Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Starving Indian Kids...

My friends here in Bangladesh refer to me being in the "clean plate club".  At every meal, no matter how big, I make sure that I eat every single grain of rice that is on my plate.   And if I'm physically unable to finish my meal, I make sure to put it away to eat for later.  This has been a practice of mine from ever since I can remember.  I was quite a slow eater in my early years (those who know me well are familiar with the tale of my daycare teacher yelling at me every single day at lunch), but no matter what, my mother would not let me get up from the table until everything was eaten.  Sometimes, dinner would literally take hours...but I had no other choice.  Thus, from a young age, my brain has been wired to eat everything that has been placed in front of me.

As I grew a little older and we took trips to see relatives in India, I became more aware of all the children who had no stable source of food.  One memory that I recall was eating in the New Delhi McDonald's and noticing that two young children, not more than 10 years old, was staring at us through the window from outside.  A great wave of guilt came over me, and I wrapped up what was left of my Fillet-O-Fish and french fries, went outside and handed it to the two boys.  As I saw how grateful they were with the little I gave them, I suddenly understood why wasting food is such an awful thing.

When I went to college (where tons of food are thrown away each day), I came across my first real opposers to this moral of mine.  "What are we supposed to do with this food?  I don't want it.  Do you want me to ship it over to the starving Indian kids? " they would say.  It was hard for me to fully explain what I had experienced in South Asia.  I would encourage people to not take as much as they couldn't eat OR just take it home if you went out to eat!  People thought I was a bit strange for being so uptight about this one thing.

So fine.  Waste your food when you are in America because it's true, the starving children aren't there to be a constant reminder of the millions of people who are dying from malnutrition.  However, in Bangladesh (wherever you are in the country) all you see is starving people the second you step outside.  So my question is, why do people waste food here in Bangladesh?  You can't finish your food?  Put it in a plastic bag or box and give it to the 6-year-old girl who is making an income working all day in the sun and hasn't had a good meal...well, probably in her whole life.  It would take anyone about 30 seconds at most to find that little girl or boy.

I know most of my readers are not in Bangladesh with me right now.  But wherever you are, the next time you can't finish your food, think about the millions of children in developing countries who would do absolutely anything just to have what you are about to throw away in the trash. 

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pedestrian Rights?

To get to work, I take a rickshaw (12 tk) from my apartment building close to Gulshan 1 circle.  It takes about 10 minutes, depending on traffic and time I leave.  I tell my rickshawallah to take the inside roads because taking Gulshan Avenue would take much longer.  I jump out of the rickshaw, and then my biggest obstacle remains.  Crossing Mohakhali Avenue.  Do you remember the game Frogger?  We used to play it on the IBMs that had no mouse attached back in Moss Hall...using the arrow keys, you guided a frog (Frogger) across the street safely as cars and trucks went by extremely fast.  Well, I'm Frogger now.  There is no "pedestrians right of way" law in Bangladesh.  If you walk, it probably means you're poor, and if you're poor, it means you don't matter.  So sad, but it's true.  So for the time that I have to cross the street, I don't matter in the eyes of the drivers that are zooming past.  I hop two steps forwards, one step back.  I hop two steps more, and then just go all the way back...too scared, there's a big bus coming.  Uh oh, almost out of time!  (Yeah, you had to get Frogger across the street in a certain amount of time, of course.)  

In a way, this has been a good experience for me.  At home, I never really thought too much about pedestrians.  Or too much about other cars around me.  Just the road, and oh how I loved the road!  Ok, I've definitely been called a maniac while driving.  One instance that comes to mind is almost trampling some lovely people downtown after the St. Jude Marathon a few years back.  From the look in their eyes, I'm pretty sure they did not think I was lovely.  Woops.  I guess I'm saying that I didn't ever appreciate "pedestrians right of way" until having to be Frogger.  And I mean, I've definitely been a pedestrian at home, too.  Crossing West End Avenue in front of Towers can be horrendous because Nashville drivers can be downright inane.  But I think it's that the fact that pedestrians have absolutely no rights here that makes me feel like being a little bit more safe the next time I drive a car.  That's all.

