NORMAN — It was, in fact is, still, a matter of pride when I first saw “Made in Bangladesh” on the price tag of a T-shirt in the Ross outlet here in Norman, Oklahoma, USA.
That tag was not the last copy of an exhibition. We saw many such signs glittering in black letter hanger to hanger and reflecting to our hearts. But it is not only symbolic of something dear thousands of miles far from homeland. It is business as well; it is money and matter. The garments we are producing in Bangladeshi factories are flying toward the corners and rows of American super shops. Most of the people I encountered here know about Bangladesh by these stitches and knitting, of course. The majority of them may not know the exact facts and figures about Bangladesh, but they are passing many moments with her “made in” sign.
But these events are not enough, let us be realistic. The state of Oklahoma and a city like Norman are the “heartland” of America. Unlike the East or West coast of this country which may very well be opposite sides of the globe. Cities like New York or Washington, D.C., are quite familiar with Bangladeshi faces and foods, no doubt. But Norman is far from that in terms of milage and meaning.
Very few, countable even by fingers, Bangladeshi people “live” in Norman. Most of them are either post graduate and doctoral students or teachers. And one or two families came here before the Bengal Delta became Bangladesh officially. One of my country fellows figured the total number of Bangladeshi families in Norman between 25 to 30.
Fortunately, the number is increasing. Breaking the long frequencies of decades the city is gaining new faces every year from Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi Student Association at the University of Oklahoma also is becoming familiar within the community through various programs.
Not only the quality of education, but also the quiet environment of the university and of the city is one of the attractions for the calm natured Bangladeshi people. As the scholars and students from Bangladesh have earned reputations here, the university administration will be quite happy to welcome more Bangladeshi, we can hope rationally.
It’s true that profoundness is another name of loneliness sometimes; a Bangladeshi restaurant can solve this and diversify the food festivals paved in the street sides of this city ranging from Mexico to Mongolia. It is really fantastic to imagine that Tagore Songs are being played in the indoor shadow of noon or night.
Well, the Norman people may not know that Rabindranath Tagore is the greatest poet, writer, philosopher and musician of Bengal or South Asia as a whole. Hundreds of his songs are being played in everyday life and in festivals and cultural events in Bangladesh. When our own language becomes limited to express the exact sense, we overwhelmingly quote from his poetry and prose. He got the nobel prize in literature in 1913. Present Bangladesh and India — the countries was undivided at time of Tagore — have chosen their national anthem from his collection of songs.
As made in Bangladesh garments are already available here, bringing brains, cuisine and culture will definitely make the market wild and wider. It is not the matter of one way, anyway. Bangladeshi can learn a lot form Norman’s city plan, green initiatives, governance, road network, media, health services, life of people and, of course, the hospitality, and can take them home back.
People of Bangladesh have static ideas about American life, culture and systems. Most of them are “revealed” by Holywood movie, novels and the news analysis and commentary on United State’s engagement with international issues. Most of them are experienced from short visit in the giant and granite cities. Visiting and staying in Norman will change that set of thinking, I am sure.
Norman also can share some ideas and policy with Bangladesh beyond friendship. Both of the places are largely dependent on agriculture and natural gas production. We may even expect joint study groups on these issues. No doubt that, Bangladesh is a county of water bodies — the rivers, haor (great lakes that dry up in the dry season), and lakes; at the same time, we have some drought prone areas, especially in northern Bangladesh. Norman life also balances natural features. We can share the experience of drought and watershed management. And many other issues will be common.
So, what should be the starting point of engagement? We know the United States of America is the long time and proven ally of Bangladesh. They are working together within and across the borders. But the real relations lie on the people’s heart. So people to people contact and cultural exchange is far more important than diplomatic deals. And people are wandering back and forth between Bangladesh and Norman, as well as the United States. But in case of closer relations, we must seek a special arrangement. Exchange programs like this one, under which we are now visiting Norman, are one of the ways, I am sure. But there is another unique path which we can seek easily.
In fact it is common in United States, but very uncommon in Bangladesh. That is to make “sister city.” Norman has four sister cities. They are Arezzo, Italy; Clermont-Ferrand, France; Colima, Mexico; and Seika, Japan. A nonprofit citizen diplomacy network, named Sister Cities International is establishing such partnerships between communities in the United States and those in other countries. They have partnered more than 2,000 cities states and counties between 136 countries around the word. Why not Bangladesh into this fold?
Let me tell one thing that the topography and ecology of Norman is something similar to our North Bengal — mostly plain, not so dense green, drought, extreme weather — too cold or too hot, stormy. Like that part of Bangladesh, Norman’s rivers are not in good condition either. They are flowing lean due to dams in upper riparian regions.
So we can easily make a sisterly relation between a North Bengal city and Norman. It can be, for instant, Rangpur. It has some certain similarity with Norman. Such as the city is comparatively calmer. Like Norman, it is an educational city, there is a public university and good number of colleges and other educational institutes. It has the river Teesta like Little River and North Canadian rivers here. It has a zoo as well. And, like Norman, Rangpur belongs a distinct accent of language and easily identifiable cultural entity.
I think no one — the city authority of Norman and Rangpur and the Sister Cities International — will be unhappy in this arrangement. Then let’s do it
Sheikh Rokon, a Bangladeshi journalist and researcher, is visiting Norman under an exchange program from the US State Department and Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.