Friday, September 26, 2008

So This is Research

So I've already broken my 'on Sundays' rule.  But since next week is Eid and I have a holiday break from work, I've decided to take the next two weeks to visit family.  But I thought I would update the world on what's being going on.  So this past Monday, I woke up early for my meeting with Dr. Rahman at IUB.  He said to meet him at his office at 9:30.  Always being the punctual one, I left around 9:00 but misjudged the traffic, arriving at about 9:05.  Better early, than late.  As I waited in the lobby of the building, I wondered how different campuses are here in Bangladesh compared to the ones back home.  I know so many people who base their college decisions on how beautiful the campus is.  That would never be a factor here. Anyway, I finally met up with Dr. Rahman, who soon cut our meeting short because he had another meeting with someone from the CDC.  I was told to wait in another room, which I did patiently for about an hour.  I was called back in to his office, where there were 3 MPH students, another professor, and a guy from the CDC.  I wasn't really sure what was going on, but from what I gathered, the CDC wanted to make some sort of link with IUB.  The CDC representative coincidentally been a Fulbrighter in Bangladesh a couple of years back.  I think I had come across an article about him in the past know, me and my random google searches of "bangladesh" and "fulbright".  Afterwards, Dr. Rahman told me to go with the MPH students (two of whom were doctors) to another building.  There, I just saw where I would be working from now on and got some articles to read.  I  am pretty glad that I am finally able to start work.  Later that night, we got to meet up with Reaz, another Fulbrighter who just got in country last week.  It was nice to finally see him!  We went to the American club for dinner (blah), where we met two other recent American undergrads who are teaching in Dhaka for the year.  

On Tuesday, I went back to work.  The thing is, that all the articles that were given to me I have on my memory stick.  Also, the internet at the university is pretty awful.  Think about dial-up ten years ago.  So, I was thinking it might be easier to get things done at home, but it is actually nice to get out of the apartment.  I was given some extra articles and reports to go over, which is going to take me forever to get through.  Also, I talked to the program manager about getting me a desk and computer.  He said he would get everything fixed by the end of the holiday break, which is next week.  Everyone is so nice and extremely helpful.  Right now, I work in the computer lab and not in an office, and it's funny to see other students coming to check their Facebook accounts.  I guess some things really are the same wherever you go.  I've noticed that it takes me forever to go to sleep...around 2:30 to 3:00, and now because of work I try to wake up around 8:30 or so.  I guess I'm back in the college routine of getting about 5-6 hours every night.  When I got home on Tuesday, I was so tired though...I ended up sleeping through most of the afternoon and into the night.  

Work on Wednesday was a little pointless.  I didn't even get anything done, and ended up talking to Reaz on Gchat for a couple of hours.  I was surprised that Gchat even worked on the computers, but I was glad that it did.  I tried to make up for it by doing some reading when I got back home, which didn't work out as well as I hoped.  That night, I tried to be as productive as possible by working on my handwriting in Bengali.  This was much more of a fun project.  The next day was the last day of work before the big holiday break.  We had a meeting with Dr. Rahman on the report that will be submitted soon on spousal transmission of HIV.  Pretty much, married women are considered to be "innocent victims" if they are being infected because they are only partaking in sanctioned sexual activity (i.e. only being with their husbands).  So this report is calling for the need of female condoms and education for this subgroup.  Something that must be done, despite how difficult it will be.  Later that day, we ate at the American club, met a nice boy, Hans, who just graduated from high school who is doing research at ICDDR,B and will be here for the semester.  I don't know if I would be able to go so far away at his age.  Afterwards, David, Hans, and I went to a party at the U.S. Marine house.  Saw the ambassador there.  It was fine, got to meet some other people who are working here.  I did assume my regular position in such situations by just ending up sitting in a corner talking to Hans.  Oh, I did get to play some air hockey...which was nice.  

