Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy 2010!

Well the New Year, and the new decade, is here, finally. We had to wait an extra hour for celebrations here because the Bangladesh government decided last week that it was finally time to change back the clocks from Daylight Savings Time. They declared that at 11:59pm Bangladesh would set the clock back an hour, so as we all waited for the New Year we had to switch the clock back right as it would’ve arrived! Actually, 2009 was a pretty good year for us, so we don’t mind getting an extra hour of it.

For our grand festivities we kept it simple. We hung out at home with Taborok and had some drinks. There was a party on our rooftop that we were invited to, but it was a barbecue and we ended up skipping it and staying home instead. Also, it was a little late for Atticus to go to a party! It was nice just chatting the night away. Of course, in what we’ve now seen to be a New Year’s Eve universal, we all got a little happy and had the Bangla language equivalent of the “I love You, Man” moment.

Atticus worked hard to make it to the New Year. This is the first year we’ve let him stay up, and he put in a great effort. Actually, in fairness, if it weren’t for the time change, he made it, but after we had to set the clock back he jus didn’t have another hour in him. He fell asleep on the couch. He still had a great night getting to stay up and chat with the grown ups.

Well, we hope as the New Year comes to you all, everyone has a wonderful time and a great year ahead full of happiness.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Livin' Large

Lest you all start getting the wrong idea about Bangladesh as simply poverty and natural beauty, we thought we would share with you our trip to Bashundhara City, the largest mall in South Asia (We’re pretty sure this still holds true even with Afghanistan now being considered part of South Asia). The presence of this mall and the current construction of the Jamuna mall not very far from it, which will rob Bashundhara City of its ‘largest in South Asia’ title, is a reminder that Bangladesh still creates a lot of wealth and with that wealth, a lot of rapacious consumers. There are actually a lot of indoor, mall like, shopping centers in Dhaka (because of the lack of space things seem to be building vertically rather than horizontally for a while now), but Bashundhara City is clearly designed with the idea of the ‘consumer experience’ in mind, whereas the other shopping centers are just sort of multi-story markets. To get a feel for the experience they are trying to create you can check out their website here: (Fittingly for mall webistes worldwide, it seems, it has a very nice flash intro, but none of the actual pages within the website work)And for more extended information see the Wikipedia page:

We decided to go because we had heard a lot about it and we are desperately trying to find ways to entertain ourselves while Atticus is on break. The mall is really quite an experience. It is eight stories, with a grand atrium in the center, which is capped with a giant stained glass dome. It also has a full floor food court, movie theatres, and an amusement park. Here are some photos from the bottom looking up and the top looking down.

We decided that since we were going to a mall we had better have something in mind to buy so we came up with the goals of a pair of pants for Atticus and a camera battery. Once we were there we decided to start at the food court at the top and work our way down since we hadn’t eaten yet (and because what is cooler than the food court at the mall?). The food court consisted mainly of shops for fried chicken, Chinese food, pizza, Indian food, and ‘fast food’ either in combination or as separate shops. Atticus settled on pizza, while Jon and Sam decided they wanted some Indian food since they have missed getting Indian food while here (no, Bangladeshi food and Indian food are not the same thing). The place that Jon and Sam settled on, Delhi Darbar, served a combination of South Indian, Chinese and fast food (although we were tempted by the Indian food at Taco Belle). We particuarly liked the fact that so many cultures were all together in one place in the name of consumer convenience - the food was halal, it was indian food and called Delhi Darbar, it had chinese lanterns everywhere, they had coca-cola cups... it was a real multi-cultural extravaganza. We ordered two surprisingly delicious vegetarian Indian plates and some fushka. As you can see from the picture this is not your typical mall food and it was actually much more delicious than meals we've paid much more for (two plates like the one pictured plus a plate full of delicious fushka and two drinks was about $5 total!)