By the way, what's up with Memphis not being a No. 1 seed?  

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Precarious Situation

I've been meaning to write a piece on street children in Dhaka for sometime now.  I actually already wrote it up but then decided that visual images should accompany it.  Once I finally had the appropriate pictures, so many things hindered me from actually posting it.  Something else has come up again that will make me wait to put it up, but it itself is interesting enough to write about here.

This morning was just like any other.  Woke up at 7, finally rolled out by 7:20.  By 8:05, I was on the micro-bus taking me to ICDDR,B.  8:15, and I was already working at my computer.  It was a little after 10 today when news came that there had been shots fired within the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) Headquarters in Dhanmondi.  No one really knew what was going on, and from what I could tell...no one seemed that concerned.  I had to actually look up BDR on Wikipedia since I had no idea what it was.  Pretty much, they are in charge of controlling and protecting the borders of the country.  News here does not travel as fast as it does at home, but we eventually discovered that it was an internal problem, and then later that the Director General had been killed.  

This is when people in my office started getting pretty worried.  Mejbah, who is usually very chill, called all of his family members (parents, siblings, wife) and ordered them to all go home.  I had never seem him so concerned or upset before.  I tried looking up the situation online, but none of the online newspapers had details about what was going on.  I didn't worry too much, and instead made plans to eat lunch at 1:00 with Emily since it was Vegetarian Wednesday at the center's canteen.  Veronika got a text from the American School (AIS/D) saying that the Dhanmondi bus route was cancelled until further notice.  Everyone around me was calling family members and friends to make sure that everyone was okay and to tell them to go straight home since there was some news that civilians had been hurt.  By this time, we knew that the army had surrounded the BDR Headquarters, and if anything, the situation had just gotten worse.

I received the Warden's message from the Embassy to avoid the area, but didn't worry too much since Dhanmondi is in the opposite direction of where we live.  By then a few minutes shy of noon, Emily sent me a message asking me if I was planning on going home.  Apparently, all Americans at ICDDR,B were told to go home immediately and stay within the diplomatic enclave.  So I gathered my things and hurried downstairs where there was a rather large group of Americans gathered.  We were quickly assigned to cars and rushed home.  Once I got home, I was greeted by Tiffany, who had asked Noorealam and Moslehuddin to come to our apartment since they live right next to the BDR Headquarters.  They had heard the shots firing and had seen army tanks filing into the area earlier that day.

The situation is still somewhat unclear, but the last thing I want is to be evacuated.  Here are some links to news articles if you want to know more about what is happening.  For those who are interested, I will try to keep you updated.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A New Year

For some reason I've been avoiding having to write this blog entry for the past few weeks.  It kept nagging at me, every time I saw it on my "to do" lists that I keep on my computer screen and in the notebook that is always by my side.  But I kept pushing it onto the next day's tasks, having absolutely no desire and no motivation to write.  I suppose I can accredit my procrastination to several things: feeling as though I am not giving my readers an accurate illustration of the life that I lead in this strange land, always turning towards one scoop of Swiss chocolate ice cream at Movenpick that help resist the tears which seem to fall relentlessly recently, coming home after work, exhausted and not wanting to do anything but just sleep until the sun comes back up.  

In the time between my last entry and this one, a new year has come, along with a new president even.  My trip back home seemed to pass in one instant, and I now find myself back in my apartment in Dhaka, as if it were all just a dream.  It was something I had been looking forward to since October, marked on my calendar with pretty foil stars.  Now I have a craving for something to look forward to, something so I can get out of the routine of waking up to my phone alarm at 6:00 in the morning, waiting for my bus to pick me up at 8:05, leaving work at 5:15...even for just a moment.  Yet there is nothing, no blue or gold stars on the upcoming months of my calendar; instead, they are starkly bare.  And perhaps that is another reason for my lack of motivation.

