Thursday, March 30, 2006

Warning: Melodrama Ahead!

I went to a funeral today. My grandma's last sibling, Audrey, died early this week. I wasn't very close to Aunt Audrey, but I went to support my grandma, who is devastated to be the last surviving member of her family.

Funerals are always sad, but since Aunt Audrey was a Lutheran, I came out of the service wanting to kill myself. There was much talk of the crucifixion, original sin, and how "Christianity is the only religion that has a SAVIOR! All the other religions make you do it on your own!"

Of course, being the mental patient that I am, I thought about the inevitable loss of my grandparents, my parents, and possibly my husband (who is a decade older than I am, and has a family history of early bucket-kicking). The tears were dripping down my chin, and I started to think about how awful it would be to lose a child. I nearly had to get up and leave because I was beginning to sob.

Mortality is a fact of life, but I'm terrified to face it. My cyber-friend Zeenat sometimes blogs about the loss of her father. I can barely stand reading those posts. It breaks my heart.

Then I began to think about our grieving process. We spend lots of money on elaborate wooden boxes that will be used for a few hours and then buried in the ground. It seems very silly!! Most people believe in an afterlife, but our hearts break when our loved ones pass on into that supposedly glorious place. If we truly believe that it's a glorious place, why do we mourn? We mourn for the loss of our relationship with that person, the loss of the future they had, the loss of possibilities. This emotional irrationality is what makes us human.

And what about the people who are not mourned? According to this article (courtesy of Rezwan), up to 200 million women around the world are missing, and each year up to three million women lose their lives as a result of gender-based violence. Why don't we mourn these women? Why is it so difficult to find them?

Just ask my friend, Deb Anderson, who was walking through the local cemetery one day and saw a gravestone that said "Unidentified Woman". She learned that the woman was a murder victim. Deb has been working for years to find the identity of the woman. Many people wouldn't give it a second thought, but Deb believes that this woman deserves the dignity of a name on her gravestone, and so she continues the search.

Yes, our grieving process is strange, but even stranger is the fact that we give so much value to one human being while another can disappear without acknowledgement. What does it say about our world that there are hundreds of millions of women missing around the world? Don't these women deserve respect as human beings?

Mortality may be inevitable, but why does it disproportionately affect women? We need to fix this. Our future as (emotionally irrational) human beings depends on it. Until all humans are valued as humans, we will all continue to suffer.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Fulbright conference pictures

One of our activities during the conference was to go to area high schools and talk about the Fulbright program. Most of the conference attendees were foreign Fulbrighters visiting the US, but each group had one US Fulbright alum. My group went to Nicholas Senn High School and I thought it was a great experience. Don't be deceived by the beautiful facade on this high school - it's a struggling Chicago school. The students were very attentive, however, and I was relieved that not all high school students are as apathetic as the ones in Montello.

On Saturday we had a "dinner cruise" where we boarded a ship and sailed around Lake Michigan for a few hours. We also had a "Student Entertainment Evening" where the talented people among us got up and performed. One of the greatest moments was when these four people got up and did a great blues jam session. One dude had an electric guitar, another was on the acoustic, and yet another played the clarinet. Then my new friend Erin added her beautiful voice. It was so rad!

Here's a better picture of Erin...and my huge chin. Erin was a US Fulbrighter to Canada last year. She lives in Portland now and is working on a PhD in Urban Studies.

The German students dominated the conference. I think there were 13 of them total. They got up and sang some tunes in German and it was pretty hilarious, especially since they force a dude from Turkey and another dude from Afghanistan to join them!

Sunday, March 26, 2006


I just got back from Chicago, and I have so much to write about. Unfortunately I'm exhausted, so an attempt at blogging would only lead to disaster. I will be posting pictures and narratives later in the week, once I catch up on my sleep, my laundry, and my Isaac.

I did discover that I am an internet junkie. I didn't take my laptop to the conference because I was trying to travel light. I assumed there would be a business center in the hotel where I could check my email. What I didn't bargain for was the exorbitant charges - they offer free broadband in the rooms, and charge an arm and a leg in the business center. So I didn't check my email for 4 days! Torture! God knows what's been posted on my favorite blogs this week! I have a lot of catching up to do I guess.

More soon!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Introducing Tough Jumbo

My friend Wendy has a rad Critter Blog where she writes mini-essays about interesting animals that are educational and fun. One of my favorite posts discusses something called a mammalian penis bone.

