Thursday, September 30, 2004

i'm too cute Posted by Hello


Tonight is Shab-e-Barat, or the night of salvation, which is celebrated my Muslims around the world. Tonight is the night that Allah will decide our fates for the coming year. Most Muslims fast during the day and then pray all night. Tonight there will be prayers spoken over the loud-speakers all night long. I remember the first time I came to Bangladesh, it made me so mad that they were yelling something over the loudspeakers all night. Now I understand a little better what it's all about.

I've gotten over my rice aversion with a little help from a friendly anti-nausea pill called Omidon. I'm going to keep a supply of this handy medicine around, because it took away the pukey-ness almost immediately. Today I was able to eat without gagging once!

I made some split pea soup tonight and fed my in-laws. They said it would have been tastier if I had put some hot peppers and meat in it. I said, "But I'm a vegetarian and I don't eat hot peppers!" They didn't get it. Anyways, I told them that in America, people put ham in this soup. They were so grossed out that they almost couldn't finish it. Talking about eating pork to a Muslim is like talking about eating poop.

I'll be going to Dhaka in a few days to run a few errands, meet a few people, and attend the Fulbright orientation. Tanya and Keisuke are here, so it will be great to see them again. Isaac is looking forward to pizza and french fries, as well as a trip to Rifles Square to get some new DVDs. He's worried about staying with a babysitter while I go to my meetings, but I promised him a toy, so he's gonna get through it.

Well, I can't stand the smell of my own armpits, so that must mean it's time to bathe. Until then...rock on.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The pond behind my house is an all-purpose one. It is used for bathing (as seen in the photo), washing laundry, washing dishes, and catching fish. Hmmmm.... Posted by Hello

This huge spider is in my bedroom. Okay, so it looks small in the picture, but it's the size of my FREAKING HAND. I'm not exaggerating. Posted by Hello

Sunday, September 26, 2004

If I see one more plate of rice…

I think I’ll explode. My body is systematically rejecting the combination of starchy white rice and spicy, oily curry that I have been forcing myself to eat since I got here. Not that people aren’t good cooks – I’ve had some excellent “niramish” and dahl – but I just can’t digest it any more. Even thinking about it now kindof makes me urpy.

For lunch, I forced myself to eat half a plate of rice and some green bean curry with dahl. I needed the fiber. Then I filled up my stomach with peanut butter on white crackers, both of which I brought from the US. Next week sometime I have to go to Dhaka for the Fulbright orientation, so I’m hoping that I can make a trip to the US Embassy Commissary too. And I’m hoping that they have things like yeast and pizza sauce. I’m going to try to make a pizza on the stovetop and see how that goes. I did manage to find some mozzarella cheese, so all I need is some yeast and the sauce and I’m good to go. Maybe.

Anyways, the electricity only went out for a little while today, so I got quite a bit of work done. I studied some math and vocabulary for the GRE, and finished my first draft of my survey for breastfeeding women. I also read about the English Era of Bangladeshi history. This afternoon we are going to see if we can scrounge up some shorts for Isaac that aren’t made of heavy material, suitable for Minnesota, but not a tropical climate. He’s got prickly heat rash from his neck to his butt. Poor guy. Tonight, the plan is that I will make the “nasta” and feed everyone. I’m thinking Falafel will be impressive yet easily done, since I brought a box mix along.

Masud called from Janesville to say that he made it safe and sound, but our phone and internet got disconnected. I guess he went to a gas station and called me or something. Anyways, he sounded really lonely and that made me cry. He’s extremely worried about us, but I really don’t think he has much to worry about. We’re okay here. The only worry I have is the kamikaze bus rides to Dhaka and the small risk of getting Malaria or Dengue fever. Other than that, ummm, and the incessant consumption of rice, we’re great.

Update: We went shopping tonight and some guy grabbed my butt! I mean, it was definitely more than an accidental brushing, it was a full-fledged, open-handed pinch. Before I could turn around and punch him, he was gone. Next time I’ll be prepared.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

A day in the life...

Okay, all you blog fans out there, this is a request. Since I’ve been here, I’ve received emails from my mom, one from my sister, a few from Kanta and one from Nawshin. Where the hell are the rest of you? This blog is interactive! Post comments! Click on the email link and send me a message!

