Thursday, August 28, 2008

So Much in One Week!

I'm pretty sure that as I was writing the last blog, I got a call from Shaheen (the Fulbrighters' contact with the US embassy in Dhaka) telling me that there was going to be a reception in Dhaka on Wednesday and she really wanted to me to be there. Well, I didn't want to give a definite answer right away because it takes about 6 hours to get to Dhaka from Chittagong and I felt bad because Daddy is leaving on the following Monday. Besides that, Janmashtami was a much bigger deal than I previously thought. Even though there is only one government holiday for it, it is actually celebrated by Hindus for three days straight. It's really crazy. So on Sunday (where I left off), we went to a parade, which was fun...but then I got an awful migraine afterward I guess because I wasn't wearing my sunglasses and it was super hot. So that lasted the rest of the day, which kind of sucked because we were invited to go to dinner at someone's house and I wasn't a particularly lively guest. But I felt ok in the morning, which was good because I got to go to one of the clinics YPSA has for their sex worker clients. It was super interesting...I sat in on one of their classes as they taught them how to tell whether someone has an STD or not and that even if a person looks normal just walking around, they can still be infected. It still amazes me that this kind of progressive education is happening in such a conservative country. I feel like so many people in Tennessee alone wouldn't be able to give me one fact about STDs. Anyway, once I came back from the clinic apparently my work for the day was done. We also had decided to go to Dhaka on Wednesday, so I let Shaheen know of that decision. We went to another Janmashtami celebration, but a weird thing happened there. As my dad, uncle, and I going in the line to get to where the actual stuff was going on, everyone kept yelling at us. I clearly did not understand what was going on, but then we soon realized that we were walking in the "boys" line, and I was not welcomed there, and I had to walk in the "girls" line. Daddy was not particularly happy about this, and I was just completely confused. Different lines to get in the same place?? So we just went through enother entrace because their barrier system was so ineffective. It was completely ridiculous. Anyway, I didn't really understand what was going on during the actual celebration, but it was fun nonetheless. The next day we went to the Head Office of YPSA to get some administrative stuff out of the way. While I was there though, I got to see my file they had compiled, and I noticed that they had listed me as an International Volunteer. I thought about that for a little, and that kind of bothered me because as a Fulbrighter, I'm supposed to be doing actual research, not volunteer work. I was afraid something like this would happen, so I mentioned this briefly to my "boss" whose name is Kochi, but she assured me that everything would be ok. Regardless, I was still a little worried. Afterwards, we tried to get the internet situation fixed, but no one apparently deals with macs so the cool phone connection I was going to get didn't work out. So now, the new plan was to share the internet line that the office is using...or something like that (i'm not sure why we didn't think of that before). Regardless, once that ordeal was done, it was way night time. The next day we had to get ready to leave for Dhaka again, but this time we took the train instead of the bus which was a cool experience. Once we got there, we went to check in at the hotel and then went straight to eat lunch at one of my uncles' in-law's house. Random, I know. But they were really nice, and had a cute toddler. I can't even comprehend how awful the traffic is in Dhaka. Even though we got there at 1:00 and the reception party was at 7:00, there was no way we could actually get anything done besides lunch in between. So I got to the reception, and it was really nice seeing everyone again. I saw David, who got in a couple of days after me, and we started talking for awhile. After some time, David's sponsor for his research, Dr. Rahman came over and talked to us, and he seemed pretty interested in what I was doing. Anyway, to make this short, he seemed to say that if I wanted to, I could come to Dhaka and he would give me a sponsorship. I don't know if I've been relaying this enough, and it's not that YPSA has not been generous, but the living situation isn't swell. It's on the 7th floor, there isn't an elevator...and that's a lot of climbing to do even for an active person. The electricity goes out ALL THE TIME, which is really annoying. And not for like 1 or 2 hours, it can go out for 8 or 10 hours. And as work, it doesn't really seem like I can get legitimate research done. So after the reception was over, I discussed things over with Daddy and I decided that this move is probably for the best. So today (Wednesday), we had to tell everyone at YPSA that I was planning on leaving not even after a week of staying, and they were not so thrilled, obviously. I mean, I'm even upset about it because I've been in contact with these people for over a year now. But in Dhaka, it will be a better living situation (I would be living with David and Sara) and hopefully a better research situation. So I should leave, right? What is done is done though, and now we are set to pack our bags again and leave for Dhaka on Saturday. I'm so tired right now, my sleeping schedule is still not on track. I really have only so much energy right now...I hope that everything works out. Hopefully by the time I write the next blog, I'll have something exciting, yet stable to say.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Never Ending Journey and Finally In Country