I even had a great list of New Year's Resolutions: do crunches every morning, look presentable when leaving the apartment, be less sarcastic, work on having healthier relationships, plan my future post-Fulbright life.  Within less than two weeks into the new year, I had already failed at all of these goals to which I was so committed.  The only one that I have been semi-successful at is reading more, and now I am grateful that I dragged a mini library half way across the world in one of the two big suitcases.  Camille, if you are reading this...sorry, but no progress on The Post-Birthday World.

Those people who are close to me know that I can not stay unmotivated for too long.  So perhaps my writing this entry in a sign that something inside me has ignited, giving me the energy to keep on going for the second half of my time here in Dhaka.  Maybe.  We'll see.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Eid Mubarak!

Last Tuesday, I woke up to the sound of pounding from below.  The steady beat went on, and I hid under my covers trying to go back to sleep.  The day before, the residential streets of Dhaka were filled with a variety of animals, cows, goats...even camels.  People were buying these animals from markets...not as pets, but to sacrifice for Eid.  This particular Eid signifies Ibrahim sacrificing his son Ismael to Allah.  For those Christian readers, this is the story of when Abraham sacrifices Issac to God.  Anyway, the morning of Eid, people all over the Muslim world kill the animal that they have bought.  One third of the meat goes to family, another third to relatives, and the other third to the poor. 

There are specific rules as to how to divide the meat as well as what can and cannot be eaten.  As you can probably imagine, the city becomes pretty bloody after this mass sacrifice.  Being a vegetarian, I tried my best to hide from all of the bloodshed, but it was much harder than I thought it would be.  The water that ran down the streets were bright red with blood, and the animals that crowded the road were no longer.  By the afternoon, there were carts of cow skins on their way to leather factories and street children with bags in their hand looking for people to give them meat.  The image reminded me of American children with their Halloween bags, asking for candy.  But oh, what a different story.  

Most offices were closed for three days, right in the middle of the week.  But that didn't even seem to matter, because most Bangladeshis took the whole week off, if not more, to go back to their home villages to visit family.  The streets, for once, were not congested, and we could move from one part of the city to another in less than 30 minutes...something that is definitely not possible during other times of the year.  

Many people took pride in how much their animal cost...I heard that some animals even had their price hung from t
heir neck.  Although Ibrahim sacrificed his own son to show his love for Allah, modern day Muslims just go and buy an animal the day before, an animal that they have no attachment to, and have fun killing it on the day of Eid.  My opinion, but it seemed to be a wide-spread feeling.  Many of these cows are imported from India, crossing illegal borders from a country where killing cows is seen as sinful.  

But everyone seems to enjoy it, even though most of the meaning has been lost.  I guess that happens with many holidays...like Christmas and Easter.  I did enjoy the lack of traffic, however.  

Here are some pictures (those who can not stand the sight of blood...you might want to pass):

Friday, December 5, 2008

I'm here I'm here

Ok, I am SO sorry for not blogging earlier.  I know I said every Sunday, but I've been so busy!!  But people have been wondering if I am still alive, and yes, I am.  I am here.  

So, there has been lots of things that have happened since my last post.  There are so many that I will just write a little bit for each thing that I want to write about.  And on Sunday I will post pictures of my life here in Dhaka.

