Visiting Medicins Sans Frontiers’ nutrition project in Kamrangirchar slum in Dhaka with my translator, Sherpa

I’ve got a crush on a Bangladeshi guy and I just told him. Over a message on Facebook.  Two hours ago.  I know, I know, it was a stupid thing to do.  He is also my employee, which makes it at least four times as stupid.  He’s a really good translator and the last thing I need right now, during my first month of freelancing, is to lose my good translator.  Before sending the message (the contents of which I’ll never dare reprint), I remembered Renee Zellweger’s famous line at the end of the film Jerry Maguire, when she told Tom Cruise, “You had me at hello.”  I realised that my translator had me at “ergo” – a word he included in his exceptionally well-phrased application for the translation job.  He’s continued to impress me on every occasion and hence I seem to have buckled.  And he’s a good writer too.  I’ve not written a sentence all day, so I decided to switch off Facebook and write this instead.

I’ve been in Bangladesh for nearly a year and this is the first time I’ve had a proper crush on a Bangladeshi.  Well, at least it’s the first time I thought I might have a chance.  There seemed to be some chemistry, between my translator and I, though at this stage it’s obviously not looking good…

I have foreign friends who have dated Bangladeshis, and I’ve got a lot of Bangladeshi friends who get out and about.  Both have tried to warn me off the idea!  It’s funny how people seem to believe that the dating experience can be intrinsically different as a result of differing nationalities.  I guess this is true, as there are so many cultural differences between us, right?  Yet when I apply this theory to the individual – in this case, Sherpa – something about it seems slightly off.  He’s himself; like no other.  Any person with a crush will describe the object of their affections like that, and we do mean it.  And if the feelings were reciprocated, I’d like to believe that my nationality has nothing to do with it – either good or bad.

Nevertheless, I took the advice of both male and female Bangladeshi friends who told me to “take it slow.”  When I blurted out to my friend Robin Gazi that I had a crush on a Bangladeshi guy, the first thing he said was, “I feel for him.”  Interesting.  Perhaps to my friends’ surprise, I took it slower than I wanted by completely clamming up and hiding my emotions.  Until now, that is.  And by spewing out my feelings in a paragraph, Robin thinks I could have mucked it.  I think he’s right.

At any rate, I am aware that dating in Bangladesh is frowned upon by many and mostly practiced in secret – and I’m not at all certain what the public response would be to a Bangladeshi guy and an Australian girl holding hands on the street.  It would surely attract a lot of attention.  We went to a pool hall last night in Bashundura City – I taught Sherpa how to play and he was instantly as good as me (okay, not hard).  I was the only female in a hall of about 80 men – and we did sort of look like we were on a date because I was grinning like a monkey.  But everyone was cool.

About a month ago I started joking – and I strongly emphasise the word “joking” – with my friends that the book I hope to write about Bangladesh would be a lot more interesting if I dated a Bangladeshi guy.  A friend from Kolkata volunteered to set up a Boyfriend Selection Committee; even said he’d do it for free…  But I wouldn’t allow it (who would?!).  And although I’ve happily spent most of my life as a single person and can’t help but agree with my mother when she says that there are a lot of insincere men out there, I’ll be the first to admit that being in a foreign city (no matter how familiar) with a person you really like is very different from just being in the city.  The colours are sharper, more luminous and exotic, and the people more charming.  And to investigate Dhaka, one of the world’s grittiest cities, as we have done over the last two weeks, has been so much better than just hanging out.  We’ve interviewed street kids and garment workers and frightened off drug peddlers; we’ve mostly worked in Tejgaon, Gulshan and Karwan Bazar.  I’ve learnt so much from him already – he’s said things about his country that I could never have learnt from books.  And when we’re out on the streets all day, Sherpa sensibly hauls me into cafes for a break, and then we get chatting about all sorts of things.  Life.  Death.  History.  Books.  I can only afford to pay him Tk 300 per hour (he assures me he’s not doing it for the money) but our ratio of working hours and hanging out hours is about 1:5 anyway… Neither of us are going to get rich quick.

Now is the time to log onto Facebook to find out whether Sherpa likes me.  That just sounds so stupid – I’m ashamed by this random act of immaturity.  “If you have something to say, you should say it to someone’s face,” goes the proverb.  What scares me most is not getting a reply.


One very happy month later!