I walk the side streets of a prestigious Dhaka neighborhood; large quixotic holes, stoundingly high speed-bumps and crooked road-signs litter most streets. Everything seems crumbling, misapplied, and fractured – as if someone just haphazardly shoved a bunch of dirty clothes in their closet.
There is garbage and the smell of feces everywhere. People navigate this squalor and walk-around to get to their destination, as if nothing bothers them; this filth and stench, is a normal part of their lives. Drop an hour of monsoon rains, and these same streets become a combined sewer cesspool.
The roads here are so congested that it takes over two hours to go eight miles during regular business hours. Dinner parties start around 10 pm just to accommodate the traffic fiasco.
This is the same city I was born in. From the look and feel of it, it’s hard to understand why and how one would deliberately choose to live in a city like this.
I meet several groups of friends and family during my short stays; everyone acknowledges the development in the country during the last 3 decades; however, I don’t hear a single one taking a “stay-cation” in Dhaka. They can’t wait to escape to Bangkok, Singapore, Colombo or some Exotic European city for “a breather”, as they put it. Hope for improving Dhaka, as a livable city, seems to have completely gone out of the window.
Paradoxically, property values have climbed so high that sometimes a small apartment here costs more than that of Chicago, or even some areas of New York City.
I realize, I am frustrated, upset and anxious.
The last 9 months, I have been traveling back and forth to Dhaka to visit my convalescing mother from a debilitating illness. From the moment, I land at the cramped and moldy 80s style airport with a really long name, I am not myself.
I try to cheer-up her caregivers, work with the team of people, who help orchestrate the necessary infrastructure to provide care and comfort to my ailing mom.
And then, I swiftly run back to my home in the United States.
Because, I just cannot breathe here.
As if, just like my ailing mom, I am slowly, but painfully losing my city of birth.
Nothing appears the same here as I knew it. My close friends have all migrated to Europe, Australia or North America. There a couple who chose to stay, express their remorse and regret staying back.They are now in a hurry to make accommodations for their children somewhere.
The house where my parents lived has been replaced by a 11 story unremarkable, concrete monolith.
I don’t recognize my home, I don’t recognize these people, nor it’s filth, squalor or just abstract randomness.
Definition of home always includes a safe place, a warm place, filled with peace and love.
I feel no peace in this city.
Once my Mom passes, the biggest portion of that love that I have felt here, will also disappear. I can feel it’s imminence creep on my back, like one of those spiders.
It has taken me thirty years to lose my homeland.
Or maybe, just maybe, my homeland has lost me.