Saturday, November 28, 2009

At the Gates

Yesterday we talked about Eid and the curbani (sacrifice) that took place in the morning. In the afternoon though, we got to see another part of Eid. Interestingly, the afternoon’s activity left us a bit more ethically and socially unsettled than the morning’s bloodshed had.

So as the animals are cut up, we explained before that 1/3 goes to the family that bought the bull or goat, 1/3 goes to friends and extended family, and 1/3 goes to the poor. We had figured that the 1/3 for the poor was distributed through the mosques or something, since that is the main point of aid for the poor here. We had assumed wrong. At about 1:00 or so, as many of the animals were done being butchered up for distribution, large crowds of poor people started to appear on the streets. They all had bags and they were going from house to house. We heard a ruckus a few doors down and looked to see a large and loud crowd gathered outside the building’s gates. There was pushing, yelling, and people were trying to get into the gate from the side. They were shaking the gate and it was somewhat intense. Then there was more yelling and people seemed to disperse. Here is a photo:

People were leaving with smiles though, and we could see in the clear bags that this was how meat was being passed out.

As the crowds walked along, a fascinating combination of competition and cooperation was visible. Kids in particular seemed excited to point out a house that was handing it out and everyone would run down the street toward the house. People shared the information about which house was handing meat out, but then pushed each other around to get to the front once each immediate situation was taking place. It was also very interesting to watch how many rich Bangladeshis were (in fairness, like us) out on their balconies watching it all.

In front of our apartment building when the time came, Major Mustafa (our landlord, and ex-military guy) made the people waiting all line up. Here they are waiting in front of our apartment for the meat to come out.

Then he had his two security guys (striped shirt and white shirt in the picture below. Mustafa has the teal Punjabi on) bring out a bucket of meat to be distributed. The meat was placed one by one in a bag, and even though there was a little tussle, it was mostly orderly. Then everyone went on their way.

All of this has put the day into a real class framing for us. First, the morning activity was all about class- it was about boroloks (rich people) being able to show off that they could afford a bull (or 2 bulls, or 2 bulls and a bunch of goats…). The rich borolok men came out in their nice clean expensive clothes and stood to the side while poor men in lungis and too-big button up shirts did the dirty work. The boroloks all felt great having put on their show and they never got their hands dirty at all.

Later, the boroloks are confronted acutely with their privilege as hoards of poor people fill the streets awaiting their fair share- the Koran demands they get 1/3. The boroloks give, as if out of charity, but there must be some sense of nervousness in the back of at least some of their heads that at some point these crowds could amass on a day they don’t expect it, and the crowds could actually start to demand what they REALLY deserve, which is far more than 1/3 of a cow on Eid.

The poor people, on the other hand, are not demeaned by the process of going from house to house waiting for a handout. Indeed, it is the system- they are not being given charity; they are being given what they are due. The boroloks aren’t doing anything nice- they are obligated to do it. In addition, this is one of the only times these people are gong to get beef- they usually have to work hard and survive on a little fat and starch, so it is a really happy occasion for them and certainly worth the effort of going around.

Still, as the young men, mostly construction workers and rickshaw pullers were walking briskly through the streets looking for the next house that would hand out a few ounces of meat to each man, it was unsettling, to say the least. These are not broken men- they aren’t crazy, or maimed, or incapable of work. Most of them do work, incredibly hard, but they are still so poor that they have to beg on Eid for a piece of meat. The boroloks handing out the meat don’t work a third as hard as these guys do, but that’s just it: it has nothing to do with the individual’s ability or desire to work- it is just privilege, and it is so incredibly unfair.

So the poor people go about this twisted trick or treat, visiting each house and reminding the rich that they exist, and the rich throw them a bone and feel great about themselves for doing it. Really, the boroloks ought to find this humiliating. They (we) ought to see themselves (ourselves) as the monsters they (we) are- hoarding resources and living in luxury so that others go hungry. They (we) ought to see who really has blood on their hands. But they (we) won’t. Next year it will be the same, and the next, and the next, until one day people on both sides of the gate start to change it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Eid al-Adha in Dhaka

a.k.a. Meat in the Streets
Today is Eid-Al Aza (or Eid al-Adha, depending on how you choose to spell it). As we explained last post, it is a time of celebration and sacrifice to Allah for his mercy in allowing Ibrahim to substitute a ram instead of sacrficing his son Ishmael. We had heard that the scene could get pretty gruesome here, as the tradition is for every family to sacrifice a cow or goat (or multiple of each) in the street in front of the home. Since Dhaka is full of multi-family apartment buildings, each floor has a family or two and it leads to a lot of sacrificing on the street.

We were a bit nervous as the day grew closer and the volume of animals outside of buildings increased day after day. By Friday, the massive scale of the activity was becoming clear. Last night, we realized that from our windows we could see at least 6 bulls waiting and several goats. As we walked down the streets of our neighborhood we realized that every building had lots of animals out front.

