Recently I have been thinking a lot about friends and relationships. My own ties are now a mish mash of connections with people in Bangladesh, those back home or elsewhere overseas. Managing friendships isn’t always easy here in Dhaka. For sure I have met a lot of people but finding true connections and opportunities to bond with others whilst living abroad remains work in progress. I’ve struggled to make deeper connections with Bangladeshis in Bangladesh even though some of my closest friends back in the UK are Bangladeshi. I think there are several reasons for this including a lack of fluidity when communicating (no shared mother tongue) as well as cultural differences regarding what is/or is not appropriate to say and/or what is regarded as humorous.
Speaking about expats, the population in and around Dhaka is not huge though most people are keen to socialize around work commitments. I have met teachers, buyers for fashion houses, lawyers and volunteers with various projects. I have also been introduced to those dedicated to missionary work in this part of South Asia. Meeting people has not been difficult. Expat clubs provide opportunities to meet others in an obvious way and foreigners tend to be amiable if paths cross in public as the overseas population really is that small. It is not unusual to approach unknown foreigners randomly just to say ‘hi’ and this level of friendliness is actually really wonderful. Acquaintances can form this quickly in Dhaka where people can bond over a sense of unfamiliarity. It is also nice to be able to help others wherever and whenever you can.
Finding those deeper friendships and connections with other expats takes time and can be hard to find but I think that keeping your mind open to all sorts of friendships is helpful. You certainly mix with people you would not necessarily have the opportunity to socialise with in the past and you gradually find yourself opening up to a wider range of potential friendships and experiences. Some of the friendships that I didn’t seem to value so much early on are now the very relationships that keep me going. People I thought were not my sort of people are now very much my sort of people! Close friendships become your sole support network in Dhaka and it can be particularly difficult when these friends return home or go onto new placements overseas. This is an unavoidable reality amongst all expat communities I guess.
Social media and Skype has also enabled me to maintain my relationships back home. I miss my family a lot and I try to keep in touch everyday through facebook and pre-arranged telephone contracts offering cheap rates. Similarly I can keep up with long-term friends through Facebook and Viber/Skype offer good quality free calls. I really do miss my childhood friendships – girly dinners with friends you just don’t have to make any effort with. I miss those relationships where you don’t see one another for weeks and yet nothing changes when you finally meet. I can keep up to speed with my friends’ news and daily life through the media sites I have mentioned and it is surprising how you can still feel very connected with on-going status updates and instant messages. It really is possible to stay continually connected as it is easier and easier to be available via laptop, tab and mobile. We are in a digital age and I really don’t know how I would have coped being so far away without these means of communication. Of course nothing can substitute being there in person but at least some sense of normality can be achieved.
More than just maintaining those close relationships I can also keep in the loop with a much broader circle of friends on-line. Being so far away I can still keep in tune with the daily happenings. Bizarrely I can also get a sense of the mood of people back home – many of my friends have been complaining about the current job and housing markets at the moment! I guess it can be a bit of an informal UK newsfeed as well.
Certain sites have also helped me to connect with several other women married to Bangladeshis who live around the world. Some have lived or visited Bangladesh and it is interesting to exchange experiences. I hope that one day I will get a chance to meet one or two of them in person.
Living abroad has certainly helped me to be more creative about making and maintaining friendships. It has challenged me to keep up with distant friendships and to meet people I would not have otherwise met had I stayed in the UK.