Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Two Theories

Slowly I’m developing a new theory, one I’m sure will win me international acclaim and a multitude of awards after I perfect it. My theory began to evolve after I re-watched a certain movie today. The movie produced exactly the same effect as the first time I watched it with my lil’ sis a couple of years back; that is, floods of tears in all the same places. Probably I should scientifically test my theory out by watching the film again tomorrow, but I predict the same result.

My idea coincides with the fact that the human body is complexly made up of atoms that are polygomus, meaning they can create as many bonds as they choose. Each human body is unique, meaning different amalgamations occur in different individuals. If the right combination of bonds is intertwined, bam, a particular physical reaction is produced.

My friend Christina is exceptionally skillful at twisting my bonds just so. I suppose she creates covalent bonds in me, as these are the bonds that “share.” One gaze from her chocolate brown eyes and I find myself pouring out thoughts I’d kept from some of my closest friends. Of course, inevitably she’ll smile knowingly and say,

“Yeah, I figured that out, you’re too transparent.” The crazy thing is she probably did already guess it.

Another lady is also adept at getting things from me. Her fixed, probing stare earlier this evening had me discussing things I’d never mentioned aloud before. She created another type of covalent bond in me.

Maybe the movie crying response is due to the bonds of “fatal attraction,” or ionic bonds. Who can deny that there is something irresistible about a tragic movie that unleashes a downpour of tears?

I’m sure you’re dying to hear more about my highly scientific bond theory (should I consider teaching science instead of English?), but instead I need to mention a currently pressing topic: The December 29th Bangladesh Election 2008.

Awami League is in with over 200 votes. Woo hoo. Cheering and celebration in certain parts of Dhaka.

Perhaps rioting and protesting in other parts?

Last night I talked with an interesting character. The girl is currently writing a dissertation on political participation in Bangladesh. When she first told me this I was instantly interested as I knew almost 20 million Bengalis are registered to vote, a staggering sum.

“Tell me more.” She could not ask for a more attentive audience.

“Well, political participation tends to be higher in third world and developing countries,” she ventured carefully in her dainty British accent.

“Why do you reckon?” I asked in my blunt American accent.

“My theory is that because unemployment is high and Bengalis are unemployed or under-occupied-TVs are scarce- they are, frankly, bored.”

“Sounds about right,” My head nods comprehendingly.

This is a theory I can get behind. Wonder if her theory will win her as much universal commendation as my above one will earn me.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Coffee To Go

My life in Dhaka operates on hyper speed. My alarm beeps at 5:30am each morning and I hop out of bed and pull on my clothes. A new day awaits! My days are packed with as much as is humanly possible. Teaching my energetic Grace students English-or at least doing my darndest best to- till 2:30 each afternoon, then leading after school activities (currently gymnastics), tutoring Mongolian adults, volunteering at my slum school, or working at Kingdom Kids Club fills my afternoons. Most evenings I chock full of action, too. Swimming club three days a week, Ultimate Frisbee on Tuesdays, and the long run squeezed into any other free time slots. If by chance I do find a spare hour, I quickly fill it by curling up with a good book or a chat with a friend.

Yet it is only since coming to Dhaka that I’ve added that last bit, the relational bit. In America taking time to have a heartfelt chat with a bondhu [friend] was something I slotted into the odd Friday night.


You’re probably feeling sorry for me, thinking “aw, poor dear, she’s socially awkward and doesn’t know how to have a proper friendship.”

Not exactly. I did have several close friends, but we were all so busy and spread out geographically that our conversations were mainly limited to whenever we were able to long talks on the phone.

Making time for relationships- this is a new high priority for me. Making time to talk about any random topic that happens to pop into my curly head. Making time to have deep conversations about feelings or err, work (of course, my close girlies and I would never dream of gossiping. Honestly, never. It has been said of me that I only speak the truth.).

Last week on a long bus ride my oh-so-witty Aussie friends and I were passing time by discussing the timeless topic of poetry. Of course, as an English teacher they automatically expected me to have an abundant knowledge on the topic and even asked me to quote America poetry. To be precise, they asked me to recite a patriotic American poem. They also assumed that naturally I was familiar with every American poet and could quote their poems from heart. Naturally.

“I wish that I’ve read more poetry,” rued one.

Flippantly I replied, “That’s okay, it’s not practical to your line of work [He’s a geography specialist].” As usual I wasn’t serious, but he looked at me with a serious expression on his face.

“Life’s not always about work, Elaine, what’s important in life isn’t always practical.”

Bam. He hit the nail on the head, as he frequently does.

