Friday, October 29, 2004

Ramadan Blues

Today marks the 14th day of Ramadan. Most people are fasting, but I'm taking a week-long break (every woman gets a "break" from fasting when her time-o-the-month rolls around). I didn't fast last week, either, because of the whole food poisoning incident, so I'm actually not suffering too much this year. Well, besides the watery diarrhea anyways.

Things have really slowed down for me project-wise. It's hard to drop in and visit people during Ramadan because they are either napping, preparing "iftari", eating, or napping again. My interview numbers have dropped off, so I'm basically working on a few other projects. Tonight I'm going to start writing an article with one of my spoken English students regarding daily life in America. That should be fun. And one of these days I'm going to go to BARD (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) to see what kinds of things they have going.

Isaac is getting stir-crazy. I am too, to tell you the truth. I'm quite ready for another trip to Dhaka (minus the accident). Isaac's been cooped up for a few days now and we're all feelin' it. Us Americans (we Americans?) are not good at sitting around at home all day. We need to get out, spend money and eat junk food on a regular basis or else we begin to shrivel up into ourselves.

Indian Idol premiered last night. Yes, my friends, I was a closet American Idol fan (not that I like the MUSIC, mind you, it's the pop culture that I'm interested in. The music sucks.) and now I'm really enjoying the different spin they have on the Indian version. Last night they were showcasing this banana vendor who was trying out. They outlined his life and explained how getting a chance to sing would mean so much to him, and that he sang all the time at work, etc. Then they showed him auditioning and it was absolutely HORRIBLE. They have the Indian equivalents of the US judges, complete with a "Simon" who has some great one-liners. And for those of you who are wondering, they do sing Indian songs when they try out.

I am looking forward to the next show, tonight at 10:00. At least it's something to look forward to!

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Ok, all of my American friends are freaking out at my bald headed child, but my Bangladeshi friends know what has happened. In Bangladesh, kids get their heads shaved often from the time they are born. This is for a few reasons. 1 - it's hot here. 2 - the hair grows back thicker and darker. 3 - tradition. I can now tell all the bangladeshi people who ask me that YES, HIS HEAD HAS BEEN SHAVED. I know, he looks like a cancer patient. He thinks he looks like a pirate. Posted by Hello

How to explain to a four year old why we projectile vomit...

...and other fun things I learned this week.

"Well, one time when you ate some food or drank some water, there was a little nasty bug in there. And it went in your stomach and made more bugs. Then the bugs decided to have a party. Your stomach didn't like all those bugs having a party in there, so it decided to squeeze them out."

Do any of you spoiled American people know how hard it is to HAND WASH A KING SIZED SHEET in a BUCKET??? Do you? Just try it once, for fun. But make sure you do it after you have been awake all night holding a bucket and fanning your kid. And don't just wash the sheet, add your pajamas, your kids 3 pairs of shorts, a few pillow cases and a towel. Yep, no need to go to Curves, just do your laundry.

Bangladesh's "Dubious Distinction"

The headline in the paper a few days back was something like "Government Officials Reject TI's Corruption Ranking". Bangladesh has, for the fourth year in a row, been labeled the most corrupt country in the world. Transparency International uses surveys and focus groups to measure the perceived corruption of businessmen, developers and countrymen, to give each country a rating between one and ten (ten being a perfect score). Anything below a three is termed "rampant corruption". Bangladesh scored a 1.5, which is surprisingly a slight improvement over last year. This time, at least, Bangladesh can share it's shame with Haiti.

Of course, the ruling government of Bangladesh "rejected" the findings. One official said something like "hey, our values are different here. We don't see human rights in the same way as the rest of the world." YIKES.

Truly, this is a corrupt country. My friend, Faruk bhai (also my spoken English student), was telling me about his experience as a government employee. He refused to take bribes, and had to resign because the system just doesn't work that way. His fellow employees were all affected because he wouldnt take bribes, and although they liked him as a person, he thinks they resented him for messing with the system. So he quit. If he would have taken the bribes, he'd be well off and rolling in money, but now he's living a modest lifestyle. How many people have the strength to give that up? Not many.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

On our way back home, I snapped this picture of the back of a rickshaw. In case you don't recognize him, this is Saddam Hussein. He is holding his hands in the Islamic prayer gesture. Beside him there are pictures of mosques. Many people in Bangladesh are sympathetic towards Saddam. So far everyone I have spoken to is against Bush, and they feel sorry for Saddam. Posted by Hello

This is one of the stages (there is another name for it, but it escapes me at the moment). People come to these statues to pray to Durga, who is believed to come down and inhabit the statues for the duration of the puja. Posted by Hello

A little puja, a little "purge-a".