Today (Friday), I decided that I needed to walk around and to understand my surroundings.  Also, my phone had no money left in it, so I needed to take care of that.  I first walked to the Banglalink (my cellphone carrier) store which is not too far away.  But I couldn't put any money in it because that part of the store was closed since it was Friday.  Almost nothing is opened on fun.  Afterwards, I decided to walk to the American club because I needed to talk to someone at the office about my bill for September.  I was always under the impression that it would take 20 minutes to walk there, but's just a 5 minute walk!  And a nice one, at that.  My errand didn't take that long, but I was feeling pretty happy with my new found independence, that I treated myself to a coke and a slice of pecan pie.  That is something I miss the most here: dessert.  After that, I ended up talking to a man who spent much of his life in America, but recently moved back.  We talked for awhile, and by the time we was pouring outside.  Soo, couldn't really walk home.  I decided to wait a little, and then I bumped into Ana who was working on stuff.  So I just sat with her for awhile, and Emily came a little later.  By the time the rain subsided, it was pretty dark outside.  I wanted to be brave enough to walk back home by myself, but as everyone who knows me well knows, I'm completely afraid of the dark.  And there aren't any street lights here, so I couldn't see that well.  So I hailed a rickshaw, and the driver couldn't tell that I was a foreigner (since he asked for a pretty low price)...and that made me happy.  It started raining more on the way back so I gave him a little more than he asked ended up being equivalent to 25 cents.  

These have been my adventures this past week.  I will be gone for two weeks; I don't have an exact date of when I'll be back.  So you can wait for a post until then!  

Also, thanks to everyone who has been sending me emails and such.  They make me so happy!  Please keep them coming.  : )

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Getting Out of the Apartment...and Dhaka

So for those who are reading this frequently, the 2 or 3 of you who are reading this frequently - I've decided that I'm going to start posting on Sunday nights.  I'm going to try my best to stick with that.  Since last time, I've actually had a lot of things going on!  Last Wednesday night, we had dinner with Ana and Emily, the two Fogarty Scholars who are doing research here at ICRR,B - the big cholera hospital in Dhaka.  We ate at Bella Italia, a cute little Italian (obviously) place in Gulshan 1, not very far from where we live.  It's so strange to have so much to talk about with people you don't know at all.  Ana was a Fulbrighter in Malawi after she graduated from UC Berkeley, and Emily goes to there are clearly many common things between us.  Anyway, the food was good (I got a great vegetarian pizza), and afterwards David suggested that we stop by the Westin, the new 5-star hotel in Dhaka.  After attempting to bargain a price with a CNG driver, we squeezed ourselves into the back of the CNG...which proved to be less difficult then we had thought.  Once we got to the Westin, Ana decided that she wanted to go home, and I was so amazed at her Bengali skills as she told the driver how to get back to the apartment.  I keep telling David to start learning Bengali; hopefully he will soon.  So Emily, David, and I went into the was like entering a whole different world.  I didn't even know I was in Bangladesh anymore.  And that kind of made me angry and upset a little bit...that there was this ostentatious hotel right in the middle of a city where screams poverty.  Regardless, Emily and David went to sit down while I went to look for a bathroom.  As I looked for the flush for the toilet, I must have pushed or pulled the wrong something or another, and fresh water started spraying all over me from the top of the toilet.  It was quite embarrassing, as I became soaking wet.  Emily and David soon came to help me, and even with the three of us, we could not figure out how to flush the toilet.  Very, very embarrassing.  As I was drying off (as much as I could), we started to have a conversation about how safe this country is and what precautions we should take and whether or not precaution inhibit experience.  I'm still trying to figure that out.  