In the apartment, I kept on hearing things coming from the air conditioner mounted in the wall.  I was sure that there were just insects that have been procreating inside of it and the unit just hadn't been cleaned in a long time.  I didn't really care that much because I knew they couldn't really get around, but it was still kind of weird.  So, I got it checked out, and a guy came and cleaned it out one day while I was out of the house.  That night, as I was falling asleep to an episode of The Office (my nightly ritual), I thought I saw something flying around in the room.  But I figured it was just a shadow of a bird outside, so I didn't really worry so much about it.  But then the thing kept on flying around, and I realized that it was actually inside the room...and when I did, I ran outside into the hallway and into Kristin's room.  The two of us were too scared to investigate the situation, so I ended up sleeping with her for the rest of the night.  The next day, I didn't see anything in the room...so I figured the thing was gone or that I made it up in my head.  However, that night as I was about to brush my teeth, I saw a small mass on the floor of the bathroom that didn't seem like an insect, but perhaps that of a tiny bat.  I ended up sleeping with Kristin again, too scared to be sleeping in the same room as a bat-like creature.  The next morning, our maid had a good look at it, captured it, and let it fly outside.  She used some word to describe it...but I didn't understand it.  After talking to my parents and to some people here, I figured out that it was indeed a small bat creature.  Except that here, no one really fears bats.  Weird, I think.  So apparently, a bat family was living inside my air conditioning, and when they came to clean it out, they all flew out except for one.  So now Kristin and I are getting out post-exposure rabies vaccinations, just in case.  2 down, 3 more to go.  Funnnnn.

I had my first Thanksgiving away from home this year.  The Saturday before the actual day, we had a makeshift Thanksgiving which turned out to be pretty good.  No turkey here though, only chicken.  And it didn't even matter, since I am not eating meat anymore.  But all of the food I could eat was pretty good.  You can check out pictures on facebook if you able to.  On the real Thanksgiving, I woke up to the news of the hostage situation in India.  I knew that there were awful people in this world, but I don't even know how to describe these actions.  I feel like not enough people were talking about it; I feel like it will be forgotten soon.  Which it shouldn't.  I hated the fact that it was still going on for so long and nothing really could be done about it.  That as I was going through my day, there were people stuck inside those hotels not knowing if they were going to make it out alive.  I think being kept hostage is one of my biggest nightmares, and as I sat later on in the week at the lobby of the Westin hotel to eat gelato, I found myself looking for exits closest to me...just in case.  I feel so bad for all of those people affected by those events, and am still not able to comprehend how human beings are capable of such evil.  I just don't get it.  Anyway, we were invited to go eat at the house of the American Center's director, Amy, which was absolutely lovely.  I ate so much and did not pace myself very well.  I also felt really sick that day, which made it worse.  I came home to rest, and later, went over to Reaz's for a mini Office marathon and dinner.  

Since last time, both Marci and Hans have left to go back to the States.  It's weird not to have them around anymore, and I think about the others that will come and go during my stay here.  I feel like the kid in camp who has to stay for the whole summer while others come for maybe two weeks and then return home.  I organized a early birthday party for Hans at El Toro, which is probably the only Mexican restaurant in Dhaka.  It wasn't too bad.  We had goodbye nights for both of them; watching our little group of friends quickly dwindle was not pleasant.  But we will see who comes in the weeks and months ahead of us.  

I have finally moved into my last and final apartment (I hope).  It is a great apartment right down the street from Reaz, and I really like it the best out of all the places I have lived since I moved to Bangladesh.  It's so weird that I of all people, a person who has been living in the same house since birth, who has absolutely no idea of moving really, would move four separate times in less than four months.  It's kind of crazy, really.  But whatever...I am happy where I am and couldn't ask for a better place.  Maybe I'll take pictures of it to share.  

I've also gone on some adventures as well.  Last weekend, Lea Ann, Kristin, and I made it to the Liberation War Museum.  It was pretty informative, but also pretty rough to think about how it wasn't very far removed from us.  I mean, I remember going to the Holocaust Museum on our 8th grade field trip...which of course was very scarring, but it still seemed  a little removed and distant.  But with this museum, it was crazy because I have been hearing stories my entire life about this period of time...and to think that they were a part of it all...it's just weird.  That distance was no longer there.  Anyway, another day Reaz and I decided to go down to Dhanmondi just to be as he says, "with the people".  What ended up happening was several hours of us walking around being lost.  But that's what adventures are all about, right?  We met up with the rest of the gang who decided to go there as well and ate at Mango Cafe and later shop at Aarong, BRAC's famous fair-trade store.  

