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.