My activity driven life is focused on a flurry of how much can be done in as short a time as possible. Efficiency. Positive change.

Isn’t that why I came to Dhaka, to make a difference?

Instead, the many other cultures I’ve been exposed to in this close-knit expatriate community have taught me something new; The Art of Chilling.

Ah, The Art of Chilling. Kicking back, sipping tea, talking leisurely about what’s on your mind. Once at the beginning of last year my phone beeped and I checked my message, it was Jan:

“Come round for a cuppa.”

“What in tarnation’s a cuppa? A cuppa what?” my poor Americanized mind was bewildered.

This was the first of many similar invitations to a hot beverage and a tête-à-tête. Frequently the Aussies and Europeans I work with will invite me around for no other reason then to enjoy each other’s company.

Coffee as a medium of building relationships it utterly and completely foreign to me. In America we like our coffee hot, strong, and to go. Coffee is merely a means of caffeinating ourselves for the next item on the agenda.

What a shock to find the rest of the world sip their coffee sweet, milky, in china cups, and with the added essential element, of a friend to have a chitchat.


“Behind every successful woman is a substantial amount of caffeine.”- S. Piro

Let’s rephrase that.

“Behind every successful woman is a substantial friendship.”- E.G. Baker*

*I realize this assumes I am a successful woman, which some may say is debatable.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Scratch Me; You'll Get Just a Little Girl

“An island in the sea may just be the top of a large mountain, and our personality is like that island. We don’t know the great depths of our being, therefore we cannot measure ourselves.” –Oswald Chambers

It was only just three days I ago that I was perched on the edge of a vangaari chatting aimlessly with friends on the way to Rabindranath Tagore’s (the Bengali Nobel Prize winning poet) bari out in the peaceful countryside. But so much has happened in the last day that it seems like it was a different lass (to borrow the Irish term of my dear friend Est)-certainly not the vulnerable girl I am now.

The woman on the vangaari was an adventurer, a determined warrior out to prove the adage that "anything boys can do, girls can do better." Challenges have always been fixed parts in my life; I need the endorphin rush. No, I crave the adrenaline that comes with some new obstacle for me to triumph over.

"What's that you say? I can't swim around the island in a race? Well, I will!"

"Eh, third world living is hard? Betcha I can handle it!"

"Only lunatics run half marathons? Just watch me do it."

My mom says anything I declare I will do, I do; I've inherited the Baker determination. Sometimes this include all the macho bravado of a man. Walking alone at night in shady places is no problem for me, and I comfort fearful female companions by announcing I have a fierce right hook and a knockout jab. I'm sure men view me as a self-sufficient female not in need of their chivalrous protection, and I thought this, too, until last night.

Last night I had a rude awakening, where surprise, surprise, I discovered I am NOT an island.

Scratch my tough facade; you get just a little girl.

So in the past few weeks there has been a huge rise in crime in the area around where I live, and this is all because of the long awaited elections happening, doot doot doo-tomorrow! The military rule has been lifted and consequently there's been marches, parades, celebrations, and a plethora of crime leading up to the supposedly "free and fair election" on the morrow. Three teachers I work with have been robbed at different times, one of them badly injured and her laptop stolen. A close friend of mine’s sister was knocked off a rickshaw and both her feet were broken.

None of this worried me hugely, other than to feel terribly sorry for the victims and offer my condolences. However, last night around midnight I was rickshawing it home from a friend's. In the rickshaw next to me was Josh, headed to a street nearby mine. On the way our shaws were separated as Josh's took a different route. Once I noticed this I asked my waller to wait for him to catch up. I had my urna pulled up around my head so only my face peeked out, but I immediately started to feel nervous when I noticed the place I’d chosen to wait was where two robberies had occurred in the past couple of weeks. Suddenly a white car drove by me, stopped abruptly when the men inside noticed me, and reversed next to my shaw. The Bengali men stared at me. I panicked. Tears poured down my cheeks as I realized I was alone late at night and these men were in exactly the same color car as the one that had robbed my friends.

My lips formed silent words.

“I’m alone. Alone. Alone. God protect me!”

By God’s grace the car unexpectedly sped up and drove away.

Josh was no where to be seen, so I told my equally scared waller to burn rubber getting me home. When I arrived at home Josh rang me and I couldn’t keep the tears from coming as I talked to him. He’d made it to the Noolan’s place, where he was staying, just fine. Worried about me, he insisted he and Steve Noolan walk over and take me back to the Noolan’s to stay the night. When Steve and Josh came to my door and walked with me back to the quiet safety of their house; their big, physical presence calmed me. Just having their comforting height towering over me soothed my shaking nerves. Once in the Noolan’s I crawled into Jeannette’s arms and wept. She let me soak her pillow in tears, and only after I’d stopped and apologized did she give me this gem of insight.