She recently posted about hermit crabs, and it made me want one. You may be thinking, "Big deal! This is not worthy of a blog post!" Please understand that I have a terrible problem with pet anxiety. Ever since the "Jonas and Monas" fiasco where we had to get rid of our beautiful Siamese cats because of their unwillingness to stay inside, I have been reluctant to own animals. I once read a horoscope/Chinese numerology/birth number thing about myself that said I am extremely compassionate towards animals, and sometimes care more about them than humans. This is really true! I worry a lot about the pets that I bring into my home! No wonder I'm a vegetarian.

We do have a fish, but he's very elderly. The lifespan of betta fish is supposed to be a year, and most of them are already 6 months old when they get to the pet store. We got Mr. Fidget from Walmart (yes, I admit that I do shop there occasionally) in August of 2004, so he's got to be well over 2 years old by now. Isaac kisses Fidget goodbye in the mornings, so when he passes on to the great fish bowl in the sky, it will be traumatic. I am frankly very worried, because Mr. F. has not eaten anything for the past 6 days. He lets his food chunks float on the surface of his water until they dissolve.

Perhaps another pet can ease the inevitable pain of Fidget's departure?

So we decided to get a crab. I called several stores looking for crabs, and nobody had any. But today Page successfully found a pet store that stocked crabs, and she brought the little guy home. We put him in a plastic storage container (we'll get a real tank soon), and realized that she didn't get enough gravel, so we added some plastic beads. The only thing I don't like so far is that his food is very, very stinky. Ewww. But he's a cute little bugger! He's got these weird eyes and reminds me of Gary from SpongeBob.

Isaac named him "Tough Jumbo", which I think is a really cool name. Isaac has a knack for animal names. He loves Tough Jumbo already, and has been sitting next to the container for the past 2 hours. Occasionally, he yells "Hey MOM! He moved his leg! Quick, come see!"

I'm leaving for Chicago tomorrow and Isaac will be taking Tough Jumbo to his grandma's house for the weekend. I'm sure this is the beginning of a wonderful boy-crab relationship.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Gratuitous Isaac Pictures

Isaac is growing his hair out. He wants to have hair like Legolas. I'm trying to explain that his hair is wavy and dark brown - it will never be blonde and straight without a lot of chemicals and daily hot iron sessions. I said that he could certainly look like Frodo, but no, he wants to be a blonde. Sigh.

Lately he's becoming frustrated with his bangs almost getting in his eyes. He has an eye-poking phobia (genetically passed on by me apparently), and he can't stand anything near his eyes. He wants me to cut only the bangs and leave the rest. I have tried to explain the serious evilness of mullets, but he doesn't quite get it.

Notice the infamous knapsack.

Bangla translation please...

I know I have quite a few deshi readers out there. I'm hoping that one of you can direct me to a website or other source that can provide me with a translation of a Rabindranath song...or just make it up yourself :-)

Specifically (please excuse the terrible English spelling of this song - I'm not skilled enough at BanglaWord yet - does Blogger even support Bangla fonts?) "Amar Nishitho Ratero Badolo Dhara"

Here are the words, as far as I can understand them. I can get the general drift of the song but I'd love a good translation. (Again, please excuse the bad English spellings.) And yes, I know my husband is Bengali and should be able to do this for me, but there is an issue with patience. I guess I ask for too much detail.

And I've tried to look each word up in my Bangla-English dictionary, but the last line translates to "Give safety to my eye water" and I know that can't be right. Rabindranath was a much better poet than that. (Maybe it means "Protect me from my tears"???)

Amar nishitho ratero badolo dhara, Esho hey goponey,
Amar shopono loke disha hara
Ogo ondhokarer ontorodhan
Dao theke mor porano mon
Ami chai ney topon, chai ney tara
Jokhon shobai mogon ghumero ghore
Niyo go, niyo go
Amar ghum niyo go, harano kore
Ekla ghore chupey, chupey
Esho keybol surer rupey
Diyo go, diyo go
Amar choker joler diyo shara

Here is my lame attempt: Don't laugh.

