In life, there are two kinds of people: those who crave attention and those who receive attention. Then again, there are others like me who relish the freedom of drifting peacefully on the silent backwaters of life without any interruptions, minding one’s own business and left to feed our indulgences.
Then, you have a baby and boom! — the limelight doth shine ever so brightly upon the bundle of joy produced from your own loins. This, however, is not a bad thing, particularly when living in Bangladesh. In fact, it can provide the perfect diversion to maintain a low profile while appeasing the teeming masses of curious passers-by wishing to lay their eyes on a blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby for the first time in their life. Babies — the perfect fashion accessory to complement any occasion, especially in a culture that unequivocally adores infants.
As a foreigner living in Bangladesh, your personal homeostasis is blasted to smithereens the moment you step off the plane. Sometimes, this state of being can even begin when you board the final leg of your trip to Dhaka. At first, I braced myself for the usual line of interrogation from strangers on the street: “what is your name, what is your country, how do you feel in Bangladesh, can you get me visa?”
Admittedly, this rigamorale became annoying several months into our first jaunt back in 2002, so I was preparing my stoic defenses for these moments well before our return earlier this month. Turns out, I had absolutely nothing to worry about. When you have a baby in tow, you can feel safe betting every dollar and asset you own that he or she will become the center of attention in any situation, capturing the hearts and minds of people all across the country.
Meet my baby daughter Gemma — the Heir Apparent Bideshi Queen of Bangladesh.
Since our arrival, I have been stopped in the street by grown men who wish to coo and utter baby talk to the infant strapped to my chest. Gemma has been coddled, pinched and passed around by at least 50 complete strangers, racking up at least half of this tally in a single setting while dad was trying to procure mobile phone service. On rickshaw rides, passing carriages slow down to gaze at the bideshi (foreigner) baby and make silly faces at a seven-month-old American girl, who can’t talk, can’t walk, and pees in her pants eight times a day.
Now, the attention garnered by little Gemma did not begin in Bangladesh. I noticed a significant uptick in attention from neighbors and strangers alike shortly after she was born in Washington, DC. People I had seen on a daily basis for several years suddenly began to acknowledge me, approach me, and speak to me — all in the name of baby admiration. “It’s good to see a baby with her daddy,” they would say. Oh, how right they were.
Dhaka is a swarming hive of activity and humanity, home to well over 15 million people. Frankly, at first, I was concerned how I might react to cavorting about with a child. Now, I believe it is quite perhaps the AWESOMEST thing ever.
When I am walking the streets with my baby, I am allowed to speak high-pitched baby talk to strangers in third person, which is perhaps the best part of it all. It also provides the perfect excuse to get out of many-an-uncomfortable situations.
So, good-bye, visa requests. Sayonara, awkward inquiries about my personal life. Take a hike, invitations to strangers’ homes to stare at me whilst drinking tea.
Say hello to my little friend and the apple of your eye.