“Don’t ever be ashamed of your emotions. God gave us feelings to guide us, so if you need to cry, go ahead and cry. Your intuition guided you tonight; it told you something was wrong and something was wrong. You are lucky to be safe. You are one prayed for girl.”

Jeannette was right. I am a girl. Just a little girl. All my bravado was stripped away as I realized how much I need protection from others. Not just protection given by big strong men (and yes, I’m considering hiring a mammoth-sized body guard) but defence by my immense God.

After several bouts of sobbing, Jeannette gave me a sleeping pill and let me fall asleep curled up next to her in bed. Big-hearted Steve generously let me stay in his spot all night and snoozed in another room.

When I awoke the next morning the fear was still there, but mellowed enough to allow me to smile and ignore the fact that my stomach had apparently taken up origami and was folding itself up into bits. Throughout today tears have randomly caught me by surprise, but after getting through the unpredictability of the election tomorrow, maybe the feeling of aloneness and uncertainty will disappear.

It’s true what they say, you do learn something new everyday. Yesterday I discovered I’m not the brave adventurer I thought myself to be. Still, I’m glad I’m in Bangladesh and I’m glad to be travelling this particular adventure with the Big Body Guard Upstairs.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

My Christmas Eve Journey

"So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David...He went there with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." -Luke 2:4-7

Mary and Joseph traveled a famous journey just before the birth of Christ; Christmas Eve, over two thousand years later, I traveled a similar journey to celebrate His birth. While the couple's trip is frequently romanticized, pictured as a big-bellied Mary riding a docile donkey with Joseph desperately searching for a room in an inn, it probably was much more prosaic. Similarly, my trip was an average Bangladesh journey.

Jeannette and Steve Noolan, an Aussie couple in their fifties working for the NGO Symbiosis in Mimensingh, and I arose before dawn on December 24th and headed down to Mirpur to catch a Hanif bus to Kumarkhali. After 15 minutes spent searching for the correct bus stop on a long road filled with identical bus stations, we found the correct ticket counter and settled down to wait for an hour. Before boarding our bus I ventured into the Asian toilet (basically a hole in the ground that you have to flush by dumping water down), as I knew there were no toilets on the bus. I pride myself on being a connoisseur of toilets in Asia, and gave this one a 4 out of 10, with 1 being the worst.

We boarded our rickety bus along with other families carrying mysterious cardboard boxes taped shut and pots of rice wrapped in newspaper. Jeannette and I sat next to eachother in order to be culturally apropriate-in Bangladesh men and women sit separately unless married-and discovered we could have highly private conversations in English without people around us understanding. For the next 6 hours we proceeded to discuss everything under the sun, including our personal interpretations of what the Bible says about sex and marriage. Women in burkhas and shalwar kameez, men in lungis and mismatching plaid dress shirts, and children dressed up in their besplangled best stared at us curiously, but understood not our discussion.

Talking was an ideal distraction from watching the road, as buses in Bangladesh are kings of the road, fearlessly roaring past rickshaws, vangaaris, and other vehicles on broken, narrow roads. Our driver was milder than bus drivers I've had in the past, so I only clutched Jeannette and yelped "oh, dear, God" once or twice.

Another distraction we had on the long trip was crossing the Ganges River on a ferry. Rather than sit on our less than trustworthy bus on the even less than trustworthy ferry (safety regulations have yet to touch Bdesh), we climbed to the top deck and admired the fog covered river. Here I finally gave into the persistent vendors hawking us and bought what looked like a package of twigs covered in cane sugar and sesame seeds and tasted like wood. Jeannette and Steve snacked on mandarins and chepati from the sellers.

In the afternoon we arrived in the Western town of Kumarkhali and were met by Josh, another man from the land of Oz who's working on community development projects in the area. After eating dahl, chicken curry, rice, and rice chepati at the bari of the CDP director we went back to Josh's imposing three storey house sitting peacefully on the edge of several man made ponds and rice paddies.

Here I decided to learn how to cook dahl (spicy cooked lentils) from the cook. In the kitchen she was fiddling with pots and pans when she suddenly commanded me to "asun" [come] and ran downstairs into the courtyard, where a small crowd was gathering. I stood around with the locals, as they gawked at my white skin curiously, wondering what was going on. Finally I asked Mike, the only other foreigner living at the house who is working on an arsenic water project. He laughed and nodded towards two goats on a rope, informing me there was going to be a goat slaughter.

