In My View
The untold stories of my American friends
�American people are friendly, polite and courteous; they stand up for what is right and never hesitate to help others." That was a consensus reached by all twelve journalists from twelve different countries of the world at the end of a six-month journalism fellowship sponsored by a Washington-based American organization back in 1988.
As the fellowship which provided an excellent opportunity to work at various US newspapers for six months came to a close, all twelve fellows including myself returned to New York for participating in a post-mortem meeting. At this meeting, 12 foreign journalists shared their experiences with officials of the fellowship who asked a variety of questions to the fellows and listened to their answers as well as took note of them.
The questions such as what went right, what went wrong as well as how the fellowship could be improved. The most fascinating question came at the end of the meeting. "How did you all find the Americans during your six-month stay in this country?" All twelve fellows from twelve different countries praised the people of America profusely describing them as "friendly, polite, helpful, courteous�" and with a lot of other good words.
As for myself, I experienced their friendship and generosity -- even before I came to America -- while I was still in Dhaka. I had applied for US visa with the State Department's pink form sent to me from the Alfred Friendly Press Foundation or AFPF, the host of our journalism fellowship. When I went to the American embassy in the afternoon to pick up my passport, I was escorted by US Information Officer Jesse Bailey into his office where he handed me my passport with a sticker of an American visa affixed to it.
The young and friendly information officer was glad that I was selected as the first fellow from Bangladesh for the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowship. We had a nice chat over coffee for some time. After that Jesse Bailey wished me good luck. Before I left his office, he asked me to wait and then said: "Syed, you are going to Massachusetts. I have a big contact there. He is a state senator. Meet him when you get to Boston." Then he handed me a business card and a blank sheet of letterhead of Sen. Paul Harold of Massachusetts.
After arriving in Washington, we stayed at Carlyle Suites Hotel. In the first couple of weeks in the nation's capital, we attended a series of orientation seminars and get-to-know meetings. While I was taking a nap one afternoon at the weekend at our hotel, I unexpectedly received a call from the hotel receptionist who told me that someone was waiting in the downstairs lobby to see me. As I came down in casual outfit, I saw Jesse Bailey, the US Information Officer of the American embassy in Dhaka, sitting there for me.
It was a total surprise! I was really happy to see him there. "We just met in your office at the American embassy in Dhaka about a week or so ago. How come you are in Washington?" I asked him. "Syed, I am not in Dhaka anymore. I have been transferred from Bangladesh. I was passing through Washington to report to my new duty station in Africa. I still have several hours before I fly out of Washington. So, I decided to meet you," he told me like a long-known trusted friend.
It truly came as a pleasant surprise to me. "How did you know that we are staying at Carlyle Suites Hotel?" I asked him out of sheer curiosity. "I contacted your fellowship and they told me that right now you are staying here," he replied, adding: "Then I thought why don't I meet you at Carlyle Suites for a chat since I still have several hours before my flight tonight." Next, Jesse Bailey said: "Syed, let's go for a quick drink somewhere nearby." "Sure," I responded saying "let me come back from my room."
Then we walked to a nearby Washington bar, not far from the Carlyle Suites Hotel and sat on its outdoor patio and ordered for our drinks. As we sipped our beer in the gentle summer breeze of Washington, Jesse Bailey recalled his days in Dhaka and association with some "nice people" there."I really had a good time in Bangladesh, Syed. I also came across some really nice people in Dhaka. I don't know what will be my experience in Africa. But I don't mind going anywhere in the world. After all, it's my job and I love it." Jesse Bailey said. About an hour later, we said our goodbyes and parted ways.
After a few weeks into my fellowship at the Patriot Ledger newspaper in Quincy on the outskirts of Boston, where I was sent for gaining an on-the-job experience, my supervisor Bernie Caughey, who was the associate editor of the paper, alerted me around noon time one day that Senator Paul Harold of Massachusetts was on his way to pick me up from the downstairs coffee shop in about 10 minutes. As I walked into the shop of fine specialty coffee, Sen. Harold who was already standing at the door greeted me in such a way as if he already knew me.
"Welcome to Massachusetts, Syed! I just arrived here. Jesse Bailey called and he told me everything about you that you are a senior journalist from the New Nation newspaper of Bangladesh � will be at the Ledger for six months under the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowship. Let's grab our coffee. I will take you to a meeting of the selectmen at a suburban restaurant which is not very far from here. I have a working lunch with them and you can also join us and have an experience about how political activities are conducted at the local level in Massachusetts."
With a large coffee in hand, Sen. Paul Harold got into his black SUV along with me and drove himself to the venue of his meeting with the local selectmen. While driving through Quincy, Sen. Harold, a Democrat, talked about his political life, future of Democratic Party as well as local politics in America. He said he had a close connection with Gary Hurt, the front-runner for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. "If Hurt would be American president, then I would probably be the US ambassador to Bangladesh," he told me. Another day, Sen. Harold took me to a lunch party at the Kiwanis Club of Quincy, Massachusetts. The club invites a guest speaker to each of their lunch parties attended by several hundred people. And that day it was my turn to speak on the "Achievements and Challenges of Bangladesh."
Toward the end of the fellowship, I went through another pleasant surprise! At this stage, some of the foreign journalists were joined by their families and so was I. On a Friday afternoon, I was informed again by my supervisor Bernie Caughey at the Patriot Ledger that James Rousmaniere, the executive editor of the Keene Sentinel newspaper of New Hampshire would arrive in Quincy shortly to take me and my family for a weekend getaway to the neighboring state. I still remember it was heavily raining that afternoon and James Rousmaniere picked me up from the Patriot Ledger office and my wife and our four-year-old son from the place where we were living at the time and then drove us to the City of Keene in New Hampshire cruising 160 kilometers from Quincy, Massachusetts for over two hours.
We stayed comfortably at a local hotel at the center of the city under an arrangement made by the Keene Sentinel newspaper. Next day, Jim Rousmaniere, a graduate from Harvard University, who visited Bangladesh a few years ago to conduct a research on Bangladesh's newspaper industry under a Harvard University grant, took us to the Keene Sentinel newspaper office and other places of interest in the city. We also had lunch together at a popular local restaurant. And in the evening, we attended a dinner party at the residence of Jim Rousmaniere which was also joined by his journalist and some non-journalist friends. As we stepped into his living room (drawing room), we noticed two life-size colored posters -- one of Bangladeshi movie actress Rozina and the other of a Bangladeshi rickshaw puller sitting on his rickshaw neatly stuck to the wall. Two huge pictures of two very known Bangladeshis gave me an instant feeling as if I was standing on the sidewalk of a major Dhaka street or in front of a movie theatre.
Out of curiosity, I asked Jim Rousmaniere what prompted him to choose the poster of Rozina among so many other beautiful film actresses of Bangladesh. "I like her." His answer was straightforward. And I thought that Rozina would never know that the editor and president of an American newspaper liked her so much so he brought her poster all the way from Bangladesh and hung on the wall of his living room in America. These are the stories of some of my American friends. I haven't forgotten them, nor will I ever.
The writer is a Toronto-based journalist who also writes for the Toronto Sun and Canada's Postmedia Network