I thought it might be interesting to give you a rundown of what I do during a day here in Bangladesh, so I’m keeping track today.

8:00 – alarm goes off. I take an antibiotic pill (for diarrhea – must be taken every 6 hours), turn down the AC a little and go back to sleep.

9:55 – emerge sleepy eyed from my room just as Maya is walking out the door to go to her office.

10:00 – Assist Isaac with his morning BM. As Martha would say, flushable wet wipes are a “good thing”.

10:30 – Make a toast and marmalade sandwich for Isaac, which he doesn’t eat because the bread is torn on the corner. Make a new sandwich and force him to eat it, even though he hates marmalade.

10:35 – Isaac has to poop again. Turns out it was just a fart.

10:45 – Eat a bowl of shugi (cream of wheat) and a cup of coffee with whole milk while reading the paper. Get bitten by an ant. Cut out a funny article about a guy named Nunu Miah. Actually the article wasn’t very funny but his name is hilarious for those who know what a nunu is.

11:30 – Sit Isaac in front of the TV to watch Scooby Doo 2 and go to my office to study.

11:35 – Isaac wants attention so I ask him if he wants to work on his letters.

11:40 – Isaac’s “hand hurts” so we stop working on his letters. He goes back to watch Scooby while I work on developing a survey for breastfeeding mothers.

12:00 – I have accomplished nothing, but it’s time to give Isaac a bath. Put a huge pot of water on the stove to boil and fill up the bucket in the bathroom with cold tap water.

12:30 – Forgot about the water on the stove, now it’s boiling hard and too hot to carry. Let it cool for a few minutes and read about the history of Bangladesh.

12:45 – Give Isaac a bucket bath and try not to get soap in his eyes. Dry him, sprinkle him with powder (prickly heat rash preventative), and dress him.

12:55 – Hand wash Isaac’s shorts, underwear and my pajamas in a bucket in the bathroom. I don’t feel like they're very clean because I’m really not sure how to hand wash stuff. Dumb white lady syndrome.

1:00 – Finish my shower, get bit by something on the leg and notice a long, red, swollen streak that itches like crazy about 5 minutes later.

1:15 – Sit down to study again and realize I’m hungry.

1:30 – Electricity goes out, so we warm up leftovers on the gas stove. Momota cooked green beans with garlic, papaya curry and dahl. First I feed Isaac, who I bribe to eat two pieces of leftover chicken with his dahl and rice. Now I have to go out and buy him a toy.

2:00 – Take another antibiotic pill and wash it down with M&M’s (the supply is dwindling).

2:30 – Sit down with Isaac and read the “Tabby Cat” series, Ferdinand the Bull, and I Love You Stinky Face, then try to convince him to take a nap. I drift off to sleep, only to wake 10 minutes later because he doesn’t want to sleep. There is still no electricity, so I can’t make him watch TV. We break out the memory game.

3:30 – After a few rousing games of memory, which I lost by the way, I sat out on the balcony and had a chat with Dada (Masud’s older brother).

4:30 – Had a quick nap while Isaac sat there and waited for me to get up.

5:00 – Read some of my Lonely Planet Guidebook and a few papers about the History of Bangladesh. That got really dull, so I read some of my new Alice Hoffman book.

6:00 – Time for NASTA (snack). Watched Momota make Beguni (fried eggplant). Ate Beguni, Piaju, and Shosha with Moori. Then my Bhabi sent up some Shemai so I ate that too. All of my Bengali friends know what these things are, and are probably jealous. Hey, guys! I get this EVERY DAY!

7:00 – Electricity came back, Isaac is watching Pokemon, and I came down to check my email.

I anticipate that I will be able to devote some time to GRE studying tonight, since Isaac has gotten his TV back.

That’s it, a day in my life. I go out once in a while, and that’s always an adventure. We’ll go to Dhaka once a month to replenish the Dorito supply and grab some Pizza Hut pizza. All in all, it’s a pretty darn good life! It will be hard to leave.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Domestic Assistance

I’ve mentioned the fact that we have a domestic assistant in previous posts. I think this fact deserves more than a passing glance, because it is one of the more troubling aspects of my cultural adjustments here in Bangladesh. There is a very clear cultural/social system by which everyone operates here that I have been trying desperately to figure out.