After we finished eating it was time for some shopping! Of course, as soon as we started walking past all of the shops we were reminded of other things we needed to buy (or were our desires cultivated by the environment?). Sam needed some glasses so we went and got her some glasses. Oh, and we had also been meaning to get some Bangladesh mugs (hadn’t we?). And, of course, Atticus needs a soccer ball and some shoes, right? We also decided that while we were there we should get some new movies, after all they are only a buck. We got several including Avatar, which we have heard is pretty good. We will see how good of a pirated copy it is. Finally, we made it to the ground floor and found some pants for Atticus. Not surprisingly they were more expensive at the mall than if we had bought them at the outdoor market, but hey, we're paying for the experience, right? By the time we got to the bottom floor we felt we had earned ourselves some ice cream so we headed back up to the top floor, taking the escalator instead of the elevator for some extra exercise!

The mall was, of course, still a 'deshi experience. Many people wanted to squeeze Atticus’ cheeks and know his name, and what country we are from. Jon also had to help a woman get on and off the escalator because she was nearly paralyzed with fear getting on it. And once we stepped out of the shiny glass mall with all of our nice new things we were confronted by the other half of the population, which lives on less than a dollar a day as they beg for what is to us mere pennies. These experiences are always unsettling. Not that we aren’t confronted with beggars every day, but in this situation it is much more unsettling to see the classes in such stark contrast.
Oh well, happy new years everybody! Here's a picture of Atticus in his new kicks. (and incidentally, in all the impulse shopping, we only achieved 1/2 of our daily goals: Atticus got pants, but we forgot about the camera battery. Oh well, truthfully, we didn't need to go to the mall for any of it!)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas in Dhaka

I do like Christmas on the whole.... In its clumsy way, it does approach Peace and Goodwill. But it is clumsier every year. ~E.M. Forster

Well today is Christmas Day here in Dhaka. Merry Christmas to all our loved ones that are celebrating today. While we aren't Christians, we do celebrate the commercial/cultural holiday of Christmas, and this morning was the big payoff (well, for Atticus that is). It was a nice morning with all the usual adorableness of Atticus waking up before dawn, Jon and Sam stumbling into the living room to watch Atticus open presents, and then Jon setting to work building the latest enormous Lego gift. This year is a 990+ piece Lego Aircraft Carrier (actually it is a lego knock-off, but close enough!). Atticus was super excited that Santa left him little rubber tik-tiki lizards on the gifts, and he was more than pleased with the big loot he raked in. After gifts we made some calls home with Princess Leia and relaxed. Actually, Sam relaxed - Jon is still working on the aircraft carrier.
We hope you all have wonderful holidays and send our love your way! Here are some pic's from our day and the annual family picture you all would have gotten in your Christmas cards this year if we had sent them.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Well, despite the less than ideal kitchen situation we have here, we decided not to forego our annual tradition of making holiday cookies and tonight we set out to make some sugar cookies. We had a great time, and even though we were careful not to get our hopes up, they turned out great! There were some minor challenges (like converting the recipe into metric) and the fact that we don't really have an oven (but we have a toaster oven) but we overcame it all. In other cooking adventures, the toaster oven has been less than predicatble, but after a little trial and error (nobody needs to remember the vegan chocoloate cake incident of the most recent Eid) Sam has figured out that even though the little oven has a bake setting, a broil setting, and a toast setting, it can't seem to maintain the heat temperature unless it is on toast (so it is cooking from top and bottom). For Atticus' Christmas party at school Sam had toasted up some homemade oatmeal cookies that were pretty good, so we went for toasted sugar cookies this round. The other issue we encountered though was that the toaster oven is small, so we could only do about 6-7 cookies at a time, whcih meant that it took many many batches. About 2/3 of the way through we had all kind of lost a bit of the enthusiasm and gave in to cookie fatigue. All in all though, fun times. Here's a little photo collection from the evening.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Clean Livin'