This morning following the morning prayers, the activity began. At first, we weren’t sure how much we were going to watch. The curbani (or quorbani, again depending on spelling- it means the sacrifice) is not something we are exactly used to seeing, and the thought of watching anything die was not appealing. On the other hand, it is ritual that is very meaningful to those who get to do it, and we can’t help but have a natural interest and curiosity. We decided to see how it went, and figured we would probably stay on the balcony, but would try to take pictures from there and that way if it got to be too much we could just go inside. We decided that it was better for Atticus not to see it, and he agreed.
So this morning as the sacrifices began, we went on the porch (Atticus stayed inside watching cartoons and occasionaly asked for updates on the number of corpses). Everyone was so excited and it was such a happy occasion as people embraced each other and wished each other Eid Mubarak. The joyousness was also emphasized by a call from Taborok to tell us how happy he was and wish us Eid Mubarak. Right in front of our balcony we had a full view of Charlie and Snowflake’s departure.

Charlie was the first to go and the hardest to watch. We had developed a bit of affection for him because he was such an ornery guy, and it was difficult to see him killed. It was reassuring though that the ritual is very humane (well, as humane as killing an animal can be…). They pinned him down and calmed him by rubbing his head. There were several men that we think were holy men (or at least experts in something related to the actual throat slicing) that came from place to place and did the actual slicing of the neck when the bulls and goats were ready. One long slice, while “Allah Akbar” is recited, and the thing is done. Indeed, compared to the traumatizing way the animals are treated before slaughter at most factories in other places, this is far preferable.

Jon decided to take a walk around the neighborhood (because after watching a few from the porch it is amazing how quickly you get totally desensitized to all the blood). As he walked along the streets, stepping around the pools of blood and carcasses waiting to be butchered, everyone was so happy and delighted that it really felt quite festive. Jon had gone out kind of on a sudden whim, so he was wearing his lungi, and he got lots of greetings of “Eid Mubarak brother” and embraces.

We really can’t exaggerate the amount of blood. It was flowing in streams. The cleanup was surprisingly efficient though. Within a few hours, almost all trace of the morning’s bloodshed had been cleaned up. The animals were skinned on the street and brought in for butchering. The drains were hosed off and the gory sights of the morning seem almost surreal. Of course, we’ve got photos, so it isn’t to be forgotten.

We took some pretty gruesome photos, but don’t know if all are interested in such graphic images, so we are posting a PG-13 rated version here on the blog. (Some are still pretty bloody, so don’t scroll down too far if you don’t like thinking about where your hamburgers come from!) I know some of you are truly interested in seeing the ritual sacrifice more close up, and we’ve got photos of that, for sure, but it may be better if you send an email to us and we’ll send them to you less publicly. We’ve tried to capture the festiveness, but it is admittedly pretty easy to succumb to the shock value of the imagery. We hope we haven’t been to0 exploitative.

All in all, it was an interesting morning that we are happy to have gotten to see. Eid Mubarak everybody, Eid Mubarak!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Gasman Cometh

(OK, actually the big-ol'-knife-man cometh, but we couldn't resist quoting CRASS lyrics here just once...)
We'd like to introduce you to Charlie and Snowflake. They live in the street tied to trees across from our apartment right now (there was a third bull earlier, but he is now gone for some reason - maybe he got wind of what was going on!).

Saturday is Eid -al-Adha and as result, these guys have less than 48 hours to live. In fact, in front of most buildings here there are bulls and goats waiting to be slaughtered in the celebration of Eid-al-Adha.
For those who don't know, Eid al-Adha commemorates Ibraham's (Abraham) willingness to obey Allah by sacrificing his son. According to the Koran, Ibrahim was about to sacrifice his son when a voice from heaven stopped him and allowed him to sacrifice a ram instead. The celebration today is comprised of butchering an animal (cow, goat,or sheep usually) and giving 1/3 to the poor, 1/3 to friends and family, and 1/3 is kept and eaten in a feast of devotion and appreciation for the mercy of Allah.
So far, despite the uneasiness we have at watching these cutie-pies get their throats slit on Saturday morning and all the stories we hear of streets running red with blood in Dhaka, it has been a fun time to watch people get excited for the holiday.
In the spirit of blogging responsibility, we'll try to take pictures and post them here on actual Eid (here it falls on November 28th) but you'll have to be patient with our squeamish western, vegetarian delicateness! More to come soon...