Momota is one month younger than my sister Page (who is 16). She told me that she was born in the year of the great flood (1988), one month before it began (March). She has been with Masud’s family for at least 8 years, because I met her first in 1997 when I came to Bangladesh for the first time. I remember distinctly two exchanges that we had. I asked Masud to ask her how old she was, to which she responded that she didn’t know. Later, we were all watching Mr. Bean in the bedroom, and we were all sitting on the bed, but she sat on the floor. I told her to come sit on the bed with us, and she got embarrassed and stayed on the floor.

She is from a village in Mymensing, and sees her family a few times a year. Her mother had to send her to work because they didn’t have enough rice to feed the entire family.

Momota has become a special project for Maya. Because Maya is a good person, she has made sure that Momo goes to school (she’s now in 5th grade), and she has put money in a savings account for her future schooling and wedding expenses. In this sense, she has really been “adopted” as part of the family. This is not how servants are typically treated.

There are still some very clear differences, however, in the way that Momo is treated compared to a member of the family. The social system of Bangladesh does have a very clear hierarchy, with the oldest members of the family taking precedence over the younger, and the male over the female. Momo, however, is always at the bottom rung. If everyone is sitting, and someone wants a drink of water, Momo has to get it. It would be impossible to ask anyone besides Momo to get the water.

I understand that people need to eat, and to eat, many of them must work, and send their children to work. I also understand that she would be much worse off if she didn’t have this “job”, and that she has a responsibility to work for her wages. I’m told that she doesn’t have what we would call a “work ethic”, and that she doesn’t do anything beyond what she’s told to do. She also has a certain obsession with TV viewing, and often forgets about her chores until someone reminds her (usually loudly).

Her chores include sweeping the entire house at least once a day (usually twice), and then wiping the floors with a wet rag or a mop. This is an essential task for any house in Bangladesh, because it gets really dirty from the dust in the air. Another job of hers is to wash clothes (by hand). She is also responsible for most of the cooking and kitchen work, as well as general pick-up. Maya argues that these tasks are straight-forward and routine, and that she should be able to get up in the morning and finish them, and then she would have the rest of the day free to watch TV or do whatever she wants. When Momo forgets of puts off her chores, Maya gets upset and uses strong language to remind her what she needs to do. It’s really hard for me to hear it, and one day I said “Stop yelling at her”. I probably shouldn’t have tried to interfere in the system, but I just couldn’t help it. Both Maya and my husband Masud told me that I made a mistake and shouldn’t have said anything. So now I’m trying to keep my mouth shut, and I try to help her out as much as I can. So far, I’m a terrible cook in Bangladesh (I’m blaming it on the humidity, cuz you know how humidity can make your potatoes burn), so I try to stick to things I know like washing dishes and picking up around. Whenever she catches me washing dishes, she says “Mami (Auntie), you don’t have to do that, leave it for me.” I tell her that this is something I know how to do, so I’m trying to help her.

I suppose after a few more weeks, I’ll figure out more of how this system works, but I don’t think I’ll ever get over the uncomfortable feelings of it all. What a different world I’ve come to live in.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

No turnin' back now!

Today Masud left for Dhaka, and tomorrow at 10 a.m. he will leave on a jet plane, headed back to the land of McDonalds and water heaters. Although I cried when he left, I’m curiously not depressed. I wonder if there will be some kind of delayed reaction, or if it’s just impossible to feel lonely here because of all the people. Seriously, all of my friends and family here are so supportive and absolutely willing to help me in any way possible, I really can’t feel sad for too long. Maya’s husband, Masud-bhai, got on a train this morning at 4:30 so that he could be here in time to spend a little time with my Masud before he left. This kind of thing is typical, not unusual. People here are extremely genuine.