Well, the washing machine has been here long enough that we thought we ought to share our joy. Here is the wonderful new addition to our building:
Actually, it is, as usual, joy tempered with frustration. On the one hand- no more buckets of laundry! Hooray! On the other hand, the system for accessing/charging for/using the washing machine is still being worked out. So far, the problems have been many, and the frustrations high. The machine was installed and put behind a lock, which only our landlord and his new apartment manager has a key to. So we are supposed to ask for a key when we want to use it – except they are never available. Our landlord sleeps until about noon it seems, and the new manager guy – well, we don’t know what his deal is, but he just seems to tell you what you want to hear and then disappear (without unlocking anything…). So many times now, we've wanted to get some laundry done but can only stare through the locked glass door longingly. Also, there seems to be general confusion among the building residents about how to use it- many times we've discovered half-washed laundry sitting in the machine for no reason, sometimes all night long. (Actually, we recently realized the shutting off mid-cycle may have to do with power outages, but this still doesn't excuse leaving it in there all night long...)

So, it has been bittersweet so far, but we’re hopeful the process for accessing it more easily will be worked out. We just want them to let us have a key to the door so we can use it whenever we need to, but they seem to want to control the key. Thus, now our plan is to do laundry very early in the morning at 6 or 7 am when Atticus wakes us up anyway, which will require them to wake up early and give us the key- or they could just give us key permanently so they don’t have to get phone calls at 6am and wake up so early….you get the picture.

All in all, the introduction of the washing machine has been incredibly positive- the evenings no longer consist of hand washing laundry and the fabulousness of that really can’t be overstated. Also, the washing machine is pretty big, so we can get away with doing a big load about three times a week, instead of every single night. This has freed the evenings up for things like mopping, and so the general cleanliness of the flat has gone up as well.

This is also the first week of Atticus’ school break - three weeks off. We’ll be doing some fun stuff post-Christmas, but for this week, Atticus is kind of just enjoying a little school-free veg time, and can usually be found here:

We’ve mixed a little park time in there, and some walks around town, but it has been kind of nice just to relax a little after our crazy schedules lately. Jon and Sam are both managing to get a little work done, but have also more than willingly succumbed to the Christmas-week-slacker-syndrome that occurs every December. We’ll be productive next, week, honest!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Victory Day!

December 15 was Victory Day here in Bangladesh. This marks the end of the Liberation War in 1971 when the Pakistani forces surrendered to India and Bangladesh became its own free nation. This is still a young nation, and as result, the patriotism on Victory Day is in full gear. After all, most people were alive for the war (if they are under 38 or so) and almost everybody’s parents here were involved in the war in some way. It is interesting to observe such a young nationalism in action, and even more interesting to observe the ways the nation is still quite actively defining what nationalism and patriotism means (of course, we know that all states are constantly revising and defining what they think proper nationalism and patriotism mean).

The war was a nine month ordeal, and as may of you know, marked by horrific violence and destruction (as war usually is). The Daily Star (local newspaper) has an online Looking Back forum with some interesting tales. It can be seen here :

We skipped the big events but had a nice little parade go by our place (see the photos below). Atticus had school that day and they got to see a little parade as well. We also enjoyed watching the programs on tv with traditional bangla song and dance. So, while we didn’t take a full holiday due to a lot of work and Atticus’ impending school break (as of December 17 he is out of school for 3 weeks for Winter break, which means work time is majorly limited…), we had a nice little Victory Day all in all.
Now, Atticus is on break and we are desperately planning to try and fill the hours day after day, but we’ve got some exciting things on the horizon. More to come!


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Woah! Where did December Go?

Well it has been way too long since we posted- apologies to all of our faithful readers. This month, Jon and Sam both had some paid writing gigs kick in, which is helpful in terms of cash, but also difficult to add in to an already busy December schedule. We’ve managed though – the only thing we let slide was the blog. (Actually the other really annoying thing we let slide was charging our camera batteries, so we are low on pics this month. Sorry!)

Anyhow, where to begin? Well two major events this month are December 16 (Victory Day for Bangladesh, which celebrates the end of the Liberation War and the birth of Bangladesh as an independent nation in 1971) and, December 25, Christmas. Of course, everyone seems to be celebrating Christmas early here, (because so many foreigners leave for the actual Christmas) and so the two kind of hit together. Both Victory Day and Christmas have created many social obligations and events, the first of which was Atticus’ school’s Christmas program.