Monday, November 23, 2009


For the last few days we’ve had a nice turn in weather. The temperatures have dropped a little and the air has dried out as winter approaches (the winter season officially begins here on December 15). In the mornings and late at night it has even dropped down to about 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) a few times. While obviously coming from Colorado and/or Boston recently, the high sixties isn’t exactly prompting us to break out our parkas, things like this are relative, and for folks here, winter is a-comin.’ Everyone comments on the coldness in the mornings, and we’ve enjoyed seeing all the new winter gear around town. This morning we saw an old man walking wearing a puffy winter ski vest over his Punjabi top, and we have really had to hold back giggles at the stocking caps and scarves in the mornings! Seriously? We aren’t trying to be mean, and we know that it feels cold to people from here (it even feels chilly to us- you get used to the high nineties even at night and then 70 does feel cool), but stocking caps? We’ve also seen countless sweater vests and honestly, it needs to be noted that in any country, there are really only a few men out there that can pull off the sweater vest – everyone else looks like a creepy, prep-school reject.
We’ve heard that the record low here in Bangladesh is about 7 Celsius (about 44 Fahrenheit) and that is up at the highest elevations, so we really doubt we’ll regret not bringing our winter coats and hats along with us, but we have had to adjust a little to the new temperatures. Buildings are almost all un-heated (because the record low is still not cold!) so it does get cool in the house late at night. We’ve added a blanket and closed one of our windows so far…

PHOTO: Oh, right- that's your mess to clean up!
Anyhow, as you suckers back in the US are shoveling your driveways and scraping the ice off your windows this winter, know we have you in our hearts. We may not be so cocky in May when we are sweating through 100+ degrees everyday and 99% humidity, but for now- it is great to be in Bangladesh!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Speaking of Corruption...

Today we decided that we would get a copy of our house key after Atticus and Jon were locked out of the apartment for the third time yesterday since we can’t seem to coordinate who needs to hang on to the single key we have. The excursion, as usual, turned into more of an ordeal than we expected (I’m not sure why we wouldn’t expect ordeals by now).

We decided to go to Gulshan 2 but of course Taborok couldn’t just take us there because it is at the intersection of two major roads that rickshaws are banned from so he had to weave around the neighborhood until he could get us to the intersection where all of the rickshaws drop off and pick up costumers. Tabork got us as close as he could and then waited for us at the intersection among the rest of the rickshaw wallahs.

We headed towards the market area with a vague sense of where to go – it was unclear exactly what type of shop could make keys. When we thought we were nearby we asked some people in a hardware shop and they were, of course, eager to help. One man led us through the hardware-y shop section of the market to a door lock shop. The door lock shop guys says ‘oh no, you cant make copies of this key. It is a very secure key’ (of course he can’t make a copy, he sells locks!). The guy then leads us briskly across the street – never looking back to see if we were near and making some pretty risky traffic decisions! -- to a group of key makers that sit at outdoor stations in the market who jingle keys in front of you shouting ‘boss’ or ‘madam’ trying to get you to take advantage of their services. He takes us directly to one specific guy. We discuss how difficult it will be for him to make it, machine is needed, etc.. and that it why it is such a high price. We bargain a bit and he tells us it will be ready in an hour.

So we now have an hour to kill in which we can’t go home. We decide to go over and talk with Taborok to tell him what’s going on. We walk over and tell him we have an hour to kill. Immediately we notice a security guard starts yelling at us (well really just at Taborok, people don’t yell at us). The guard is telling us ‘you have to go. You can’t stand on the side of the road there.’ Sam immediately begins to explain that we have every right to be here and that there are cars parked all along the side of the road. The guard explains that the cars can be there, but not rickshaws. We are naturally offended. We argue with him that this is our “car,” but he still insists we must go across the street with the other rickshaws. By this point our argument had been noticed by the traffic cop across the street. He comes over and tries to tell us we have to move because we are standing in front of the governor’s house and rickshaws aren’t allowed on that side of the street. We are incensed! ‘What!? Are you kidding me? Cars can park here, but because it is the governor’s mansion ‘the rabble’ can’t stand here?!” Sam can’t resist mentioning that it seems like a corruption issue to her. Not surprisingly, at the first mention of Durniti (corruption) the guard and traffic cop cede and the traffic cop says “no, no, no I don’t mind. Its just the governor that minds, but you are fine, it’s ok for now.”

After this Taborok explains to us that the traffic cop is corrupt and takes money from the rickshaw wallahs so they can wait across the street from where we were. Shortly thereafter Taborok says quietly out of the side of his mouth to Sam look at the cop across the street. And, there he was taking money and shoving it in his wallet. ‘Wow!’ we exclaimed! What irony! What injustice! The day after the international report about government corruption and graft comes out stating that Bangladesh is moving up, becoming less corrupt and which is celebrated in the papers and by the government, here we are witnessing a cop across the street from the governor’s mansion taking money from men much poorer than him to line his pockets (and probably the guards in front of the governor’s house are in on it too since they are sending rickshaws across the street to the cop). We were appalled, outraged, but not really shocked… of course we knew this occurs. We read about graft everyday in the papers and witness abuse of the poor everyday in countless ways that are depressing, outrageous and sadly, no longer shocking.