The next few minutes involved the crying of goats, large pools of red blood, and twitching carcasses. After that my anticpation of goat curry for Christmas dinner declined dramatically.

Later that night under my mosquito net, I breathed in the smoky country air and images of legless, furry, bodies hanging from sticks ran through my mind.

The parent of two of my students once told me their family doesn't go on "vacations" in Bangladesh, they go on "adventures." On looking back on my Christmas Eve I see it was a normal Bangla adventure, but for those reading this in westernized countries it probably has all the exotic appeal of Mary and Joseph's trip to Bethlehem.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

Gue Holud

The aromatic scent of tumeric greeted my nostrils as I woke up this morning.

Ah yes, the yellow wedding party.

Rolling over and sitting up, I examined my face in the mirror. Stairing back at me was a unique sight. My forehead was stained a cheerful yellow, my nose had a thin yellow stripe running across its bridge, yet what made me most comical looking was the single yellow eyebrow.

Memories from the night before came flooding back to me.
"I smell like curry!" moaned Gemma, ineffectively attempting to wipe tumeric paste off her face.

"Hmm," I pondered, "It reminds me of those huge sacks of spices in bazaars."

"It smells like celery," decided the practical Joel.We'd just been "holuded" at a pre-wedding party for a Bengali couple we vaguely knew. Gue holuds are traditional in Bengali marriages, and basically involve everyone dressing up in red, orange and yellow sarees (for the women) and white punjabis (for the men), draping themselves in marigolds, then smearing fragrant tumeric paste on the bride and groom's faces. The bride and groom return the favor by rubbing it on the guests, consequently causing an all out face-smearing-riot amongst guests and the bridal party.

Last year I'd attended a gue holud, but knew few people at the party. I'd been excited to attend this party because I knew many of the Bengali guests. Ironically, it turns out with these kinds of parties the fewer people you know, the better.

At my first yellow soiree the groom had given me a polite dab of goo on my cheek and that had been that, but at this gathering everyone I knew felt it their duty to vigorously apply gooey paste to every inch of my face. Not once, not twice, but three times I figured the fun was over and removed the crushed tumeric from my face. Without fail a friend would see my clean face and gleefully rub more on my face, thinking he was doing me a favor.After an hour of this huge vats of spicy goat curry finally arrived and a Bengali man began stalking around the shamiana shouting "bawsen, bawsen, bawsen [sit]!" Until the oddly colored guests were all safely sitting with their yellow stained hands at their sides. Steaming plates of curry and chepati were passed around and the finger painting ended.

All in all it was a fun experience. Luckily we are on Christmas holidays at school and I did not have to face my students with a brightly painted face this morning. My house mate assured me last night that tumeric has healing astringent qualities for your skin, but this failed to comfort me as I wondered how to get this stuff of my face. Finally I opted for a long swim in the pool in the hopes that the chlorine would at least fade it to a more mellow yellow.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Unpleasant, But Necessary

Last week was Korbani Eid, hence the nauseating, but obligatory blog entry.

Korbani Eid celebrates the Old Testament story of Abraham's command from God to sacrifice his son on a mountain top, but at the last moment receiving a reprieve from God and sacrificing a lamb instead. Except in the Islamic version of the tale it is Ishmael, not Isaac, is the offering. Consequently, each year around this time-precisely ten days after the sighting of the moon-each family will slaughter some type of livestock, with the more affluent showing off by buying cows and the poorer purchasing goats. The odd other species pokes up occasionally. My passing a camel in Gulshan Two the day before Eid warranted a second look; I briefly considered tapping on the door to the house and inquiring what time they planned on slaughtering their hairy beast, but decided it was too morbid.

If I thought that was morbid, I wasn't prepared for the actual Eid day. Eid dawned bright and sunny with an obvious festive feeling pervading the air. It could have been Halloween, with children in mismatched clothes and decrepit beggars running from house to house to gape at the slaughtering and beg for a dripping chunk of meat for their "goody bags."

Within seconds of stepping out of my apartment building I was assualted by the smell of fresh meat wafting gently down the streets of DOHS Baridhara. However, I bravely continued down the main road.

A glance to the left revealed a a couple of massacred cows being hacked to bits by some ambitious shirtless men.

I swallowed and continued on.

A peek to my right revealed a similar scene, but this poor beast had a small crowd watching the fun, rather like an audience at a movie theater enrapt in a new thriller.