The recent flooding has caused a vegetable shortage in the bazaar, and we’ve had to pay outlandish prices for certain items. Apparently, 50 cents for a kilo of eggplant is really expensive. I haven’t had as much trouble as I anticipated with my food, but Isaac has had a little problem adjusting. Basically, he’s on the “white diet”. Potatoes, rice, noodles, and white bread, each eaten with butter or garlic salt. Sometimes he breaks out of the mold and puts a little dahl on his rice. At least it’s sortof healthy. Today Masud found some carrots in the market – they are what I would consider beyond maturity, huge, round and kindof bitter, but I cut them up into matchsticks and he ate them. I’m hoping that little bit of fiber does its magic overnight.

Well, I’ve been told that I’m getting internet service either Saturday or Sunday. We’ll see how reliable that information is. I’m jonesing for a good surfing session. I’ve got to look up “prickly heat rash”, because I think that’s what Isaacs got covering his entire neck and shoulders. Poor guy, he has such sensitive skin.

This is our sign on our gate. It says (according to my 7 year old niece) Godoli Bela, 267 Digambori Tala, Comilla-3500.  Posted by Hello

The road in front of our place is flooded because of the rain. I wonder if these people thought they would stay dry if they used an umbrella? Posted by Hello

This minivan has seen better days (is that blood on the door?) but the driver is feeling pretty rad wearing his flower necklace. Posted by Hello

There's my balcony, on the top floor. Don't look - my underwear is hanging there to dry! Posted by Hello

This is the entrance to my apartment. It looks bleak, but that's because Masud took the picture in the rain. It's actually a nice buttery yellow color. Seriously. Posted by Hello

Isaac spends most of his time here, watching Disney movies. Notice the wall with the window - it's wet. We've had so much rain in the past few days that the wall has soaked through. Mmmmm, I can almost smell the mildew! Posted by Hello

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The scenery from my porch is GORGEOUS. Posted by Hello

Isaac LOVES his toy shelf. Posted by Hello

Being a naughty four year old, he also wanted to demonstrate how to poop in a hole. Posted by Hello

Isaac wanted to demonstrate the art of peeing in a hole. Posted by Hello

Isaac is showing off our bed. Notice the lovely AC unit in the upper left hand corner. Alhumdulillah! Posted by Hello

This is our dining area. Posted by Hello

It seems like the rickshaw-wallas of Comilla are really old. I feel so bad to make them haul my huge butt around for 4 taka. Posted by Hello

Here is Momo using the scariest kitchen utensil ever invented to cut "lal shag" or red spinach. Tasty but time consuming to prepare. Posted by Hello

This is Rusty the Trusty ant eating tik-tiki who lives near the dining table. Posted by Hello

And you thought I was kidding about the ants? This is the converging point of three grand ant trails. Nothing a little pesticide can't handle. Posted by Hello

Enid is the Kitchen Tik-Tiki. Check out those beady eyes. He must be up to something. Posted by Hello

Monday, September 20, 2004

…The Lord God Made Them All

I am sharing my home with no less than 200,000 ants. This morning I had an ant in my ear, and I ate some ants mixed in with my peanut butter for lunch. As we speak, there are probably three or four ants randomly crawling somewhere on my body, and I can count 5 on my desk.

Good thing we have 6 tik-tikis in the house to eat some of the ants. A tik-tiki is a small lizard that eats bugs and makes a tik-tik-tik sound. I’m glad they’re here, actually. Isaac has named some of them. Angel and Hookey live in the TV room, and Harry lives in the bedroom. Not only do they eat ants, but mosquitoes as well.

There is an evil catch-22 involving the mosquitoes here. In order to minimize the number of bites, we have to sleep under a mosquito net. The sad thing about the mosquito net is that it cuts the amount of breeze being generated by the ceiling fan by about 75%. So either you’re cool and get malaria or you are hot and bite free.

They say that spiders eat mosquitoes, too. Well, that’s good, because there is a monster-sized spider in the bathroom behind the mirror. Ok – so it’s only the size of a silver dollar, but it’s hairy and it moves fast. My morning bucket bath was not a peaceful one, because I had to keep one eye on the spider – which I affectionately and spontaneously gave an unrepeatable “nickname”.

Ahhh, bugs and reptiles.

Friday, September 17, 2004

No internet yet, but here's another post plus pictures for your viewing enjoyment.

