In 2013, Ahnaf Rabbani was a young boy attending school in Bangladesh. Within a year, that all changed.
Ahnaf’s father, Golam, was a human rights lawyer and activist for minority rights in Bangladesh. On the eve of national elections, Golam was severely beaten by supporters of the main political party in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.
Ahnaf and his family were also threatened.
“Instead of going to the British middle school I was going to, I had to switch to a local school because my dad was getting threatening phone calls that I was going to be kidnapped from school,” Ahnaf said.
It was very difficult to leave, particularly for a 10-year-old child who was very close to his family.
“My grandma, uncle, cousins all lived in the same building and we could go visit them everyday. I miss the family bonding, the dinners we had together,” he said.
One very important person Ahnaf had to leave was his grandmother, a retired schoolteacher and very popular four-time elected city councilor.
While anyone would miss their grandmother, Ahnaf had much more to worry about when she was arrested two years ago on hyped up political charges.
“A bus had run over five students. My Grandma tried to fight for a new law and regulations,” Ahnaf said. “The opposition party didn’t like that and brought false accusations against her, charging her with battery assault and destruction of a car, which is impossible since she’s almost 80, and I don’t think she could crush a car herself.”
Based on his own experience, Ahnaf refutes the stereotype that women are “trapped in the kitchen” in Muslim countries.
“This is a false stereotype. In Bangladesh, our two main leaders including the Prime Minister are women. Even in rural areas, there are female leaders,” he said.
Today, Ahnaf and his family still closely follow political developments but from afar.
Dhaka just completed the largest municipal elections since 2018, amid concerns over reports of intimidation and voter fraud, including manipulation of electronic voting machines.
But Ahnaf is kept pretty busy these days in Traverse City, attending high school, helping out at his family’s new restaurant at the Grand Traverse Mall, and starting to think about college applications.
“I am looking forward to attending a good college and pursuing a career in law,” he said.
He enjoys living in Traverse City and particularly enjoys the Cherry Festival every year. He says while there’s not a lot of diversity here, he has found it to be incredibly welcoming and open-minded.
He also wants people to know good things about Bangladesh, noting that it is a small but beautiful country with one of the longest natural unbroken sea beaches in the world, Cox’s Bazar. Most important, “The people are extraordinary,” he notes.
Our Global Neighborhood is an eight-week series that airs each Wednesday on Morning Edition and All Things Considered.