This situation just brought all of the injustice together into this one little microcosm on this one little section of street. The policies of the government (originally introduced by the World Bank but since then acknowledged as unfairly difficult on the poor) ban rickshaws from the larger thoroughfares and “VIP” roads and have led to a situation in which rickshaw wallahs have to wait next to the main roads, desperate for a fare, where they are bullied by private security guards and extorted by cops. In this situation it is taking place right in front of the governor’s mansion who surely rides in a car everyday and expects the area in front of his house to be free of the hoi polloi and yet would declare that he would not stand for corruption and unequal treatment of the citizenry while speaking to the upright citizens of the district. Here we are witnessing it all in plain sight coming together.

The worst part is that we realize if we weren’t there a rickshaw wallah by himself would never be allowed to get away with this. They are expected to submit to the authorities or they will pay the price – and the price can be high – traffic cops and many guards carry long sticks and are all too eager to beat the poor rickshaw wallahs if they step to out of line. We realize that our white skin brings with it privileges (as is also the case in the U.S.) and we often want to take advantage of that privilege and stand up for those here who are not given any privileges, yet in doing so, don’t we accept the very privilege we know is unfair? On the other hand it is completely overwhelming to consider all of the injustices and realize that we have very little power to correct all of them.

We stayed for one hour, making a principled point, and a few times we had to have to argument over again as to way we had the right to stay there. The funny thing is that there was actually a better place to go wait, that was closer and much less of a hassle, but after being told that rickshaws had to go elsewhere, we had a moral obligation to resist the unfair rule! We are happy that Taborok was as happy as we were to make this point. (We’ve become very good friends with Taborok and by chance it turns out he is just as stubborn as we are- if not moreso.)

After an hour, our point was made. We go over to the better place to wait and leave Tabork to get our new key. We then had a completely awkward amount of time and had to stand around for another hour outside Atticus school before it was time to get him(again, too much time to kill, but too little to go home and go to the school). We chatted more and all in all, basically wasted an entire afternoon for the sake of principle. Anyone that knows us though, knows that this is par for the course for Jon and Sam.

Oh, and not surprisingly at all, our new key didn’t work, which means we will have to go tomorrow to the same guy and tell him we need a new key, the one he made for us doesn’t fit. This will undoubtedly lead to another ordeal.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

We aren't the Most Corrupt Country (anymore)!

So, the newspapers are joyfully reporting that Bangladesh is NOT the most corrupt country in the world. Hooray! Bangladesh placed at 139 out of 180, which doesn't exactly make this place a paragon of forthright and honest government and some of Bangladesh's upward movement is also largely the result of other nations moving down the corruption list (Hey -way to to go American invasion of Afghanistan- it is significantly more corrupt now than ever...), but, for Bangladesh, 139 is still a big improvement. Here is a little article from the Daily Star (local newsaper) about it. Thas to be the best line in the article "It may be recalled that Bangladesh was earlier placed at the very bottom of the list for the five successive years from 2001-2005."
Yes, it may be recalled.
Bangladesh 139th among 180 countries in transparency index
Star Online Report
Bangladesh has shown a remarkable progress in abating corruption as it has been placed 139th among 180 countries in the Transparency International’s (TI) annual Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for 2009.
Bangladesh has moved eight steps up from last year’s 147th in the index with an increase of 0.3 point on a scale of 0-10, according to the report released in Dhaka on Tuesday at a press briefing.
The index provides international ranking of countries in terms of perceived degree of prevalence of political and administrative corruption.
Bangladesh scored 2.4 this year where it was 2.1 last year, said Transparency International Bangladesh trustee Professor Muzaffer Ahmad said at the press briefing at the Dhaka Reporter’s Unity.
He said Bangladesh, according to the Berlin-based organisation, is one of the eight countries that showed extraordinary improvement in corruption-free scenario.
Somalia ranked lowest in the index by scoring 1.1 and New Zealand is the highest scoring nation, which scored 9.4, Professor Muzaffer said.
It may be recalled that Bangladesh was earlier placed at the very bottom of the list for the five successive years from 2001-2005.
In 2006, Bangladesh was ranked in no 3, and 7th in 2007. With the score of 2.1.
M Hafizuddin Khan, chairman of Transparency International Bangladesh, and Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director, were present at the press briefing."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hallway Fiasco

So here’s a little story that captures the bizarreness of life here sometimes. The other night we are lying in bed (OK, it was 9:00pm, and we were already in bed reading about to go to sleep because we go to bed really early here – this place is exhausting!) and we hear this terrible banging in the hallway. Incidentally, Sam happened to be reading a kind of intense memoir from the war here and it was all about the night the Pakistan army invaded a building and pulled men into the hallway and slaughtered them. For about 2 seconds she was truly terrified before she snapped out of the story and realized where she was!

