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  • The city of Dhaka is so busy and on the move, its momentum wouldn't allow it to notice if the world ended. In Dhaka, when walking on the sidewalk, you'll bump shoulders with at least ten people. No one waits for anyone here. Car horns are a must in navigating through this city where traffic lights never work. Everyone is hustling, climbing social ladders with missing rungs, and bribing. Corruption is obvious here; even the fruits being sold on the street are sprayed with all sorts of unregulated preservatives.

    Probably the only thing remotely close to being pure is the weed. And from adolescents with free time to working professionals with gray beards to rickshaw drivers making $6 a day, everyone seems to be smoking weed. You get a whiff of it every once in a while as you roll by on a rickshaw. There are some parks where people smoke weed and the passing police officer doesn't bother. But God forbid you make out with a girl by the lake at the park. This same police officer will embarrass you and your girlfriend in public.

    There are a lot of double standards in this city. Alcohol is illegal. One can go to jail for two months or more for having a few cans of beer. Meanwhile, underage prostitution runs rampant. Because of the high rate of poverty, poorer Bangladeshi men prefer chubbier women so brothels give fourteen-year-old girls Oradexon, a pill given to cows to make them meatier.

    I was born in Sylhet, a smaller city five hours away from the capital city of Dhaka, but migrated to New York at the age of 10. This was my first time in Dhaka and I was there for an internship with a photo agency.

    While roaming the Dhaka streets or looking out an apartment window, one can’t shake off the feeling that someone is watching. Someone’s watching, either through your window or peepholes as you leave or enter your apartment. These watchers keep tabs on who comes, who goes and who stays the night in your apartment. They keep tabs on what kind of smell seeps from under your door and what noise is heard on the other side of the wall. You'll never see these watchers; they'll hide behind their curtains and stare from their balconies across the street. And if they feel you’ve offended their moral code, they'll mutter under their breath to companions as you pass by, and you’ll never hear these watchers but you’ll somehow feel their judgment.

    One day, bored out of my mind, I started running laps around my flat. After running for a while I noticed an old lady watching from a balcony across the street but continued anyway. A few laps later a young man, her grandson I imagine, was next to her. By the tenth lap, the whole family was watching me.

    On Shab-e-barat, a woman from the apartment across from mine called my house phone and invited me over for dinner. "A Muslim has to look out for another Muslim," she said. She knew all about how I lived alone with no family in the city. She probably got the information about me from another watcher, the nosey guard downstairs. I politely declined.

    Growing up in New York City, where my neighbors were never as curious, the experience was a little unnerving. The guard at the front gate had been instructed by my neighbors not to allow me to bring any woman in the building. Apparently, he wasn't only protecting me from intruders but also from immoral decisions.

    I met unmarried couples living together, but they had to lie and say that they were married. And yet with all these moral codes, everything happens. People find their way to alcohol, married women cheat and crazy sex parties take place. But the eyes are always watching. Someone is bound to know your business.

    Towards the middle of my two-month stay in Dhaka, I became increasingly introspective. I thought twice about whatever I did. I thought about the eyes I couldn’t see watching me. But ultimately, I learned to ignore these eyes and found ways to get whoever I wanted inside my apartment. I never put up curtains on my windows and did whatever I wanted for all to see. I became sort of an exhibitionist for lack of a better word and learned to be comfortable with myself and in my own skin.

    Growing up in a Bangladeshi community in the Bronx, I always watched my steps so as to not make a bad name for my family. But the two months in Dhaka made me want to yell out and tell the world that yes I do what I do and I'm not ashamed. I don't have to tell you exactly what I do, but if you find out then good for you.

    I returned to New York with this intense desire to reveal all my characteristics and habits that might be considered immoral or shameful. So that if I appear naked in front of the world there will be nothing for anyone to judge. There will be nothing for anyone to find out because I put it out there by myself.

    I felt free. Liberated.

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