How to Crash a Deshi Wedding
September 17, 2004
My brother-in-law (the one in whose house I am living – heretofore known as Dada) got invited to the wedding of his office-mate’s only daughter, so of course we all tagged along. Bangladeshi weddings are quite the event, and people here spend relatively large chunks of their hard earned money to throw a big shindig. Today was the bride’s family’s turn to throw the party, so we went over to the community center. I think it’s a three story building, and there were three weddings going on simultaneously. We all got dressed up, and I wrapped myself in a green sari and began to perspire immediately and profusely. It was worth it though, except that my gut roll hung out a little. Anyways, we got there and really didn’t know anyone, but we sat down at a table and were served polau (yummy pilaf type rice), fish, chicken, and beef, with a side of salad and a dessert of doi (sweet yogurt). I didn’t eat the meat of course, which people thought was weird, but it was really good polau. Then I went up to see the “bo” (bride), and sat next to her and asked if she minded if I took a picture with her. I have no idea who she is and she has no idea who I am, but we made a cute pair anyways.

Settled in and ready to roll.
September 16, 2004

I just found out that last night in Debiddar (I’m not sure how to spell that but it’s a place near a river somewhere close to Comilla), a dam broke and 200 villages were washed away. So many people died – women, children, everybody. It’s been raining constantly and there is just no place for the water to go. What a tragedy. What is worse is the fact that three months from now there will be a huge food shortage. Right now, the market is flooded with fish that nobody wants to buy, but all the crops for this season have been wiped out. In my email today, I got a warning from the US embassy that houses fall apart during the flood and the electric wiring becomes exposed, creating an electrocution hazard. Apparently this happens to a lot of people.

My flood related discomfort is much less serious.

It’s been raining pretty much nonstop since we arrived here, but somehow we managed to get the apartment furnished. I really shouldn’t say “we”, because I wasn’t allowed to go with on the buying excursions. This was for two reasons: 1) because the streets were completely flooded and getting around was hard enough without the dumb white lady tagging along, and 2) because when the store owners see me they automatically increase the price of their goods. I stayed here and organized stuff and waited for the guy to come and hook up the converter for the DVD player. Isaac is now in DVD heaven. My bhabi bought him a “mora” (bamboo stool) today and he’s so happy about it that he won’t get off of it. He also got a bamboo bookshelf that has doors on it for his toys. The shelf cost 200 taka, or $3.45. He was so happy about it that he gave it a kiss. He’s still having dysentery issues, but hopefully it will clear up in a few days.

Because of the rain, none of the clothes that we have washed are drying. We hung them throughout the apartment on ropes, but they just don’t dry. It’s too humid. They are starting to smell really gross, so we strung some ropes up over the stove and left it on (gas is so cheap here – about 5 bucks for an unlimited monthly supply) and now they are drying out, no problem. Do I feel bad about the gratuitous burning of fossil fuel? Yes, but stinky clothes just won’t do.

I’m reading a great book that is helping me get through the scary moments that I have when I realize where I am. It’s called The Power of Intention by Wayne Dyer. I happened to pick it up right before we left and started reading it on the plane. It has to do with surrendering to your destiny and allowing things to happen in the way that they are intended to, and also using your free will to create that intention. Sounds hokey, but it’s an amazing book.

Today I’m supposed to get my phone line, so that bodes well for the internet connection. I’m starting to really get down to business, although it’s hard to know where to start. I have a vague Idea but turning it into reality is not easy. I’m trying to take one thing at a time.

If you’re reading this, send me an email! I need contact from the outside world!

September 15, 2004
Men Spotted Peeing (MSPs) and other interesting details

Bangladesh is truly a man’s country. Men have absolutely no problem whatsoever to stop wherever they happen to be, squat down, and drop trail right then and there. It’s called Gono Batroom (the people’s bathroom). Women, on the other hand, have epidemic rates of UTIs due to the lack of public restroom facilities. The ones that do exist are usually gross, and it’s difficult to maneuver in a bathroom when you are wearing six yards of strategically wrapped fabric. So far, I have spotted exactly 33 men peeing in public. Yes, I am keeping count. (Masud just came in and asked me to add that not ALL men feel comfortable peeing in public, only some. And I would suppose that the level of comfort is correlated with the fullness of bladder.)

