Thursday, September 28, 2006

Studious Me

a typical conversation with me.....

Saturday July 29, 2006

studious me

Today was a weekend day here, which are the only two days of the week that the traffic is managable in the city. The past few days I've been going out alone which provides me the chance to only speak in Bangla. I feel that you need to hear and read a language just as much as make sentences and study grammar in order to become proficent and conversant. I had an appointment at ten am across the city to meet with a wonderful woman professor from Dhaka University.

Many weeks ago now, we had the Press Sceretary of the US Consulate come over to the university and speak to us about the political climate and election time shenanagans that go on here in Dhaka. Things like strikes, protests, and social lockdown in the streets. I was listening in, some may call evesdropping, on a conversation between John our speaker and Tony the professor who is the residental director of this program. They were discussing an upcoming regional Interfaith Conference.

Right up my alley! I approached Tony after the talk and asked him if there was some way I could miss class and attend the conference. Well, with some requests and soft insistence, I got a call the morning of from Tony with the address and details. Yep, I crashed the conference and had a great time doing it.

When I entered the room of the conference, a paper was being presented by Dr. David Harrington from Temple University on Interreligous Dialogue. Accompanying him was a respondent and the moderator, Dr Banu, whose house I visited today. Dr. Banu is the provost of the Political Science Department and the head of a girls hostel with 1300 girls ! At the conference, I found Dr. Banu a pleasure to talk with, inciteful, and so very sophisticated. She also served on the Board of the University ( Bangladesh Institute of Islamic Thought) which hosted this conference called, Regional Interfaith Conference for Peace Stability and Development in South Asia. There were representatives from Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal. The male of the species was more in number, by far and Dr. Banu spoke up about the need for more women to participate in the Dialogue too. Too true.

I also shared to comments about the need to inculde more young people in conferences like this one, and perhaps even host a youth conference (18-35). I also asked some questions to the afternoon's speaker about the evolution of the ethical needs of the world. In the case of mixed-culture and mixed-religious marriages the world of religion and ethic is developing into something new, and a new set of needs. The atmosphere at the conference was very open and understanding. It was also very communicative and sharing. I got to meet several professors of Islamic Studies, Religion, Economics, Philosophy and Jounalism.

I was not able to attend the second day of the conference, because I got my lovely sinus infection. Today, I had the appointment with Dr.Banu to visit her at the Dhaka University campus and chit-chat some more. Dhaka University is the largest university in Bangladesh, started in 1921. There are thousands and thousands of students there and the campus in enoumous.

Today I visited just a slice of the pie, visiting the student union, the Arts Division, and one of four girl's hostels. What amazed me most is how the female population of Dhaka Uni had now grown to the number equal to the male population. The boys have 13 hostels and the girls have 4. In the girls rooms I saw today, there were eight girls to a room. Two girls per twin bed! I joked with them that I would have a big problem if I lived there. The beds would fit just one of my size.

Dr.Banu is one of people responsible for all 1300 girls in the hostel behind her house, and is trying to find more accomodation for the female students. I suggested taking at least one of the boys hostels.

Seeing women in positions of power here is not something one may expect, especially clouded by the general assumptions a American may have about the social conditons of a "Muslim" country. Why is muslim in quotes? Because one of the important things that I have understood about Bangladesh is that this is not a "Muslim'" country. This is a democratic country, not one that is run by Islamic fundamentalists. In this post-9/11 world we throw the Muslim label around and further marginalize countries like Bangladesh.

The social ethic here is Muslim, because this land is a Muslim majority. The political ethic is Democratic. Another important point I have observed is that the gender scale is not so lopsided here. Similar to India, woman have a most powerful role in the home and community and just like Dr. Banu there are women in positions of business, power, and leadership yet they retain their feminity visibly.

I discussed today with Dr. Banu, is there anything in Islam that prevents it from correlating with Democratic governance? She says no and we discussed more what is going on in the world with the labeling of Islam as the current enemy. We also discussed the current war in Lebanon. People are protesting in Dhaka about well they should. As well as anyone should.


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