Ok, that title was very corny, but I'm trying to be witty here. This week was Durga Puja, the biggest Hindu festival. Comilla has a high Hindu population, so I was so excited to go and see all the festivities. But, alas, three days ago I ate some questionable pizza and gave myself a wonderful case of food poisoning. I have been bed ridden and unable to go and see the sights. Last night I did manage to walk a block away from my apartment and see a few of the stages that were set up. The settings were gorgeous, and they had music and dancing and food offerings for the goddess Durga, but my mind was on my digestive system the whole time. Sadly, I don't think I'll get another chance to see anything like this in the near future.

In other news, two of my Bhabi's and one of my nieces came to see me yesterday. They could only stay for one day, which was sad, but it was very nice to have new people in the house. I've been working a lot lately, so it was nice to have a day off to relax with them (and recover from the food poisoning!)

More soon!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Technology strike.

I'm mourning the death of my laptop, and so I have not had the heart to log on for the past few days. Instead I am reacquainting myself with the pen and paper. Ahh, my handwriting has suffered from lack of practice. My niece has a nice computer where I can check my email and print out stuff, so that's a saving grace.

It was really hot again today, and fasting was a little rough. Actually I slept until 11:00, but it was really hard to wait for Iftar tonight. Somehow food tastes so much better when you're starving though, and I was so thankful for that first glass of water. Fasting is a good experience, especially for this food addicted person.

Durga Puja started today, and I've made a deal with a new friend of mine that we'll be going to see all the festivities this thursday and friday. I can't wait! Comilla has a really high Hindu population, so I'll get a taste of a real Puju in this little town. I like this town though. It reminds me of Montello somehow. I know that's weird, and I can't explain it. Maybe it's the restaurant called "Yum Yum" that reminds me of "Yahooz". I'm not sure.

Well, time to get off the line. More soon.

Friday, October 15, 2004


My computer just died. I was happily working, and all of a sudden it said "going into hibernation mode" and shut down. It won't turn on. Now I'm using the old IBM we brought for Isaac to play games on. No USB port = no photo blogs, no web cam, no flash drive. So, basically, no fun. Of course, I can still go downstairs and commandeer my niece's computer, but what fun is that?
I'm SO SAD!!

All in the family...

I'm so excited, because now that I'm here, I have the chance to see an entire Bangladeshi wedding, from start to finish. Masud's cousin Dalia is marrying another one of Masud's cousins, Jahir. (Yes, my American friends, they are first cousins, which is culturally OK here.)

Today was the engagement ceremony at the bride's house. Here is what happened. We got to the house around noon and were served a light snack. As there were a lot of people, we ate in shifts. After eating, the women went with the women, the men with the men, and the kids with the kids. We chatted for a while. Usually at this point, the two families would be getting to know eachother, but since everyone here is related, there was no need.

We were then served lunch. I ate so much that I thought I'd explode, because as soon as my plate was empty, someone was dishing out more. I had polau and veggie curry, and later polau with sweet yogurt. I've never had polau and yogurt at the same time before, but it was actually quite good.

Then we went back and sat with the "bo" (bride). WHen it was time for the ceremony, she got up and gave "salam" to her parents, and asked for their blessing. She cried when she did this, and of course that made me cry too. Then she went to meet her future in-laws. They all sat on the couch together, and her future mother in law, aka her aunt, put a ring on her finger. Then the bride's mother put a ring on the grooms finger. Then we all sat together and prayed for their happiness. That was another touching moment, because everyone in the room was praying together for the happiness of these two young adults. THere were lots of tears and lots of smiles as well.

I took some pictures which I hope will give you somewhat of an idea of the engagement party. I'm really looking forward to the next few parts of the ceremony, which will happen after the month of Ramadan is done.

Speaking of Ramadan, we will find out in a few hours if we will start fasting tomorrow. Thus begins a month of fasting. For those of you who don't know, we don't eat or drink anything, not even water, from sunrise to sunset. I'm sure I'll be able to describe this more in-depth as the month progresses. It might be interesting for those who don't know about this part of the Muslim religion.

Tomorrow I'll try to post more.