My enchanting night of rushing rain
Come to my hiding place
In my universe of dreams I lose my composure
Oh, heart of darkness, from you comes the poet's mind
I don't ask for the sun, I don't ask for the stars
When all are submerged in sleep
Take it, take it, take my sleep, I am lost
Alone and silent in the room
Let the beauty of the light come instantly
Give it, give it
Protect me from my tears

A Blogger Survey

I have been blogging since the summer of 2004, and up till now have not had any experiences with negative comments (other than spam). Imagine my surprise when I opened my email inbox today to find two anonymous comments. They were both in Bangla, and one of them referred to me as a "khanki" (whore). I can just see some 13-year-old rich kid sitting in Dhaka on his computer, laughing at his own wit and ability to string together nasty words.

Anyways, here's my question for all of you bloggers out there. How many of you have had any experiences with negative and unsolicited comments? What did you do about it? Did it seem to be a one-time thing or did they come back to harass you again and again?

Thanks for the input.

Katie "not a khanki" Zaman

Spring Break!

Isaac's school is out for the week, which means that I don't have access to my office. Technically I could go and find a janitor to let me in and around all of the barricades, but I decided to work from home. If you've never done it, working from home seems like a great idea. In reality, it's very hard, especially with a bored six-year-old hanging around. There is a limit to how much TV he can watch in one day.

The solution: I get up REALLY EARLY every morning and work as much as I can until he wakes up. Then I get another coupla hours in the afternoon. I only work part time, so this is enough. But getting up early sucks.

This Thursday I'm taking an Amtrak train for the first time! I was invited to a Fulbright conference in Chicago, which is scheduled for March 23-26. I considered driving down (then I could stop at IKEA on my way back!) but then I realized that parking would be a fiasco (and expensive), and I didn't want to be the only person there with a car, cuz I'd be stuck driving. A friend mentioned the train, and I found out that it only costs $88 round trip. So now instead of a tiring car ride, I'll have a relaxing train ride where I can finish my book and listen to some music.

Speaking of music, have you heard of James Blunt? He sings that song "You're Beautiful" in a freaky-high falsetto voice. I admit that I don't listen to the radio an awful lot, mostly because the best radio station we get here is 94.9 WOLX - oldies. I had heard snippets of the song, though and then he was on Oprah. He sang a song called "Goodbye My Lover" and I loved it. I just downloaded his entire album from iTunes. Isaac makes me play the free "Your Beautiful" video over and over again and he's learning the words. His commentary? "That man has a nice face and a nice voice." I agree.

Monday, March 20, 2006

"I'm sorry, lady. I'm morally opposed to birth control pills."

Down with the patriarchy!

Swiped from TheEmperfect.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

New Birthday Tradition

I have thrown big birthday parties for Isaac for the past five years - most notably his third birthday where we had around 250 people in attendance! But this year there was nothing more than a cake. I did get him a present - The Tale of Despereaux by Kate Dicamillo. I thought that since he's been so enthusiastic about reading lately, he'd love another big "chapter book" that we could read together. His response was less than desirable - he said, "Birthday presents are supposed to be toys!"

So, in an effort to recoup the birthday spirit, I said that we are going to have something called a "birthday week". This has turned out to be a great thing! It spreads the parental stress across several days and makes the kid feel like a prince (or princess) all week! Every day he got an extra treat in his lunch, he got to have some friends over to visit after school on a few nights, he got special cake and magic show (thanks to grandma and grandpa) in his classroom, and to end it with a bang, he got a mini-shopping-spree at Toys R Us.

It worked out really well, and I'm going to do it again next year. I'm hoping that I can escape the nightmare of a room full of sugar-poisoned seven-year-olds next year by convincing him to let me spend the money it would take to throw a birthday party on another shopping spree!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Now He Is Six...

I'm feeling really guilty right now. Today is Isaac's birthday and I just yelled at him and made him go to bed.

It started off to be an excellent day. We got to school on time, I managed to haul in my own heavy bags, Isaac's backpack and lunch, and a nice chocolate cake (and paper plates, forks, sprinkles, etc.) for Isaac's class. I went to work and got stuff done. I got through another coalition meeting (one of the most important aspects of my job) without any major snaffoos. I went to Isaac's classroom to help pass out cake. Went back to my office and worked some more on a grant application that I need to submit tomorrow, and realized it needs a lot more work. After school Isaac and I went to visit my grandparents, then went to visit my parents, then rented some movies from the library (preparing for possible snow day tomorrow), then came home.

I somehow managed to make a delicious noodle/asparagus salad and then collapsed in the easy chair.