Anyhow, the banging continued, and we figured we better see what was up. Jon opened our door and asked if everything was ok. Our neighbor, who is another foreign researcher here, lives in the flat next to ours with her 15 year old son. Apparently, he had gotten home first and had locked the dead bolt from the inside so she couldn’t get in. He had then apparently gone to bed and sleeps very soundly. She was banging on the door with all her might, and yelling his name, but he never came to the door. He had also apparently turned his phone off or it was not ringing, because she couldn’t call him either. We tried the intercom system to her apartment and she even came in and used our computer to see if he was on Facebook, but no luck.

This kid was one sound sleeper. So after about 30-40 minutes of banging, the entire building was out in out in the hallway. Even though the teenager somehow hadn’t woken up and heard the racket, the entire building was up. Everyone was out in the hallway, and it was quite a communal experience. We felt so bad for our neighbor- and while we were all getting a little worried, she seemed convinced that he was fine, just really hard to wake up.

So as we watched it all unfold, we also got to see all the crazy characters of our building interacting. There was our building owner, who is an old, retired military man and totally a take charge kind of guy. Then there is his son, the building manager, who is a frazzled, hectic mess, and he arrived about an hour into the whole thing- late as usual. There was also a small cadre of building women, who were along the sidelines talking one another. Actually, Sam became a part of the sideline gaggle of women because she was in her pajamas and not really presentable for mixed company, plus she couldn’t go out of the apartment because Atticus was asleep in his room. She experienced most of it all by leaning her head out the mostly closed door. There was also the door guard (who we don’t like, and is a cranky old man with a bad attitude), the pilot (who is a pilot for Biman airlines who lives below us) and a bunch of random people we don’t even know – because it is after all, Bangladesh, and a crowd forms immediately, even within a building! Everyone was all lined along the stairs and on the landing between our two flats.

So, the kid was not waking up, and everyone’s creative problem solving started kicking in. ‘We need to tie a rope around someone and lower them from the roof onto her balcony’ said someone (possibly Jon, but we’ll let that remain unknown). ‘No, that is too dangerous’ someone else said (probably Sam, but we’ll let that remain unknown). It is the fifth floor we are talking about… ‘Bust the door down’ someone said. ‘No, it would be too hard’ someone else said. Then several men, such as the landlord’s son, the pilot, and the cranky door-guard felt the need to prove their masculinity so they started banging at the door to bust the bolt. ‘No, no, no,’ our neighbor cried out, ‘please don’t bust the door down.’ (She didn’t want to buy a new door!)
The next thing you know, the men (and yes, Jon was right along with everyone) have all moved to the roof, and Sam is left with the ladies. Sam and the ladies take turns leaning out Atticus’ window (who has, in fairness, also slept through this entire thing!) to observe the menfolk on the roof swinging a hose over the ledge to tap on the kid’s window and try to get his attention. ‘Tink, tink tink’ went the hose as it gently swung back and forth - not exactly working.
The men give up and head back downstairs. The banging on the door re-commenced and after about an hour and a half or two hours from the beginning of the whole event our neighbor just came over to our place and we continued to try and call her apartment.

We had more or less given up that the kid was going to open the door, and planned on our neighbor sleeping over. We were just chatting a little when suddenly our door bursts open and it is our frantic building manager (the landlord’s son) saying ‘Come quickly, can you tell your son to open up. He won’t open the window for us.’

It turns out that the pilot and some other other guy from the building (we think…) had gotten a hold of a ladder, and had stuck it out the window of the apartment below hers. They had then pushed the bed up against the wall below the window to stabilize the ladder as it poked out the window and the guy had climbed up the ladder and knocked on the kid’s window – which had woken him up and had to have scared the crap out of him. He refused to open, naturally.
Finally, after our neighbor began banging again and saying his name, he opened the door. Our neighbor (and Jon for some reason) got a lecture from the landlord (something about not calling the cops and parental responsibility and how our neighbor owed us more than thanks [which we disagree with- our neighbor does not, in fact, owe more than a thank you, which she already paid]) and the kid inside (he is 15) probably got in serious trouble.

In closing, here are 10 lessons from the night:
1. Don’t lock the deadbolt and go to bed if everyone isn’t home yet.
2. Teenagers sleep really soundly (and so does Atticus)
3. Teenagers are a pain in the neck
4. We have some crazy characters in the building- and we fit right in.
5. We live in really secure apartments, which is good to know.
6. If you hear hubbub in the hallway, go ahead and get dressed, because it will probably become a vey public event
7. Old, rich, retired military guys like to lecture anyone within earshot
8. A slight tap from a hose on the window is not sufficient to wake a teenager, when banging on the door at full strength has already failed.
9. 9:00pm is probably too early for adults to be in bed for the night
10. If you ever question a man’s ability to break down a door, he has to try.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


This is the shopping list for today - do the last two entries really look like Jon or Sam wrote them?
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Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Visit to the Saloon

(No, that is not a typo)

You may have noticed from the Srimangal pictures that both Jon and Atticus had pretty long hair. Both needed a haircut pretty bad, and while Jon usually just uses clippers to do his own, we didn’t bring clippers and haven’t seen any for sale around here.

