery. But, deep down, I know hiding is not what I value. This article by travel author Allison Cross aptly illustrates my view.

But there I was, 3am tipsy in a fancy hotel – and truthfully grateful for the escape: grateful to not be at home for another night reading about systematic violence against women and the brutal lives of trafficked victims. I’m drained, jaded, and numb, but I felt the beat of the woofer under my skin and that’s all I wanted right then. The people I was surrounded by felt the same: one friend just returned from vacation, wondering why she was back in this ‘hellhole,’ a man who hasn’t seen his three-year old daughter in 10 months, another man who couldn’t name one good thing about this country and an eclectic mix of people avoiding reality.

But, there was a diamond in the rough, and I received a beautiful dose of optimism..

After some crazy dancing, I sat next to a Brit named Marc. I knew he was visiting his sister, a friend of Sayaka’s. After revealing he had been in Dhaka for three days, I asked him what he thought of Bangladesh. His face lit up with excitement, “Oh it’s so wonderful! I was expecting insane poverty and devastation, I was expecting to cry. But instead, all I’ve seen is the amazing ability of people to adapt and smile through adversity. They live in squalor, everything’s a mess, but they live just like you and I do!” He was stumbling over his words – one could blame the potency of the alcohol, but I could feel it was the intensity of his feelings: “Maybe this is condescending, maybe I’m just na├»ve, but I’m just so surprised and happy at how beautiful everyone is, how strong they are, and how they just make their lives work. I love our species, we really are wonderful! I mean, if London or New York was destroyed right now, yeah it would be devastating, but we’d adapt, wouldn’t we?”

Immediately I thought: “I don’t know what frightens me more, the power that crushes us, or our endless ability to endure it.” (G.D. Roberts, Shantaram). But Marc wasn’t frightened, and neither was I. For once I’ve said, “Every day I saw the pain of these girls, struggling to overcome their violent past. And every day, I saw their endless ability to continue to dance, to smile, and to love.”

Amidst the superficiality, I found some grace. And that’s what it’s about: our view on the world is a choice, an active choice to nominate optimism as the winner. And where would any sports team or famous actress be without their fans? We need to be a fan of reality, of our race, of this world. This man reminded me of this in a place least expected. Beauty is everywhere but you can’t find it or believe in it if you hide – or even walk to fast with your chin up.

1 comment:

  1. People never give cliches enough credit. When one looks at a glass half full or half empty, they must accept their decision to either embrace or fight. To embrace you grow and and become stronger, and you can change things, to fight you become blind and weak and nothing happens. Love Mommy xoxoxoxoxoxox