This is Masud's aunt "Laili" putting the ring on the groom's finger. Posted by Hello

This is Masud's aunt "Kushum", mother of the groom, putting the ring on Masud's cousin Dalia, who is the daughter of Masud's other aunt, "Laili". Posted by Hello

Close up of Dalia, the bride-to-be. Posted by Hello

This is the "bo", Dalia, with Mun-Mun. Mun-Mun also married one of Kushum-Khalamma's sons. She is the daughter of Masud's uncle. Posted by Hello

Shumi and Mun-mun Posted by Hello

isaac and his favorite Shumi Fupi Posted by Hello

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Hello, Anonymous!

Today I was pleasantly surprised to open my email and find that some random visitors to my blog have posted comments. I have been feeling like my posts are frivilous and a waste of time, but apparently even random people who don't know me are interested. So thanks, random people! And thanks, not so random people (Hey Gilo!).

Yesterday my brother-in-law went to the family "gram" (village) for a visit. He took three of my disposable cameras with him and took lots of pictures depicting daily life - both the good and the bad - in the village. I am eagerly awaiting the prints. I am planning on doing a photography project on a large scale with residents of Comilla, so these test prints will tell me if the cameras came through the postal system without being zapped by the scanner (or intense heat for that matter). Plus I'm going to use them as examples for each of my photography groups. I'm so excited about this project - even more excited about this project that my real research that I proposed.

I've got a gross infection on my left foot. A mosquito bit me and I scratched it in my sleep, and it just happens to be right on the spot where every pair of sandels I own rubs. It's so inflamed that it even hurts to walk - it's the size of a yo-yo. I'm told I'll have to take some antibiotics if I want it to get better. Ahhh, I might as well just take antibiotics the whole time I'm here.

I'm out of witty things to say, so I'm signing off.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

I took this picture at a function I attended yesterday in honor of Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan, founder of the Bangladesh Academy for Rural Advancement located in Comilla. He was an amazing guy who did a lot of wonderful things for the rural poor of Bangladesh and Pakistan. I'm planning on learning more about him soon. Posted by Hello

Here is a drainage ditch where people have built homes. When it rains a lot, their homes flood. Posted by Hello

This is my mother-in-law's sister, Kushum Khalamma. I met her for the first time last week. Posted by Hello

We crawl under the mosquito net at dusk to avoid as many bites as possible and then we play games and read books until bed time. Posted by Hello

for those who don't know, this is what a "mosari" (pronounced Mo-Shari) or mosquito nets look like in Bangladesh. Posted by Hello

The Taxi Story.

Well, now that I've spilled the beans to Masud, I can tell my scary taxi ride story to the rest of the world. Mom, you might not want to read this. I wrote this right after we got home from the 7 hour nightmare ride. Now that I'm a couple of days away from the incident, I feel better about it. There is just some point where you have to say "if it's meant to be, it will be." I'm at that point.

October 8, 2004

Last night there was a lot of rain, and the streets of Dhaka and presumably the rest of Bangladesh flooded. Buses were not able to travel from Comilla to Dhaka because of the rain, so this morning there were no buses. We convinced the driver of a black cab to take us to Comilla for 1200 taka. We were within 30 minutes of Comilla when a person on a bicycle suddenly pulled out in front of us. The driver didn’t have a chance to stop and we broadsided him. The cycle went under the car and the person went over the top. Anyone who has hit a squirrel knows that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach when you feel that thud. Imagine how it feels to hit a human being. It was a big thud. He hit the front bumper, the windshield, and the roof, flew through the air, and then landed on the ground.

Immediately about 50 people came and surrounded the car and began yelling.

When we had our security briefing at the US Embassy, the “Risk Security Officer” was very blasé about the whole safety situation in Bangladesh. The one thing he made it a point to emphasize was that if an American is ever involved in a road accident, it’s best to get out of there as fast as possible. Because of the “mob mentality” in Bangladesh, crowds often take justice into their own hands, and usually look for the “richest” person in the group to take their revenge upon. If an American is in the group, they usually go after them.

At that moment I was absolutely terrified. I was so scared that the mob would start beating on the car (which they did) and then start wrecking the car and then light it on fire. Somehow they cooled down enough for the driver and Dadu get out of the car and discuss the accident with the leaders of the area. I was never so scared in my entire life.