By the time I made it to Gulshan Two, my breakfast was threatening to my a re-entrance. Resolutely I stared ahead, only two see two gleeful men on a motor bike zip past, one proudly wielding a curved knife with a rusty red blade.

Then my tears came.

Eid Mubarak!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Weekend Snapshots Part III

Christmas Boxes
Saturday afternoon found me trudging down crumbling, twisted alleys laden with shoe boxes in a slum near a local Bengali church. Some other Kingdom Kid's leaders and I were bringing in shoe boxes filled with practical Christmas presnts, like toiletries and warm clothing, to a day care center for five to eleven year old children. The twenty boxes were lovingly put together by our kid's club children over the past few Thursday afternoons, and were a gifts to the impoverished day care children.
The day care has seventeen children crammed into a tiny apartment every day, six days a week. When we arrived the gorgeous, chocolate-colored little kids were neatly seated on a flowered sheet in the center room, eagerly awaiting our arrival. You could tell our visit was a momentous occasion for the children, as they were dressed in their nicest clothes and the girls had their hair done up in baubles and ornaments. Before we gave them their presents, they sang several songs to us, accompanying them with adorable made-up dance moves and hand motions. A couple of the bigger boys were too "grown up" for hand motions, so they kept time with small drums.
After that we sang "Hark the Herald, Angels Sing" to them, then passed out the gifts, which they recieved with shining eyes.
It was a lovely afternoon.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Weekend Snapshots Part II


This morning was an annual charity duathlon. Last year Munkhzaya, a Mongolian friend of mine, competed and I took first place in our division, so this year I decided to venture out on my own and compete in the run and swim on my own.

I walked into the gym during pre-race registration carrying my gear in a tote bag and surveyed the competition. Hmm. Mostly familiar faces. The runners were the Dhaka Hash House Harriers while the swimmers were mainly from my Master's Swim Club. Nothing new here.

Feeling confident, I checked in and greeted some fellow swimmers before heading to the locker room. It was there my cockiness took a blow. As I put on my suit I listened to a couple of ladies in my division chat about the fifteen-yes, FIFTEEN- mile run they'd done yesterday. This duathlon was their "recovery " run.

Gulp. Fifteen miles? If I run twelves miles I feel proud of myself, while they talked about running fifteen miles like a mundane, daily event. A thought hit me. Maybe fifteen miles was a daily event for them? I peeked over at them, noting their tennis ball calf muscle's and toned legs.

But I didn't have time to worry as the race was starting.

"God, just let me do my best and have a good time," I tried to pray sincerely.

Now the race is over and I took fourth place out of ten women in the women's individual 400 meter swim and 4 kilometer run. Definitely not as good as last year, but last year I wasn't running again marathon running Amazon women.

Now it's time for my version of "recovery" in the form of a good long nap.

Weekend Snapshots Part I

My weekends are typically eventful, and this weekend was no different. Here's the first random snapshot from my weekend.

The Ill-Fated Man Episode II

Friday, 8:45 am: "BUZZ, BUZZ!" My phone went off as I peacefully sipped a steaming cup of coffee and read my Bible. Putting down my mug with a sigh, I picked it up.

"Hello, Elaine," came a familiar Australian voice over the phone.

"Hey, J.T.," I said, a little surprised at the early morning call, "what's up?"

"Err, " he began cheerfully, "I sort of have this problem and didn't want to wake Isaac or Joel."

I knew he'd stayed the previous night downstairs at their apartment and visions of possible mishaps filled my mind. Three boys in their mid-twenties could do any amount of damage when left alone. Busted windows from playing baseball in the living room? A lamp on fire from a candle left burning all night? J.T. did not let my wild imagination down, proving yet again that reality is crazier than fiction.

"I knocked the faucet out of the wall in the back bathroom and water's gushing out." He announced.

"Right," I said, "let me run down and tell the gate guards to shut the water off in your apartment, then I'll ring D. Rob. [the building superintendent]." I quickly pulled on a kameez and ran downstairs. The next ten minutes involved the water not being shut off, J.T. and myself getting soaked trying to plug the hole, and finally the guard, Suvash, creatively nailing a chunk of round wood into the hole and successfully ending the flow.

A repair man can't come for two days, so I'm praying the pipes don't burst from the back flow before then. But if they do burst, ten bucks says it's when J.T. happens to be in the room. He attracts these kinds of occurrences like a magnet.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Crazy Hair Day at School

The Ill-Fated Man

One interesting aspect to living in Dhaka is meeting the missionaries that come in and out of the city enroute to rural villages in Bangladesh. One such missionary is a young Aussie who I will refer to as "JT" to save him from embarassment.

