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.