I finally made it! I made so many observations, hopefully I can remember them all as I type. For those who don't know, I am traveling with my dad who thinks I can't do this on my he is staying with me for two weeks so I can get settled in. Anyway, we left Memphis on Saturday afternoon and soon found out that three out of four of our suitcases were over the 50 pound limit. I really didn't think I packed that much, but apparently that wasn't the case. But we shifted things around a bit, and the only things I had to leave behind were my rain boots (big mistake!) and soon enough, we were on our way. Our first flight was from Memphis to Atlanta, where I was able to get my last bit of American food. Then we went from Atlanta to London (Gatwick), which was not so bad. Food was a little dry, and there was the typical crying baby in the row across from us. The movie 21 was on, which I had been wanting to see for some time, and it kept me entertained for a good 2 hours. The flight took much longer than I had expected, and I was disappointed that we had two long flights ahead of us. From London we flew to Dubai, and it was interesting to see the different types of people changing from plane to plane (I'll explain a little later). The Dubai airport was looked a little bit like Las Vegas at first. And what a melting pot of people! I mean, more so than the other airports that I had been to in the past 24 hours. Then, it was finally time for the last leg of the journey. The gate to Dhaka was a sight. I'm guessing that it was 85% male, most probably going home for the first time in 4 or 5 months. Something I noticed is that there is no idea of "personal space". This is something that is very much valued (I think) in Western culture, and was no where to be seen in the airport, in the plane, anywhere. Sleep had also been out of whack since the first flight, but I was relieved when we finally landed at Zia International in Dhaka. The Embassy had told us that someone would be there to greet us and take us through customs, but we didn't see anyone once we got off the plane. I got a little nervous, but once we got downstairs, there was a guy who had a piece of paper in his hand with my name printed on it in bold caps. Getting our luggage took FOREVER. The personal space issue again came into place then as well. An embassy car came to pick us up, but an uncle (dad's cousin) and two second cousins I don't ever remember meeting and one of their little girls came to greet us at the airport as well. They brought flowers, which was nice, but we only said hi to them for about five minutes and went off in the embassy car. We stopped by the embassy to pick up a packet with some information and off we went to the hotel, where we were able to settle in for a bit. This is now Monday Dhaka time, so it really took two days to get here. Monday we didn't do much...I just slept all day, tired from jet lag and lack of sleep from the flight. At night, we ate at one of the hotel restaurants...not that impressive by any means, pretty bland actually. Tuesday we went to a mall and bought a phone and some clothes for me so I can keep a low profile and not stick out like a sore thumb. The mall was huge! I've never really seen anything like it before. I should have taken some pictures of it, it must have been ten floors or so. That night, we went to the house of daddy's friend who had been taking us around the city. The food there made my stomach feel a little bad, and his wife told me straight up that my bengali was awful...which is true, but come on now. Which brings me to another point: people are very straight forward here. Where in America people might think a comment is very rude, here is considered very normal. Yay for cross-cultural understanding! Anyway, the next day (Wednesday) I had the security briefing with the embassy and a meeting with Shaheen at the American Center. I'm a little sad that I won't be working in Dhaka and be around the other Fulbrighters. I got to see Geoffrey Hiller (one of the Fulbright Scholars I met in DC at orientation) which was nice. That night we went to eat at one of the second cousin's (who met us at the airport) house and I got to play with her 2 year old daughter. It's crazy to think about all these people I'm distantly related to and I don't really know them. The next day (Thursday) we woke up early (about 5:30) to leave for Chittagong. The only reason we stayed in Dhaka for so long, or at all really, was that I needed to complete the security briefing at the embassy. But now that was over, it was time to get to the actual destination. We took one of my uncles with us (my dad's cousin's husband) who actually lived in Chittagong for a long time and knows the city pretty well. The bus ride took a good 6.5 hours, but I was able to catch a glimpse of the Bangladeshi terrain along the way. Once we got off the bus and we were taking our luggage out, a woman came up to me and asked me if I was studied in America. I told her, "Yeah, I was born there", and she laughed a little. I realized then I have to really try to mix with the people. We took a little minibus to where YPSA (pronouced "eep-sha", not Y-P-S-A) and I finally got to see where I will be working and living for the next year. Not bad, I will post pictures when I get a chance. I live on the 7th floor, but there is no elevator. I have a little room, maybe the size of a big double in a Towers suite at Vanderbilt, maybe a little smaller. I have a bathroom, but not much else. Since I'm at the top, I can get up on the roof of the building really easily, which is nice. I'm in a nice part of the town, which I was told earlier, but that's really not saying much. Everywhere you go, it's dusty, muddy, and the sun is just beating down on you. We went to a market, and I made the mistake of wearing jeans and a T-shirt. Everyone stared at me. It was slightly uncomfortable. We also went to my uncle's friend's pharmacy store. His friend is much of a philosopher type. He thinks that I don't understand Bengali, so he keeps talking to me in English...but I don't understand him when he speaks's much of a problem. Friday is the "weekend", and is the only day that I get off, but daddy didn't really want to see the city because it was too hot. That night though we had to go see another family and eat dinner there. They had two sons, the older one apparently a genius. He came and talked to me, and it was nice finally being able to speak in English to someone (he goes to an English-medium school). They want to send him to Engand or maybe American next year (he's in 12th grade now) to go to college and then later medical school. For hours all we heard was "oh he's brilliant", "oh he's at the top of his class" blahblahblah. Anyway, I found it a little inappropriate that they did not even introduce us to their younger son, but those of you who know me well know that I can empathize with that younger son. The next day was my first day of work (work on a Saturday?? craziness!!) , but I really didn't get to do much. It was more of an official thing. I went to the head office, and made sure all of my information was correct in my file. After that, we looked for some sort of internet situation for me (right now I'm using the office internet), but I'm going to have to wait for a few extra days. Finally, today (Sunday) is a national government holiday, so no work today because of Janmashtami, which is the celebration of Krishna's birth. I guess that should be somewhat analagous to Christmas, but it's not as big of a holiday (it doesn't seem like). Nonetheless, there is no work, and we got to see a parade on the street and I'll put those pictures when I get a chance. Ok, sorry this entry is so super long but I will update sooner from now long since I will hopefully get internet soon!

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Thanks for visiting my blog!  I will be using this blog to write down my thoughts and some of my experiences during my year in Chittagong, Bangladesh.  For those of you who do not know, I will be conducting research with the NGO Young Power in Social Action (YPSA) and analyzing HIV/AIDS preventive methods that are being implemented in the country.  I have no idea what to expect, but I am hoping that the transition will not be too hard.  Right now, I am furiously packing and getting everything together as I am leaving in less than two days.  I will write again once I am in the country, and I will hopefully provide more contact information (phone, address, etc.).  

Also, please feel free to email me!  I want to know what everyone is up to, and I promise to email you back!