But was my day over? Nooooooo. I had promised Isaac to help him work on his K'nex Dinosaur Set that his grandma got him for his birthday. It's for ages 8 and up. Isaac is six. That means he jumped around and scattered the tiny pieces while I squinted and hunched over the bad directions. Occasionally he would stand in front of the meager light source in the room. There were frequent requests for status reports, "How much LONGER mom?"

I finally finished it. He looked at it and put it on the shelf. Yay.

Then I got up (slowly, because I was totally hunched over that stupid project for over an hour) and realized the dishes were not done, the food was still on the table, the garbage has not been taken to the curb, the laundry is crumpled in the basket. It was too much. I cracked.

I loudly and angrily said, "Isaac, I can't do anything else for you tonight - go to bed NOW!" And Isaac looked at me with his round baby face that won't be round or babyish for much longer and said, "I love you, mom. Thanks for putting my dinosaur together."

I hope he doesn't remember these random outbursts of anger, and instead recalls how I laboriously put that frickin' dinosaur together for him, even though it was the last thing on earth I wanted to do. It sucks that it's so much easier to remember bad things than good.

Parenting is really really hard.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

At Last, A Weekend

Whew, this has been a great weekend! I left all of my work at the office and truly relaxed. Yesterday I cleaned the house and Masud cooked two huge pots of curry for the week. I cut up lots of fruit and planned the week's menu (lots of curry for Masud, lots of vegetarian Mexican food for me). It was very good. And I still have the entire Sunday left!

I did have one disturbing incident. Since last weekend, Isaac's new "knapsack" (as he likes to refer to it) has been missing. While the knapsack itself is very cool, it was the contents that were most important. His gameboy, all of his games, AND his precious Yu-Gi-Oh cards were all inside. These are the MOST IMPORTANT things in Isaac's toy armada. For me, losing something important drives me crazy until I either find it or figure out where it went. I literally tore the house apart looking for it, even in improbable places like the pantry and the office, and then as a last resort cleaned out the cars. Then I called my mom and asked her to look in her house. I called my dad to look at his business. I asked my sister if Isaac had left it in her car. No, no and no.

Last night, just as we were about to go to bed, I had an attack of OCD and decided to look one more time. I pulled everything out of Isaac's closet, went through his drawers, cleaned out his bookshelves, and repeated the process in our bedroom, the office, the pantry, the kitchen, and even the front porch. The entire process took at least an hour. Finally, sadly, I sat down on a chair and told Isaac that it was gone. As I pulled him close for a hug, I realized that the chair I was sitting on was not very comfortable - in fact it was very lumpy! I got up and picked up Masud's sweater (which apparently belongs draped over that chair because it's always there), and there was the rogue knapsack! Thank GOD!

Throughout this process, I came to the humiliating discovery that I am addicted to Isaac's Pokemon video game. It's one of those games where you have to find things, build up an inventory, train your Pokemon, compete in battles, and move through lots of different towns/caves/paths. We played it a LOT in Bangladesh, and I must say we've built up quite the inventory. I was really upset to think that all of that "work" was lost! Last night after we found the knapsack, Isaac and I played for an hour out of sheer relief!

And so begins Isaac's birthday week - he'll be six on Wednesday. Six years ago today I was starting to have contractions - the beginning of three days of labor. Labor sucks.

I'm going to go play Pokemon again.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

My Blog Sucks Lately

I feel badly about how crappy my blog has become. In my defense, I am working really hard right now - I'm writing a grant renewal application and doing lots of other things at the same time. Everything has an urgent deadline. I come home from work and I'm so tired I can barely preheat the oven for Isaac's chicken tenders. I hope you all bear with me and don't desert me in this time of blogging mediocrity.

Here's a list of updates:

1) The Bangladeshi Rapid Action battalion (RAB) finally caught Bangla Bhai, the Osama of Bangladesh. This is a major political victory for the Government of Bangladesh. They have been very pressured by the international community to "crack down" on Islamic Fundamentalism and root out the terrorists. I found the circumstances of his arrest questionable (a bomb "went off" in the hut in which he was hiding - nobody is saying whether B.B. was trying to commit suicide or the bomb was thrown by RAB themselves), but I guess it's good to get rid of the bad guys. As long as he doesn't become a martyr and inspire some other godbag freak to start his own little club.