Jon asked our friend who lives nearby and he said the “saloon” right in the shopping center by our house was cheap and clean. Yes, saloon. Somewhere, sometime, somehow the translation got screwed up and salons in Bangladesh began being called Saloons. There are hundreds of signs all around for this saloon and that saloon. (This is one of many of these types of "banglish" words.)

So one afternoon between bangla class and picking up Atticus from school, Jon and Sam stopped by to get Jon’s haircut at the men’s saloon here in our neighborhood. Of course there were about 15 workers there, because there are always tons of workers everywhere, and right away he was whisked behind the glass while Sam waited in the lobby.

The guy didn’t speak a lot of English, but not much was needed (Jon thought). Just a buzz. Well, he didn’t buzz it but he gave him a close cut and used the straight razor on the edges with an admirable degree of skill. (This was a little nerve-racking at first, but he really handled it well).

After the cut, he holds up a container of oil capsules in Jon’s face and says ‘Do you want hot oil?’ ‘Na, Na, Na’ Jon says. Then he holds up a bottle that says ‘conditioner’ and says ‘Do you want this?’ ‘Na, Na, Na’ Jon says again. Then the guy leans in really close, and practically whispers in Jon’s ear, ‘You have a dry scalp problem. This will help.’ It is as if he has just revealed a terrible dirty secret and he doesn’t want anyone to know about the shameful presence of dryness on Jon’s head.
‘OK, fine. Conditioner is fine.’ Jon says, thinking well, what can a quick conditioning hurt?

The guy then squirts some of the “conditioner” into a bowl- it is oil. He then places the oil in the oven. Meanwhile, he takes those same capsules Jon had explicitly rejected earlier and squirts them on Jon’s head and rubs it around. He then takes the oil out of the oven (surprisingly not that hot) and rubs it into the scalp. It was a little nice to have the scalp and temple massage.

Meanwhile, he is calling over to another worker who is hauling over a machine that looks kind of like the big hairdryers that salons have that you sit under. This one is mobile though, and there was nothing dry about it. He places a piece of Kleenex on Jon’s forehead and turns the machine on. It emits steam, and apparently, more oil. Needless to say, the Kleenex was just gross and soggy on Jon’s forehead.

After he removes the machine, he asks if Jon wants a shampoo. At this point, Jon just wants to leave. ‘Na, Na, Na.’ Jon says and the guy cleans up and he heads out front. Sam is quite taken aback by the oily emergence of Jon. “Oh’ she managed to say, ‘did you get the hot oil treatment?’ So, 400 taka later Jon has short hair, and is covered in oil.

The worse part was walking home while it was kind of hot and the oil got heated back up and was running down the sides of Jon’s face and neck. He got home, and Sam was only able to snap a few photos before he showered it all out.
Here is a photo of Jon’s hair BEFORE he washed it. That’s right, his hair is not wet in this picture- that is all oil.

So, later we went to the same place (the haircut was fine and the hot oil was, in fairness, what Jon did agree to) to get Atticus a haircut. Things were much less dramatic this time. The best was the makeshift booster seat for him that was just a cushy flat board they laid across the arms of the seat. It worked though. Sam explained that she didn’t want it too short (as you may know, Atticus looks tons better with longer hair, and super short hair just does not work him). Like yours, Sam said, meaning the length, not so much the style. He understood, it seemed, and he gave Atticus a good length – but in his same style. The name of the style, he told us, is the Shahrukh Khan. For those of you that don’t know who Shahrukh Khan is, well, you have clearly never been to South Asia and never seen a hindi film, because he is about as big as it gets in terms of famous-ness. He was also recently detained in an airport in the US for being brown, er I mean for "security reasons." Anyway, now wheenver we look at Atticus we see a little Sharukh Khan.

Here is a photo of Atticus before the cut, and since we don’t have a picture from after (sorry) here is picture of Sharukh Khan with his haircut - sorry it is so small.
So, Jon learned important life lessons about up-selling in salons and Atticus became a Bollywood sensation. Good times all around.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Zax in the Prairie of Prax

Aka Gridlock – Stalemate – Oneeeek Traffic So, as happy as we are to be back in our homebase of Dhaka, we are also back to the daily battle against Dhaka traffic. Yesterday morning as we were coming back from bangla classes in Bonani (an very nearby neighborhood) we got a close up view of a true jam. There were so many cars and rickshaws in the intersection that there was literally no way for any cars to move. It looked like a jugsaw puzzle, as each car had inched forward as much as he could until the whole place was locked up. It was continuously building up in four directions too as the back up created long lines and everyone was yelling at everyone else to move and honking their stupid horns as if it was going to actually do anything. We are right at the front (because Taborok is pretty good at weaving his way to the front of the pack) and we were just watching the situation. It was classic gridlock. We’ve seen traffic jams (it is a daily thing here) but this was the most tried and true jam we’d seen.