JT arrived in Bd last August with the apparent goal of doing as much physical harm to his body as possible. He seems to be a cheerful fellow with no obvious death wish, but his actions speak otherwise.

Within days of his arrival he managed to contract a stomach virus and ended up in the hospital with severe dehyrdation. He managed to recover from that and was released.

Within weeks of his arrival he managed to contract the horrible Dengue fever (see my previous blogs on Esther's bout with the disease for more information), something which many missionaries here for years avoid.

Within months of his arrival he managed to be robbed. After recuperating from Dengue he went out to his village, where his house was burgled by a national. To JT's credit he did chase the thief down and recover his posessions.

Within half a year of his arrival he managed to almost lose his life in a car accident, but settled for almost losing his leg. This past Saturday, hapless JT was innocently catching a ride through a village on the back of a vangaari (a flat bed cart pulled by a rickshaw) when one of the insane local buses sideswiped him, knocking him to the ground and causing severe damage to his leg. JT was promptly taken to a local hospital where he was just able to prevent the national doctor with the saw from amputating his leg and was transferred five hours away to the more reputable Square Hospital in Dhaka. There his cast was removed and he was stiched up around his knee and foot and then wrapped in gauze.

Now, four months into his work as a community developer in Kumarkhali village near Kustia, he is at the point of refusing to call his mother for fear that his latest exploit will "freak her out."
I met JT in August, and have watched his progress in the country with interest. Personally, I think if the "three strikes your out" rule applies, JT should have been way outta Bdesh months ago.
JT normally:

JT getting his leg stictched up:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Field Trip After the Charity Sale...

Twenty-five of my KS3-KS4s just returned from an enjoyable and eye-opening visit to a local AOG run school for under-privileged students this morning. My Grace students were excited to meet the students they worked so hard to raise money for at my recent Charity Sale. At the school they Grace students sang several traditional Christmas carols before listening to the Bengali students and teacher sing Bengali Christmas carols, dance, and perform drama for us. We finished with sharing a local misti treat made from muri, and then playing an energetic game of “Simon Says,” or in this case, “Simon Bali” with the local students.

Rachel, a Grace Year Ten student, shared her thoughts on the trip with me:

“I was so happy to have the opportunity to go and visit an AOG school with my classmates. It was a great experience. I loved the energy of the students that attended the school. They were talented, happy and well behaved children. I think what I enjoyed the most about the trip to the AOG school was when the students performed for us. They didn’t appear to be shy and seemed to love the attention. The school has 120 students and they all are taught in one room, but those children seemed to always have a smile on their face. This has taught me to be grateful and happy with what we have at Grace.”

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Girl on the Bicycle

After we ordered dinner, Mike grinned at me mischeviously.

"My Bangla tutor was talking about you today," he announced.

"Huh?" I asked, startled, " but I don't know him."

It was Thursday night and I was having dinner with the Principal and his wife.

"He knows you, though. For some weeks he's been talking about a 'girl on a cycle' and today he mentioned your striking hair color so we figured out it was you and were able to enlighten him as to your name."

That Mike and his Bangla teacher were able to identify my by my hair color is not at all odd. Truthfully, I stand out in more ways than one when riding my bike. Besides being blonde while all the people around me have dark hair, I am a female on a bike, which is unacceptable for Bengali women.

At stores, clubs, and church I frequently meet new people who introduce themselves by saying,
"Hi, do you ride a bike around Gulshan?"

On Wednesdays I cycle down to a bazaar near Baridhara to teach some teenagers and adults English. One of my students, 14 year old Shimoli, is openly envious of my bike.

"You are so lucky that you can ride a bike!" she exclaims, "I ask my parents if I can ride one and they say no, because it is not good for a woman to ride a bike! You are a bideshi (foriegner) so it is okay. But I cannot because people will think balo na (bad) things about me. So I have to walk such a long way and it takes too long."*

"That is not right," I agree with her.

Then Shimoli will shake her head and sigh.

Riding a bike in America is nothing, women do it all the time without thinking about it twice. Yet in Bangladesh it is just one small, trivial thing women cannot do. It represents a thousand other small and HUGE inequalities between men and women in this predominantly Muslim country.

Psalms 101 says God comes to bring "justice and equality." My prayer is that He will come to Bdesh.

*Shimoli does not in actuality speak this grammatically.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

It's Pouring

Rachel Lynde's officious phrase in Anne of Green Gables, "I do declare, it doesn't rain but it pours" used to annoy me endlessly. But I have to confess this cliche's been creeping in and out of my head this past week.

