What Did a Bangladeshi Toilet Cleaner Teach Me?

kuala lumpur;I am at Doha airport. It’s 4am. It’s a long lay-over. I can’t wait to board my flight to Europe. I go into the toilet. I take out a miniature toothpaste tube I got on an airplane and try to open it – with no luck.

‘The lid has a small needle – just turn it upside down,’ says a toilet cleaner, who witnessed my struggle.

I thank him and spread the toothpaste on to a cheap airplane toothbrush. Once I am done, the toilet cleaner smiles at me:

‘Where are you from, sir?’

We begin a conversation. His English is perfect: he is from Bangladesh; he had a business there but it went bankrupt; he came to Doha for work; he works six days a week, 12 hours a day cleaning toilets; he sends money back home. He shares with me how disrespectful and hostile some Qatari men can be towards a cleaner from Bangladesh.

But where am I from? Well, it’s complicated, I tell him. Bali, London, Lithuania – and I am on my way to Amsterdam. He wants to study in Lithuania, he says, and starts sharing his impressive knowledge of Lithuanian history and culture. He tells me that he has saved enough money to cover his tuition fees but is struggling to get a Shengen visa. Some time into the conversation, I stretch out my hand and introduce myself.  The cleaner’s face lit up.

I cried when I left the toilet. I cried because I saw what that conversation meant to him: somebody saw him as a person instead of a mere function, somebody had taken the time to listen to his story, somebody cared enough to ask about his dreams.

I also cried because of my Western prejudices about a job he held and where he was from: it was no longer statistics, it was no longer a toilet cleaner, it was no longer a Bangladeshi – he was a real human being doing his best in this life and seeking meaning. Just like I was.

Our conversation was moving because it was human and it didn’t have boundaries or judgments from either side.

I challenge myself and you to enter a conversation with a stranger without judgment but with willingness to understand their story and give the person the space to really open up. In order to do so, we will have to resist the temptation to judge and the desire to place the person in a certain box or category (an act of selfish convenience).  Our rights and wrongs, shoulds and oughts will have to stay out of the room if we want to really connect with and understand the person. And, believe me, magic will happen. The magic of being human.


I know for sure that writing is a tool, which we can use to transform our businesses and lives.

Writing this post helped me: 

  • Understand what life lesson I had to learn through the conversation in Doha;
  • See that I am able to sometimes enter a conversation without judgment and uplift others as well as myself;
  • Being human is a value in my life.

You can also use writing in order to learn to have better conversations – with others as well yourself, define your values and get perspective

How can you do it?

I will soon be launching the Darius Lukas Writing Academy, where we will use writing to answer important life and business questions.  Join me!