There was no way that anyone could move unless people cooperated to fix the situation (of course if they’d been cooperating in the first place it wouldn’t have occurred at all). Finally, a guy that just happened to be on rickshaw next to us hopped down and went into the middle of the intersection and just took charge and started directing people to move forward, backwards, let this guy go, etc.. Another guy got out of a car and finally a police officer/military guy came over and started directing things too. Actually, the guy who got off the rickshaw seemed to have the best handle on the situation and it was interesting to watch everyone realize and accept that it was in their best interest to let this random guy have a little authority.

It also raised a point about the reason traffic is so annoying here. The cars are usually driven by paid drivers (who have dubious training and/or understanding of how to actually drive the cars they drive) who work for rich people who sit in the back of the car. They sit back there, get exasperated at the traffic, and so the drivers feel like they need to do whatever they can to look like they are doing something about the traffic situation. So they honk, or they inch forward, or they get pushy, because they don’t want to get yelled at by their boss for getting them to their destination so late. Then added into the mix is the generally abusive attitudes a lot of rich people take toward their employees, and you just have a crappy situation. If they were to let another car pass them in order to keep the traffic orderly, I’m sure they’d get yelled at by their boss. So everyone drives selfishly, and everyone suffers. Once again, the biggest problem here is always the personal cars coupled with social inequality (Things always go back to the social, which is something traffic engineers may fail to recognize in their plans – that is if there were plans here). The roads are past capacity and with the population of Dhaka as it is, it just isn’t an option for people to drive these big cars around to take one person to a single little errand. It is also not possible to continue refusing to compromise and refusing to change paths. Hasn't Dr. Seuss taught us anything?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Srimangal : the saga continues...

So, after our tea and treats and relaxation we had another fun day ahead of us. Walking around the area in the evening, we were able to just look across beautiful fields of rice and almost unbelievably picturesque scenes. Like these:

PHOTOS: Rice fields

We woke up the next day and went to Lawachara rain forest national park which is about twenty minutes from the guesthouse. The big attraction of Lawachara besides the natural beauty, is the MONKEYS! As we walked up the little road that leads to the park entrance, the trees towered above us and the sounds of the jungle rainforest started to overtake us. One sound in particular was the horrendously loud high pitched tone of an insect that lives in the canopy. It is difficult to describe. You might be able to recreate it by setting two transmitters next to each other and creating as high pitch of feedback as possible, then blasting the sound as loud as it will go, then placing your ear directly on whatever is producing the sound. That would get you close. It was crazy, and totally became this stressful tonal nuisance in the background. We noticed it more when it stopped, because our bodies relaxed for a minute before it started back up. Later a couple people told us the name of the bug, but we’ve forgotten it. It is a type of katydid if the internet has lead us in the right direction. Terrible, but seemed only to be in one area, so at least we didn’t have to hear it all day.
PHOTOS: Walking into Lowachara and looking up!

Upon arriving at the park station it was closed. We had gone after breakfast, leaving the cottage at 9am, so it wasn’t particularly early- especially for a place that is for hiking and nature viewing… anyhow, we weren’t surprised because everything in Bangladesh opens at 10am or after it seems so we went on some solo exploring on the little trails.

PHOTOS: Hiking (walking along a path, really) in the jungle

Along here we had our first monkey sighting and came across a sign that described all the different birds in the raiforest. As some of you may know, Atticus likes birds, so he made Jon read him every single word of the pretty large and text intensive four sided sign about birds. It is probably the first time anyone has ever really read the entire sign…

But as much as Atticus loves birds, you may also know, he HATES spiders. Unfortunately, while the rainforest has many (sadly elusive) species of birds, it has some very visible and large spiders, namely the banana spider. They build massive webs between trees (as in 3, 4, 5 feet wide…) and hang around, unafraid, along the path. The spiders themselves are about the size of an adult hand, maybe a little bigger. You can guess how much Atticus liked these. He did great though, and just went kind of widely around them and requested we don’t talk about them (as he kept bringing them up - but you know how fear/fascination work together).

