history

In Helen’s Troy, a memory of Dhaka

En route Troy. Our tour guide, Orhan, says he was born here. He has so much pride about belonging to a piece of history. Who wouldn’t? Before the tour, he shows us the nine cities of Troy, nine lifetimes. The first one was lost after a fire.

He says, “They say the Trojan war was fought because of the most beautiful woman Helen. I have another theory. Money. Let’s take the tour, and then I will ask you what you think.” I almost feel bad for him. Who will tell him there is and has only ever been one reason behind wars: men. Violence to create imagined victories. Helen—beauty and woman—was always an excuse, not reason. I don’t say it. Maybe by the end of the tour, I will.

He says his father was also a tour guide. Orhan himself grew up watching the replica of the Trojan horse being built. There is so much enthusiasm in his voice: you can almost hear his childhood in it. He says he’s been a guide for 20 years now. 20 years. Same story. Everyday. How does that feel? I ask. He says, “Same story. Everyday. But different people. Different energy.” An Austrian family is with us on the tour. The father is a nice man, he asks me questions. The daughter corrects Orhan for a slight slip he made about Hector and Achilles. She says, “I kinda know this already.” That is the ultimate victory of the white man—coming to someone else’s story to tell them how much better they know it. 

Orhan tries to correct himself and is fumbling. She doesn’t realize why he is struggling to articulate it. I’ve seen it. That space between your pristine childhood and a white woman correcting you, how your tongue shrinks. I can hear it in his voice. 

After the tour ends, he doesn’t ask us the reason behind the war. He takes us to his store, we meet his mother who is so excited to see us. I buy a miniature horse for Ma. She was more excited about this trip than I was. 

On my way back, I switch on my phone, read about the fire in Dhaka. People jumping out of a building to save themselves. They knew they couldn’t count on the city to have their back. I think of the first of the nine Troy cities. Who will tell them? We’re all here. Still. Doing the same things. We just tell the story differently.