Published: February 16th 2009February 12th 2009
Bangladeshis have an incredible willingness to perform in front of audiences. Kids here are raised to sing on command (in front of relatives, visitors, strangers), and girls in particular are pretty much expected to have some kind of dance or song up their sleeve in the event that they are called on to entertain. The pressure to perform doesn't disappear with age, and adults will just as easily break into song if necessary. I haven't been to a single meeting that didn't involve at least two or three impromptu performances. And despite the fact that some people's talents are clearly much more worthy than others, nobody seems terribly shy about belting out a folk song or two.
Inevitably Parendi and I get asked to sing all the time--in Safe Spaces, during meetings, etc. Until now we've been 100% successful in avoiding the obligation (with the exception of one time when I happily agreed to sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" to a couple of pre-teen girls; they were largely unimpressed by my performance as they knew the song already and had been hoping for something new and interesting). Unfortunately, during the lunch break of last week's meeting I made the mistake
Two of our FTs live in the same bari
and seem to enjoy an unusual independence and level of comfort in their extended family
of leaving my computer open; when my random photo slideshow screen saver came on, a photo of me dancing in Nepal (again, at a meeting where I was made to perform after all the other women had) popped up just as one of our FTs was walking by.
When I came back into the room after lunch she (and all of the other FTs whom she had called over to see the photo) began demanding that I dance. I told them that I didn't dance; that in my culture, we don't perform in front of people (which is my stock excuse). "But we saw the photo. Now you have to dance!"
I told them I would dance if Parendi would dance. She was sick that day and I was hoping she would stand firm in her refusal. To my great surprise they didn't even have to ask her twice. She just nodded her head and before I knew it we were being escorted up to the front of the room as the FTs tied our urnas so that we would be appropriately covered while we danced. Lucky for me Parendi pretty much has the moves of a Bollywood
back-up dancer, so she stole the show and left me to twirl my hands awkwardly on the side as Celine Dion played in the background. Of course Jewel has a new digital camera with video function and the whole thing is caught on tape, for your viewing pleasure. If it weren't so funny I'd probably be mortified. But it's just so good I'm willing to take it public.
For contrast, you can also see the video of a sweet young Bangladeshi girl giving us her own dance performance. A few days after Parendi and I's rendition of Celine, we found ourselves at the house of the same FT who had led the charge to make us dance. She lives in a big bari (cluster of houses) composed of various related nuclear households. There are children everywhere and enough men and women of various ages to maintain a huge garden, some livestock, and perform various other tasks contributing to the general functioning of the bari. On the day we arrived most of the middle-aged women were busy turning rice grains into puffed rice (muri), the most common household food in Bangladesh. The matriarch of the family was babysitting a couple
of the smaller kids. An older woman and her husband (retired from the army) were using a foot-driven wheel to grind lentils into lentil flour. And when we politely oooo-ed and awe-ed at the coconut trees on the property, a boy of about 16 from the family was summoned from a neighboring tea shop to shed his shirt, tie up his lungi (wrap skirt) and shimmy up the palm tree to get us some coconuts. It was an incredible example of a highly productive and self sufficient household (where interestingly the women were in such large force that they seemed to enjoy unusual autonomy and relaxed attitudes even in the presence of the elder men of the bari).
And of course with all the kids around we could barely make it out of the courtyard without a few young girls thrust in our direction and told to dance. The one I managed to catch on video was the most shy of the performers, though her moves are impressive. At least now I have have something to watch and learn from.
There are more photos below