Maya explained to me that Dadu (my brother-in-law) and the driver would have to sit with whoever was the leader in the area and try to decide whose fault the accident was. Obviously, considering the way people drive in Bangladesh, there is no way to pin the blame on one person. The cyclist didn’t look before he crossed the road and the driver was driving too fast and swerving around a bus. Both events are common in Bangladesh, but today they just happened to coincide at the wrong moment. Apparently however there is a law that states when two cars get in an accident, the bigger car is always at fault.

Well, as they sat an argued, it was really hot in the car and I was too scared to get out. All of the frozen chicken nuggets and fish sticks that I had purchased at the American Embassy Commissary were melting in the back seat. Finally, Dadu convinced the mob to let us go to Comilla if the driver promised to stop on the way back. To make sure the driver would come back, they took his registration papers and send one guy along with him.

As we approached Comilla, we were stopped by the police so they could check the drivers papers. Of course, we had left the papers back at the accident scene. Then everyone started yelling about how that was a bad idea. I almost lost it at that point. Anyways, we had to sit for another hour and wait for one guy from the accident scene to bring the papers. The guy never came, and we ended up going forward without the papers, risking the police. No police caught us, fortunately, and we were able to get home. God knows what happened to the driver. I can only hope he’s okay. The cyclist was hurt pretty badly, and he was taken to the hospital. Someone thought he broke both his leg and his arm, and I’d wager there were a few cracked ribs if not a concussion to go along with it. I'm sure his life will be greatly affected by what happened.

The driver, who probably was so mad at himself that he consented to drive us to Comilla, will have to pay for the injured man's treatment, as well as the significant damage that was done to his car. If he got caught by the police without his papers, there will be a fine to pay to them as well. He will also either have to pay a fine for the accident, and possibly his boss will fire him. These guys don't make a lot, and I'm sure his life will be greatly affected as well.

As for me, I'm going to make sure that I take the bus next time, even if it means waiting an extra day.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

I'm Baaa-aaaack

Here I am, back in Comilla, just in time for my first Hartal. Tomorrow I won't be leaving the house. Good thing I have lots of work to do.

I brought a suitcase full of food from the American Embassy Commissary. Land O Lakes cojack cheese, baby! They had real maple syrup and 5 grain pancake mix and even BOCA BURGERS. Isaac has a months supply of fish sticks and chicken nuggets, and I'm all set with my vegetarian items.

I hung out with Tanya, another junior Fulbrighter, for a whole day in Dhaka. We went around the city like pros and found a place where they are selling really beautiful Bangladeshi art and antiques. I'll be paying them another visit with my oh-so-bargain-savvy sister-in-law. (Wow, that was a lot of hyphenation!)

There was another big rain and the streets of Dhaka were flooded by the time we needed to go home. My brother in law (dadu) had come to pick me up from Pizza Hut, and it took him an hour and a half plus a 20 taka tip to get a CNG to take us home. Once we got there, the roads were completely flooded. I was soaked, and all of the little things I had purchased were gooey. A little rain in Bangladesh creates such disasters! The next morning we couldnt get a bus to go to Comilla because none of them were able to come to Dhaka the night before. We ended up taking the scariest taxi drive of my life.

But we're here safe and sound, and now I'm going to stay put for a few weeks. THere will be more trips to Dhaka, but I will always be taking the bus. No more taxis for me!

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Out of Office Reply

I'm planning on going to Dhaka tomorrow, so this will be my last blog for a few days. I'm sure lots of interesting things will happen to me while I'm there, so I'll keep an archive blog again that I can post once I get back to my internet connection.

Today it was REALLY FREAKING HOT. I mean, I sweated so much that I only peed once. Seriously. Then the electricity went out and I was left fanless and wilting. I have a thermometer magnet on my refrigerator (thanks to Tina), and it reads 90 degrees. And the refrigerator isn't all that great, so lots of the cool air leaks through the door, so that's actually a poor measure of how hot it really is. Yeah, 90 degrees INSIDE. Not to mention the humidity. All this heat has left me crabby and I've become an abusive parent. Poor Isaac.

Actually, besides the heat, it was a good day today. He's starting to warm up to all these Bangla-speaking people that we live with. Today he actually ventured out in a rickshaw with Chitai (Maya) and bought a "Virgin Red Cola". It was his second trip without me. Brave little dude, that one.

So my sister just emailed me that she is learning how to play the tuba. Of all the instruments a person could choose, i think the TUBA is definitely the coolest. She just rocks. I wish I was that cool.

I'm going to go dunk my head in a bucket of water now. So long for now...