On Thursday we were supposed to go to Bagha again for a picture exhibition, but I wasn't really up for it.  The day before, Ana and Emily invited us to go hiking with them on Friday in Srimangal, which is in Sylhet (another division of Bangladesh).  I knew we had to wake up early, so I didn't want to really stay out too late.  David had a meeting with Dr. Rahman, who told him to tell me to call him on Sunday to figure out work stuff.  Finally.  Some news.  I was worried there for a little bit because he hadn't answered my emails in awhile, and I was wondering if it was a mistake coming to Dhaka on such a whim.  On Saturday, I woke up very early, 5:25 to be exact, and packed my backpack with things I thought were necessary for a hike: first aid kit, Off! spray, juice packs, snacks, etc.  We met up with Ana and Emily and we were ready to go at 6:30.  We had to first drive to the bus station, which was pretty far away from where we live.  The girls we kind of worried that we weren't going to make it, but we got there probably 30 seconds before the bus left.  Let me back up a little bit though with my story.  We were going on this hike with another guy, Rafat, who is Ana's friend of a friend...but who is also a Fulbrigher from the 2007-2008 year.  He came last October, and is here until January.  Ana told us about Rafat at dinner the other night, and I had seen his name in emails that Shaheen had sent out, but I didn't meet him until the day of the hike.  And what a nice guy!  We took a bus from Dhaka to Srimangal, which took about 3.5 hours, with one rest stop.  I tried to sleep some on the bus, but I don't know how well that worked.  Once we got to our destination, Rafat introduced us to his friend, Dhellur bhai (bhai is a respectful term for men older than yourself).  Dhellur bhai helped us get a CNG to take us to the forest, and then we squeezed the 6 of us into one CNG!!  It was crazy...and of course, I was the one who was sat on a lap.  Once we entered the forest, we felt the temperature drop, which was such a relief.  We decided to take a four hour hike...although I was kind of under the impression that we were doing something low key.  But I am never the one to wimp out in a group, so on we went.  Also, since other people in our group were fasting because of Ramadan, I decided that I wouldn't eat either.  So, our hike was pretty strenuous, especially since I've been pretty lazy staying in and doing absolutely nothing these past few weeks.  Even more so because of the humidity.  Rafat really wanted to see some animals, especially some hulu gibbons (something close to a monkey without a tail.  We did see many huge spiders (I mean GIGANTIC) and interesting flora.  This area of Bangladesh is known for its tea plantations, so one can imagine what kind of things are grown here.  At one part of the hike, we some some tribal's crazy to think that there are people who live in such remote places in the world.  I mean, sure, you read it in National Geographic or see it on late night television...but to actually witness it was another thing.  We got to some wet parts of the hike where we caught some "friends", or leaches, who didn't so much want to let go of us.  I got a good number of them...and both of my ankles bled quite a bit.  I really didn't think I had it in me to finish the hike, but as I was telling someone the other night...there is something about hikes, you can't really quit them.  It was quite a relief to see our ending site.

We decided to leave Srimangal right after our hike because Rafat said there wasn't much to do especially since it was still during Ramadan.  We waited around for our bus a little, and I of course got a migraine having been out in the sun for too long.  The bus came about 25 minutes too late, so by then, we were ready to leave.  We said by to Dhellur bhai, who had been such a great help and who I walked with most of them time during the hike) and went on our way back to Dhaka.  Right before sundown, the bus stopped on the side, and everyone got off to break fast.  I finally got to see what a celebration Iftar dinner is.  And it was such a hole in the wall place where we stopped...we still don't know whether that was a planned stop or whether the drive just saw a place serving food and decided to stop there.  Who knows.  We arrived in Dhaka at about 8:00, and got  back to the apartment about 9:00.  I was exhausted, and after my second shower of the day, my ankles were still bleeding.  

The next day, I was so sore from the hike I just didn't want to get out of bed.  So I didn't...for a long time.  A little after 4:00, my uncle came and picked me up and we went around to see parts of Dhaka.  We went to a park where people apparently go to a lot, and it was actually really nice.  It was the first time though that I noticed mosquitoes biting me, though.  My cousin and her niece came and joined us a little later, and afterwards we went to a chinese restaurant.  Her niece, Priyatha, was very amused by the fish in the pond at the restaurant.  It was very cute.  After dinner, we went to Aarong, a department-type store...but it was very crowded since it's the holiday season.  So think Macy's on December 22nd or so.  No fun.  Afterwards, I came back to the apartment and talked to lots of people from back home, which was nice.  Today (Sunday), David and I went to the U.S. Embassy to see if we could register for absentee ballots.  It didn't take very long, but while we were there I saw all these people in line for something...probably to talk to someone about something important, and I'm sure they were going to be in line for hours.  I felt a little guilty finishing my business in less than 10 minutes.  Afterwards, we went to some stores so David could buy some souvenirs for friends and some art for the walls on his room.  Pretty successful, I think.  For dinner, had Chinese again..another restaurant though.  It was pretty good.  I have a meeting with Dr. Rahman tomorrow, which is a good sign!  I guess that means I'll start work soon.  I'll guess we'll see next Sunday.  :)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Finding Expats

I need to find some sort of routine for my blog, so I've decided that this will be the last unexpected time I will blog.  Also, due to many requests, I have changed the color scheme so that it is a little easier to read.  I hope it worked!  David and I have remained pretty sedentary since we STILL haven't started working.  But we have been out and about some.  Last Monday, David finally got the boxes his mom sent him, which was nice because not we finally have wireless!! It's not perfect, but it is definitely something.  I've been using Skype some, and it's been nice to be talking to some people back home.  We also visited the US Commissary, which has a grocery store with American products.  It was pretty sweet...I tried to get a membership, but it didn't work out because I didn't have the right forms.  But I did get some Morning Star veggie burgers, Philadelphia cream cheese, and some other stuff too.  