So I have been to the engagement party, wedding, and reception of a couple that I had never met before.  The groom is my uncle's wife's cousin; I had met his sister once before.  I brought Kristin along for the engagement party, and everyone loved her!  It was pretty hilarious watching the photographers and video camera crew following her around as if she were the main event.  And all of the little kids wanted to dance with her.  It was a pretty fun night.  The wedding, which was held at 2:00 in the morning on a work night, was very interesting, as I followed the groom with the rest of the wedding party, while he was being led around on a horse.  I made it until about 1:30, when my uncle then decided to take me home because it was getting too late.  Which it was.  So i didn't get to see the actual ceremony, but oh well.  I did get to follow around a horse for about 2 miles in the middle of the night.  

On December 1st, Sara and I led a quick presentation/discussion at the American Center for World AIDS Day.  It was fine, but it made me sad because this was the first year in a long time that I didn't prepare something huge for the event.  As most of my college friends know,  I used to spend Thanksgiving break making thousands of red ribbons and passed them out to students throughout the week that I marked as World AIDS Week as school, along with condoms and educational pamphlets.  I set up panels and worked with other organizations to plan events for the week.  And this year, the year that I am supposed to be studying this epidemic in depth, all I did was have a little presentation.  At least I did something, right?  

Well there is some good news.  I have started working at ICDDR,B.  I have my own desk; it's great!  It does mean that I wake up at 6:30 in the morning and don't come back until 6:30 in the evening...but I don't care.  I like it a lot.  On Thursday though, I couldn't find a CNG that would go to Gulshan, so I ended up walking back with my heavy backpack.  I was so tired, but I stopped into the small supermarket close to us to buy some chocolate, Pringles, and a Coke.  Mmm, confort food.  I then came home, ate, and fell asleep by 7:00.  And didn't wake up until 8:00 the next morning.  It was the best sleep ever.  

So I guess that's it for now, really.  I am sorry again for being so MIA earlier.  I will put pictures up as soon as possible.  

Sunday, November 16, 2008

3 Months In

Three months ago, I left Memphis. A third of my time here is over. After my meeting at ICDDR, B...I pretty much waited to see what would happen regarding work since Dr. Azim and Dr. Rahman are good friends, it was up to them as to where I would ultimately work. Marci, Hans, Sara, and Reaz finally came back to Nepal...didn't think I would miss them so much after only a week. On Thursday, I went to dinner with Ana and Emily, who I haven't seen in so long...so it was great to catch up with them. Talked to Ana about going to to public health, and what I should do for next year. Afterwards, I went over to Reaz's, where I ate a second dinner and got to see all of the pictures they took in Nepal and heard their oh so adventurous stories. Kind of sad I missed out...oh well.

Friday I went to New Market, which is super far away, to take my Puja clothes to the tailors. To make me 4 dress sets and fix two blouses cost 650Tk, which is about $9.30. Pretty sweet deal. We went and ate at Pizza Hut afterward, which is a totally different experience that it is back home. The Pizza Hut is huge (there is a much larger one in another part of town), and it seems like it is considered as a place for a nice dinner. I couldn't stop laughing.

Not much really going on. Everything is starting to work itself out, I think. I finally met with Dr. Rahman, and it seems like if I stay at IUB, then I would actually get stuff to work on. Kristin is moving in tomorrow, and this upcoming week is actually pretty busy. I can finally start writing things in my calendar. I've missed that.

Oh, and I fell out of a rickshaw today onto a major road. Haven't seen a single accident since I've been here, and then I was involved in the first one I witnessed. I wasn't sure whether to be angry or just laugh. I did the latter, but then realized the enormity of the situation as my ankle started hurting so badly that I couldn't walk very well. But, I'm glad I didn't die or majorly injured...which sadly, could have happened as there was oncoming traffic. Guess I'm lucky.