A New Culture…A Familiar Challenge

beth rindler

Since Vatican II, I have sought to live in areas where there are people who are more likely to be poor than affluent…which is why I chose to live in an area in Detroit known as Hamtramck, a Polish settlement. Because I live alone, I wanted to feel safe so I chose the second floor of a flat. At the time, a young married couple lived on the first floor: the husband attended the University and his wife worked outside the home. This was in 1988. Later, a young man and his dog moved in. He was studying to be a veterinarian. In time he too moved away and someone else moved in.

My whole neighborhood was in flux -- people who had lived in their homes for a long time moved away. Even the old couple in the house next door moved, to be replaced by a family with six small children, one still a baby in arms. I met them in the summer time when they were outside. They were very friendly, and invited me into their home. We became closer as time went on: they eventually bought the house I lived in -- but they did not want me to move. My new landlord said my rent would help with their mortgage payments.

Their closeness is a great blessing. They are from Bangladesh, and before I met them, I had no idea that a culture could be so different from mine. From their language to their dress, religion (they are Muslim) and food! Not only was the food they ate different, but how they prepared it and ate it was different. Even the mother’s garden is different. To save ground in the small place between the house and the garage, she arranges a large homemade trellis-like apparatus as well sticks and branches placed strategically everywhere so that the plants can climb or be tied to grow upward instead of staying close to the ground.

We have lived together since Fahima, the youngest, was still in pre-school. There are three boys and three girls, with the boys being the oldest.  Initially, the whole family lived on the first floor, essentially in the same amount of space as I do. As the boys grew older, the father created three small bedrooms and a small bath for them in the big attic above me. So, I became like a hamburger in a bun. The family was now below me as well as above me.

In many ways, I have become almost like a member of their family. When the girls were small they would come to my place to play paper-drawing table games with me, and to show me their latest dances, etc. When two of the boys were in college, I often helped them with the papers they were writing for their classes because composing in English, which is not their first language, was quite difficult for them. As the girls grew older, they frequently asked me to walk them to the near-by branch library or to the Dollar store because they were not permitted to go out unescorted.

Now the oldest boy, Ripal, the youngest boy, Shapon, and oldest girl, Rebekah are married.  Ripal and Rebekah's marriage occurred about three years ago when the whole family went back to Bangladesh for three months, but Shapon was married here in Detroit. (While the family was gone, I took their mortgage payments to the bank and paid their other bills for them.) The children’s marriages are arranged for them by their parents.

I was surprised to learn that the marriage is not as happily anticipated for them as it appears to be for most American couples. Marriage is just something that happens when you become old enough. Because Shapon was married here, I was invited to his pre-marriage event where I was invited to join in one of the family rituals! His marriage ceremonies appeared to be very much a family oriented event.

Fahima is now in high school. The other two children are Shipal and Sabina, the middle boy and girl. Shipal is quite bright and has become the ‘responsible’ one in the family. He graduated with a degree in Chemistry and now works in a pharmacy. Sabina's writing ability was recognized early, and now she is studying journalism at the University. One day she came to my place and said she wrote a poem, but did not have a title for it. When I read it, I suggested that she call it, "I Need to be Me." She said that was it! In Sabina's poem it is clear that the patriarchy in the Muslim religion has the same effect on this very young girl as the patriarchy in the Catholic Church has on me. Here is what she wrote:

by Sabina

I walk the dreary, cold path of misery,
Trying to put on a new face every day,
every minute, every morning.

I hold back the tears,
wondering if anyone cares,
I have no one to talk to,
no one to hand me a shoulder.

All they do is try to force me
to follow what they say,
they try to convince me
towards something unjust.

Sometimes I wonder about
being put down, or, just giving up.

But then there are so many women,
I need to fight for,
they also need someone
to show them the right path.

I try to avoid the sorrow,
for everybody I anticipate a better tomorrow.

Sometimes I wonder if
me being born as a girl was a mistake.

I don't have the rights I deserve,
no right to say my thoughts,
I can't even be open.

Afraid that I might get yelled at,
or if they take me the wrong way.
I get confused for a while,
thinking about whom should I keep happy.

Do I think about family or Society?
or, do I just leave everyone behind
and just keep myself happy?

Some options just melt away
without leaving no bit of solution.

But then I think about being right,
I walk the negative, lonely path of promises.
I won't be put back, or just be pushed around
like some kind of property.

I will fight, fight for my rights,
my sisters rights, and for the rights for other girls.

This is one dream that gave me my motivation,
now each passing day my soul and body
fills up with more motivation.

This is me,
and if I have to walk this path
I will be more than pleased.

Sr. Beth Rindler, sfp


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