The Christmas program at Atticus' school was fairly typical. Kids sang a combination of pop songs and Christmas carols, everything was decorated like Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” and Santa rode in on a horse-drawn carriage and gave out presents – actually, as you can see, everything was strangely a little bit off. Not only was it mostly in French, which we don’t understand (but Atticus increasingly does), but we never did figure out the relevance of Van Gogh. Ah well, they did have wine at the post-concert buffet, so you have to love the French (although the food ran out after about 1/5 of the people got served).

Here is a picture of the singing, a picture of Atticus in his crown looking adorable, and a picture of Sam petting a pony that pulled Santa’s carriage(it was so little!).

Next up was the Liberation War Museum, which as you all may know is where Sam does a lot of work with her research. They have a week long set of events for Victory Day, and we thought it would be nice for Atticus to get some cultural exposure. Earlier, we had been in neighborhood because Jon was having a meeting with the head of National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF) and will be doing some coordinating work with them and the Industrial Workers of World back in the US. It was a nice meeting for Jon to discuss important work regarding sweatshop labor and the rights of the factory workers here, and it was especially fun because the NGWF shares a building with the Worker’s Party, which has a giant banner with socialist images on it and red flags outside. It was nice to be surrounded by such openly leftist, and actually radical, folks!
So we went to the Liberation War Museum program and heard some nice bangla songs and saw some traditional bangla dance (which Atticus was quite fond of). It was very impressive too, as the girls performing this night were from a school for the blind, and they were doing some crazy coordinated dance moves without even being able to see each other. This picture doesn’t capture the real coolness, but here it is anyway.

Next up was a busy Saturday. First off, Atticus had to go get his flu shot. We couldn’t decide whether to get him vaccinated for H1N1, because we aren’t completely convinced it is necessary, but it is not an ideal medical access situation here so we figured we’d better play it safe. The French government offered it free for him since he attends a French school, and we rarely turn down free things, so we went and got it. The same day we had to get all dolled up and go to the Christmas party at Jon and Sam’s bangla school (since the school is run by a Christian NGO, they has a Christmas Party).

It was fun to get dressed up- Jon wore a nice suit, Atticus wore an adorable punjabi set, and Sam wore a sari (which she had to have the landlord’s mom help her put on correctly!) We’ll be sending out some pics of the family all dressy-like, so we aren’t posting them here yet, but here is a picture of Atticus enjoying the Christmas program at the school. (Sam at this point, is clearly a little party’d out, but at least Atticus is still having fun!)
The program itself was interesting, and since HEED has so many students from all over the place, it was pretty widely multi-cultural. We all really enjoyed hearing songs from all the different places from which students hail (Japan, Burma, Korea, Philippines -so come to think of it, it was pretty Asian…). Actually, by far the best part was when the trio of nuns that are taking classes at the school (and who we all just call The Nuns, collectively) sang songs. First they sang a nice traditional song from the Philippines, and then they busted out a English/Spanish/Neil Diamond style song, which was pretty rockin’. These ladies are just awesome, and we love them, so here is picture of them.

But as usual, there was weirdness. First off, Sam had to almost bite her tongue off to keep from convulsively laughing when the school director tried to answer her phone while on stage singing, without being obvious. OK, you can’t answer your cell phone while singing Oh Come All Ye Faithful on stage, and think nobody will notice if you do it slowly! It is hard to describe after the fact, but trust us, it was ridiculously funny. Also, between the decorations on the back of the stage and the choice of ballon pairings, (which were hung in sets about every square foot overhead) it kind of felt like a fertility clinic more than a Christmas party… we’ll let you take a look and figure that out on your own. It never stopped being funny, all night.

All in all, we’ve still got a lot going on, but we’ve stolen a few moments to blog. We promise not to be such blog slackers from here on and will update on new events soon!

Monday, December 7, 2009

We're Still Here

Well, since Eid it has been a flurry of deadlines and daily routine stuff. We haven't abandoned the blog though - sorry it has been so long since we wrote. This is a busy week, but we'll get a new post up STAT!