PHOTOS: Jon reading every word to a very attentive Atticus and the spiders…

So after our solo hike we went back to park station and it was open. We decided to get a guide for another hike, and chose the 1 hour hike. The park station was actually pretty annoying though – the guy in charge was pretty unhelpful and they were out of the maps (which is really the only thing they had to offer, other than some old dusty hats, which they kept trying to sell us). There is talk that starting next month they will start charging ticket prices to go into the park (350 taka for foreigners) which will be fine in terms of getting funding, but they are really going to need to work on the park if they expect people to be ok with paying for entry. For one, instead of standing around and being unhelpful, they could send one of the ten million guards out to pick up the litter that was disappointingly ever-present. Anyhow, Mr. Crabbypants calld over a guide for us and we went on our way.

So the whole point of the guided tour was that we wanted to learn the names of things and be able to ask questions. Our guide was of no help, to put it nicely. He proceeded to take off at break neck speed without a word. We followed, as fast as we could. He was looking up at the canopy the whole time, and when we got to a little area and he pointed out some monkeys above us. We took some pictures and then he seemed like he was getting antsy. We moved on.
We could barely take any pictures and certainly questions were not possible. He just led us along, rapidly through the jungle. Here is a picture that captures the pace.

PHOTO: No stopping! Come on! Come on! Come on!

So, in some ways this was a misunderstanding. The guide thought his only role was to take off into the jungle and find monkeys for us to look at. Once we saw the monkeys (pictures below!) he figured the best part was over. We booked it through the trail (which was still nice because they were small enough trails that without a map we wouldn't have gone so deep into the jungle by ourselves with Atticus along). We ended in less than hour (becuase we practically speed-walked the whole trail!) and headed back to the station house to wash the blood off of Jon and Atticus' feet.

PHOTOS: Monkeys!

What's that you say? Bloody feet? Oh yeah, there were leeches along the path. Here are Jon's feet after serving as a buffet for the local leeches.

PHOTO: Jon's feet after the rainforest death march

There is debate over wheter Atticus actually got a leech or if he ust stubbed his toe. Either way, it was treated with bottled water, kleenexes and hand sanitizer courtesy of the medical bag known as Sam's purse.

The funny thing is that once we were back at the station, suddenly our guide was our best friend and wanted his photo with Atticus and said he never had a little brother, etc. etc.. We were nice, but frankly if he was gunning for bakshish it wasn't going to happen. We also got annoyed because Mr. Crabbypants charged us 5 taka for using the bathroom - after the fact. We were overall less than impressed by the services there (and as you all know, we are not jerks and we aren't expecting a lot of special help, but we are really friendly and expect some friendliness back dammit!). Hopefully, improvements will keep happening, because as it is, it seems like a good project that didn't get fully followed up on and is falling into the sadly common 'deshi disrepair.

The final phase of the Srimangal adventure was our visit to Monipur lake. This is a beautful lake in the middle of tea gardens. We went by cng and it was just a beautiful ride. There is just something more fun/beautiful/interesting/meaningful about taking in the scenery from a cng- the wind is in your face, the engine is growling beneath you, and the little green frame around the whole view makes it feel fully South Asian. On the way we saw a monkey just chilling in the rice field munching down on the rice.

At the lake we walked up a little hill and got some beautiful views of the tea estate and the lake. Sadly, it was about 10 or 11 am, and really bright, so the pictures just don't have the depth we would hope fore, but here are a few pretty ones.

Sam really liked the water lilies on the lake and took a lot of pictures of them, and so the nice old guy from the pump station rolled up his pants to his thighs and went out into the lake and picked some for us, which was just sweet. Atticus really liked them, (so did we all) and it was just a nice little morning at the lake.
PHOTOS: Water lilies at the lake and more monkeys

On the way back, we saw that same monkey chomping in the same rice field so we stopped to take pictures. We got out of the cng and our driver was happily pointing them out. It was kind of a nice shareable moment with the dirver, because no matter how old you are, or where you are from, seeing monekys is just fun. We got some more pictures and estimate that all in all, we saw 3 or 4 different types of monkeys (Or maybe 2 or three types of monkeys and 1 type of ape since gibbons are technically not monkeys) on the trip. Fun!

So, that was the trip to Srimangal, in more detail than was really necessary. On the way home we got to really experience the quick stop as we hopped off the train at the airport station which barely came to a stop. We aren’t exaggerating at all- Jon was literally hanging out the door of the train as it pulled to a stop (which you know he LOVED), he quickly hopped off while it was still kind of rolling, and Sam and Atticus jumped off right after. We were in the middle of the tracks and had to cross over and climb up on the platform. It was totally fun!

Now the blog is basically caught up to now. We’ve distributed our special Srimangal tea to our friends here and gotten back into the work routine. Actually, the nice thing about the trip was that by the end of it, coming back to Dhaka really felt like coming “home.” It doesn’t feel quite so much like roughing it once you have hot water again and an electric tea kettle. This has been a busy work week for Sam and back to school week for Atticus (who is now also busy with new social commitments of playdates and 2 new loves at school). All in all, a great trip and we’re delighted to be back home.