2) Isaac had his first cavity filled today. The dentist prescribed valium that I administered an hour before his appointment, but it didn't really sedate him. I was very surprised that he didn't jump out of the chair when she gave him a shot in the gums. He was more scared of the drill than anything, and bit the dentist several times. All is well now, except that he bit his lip while it was numb and kinda drew blood.

3) Last weekend I was out shoveling snow from our recent snowstorm, and I slipped like an old lady. Of course, I put out my left hand to catch myself - forgetting it was still a tad sore from my surgery. Ouch. I thought I had broken it at first, but after some ice application and a day of Ace-bandage-wearing, I'm relatively pain free. That'll teach me for trying to become physically active. Couch-potatodom is in my future.

4) My sister is performing in the MHS presentation of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" this weekend and I'm really excited. This is her last high school musical performance and it's a little sad to think that next year she'll be in college. They grow up so fast!

5) I kinda-sorta got a raise. I've been working way over my "part-time" hourly requirements, so my boss decided to give me an extra ten hours per week of pay. I'm very happy.

Speaking of which, time for me to get to work.

Less sucky posts to come.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Please don't call social services!

Yesterday I was busy working at home and suddenly Isaac barged into the room and said, "MOM! I'm HUNGRY!"

I turned around and realized that it was 2:00 p.m. and he hadn't had lunch yet.

He said, "You are a terrible mother. You don't feed your child!"

As if the guilt wasn't already strong enough.

Then I realized that Masud was sitting in the living room watching Bengali Natak all day. I don't feel guilty any more. Now if only I can teach Isaac how to resist the patriarchy!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Bangladesh Daily Star: Sex Workers Place 11-Point Demand

Read the story from The Daily Star.

My readers who either know me or have read my blog archives are aware that I was in Bangladesh last year. While I was there, I had the pleasure of meeting the woman in the center of the above picture. She is one of the most incredible people I've ever met.

Sex workers in Bangladesh are despised. They struggle to make enough money to raise their children, while at the same time being denied basic human rights by society. Their children cannot go to school because no man claims them as his child - the law states that "illegitimate" children cannot attend school. (When, at a conference on sex work, a woman stood up to question a public official about this law, he responded, "Why don't you just put a name on the certificate?" She responded, "Who's name should I put? Yours?" He got up and left.)

Sometimes, a woman will bribe a man to say he is her husband. These men usually exploit the woman's disadvantage and take exorbitant sums. The women also must bribe police, and most times the police take their money by force, and even rape them in especially horrific ways.

There are some aid organizations working to help, offering training in things like candle-making, embroidery and other crafts. In reality, it's not possible to make a living off of selling candles, especially when one is used to making thousands of taka per month.

My friend, pictured above, has struggled literally since she was five years old to survive. She has been beaten and raped countless times, and her body bears the scars. She has five children and she raised them herself. She has terrible health problems, which are very expensive to treat, so she does not go to the doctor.

But even after all of this, she still stands up to fight. I'm proud to know her.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

I heart Minnesota.

I'm sorry, all my friends who live in Minnesota (and there are lots of you), because I was in Edina on Tuesday and Wednesday and I didn't call you. I'm especially sorry to my two buddies in the cities (Wendy and Nawshin) because I was extra close to you! But I had a hard core training thing and didn't have time to hang out.

This post is dedicated to the lovely State of Minnesota. After visiting for the first time since we moved away in October, I remembered how much I miss it! I drove past Southdale Mall on my way to the training building, and I remembered all those fun trips with Rubeena and Nipa - "Hey, Banana Republic has a sale!" I'm very grateful that I've met many international friends, but it's a big bummer when they graduate and take a job in distant lands. They are not tied down to any particular place here in America - since their "home" is very far away, they barely think twice about moving across the country to take a good job. Wahhhh. I miss you guys!

Minnesota is beautiful, too. The drive over was gorgeous - although I'll admit that most of the drive took place in Wisconsin. But that Mississippi Valley area is breathtaking, even in the dreariness of winter.

I watched the news on Wednesday morning - KARE 11 - and saw Mankato on the weather map. I MISS MANKATO! I miss the weird scultpures by the library, and the purple and yellow crosswalks in honor of the Vikings, and the 100 MPH winds that routinely blow there, and even the early spring poop smell that wafts off the farmers' fields (okay, I don't miss that!)

I guess I better plan a visit.