After my late night roof dancing last Friday night, I slept for 4 hours before heading off to my school's charity sale, which I'd been organising for 2 months in aid of a local slum school. It went well, attracting several hundred people and raising 40,000 taka, beside being an enjoyable community event for students, teachers, parents, local expats, and nationals alike.

After the hectic, but fun, weekend, I headed into a new week of school to face-dum dee dum dum-report writing! Ah, report writing, a time consuming teacher task in British schools.
So I trudged through reports, only to have the Year 3 teacher, Esther, fall sick with a harsh strain of dengue fever on Monday. Drat those disease-ridden mosquitos! Consequently, I've been sleeping on Esther's floor for the past five nights and during the day trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to make her comfortable as she struggles through fever and intense aching and burning. After 4 days of not having the energy to walk and barely enough to even talk, she's a bit better today. The fact that she sat up in bed and smiled this morning made my day!
Now that Esther's on the path to recovery (fingers crossed and Lord willin'), some new event is sure to descend on me.

Or is the rain easing up?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Moghulin it up

Dressed in sarees, punjabis, and anarkhalis, 20 or 30 people danced last night on the roof of my apartment building until the wee small hours. The occasion? Halima's (my house mate)and Delwar's (her brother) birthdays, as well as Dipti's return from England after 6 months away. The official theme of the party was "Moghul," which I think actually means "very Bengali."

Who knew the Moghuls had such a happenin' era!

"The best part of the dancing," said Est with a laugh, "was the anything goes!" Dancing around in a circle, we wiggled our tushes, waved our arms, and bounced on our feet like natives performing tribal rituals. The music was a mix of Bengali traditional, hip hop, R&B, and dance. We let it blare until 1am, when the neighbors complained.

When I had finally scrubbed the khol off my eyes, peeled the bindi off my forehead, and undecorated my self of bangles and jewels, I fell into bed thinking thinking God had made a mistake and I was born in the wrong era. I should have been a Moghul.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Da Holiday Mood

November is 7 days in, bringing with it my insatiable love of the holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas, the New Year-j'ai dore them all! Earlier this week I crafted a Christmas themed story writing project for my Year 9s, and they ate the challenge up eagerly.

But why is it I adore Christmas in particular so passionately?

Beyond the obvious "because it's Jesus' birthday" response, there's a multifaceted answer.

It probably all originates in the weather.

I'm a big weather person. Actually, I'm a HUGE weather fanatic, and my mood is strongly affected by the temperature. With cooler breezes and sweater-wearing temperatures, I skip around with a permanent smile pasted on my face, sort of like an insane bunny. Last week another teacher demanded to know why I was in such an insanely good mood, claiming I "look like the cat that ate the canary."

Also, the cooler weather alerts me to the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, so I spend my spare moments, or moments I should be paying attention during staff meetings, planning my sweet potato casserole for Thanksgiving dinner and exactly which kinds of Christmas cookies I'll bake in December.

Baking is yet another element of my Christmas passion, because I can bake treats for people all throughout the month with no other reason than Christmas being in the near future. If I were to bring a friend along a plate of homeade chocolate fudge in August he would demand to know the occaision for such an offering, but in December no questions would be asked. Peanut butter blossoms, chocolate truffles, sugar cookies shaped like angels and frosted with buttercream icing. Mmmm. Filling my kitchen with these warms scents and then bringing them to Christmas socials and friends' places is one of the wonderful parts of Christmas. One fly in my ointment is that now that I'm living in Bdesh I don't have my littlest bro hanging around to lick the bowl for me or sample my cookies. But rather than dwell on my lack of cute siblings in this Bakerless country, I'll continue to eagerly prepare for Christmas sans family, decorating my apartment with strings of popcorn, hanging cranberry colored garlands from my walls, and putting up twinkling Christmas lights in the hall with Est (who's equally fanatical about Christmas).

With cool weather, fuzzy socks and sweaters, and sugary treats it will be a marvellously merry Christmas, minus ma Boulanger famille.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Sick, sick, sick. After two days of not eating I munched some crackers and strawberry Pocky yesterday to let my stomach gradually get used to food again. This morning when I woke up I was surprised to feel a strange rumbling in my stomach. It took me a moment to recognize it as hunger pangs. What a joy to have an appetite again! I'm especially surprised to be alert and feeling fit after a night of Thai clubbing, complete with the tasteless Thai club drink of choice, whiskey and club soda.

Home again! Flew back into Bdesh this morning!