On Wednesday, we went out to buy David a yoga mat.  The store was in the Gulshan 2 circle, not very far away from us.  I wondered if we were getting ripped off, which we probably were.  i really need to work on my bargaining skills here.  Later that night, we went to dinner with Geoffrey at the American Club.  Harvey, a guy who works at the Embassy, came and joined us.  I really need to find new places to eat!  But the dinner was nice, and it was good to catch up with Geoff.  Thursday was pretty dull, but we did go up to the roof of our building and were able to see a great view of the city.  Also on the roof, someone has place lots of plants and's like a garden.

On Friday, I received an email from Emily, a medical student who is here on a Fogarty Scholarhip.  I met her roommaate Ana (also a Fogarty Scholar), earlier in the week at the ARA.  Emily goes to Vandy for med school, and Ana at Tufts.  We will be meeting up with soon, hopefully.  David and I ordered pizza for dinner from a place called Spaghetti Jazz - it was decent.  Later, we were getting pretty restless, so we decided to call Catherine, one of the FSOs (foreign service officer) who works at the embassy, to see what she was up to.  Catherine is only two years older than us, and is fun to be around.  She told us about a party at Bagha, the British club.  She came and picked up; I was pretty amazed by how many expats were there.  We finally met a whole bunch of people out age who are working in Bangladesh for an extended period of time.  It was great just talking to people about what they are doing here.  What I did noticed is that everyone tends to have the same idea about Bangladesh: not the greatest place in the world, but you kind of just deal with it.  I really hope that by the time I leave here, I have a positive attitude about the country.  Everyone seems so negative to just neutral.  Regardless, I had a great time at Bagha, and I'm sure I'll be there again.

The next day I was feeling very tired all day and I didn't do anything productive.  David and I did finish watching the first season of the horror show Dexter, which I think will give me nightmares for the rest of my life.  I slept with all of my lights on.  On Sunday, I woke up absolutely sick.  It was my first time being sick here, which I guess was inevitable, but it was no fun.  It could have been worse, but I stayed in bed all day.  On Monday, I had to back to the doctor so she could check up on my rash.  When we got to the hospital, they told me I didn't have an appointment, and that I would have to wait for an opening.  Turns out, the doctor just hadn't come in yet.  So I waited for three hours, and she saw me for about....oh, 4 minutes.  That was a little annoying.  And, she prescribed me petroleum jelly.  Yep, Vaseline.  Because I didn't bring enough of it with me from home.  Oh I don't know if I mentioned this earlier, but my rash from underneath my eye has spread sporadically over my body, which is not good.  So apparently Vaseline is the answer?  I don't think I'll be taking that advice.

I finally got my sponsor letter from IUB, so hopefully that means I'll really be working soon.  Sometimes I wonder what I'm doing here, and I remember that I'm supposed to be research!  I really want to start working, but I guess it's not really up to me at this point.  Hopefully in the next week or to.  Definitely by the time Ramadan ends.  We shall see.  

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Looking for Adventures

Well, since I last posted, not too much has gone on.  On Wednesday, I had my meeting at the American Center.  I was pretty intimidated to go out by myself, but I think I did pretty well.  I'm surprised that I can get around the city with my Bengali...the only thing I need to learn are numbers.  One would think that this would be pretty easy, but I can't see a pattern in the Bengali numbering system.  I'm sure it's there; it just has never made itself apparent to me.  On my way to the American Center, I hopped on a CNG (baby taxi); the driver said it would cost 40 Tk (1 US dollar = 68 Tk).  He didn't realize that I wasn't from around here until halfway there, so he asked for more money when I got to the center.  But I gave him the 40 Tk and left.  At the American Center, Shaheen brought in a guy who works for USAID to see what I could do for my project.  It was kind of helpful, but I insisted that I keep my affiliation to IUB.  This man (who got his MPh from Hopkins) had never heard of Vandy, so he lost brownie points from me.  Some people might think that would be normal, but ever since Yunus got the Nobel Prize, most Bangladeshis know about Vanderbilt since Dr. Yunus did get his PhD there.  Regardless, on the way back, CNG drivers were asking for 100 Tk from me.  I guess they saw me coming out of the American Center, but I bargained one driver down to 50 Tk.  It was probably still a rip off. 

