Where Do I Want to Belong
A Bengali woman feels torn between the love of her family in Bangladesh and her desire for freedom in Canada.
I am on a Chinese airline flight to Vancouver, crying. I had to hold back my tears at the airport in front of my parents as we hugged goodbye. They were crying, of course, but I stood strong. I couldn’t tell my mom and dad that a small part of me did not want to go back to Canada–because the bigger part of me didn’t want to stay in Bangladesh! This was my first return journey to my parents after receiving permanent residency in Canada.
I ran some errands, too, while visiting them. I repaired my worn-out shoes that I bought three years ago in Dhaka. These shoes feel so comfortable and look pretty, too — pink and blunt-toed, like ballet slippers. The soles are strong and flexible, while the straps keep my feet steady. I walked so much in them that one tore. While in Canada, I took these favourite shoes to three different repair shops. All asked for approximately the same price – 15 dollars! I gasped. I could get my shoes repaired for the equivalent of 15 cents in Dhaka! Clothes and shoes are so much cheaper there. By contrast, life in Canada was straining me financially. So, I brought my shoes with me to be repaired.
I wipe my tears as the flight attendant comes with beverages. I feel embarrassed as I can’t understand her heavily- accented English, though I used to teach English in Bangladesh. I had a career and a comfortable life, as well as a close-knit extended family. But I must be very ungrateful for I could not be happy. I yearned for more freedom. I wonder what this Chinese flight attendant’s life is like in China. Does she love her job because it gets her away from that choking family love? I can’t know. I can’t talk to her. Instead, I communicate in gestures, refusing the drink she offers.
On this return trip, I enjoyed my time with my family and friends. One cousin, however, kept nagging, “Don’t you miss us in Canada?” I wanted to snap at her, “Yeah, right. I miss your nose! Isn’t it always in someone else’s business?” But I kept silent, pleased by how much it irked her that I wouldn’t say what she wanted to hear.
The strange thing is, here on my return flight to Canada, I’m missing that annoying cousin, too! She is my flesh and blood; I cannot just cut her out of my life despite the fact that it is people like her I wanted to run away from to Canada. I made a choice that was simply unacceptable to any ‘sensible’ Bengali: I decided not to be a mother. And while I may not care about what any Bengali thinks, the support of my loved ones matters to me. Their disapproval often makes my life feel not worth living.
I close my eyes and try to weigh the pros and cons of both countries on an imaginary scale. They balance each other out. While sweating in the humidity in the Bangladeshi summer, I dream of running on the snow; my lips are parched for a few drops of Monsoon in the dry wretched Canadian summer.
The plane prepares to land. My feet feel heavy after sitting for so long. I wriggle my toes in my shoes that have shared this back and forth journey with me. Funny – I could buy and repair my shoes so cheaply in Bangladesh, but I could never walk freely in them in the streets of Dhaka. That I could do only in Canada.
NABILA HUQ made her debut in creative non-fiction with The Shoe Project. She writes fiction as well, yet to be published. Nabila wants to work at the Canadian High Commission to Bangladesh someday as a representative of Canada to enjoy the best of both of her countries.