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.


  1. Hmm.. who would have ever though-- learning to chill with the Aussies ;) -Just Some Guy

  2. Hmmmm something like what I was thinking!

    So are you coming around?

    Chilling with you these holidays ahs been awesome...

    You have a book in you girl!! :)

  3. I came across your blog in passing. I spent some time in Costa Rica a few years back. One of their expressions is: "cafe con lengua", literally: "coffee with tongue" meaning coffee with a chat. What a great way to spend an hour or two!