It costs 5 taka per minute to call the US using a calling card. So if 58 taka equals one dollar, then 5 taka equals about 9 cents. Not bad! Maybe I’ll be calling some of you after all!

People don’t use washing machines here – not because they have anything against washing machines, but they are kindof a luxury item and not all that available to the general public. Either they wash the clothes themselves (hard on the legs and back, take it from me) or they take the clothes to the laundry place. For each piece of clothing, it costs 9 taka to wash, dry and iron, or only 3 taka to iron. Masud dropped off a pile of our laundry to be ironed, and when he picked it up, he gave the lady 6 taka per item instead of 3 taka. She was so happy that she stopped and said a prayer for him right then and there. I can’t imagine ironing a pair of Masud’s pants for 3 taka. What am I saying? I do it now for free, I guess! Anyways, I guess I’ll be getting a “Bua”, which is a woman who will stop by my house once a day and wash my clothes and do some minor cleaning. I’m not sure how I feel about it. On one hand, she needs to work, and I need someone to wash my clothes. On the other hand, I feel like I’m exploiting her need to work. She’ll do this for about $20 a month. Cheaper than a washing machine, but hard on the ol’ ethics.

Some disturbing news that I keep forgetting to write down – when we stay in Dhaka, we stay at Iqram-bhai and Rina-bhabi’s house. Rina-bhabi got sick the day we left for Rangpur, and we have recently found out that she has contracted the mosquito-borne Dengue fever. There are two types of Dengue, one kind is not very serious and some people don’t even know they have it, but the other kind is very serious and causes internal bleeding. Sadly, she has the second kind. She’s in the hospital now and we are all hoping that she recovers soon. It’s scary to note that we were in the same house where the infected mosquito bit her…

September 14, 2004
Deshi Stats

Number of days in Bangladesh: 9
Number of puking episodes (Isaac): 3
Number of amoeba infections: 1
Number of festering mosquito bites (Isaac and Katie): approximately 30
Number of different potions, contraptions, and chemicals used to prevent mosquito bites: 6 (mosquito net, DEET, herbal insect repellent, Permanone, some sort of machine that vaporizes mosquito repelling oil, small solar powered device that emits a high pitched tone)
Number of the above mentioned items that are effective: 0
Number of bugs ingested: unknown
Number of ants currently running across my desk: 9
Number of strange men who have said “How are you?” or made cat meow sounds in a peculiarly high-pitched voice when they see me: 3
Number of scary bus riding moments: 1 (tire exploded on the way back from Rangpur)
Number of scary rickshaw moments: 1 – collision with another rickshaw, no major damage

Well, that paints a pleasant picture, doesn’t it? Something tells me I should try to focus on the positive. Let’s see what I can come up with…

Number of amazingly good deals on furniture and household goods: 5
Number of bags of Doritos found and purchased in Dhaka supermarkets: 4
Number of meaningful, heartfelt conversations with reminiscing husband: 3
Number of people who are genuinely happy to see me and willing to help me in any way that they can: Too many to count
Number of epiphanies I’ve had since I’ve been here: 6
Number of pirated DVDs and CDs purchased: 18
Number of times I’ve had to leave Isaac at daycare: 0
Number of times I’ve had to cook meals for the family: 0
Number of times I’ve had to clean the toilet: 0 (Ok, so there’s no toilet. But Isaac is pretty stoked that he learned how to “poop in a hole”. With all the amoebas, he’s an expert at this point.)

The Comilla Jail, where we bought Isaac's mora, and some really beautiful towels. Apparently, they put the prisoners to work making stuff. Good idea. Posted by Hello

This is one flexible kid, able to sleep in a rickshaw. Posted by Hello

All dressed up for the wedding, here we are sitting in a rickshaw. Posted by Hello

This is Momota, Isaac's babysitter and my Bangla tutor. She's pretty great. Posted by Hello

Maya makes a mean bhuna kitchuri. Notice our laundry drying strategy. Nothing like wearing cumin scented underwear. Posted by Hello