David and I have been going to the American Club frequently.  The food there is decent, and I guess it's nice to hear people speaking in English.  It also has great wireless, which is a plus.  There are many small children who play there, and I wonder what it would be like to be living in this country as an small American child.  As much as I would like to think how awesome that would be, I feel like they are missing out on so much in America.  I don't know though.  David has also taught me how to play darts, which I feel like we will be playing a lot of this year. We are also trying to meet other Americans our age, just to have other people around.  We met a girl today who is on a Fogarty grant...she's a med student at Tufts and her roommate is at medical school at Vandy.  

One night at the American club there was an extremely intoxicated girl who was unknowingly embarrassing herself.  I was amused because this kind of seen is so typical in Western culture (especially college culture), but I almost felt uncomfortable watching her because I knew that was definitely not a social norm in Bangladesh.  I feel like I'm sharing this story because it's weird knowing that you have to act a certain way when you go to other countries.  

I kind of feel bad not having any more interesting stories to tell.  I haven't really had the chance to go explore yet, but hopefully soon.  As for my research, I need to get my letter of support from IUB, and then I guess I'll start working after that.  Oh, and we finally got wireless in the apartment (yay!!).  So I can finally skype! 

Speaking of which, if people want to call me or send me letters and stuff, let me know and I'll give you my contact information.  And I think that's it for now.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

In Dhaka

I'm finally in Dhaka.  I haven't quite settled in, but it will happen soon.  Everything has happened so quickly, I haven't even had a chance to think about what happened in the last few days.  I am really sad that things didn't work out at YPSA, and I wonder if the decision to leave was influenced by everyone telling me that my living conditions were awful.  But I feel as though I'll be able to conduct "real" research here, even though I don't really even know what that means.  So right now, I'm living with David in Gulshan, a pretty nice part of town.  Daddy left on Monday night, which I think was also the start of Ramadan.  So I'm really kind of alone now, having to talk to people with my very broken Bengali.  I feel like I will be getting ripped off a lot for transportation too because people can tell that I'm a foreigner.  I might have mentioned this before, but I really feel like I've been here forever.  I can't even imagine what it will be like to be here for 9 months.  

I'm also really disconcerted about my environment.  This is a country where (I feel) that women are treated as equals, nor should they feel like they should be.  Clearly, as someone who went to an all-girls school for 14 years growing up thinking that women were of course equal, if not better than men, this bothers me a lot.  People also stare at me a lot, which perhaps I've mentioned as well.  I just don't get it.  I guess this is where "cross-cultural understanding" comes in.  Today, I went to the ARA (American Recreational Association) to become a member.  I saw all these American kids running around playing with each other, and I thought about how interesting it would be to live in different countries as a child.  Most members are in some way related to the Embassy, which I guess is why all of the Fulbrighters are allowed to join as well.  

I met the cook, Rita, today as well.  She seems really nice, and it's funny because she speaks to me in Bengali and to David in English.  But we are paying her a lot, which I don't really agree with, but whatever.  My cook at YPSA cooked for me as well as for the entire staff (about 25-30 people), and she only got an equivalent of $25 a month.  Rita is getting paid $120 a month, most probably because of her experience with foreigners/ability to understand English.  

I'm feeling really useless right now, especially since I'm not doing any work.  Tomorrow I have a meeting with Shaheen at the American Center to discuss my project.  Apparently, they have a problem with my affiliation with IUB and want me to work with some other organization.  I don't think they realize that a huge reason for why I came to Dhaka was so that I could work with Dr. Rahman as IUB.  I'm going to have to explain that to them tomorrow.  I'm also nervous about having to travel by myself to the meeting because I'm not really sure how to get to the American Center.  

So I guess I'm a little lonely and distressed just because I don't know what I'm doing here.  I've really tried these past two weeks to be super upbeat about everything, but lately I've found it a little more difficult to keep that up.  Hopefully by the time I write my next entry things will have worked out positively.