Now that I'm back in Dhaka I want to sort out my Bangkok experience in my head. It was...what's the word...interesting? Did I enjoy myself this week despite the illness? Yeah. Would I go back again on vacation? Heck yeah! Would I go teach there? Hmm. I partly came to Bkk to see if I want to teach at a Christian international school there and am very undecided.

Thailand is, in the words of a fellow teacher, "a pleasant country." The people are generally mild and friendly, with easy smiles and quiet mannerisms. I love the miniature head bows with teepeed hands exchanged out of respect, even amongst the younger generation. But one major aspect to the Thai culture is an aspect I left Orlando to escape.


Knock-offs, fashion, shopping. All these abound to an astonishing extent from what I saw in Pattaya, Bangkok, and from what Wow (a Thai fashionista) tells me, all over Thailand. You cannot get away from the shopping in that country! While it was great fun to buy ridiculously huge hoop earrings for a quarter each and a cheery red La Coste tee for a few dollars, I think I couldn't handle more that a week of the consumerism.

Relationships satisfy me. People satisfy me. I don't need the added shopping distraction where I live. Frankly, Dhaka doesn't many material pleasures for me. Bingo. Exactly what I need. I hate the culturally appropriate female dress here, shalwar kamezes and the ever necessary urna for my chest.

Let me repeat that.

I hate shalwar kamezes. Oh, how do I hate them? Let me count the ways!
1. They're sticky and confining in hot weather, which we have 9 months out of the year.
2. Also, I'm Floridian and possess the innate instinct to wear as few clothes as possible. Let's just say the good Lord did not bless me with a sense of modesty.
3. Lastly, my main mode of transportation is my bike. Baggy shalwar and bike chains DON"T mix. Period.

But in spite of this female clothing of oppression loathing, I love working in Dhaka. I love that the lack of western fashion frees me to volunteer at a slum school, work at my church's kid's club, teacher after school activities, and tutor adults in English. I love that the time I would spend shopping on weekends in Florida I now I spend chatting with my Irish girlie. In this sense Dhaka's lack of matieral goods to entice me (yeah, they may hold consummeristic appeal to Bengalis) leaves me free to be used by God for His purposes, relational and otherwise.

Well, I guess that's sorted in my head now. Unless God drops a billboard with neon flashing lights in front of my face this year directing otherwise, Bangkok will not see me as a teacher next year.

The search for my ideal country continues...

"I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, O God, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is Your love, higher than the heavens." -Psalms 2b-4a (These verses made me smile today).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Surreal Experience

The past week has seen me hanging out in Thailand for the October school holidays. Yea for a week away from my lovable, but needy, students! I've been visiting my Thai friend, Wow (yes, that is her name! Well, sort of. Her actual name is unpronouncable by very American me, so that's what I call her.), After a few days in Bangkok, where I am sorry to admit I did not see any temples or historical landmarks as I was too busy browsing through the innumerable markets and malls for cheap knock-offs, we headed out of the city for the beach.

Pattaya is about 2 hours drive south of Bangkok and felt like home to me. The beach town felt like a slighter poorer version of South Florida, excepting the hazy mountains in the background.

The surreality began with the amazing amount of foreigners inhabiting the place. After coming straight from Dhaka, which has a notable lack of foreigners, it was a shock to see so many fair skinned people like me. The difference was most of these foreigners were retired, and may I add unattractive, European business men walking around with their younger, also unattractive, Thai girlfriends. Wow informed me that if I see an ugly Thai girl, it's really a girl, but if I see a pretty Thai girl, it's actually a transvestite.

Apparently Thai plastic surgury is remarkably good.

This brings me to the next part of my surreal experience. The night of our arrival in Pattaya I was acutely sick with traveler's stomach and feeling out of it, so when Wow announced we were going to spend the evening at a world famous transvestite show I decided I was hallucinating. Yet I wasn't and we proceeded to watch the Tiffany Show, a Thai version of Las Vegas show girls, ahem, I mean transvestites, perform amazing imitations of Tina Turner, Whitney Housten, and Marilyn Monroe acts. They were good. Pretty darn good. What further weirded me out was I found myself envying their gorgeous hairstyles and perfect thighs.

Now I've just arrived back in Bangkok and am questioning whether or not that abnormal Pattayan experience actually happened.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Weekend

A quiet weekend, finally.

After five days of hectic teaching, it feels good to have no agenda. My across-the-hall-mate just asked me what my plans for the day are, and it was so nice to say "just to go for a run." Swimming, lying on my coach reading Maeve Binchley, eating genuine Cadbury's chocolate with Esther, drinking coffee. It's been a quiet weekend.