Saturday, January 30, 2010

Happy Happy Birthday...

Today is Jon’s birthday! He is 32 years old today and pretty excited about it, as you can see.

Jon actually got to have his birthday cake a little early last night since we all had Saturday off and today (the actual birthday) was a school/work day for all of us. We ordered a cake from the same place from which we had ordered Atticus’ cakes (King’s Confectionary – kind of a splurge, but whatever…) and it was ok. Jon specifically wanted vanilla, so we ordered “Normal Vanilla” which was both normal and vanilla, in the actual and metaphorical sense. Since 32 is pretty inarguably into official middle age, it seemed appropriate. It kind of looked more like a wedding cake than a birthday cake – but it was pretty and Jon likes elegant things anyway, so it worked out. Oh, and check it – a cake collage!

So for the day of his birthday Jon has, so far, skipped class, had a tasty homemade breakfast of French toast, and rocked out to a little GnR. Good times in the ‘desh!
Also, in very exciting news: On January 30, 2010 Taborok welcomed a little son into his family! He called us last night deliriously happy about his new son, and we are all so excited for the baby! Sam is also especially happy because she and Taborok bet that it would be a boy against Jon and Ranu (Ranu’s is Taborok’s wife), who said it would be a girl. As anyone knows, Sam loves being right. (This also proves that Sam very much might be a prophet, because her wager was based on a dream she had a few months ago in which the baby was a boy. However, she is surrounded by skeptics that doubt her gifts – we’ll keep you updated on future prophesies and how they work out though.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

One birthday now and another on the way!

So, another thing we did this last week was attend our landlord’s birthday party, which was coupled with his wife’s baby shower, or Godh Bharai, as it is called in India (and we guess here…). The Godh Bharai is held after the seventh month of a pregnancy, when it is assumed that the baby is viable and the mother is in need of some special TLC. The tradition is to set up a feast of deliciousness, and then everyone takes turns feeding the mom a bite of the treats. This was a totally new thing for us and it was a fun and unexpected time.

The party was held on our roof which was decked out with pretty fabric tent/wall-like things enclosing the party area. In case we haven’t explained, we generally deal with the building owner’s son, who for privacy’s sake we’ll just call T, and we think of him as our bariwallah, but technically his dad owns the building and he lives here too – let’s call him the Major, (they all live together a couple of floors down) so we kind of think of him as our bariwallah too. The building owner is a retired military man, and his wife is really nice- she is the one who helps Sam put her sari on when needed! Anyhow, while sometimes we have to butt heads with the son over money things since he does the business end of it all (perpetually negotiating charges and fees is just part of things here) we generally seem to have a good rapport with the family. They think we are a bit odd, and are particularly taken aback by the fact that our closest friend (and frequent guest in the apartment) is a rickshaw-wallah, but we all get along well enough and chit-chat in the hallway when we see each other. So, T invited us up to the party and we went.

It was a nice view into the life of wealthy Bangladeshis, and a fun cultural experience to share with Atticus in particular. Since it involved mishti (the generic name for a variety of sweet treats) Atticus was totally into it and the tradition at its heart is fundamentally good- who doesn’t think a 7 month pregnant woman deserves a little pampering? On the practical side though, anyone who has ever been 7 months pregnant can appreciate that this isn’t really the time in one’s life that one wants a bunch of pictures being taken while one is literally being fed. For the traditional program, everyone took turns feeding a bite of the treats to the mom-to-be and she, in turn, fed a bite back to each person. It was nice for Atticus to see the tradition of appreciating women though, because sometimes things can be a bit overwhelmingly patriarchal here, and even he has picked up on it (Once he said “Women have to do all the work in Bangladesh!” and while we know it isn’t necessarily true, it was nice to see him recognize gender power differences.). Then the treats served as a buffet for everyone- particularly Atticus who made no less than 4 trips up to fill his plate with sweets.

After the program for T’s wife, we also sang happy birthday for T and did the whole birthday thing in the usual western tradition. The family is actually quite interesting because T is western to the core – he was educated in London, lived overseas for a while, etc.. but there is still a true ‘deshi-ness present as well. It was certainly a fusion night!

So we had a nice time at the party, ducked out a bit early (which by Dhaka standards means 10:30pm – just before dinner!) and took some photos which we’ve put below.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Totally Radical, Dude!

Well it has certainly been busy lately - to put it lightly. We have been in a sea of meetings, presentations, deadlines, and obligations since the new year started. Not that we’re complaining – we’ve beeen having a good time; it has just been a little intense on the time scheduling front.

Anyhow, we’re doing our best to share it all, and we should be able to get caught up on a few past events over the next few days. We’ve been diligently photographing things, and you should all know that even when we don’t get things posted right away- we definitely have you all and the blog in our minds!

Sam and Jon recently met with the Vice Chancellor of Independent University Bangladesh (IUB), which is the university Sam is affiliated with here, and we will both be doing some guest lectures this semester and will likely be teaching some courses over the summer (and possibly beyond - but that’s still very up in the air). Another really big thing that happened this past week is that Jon organized a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event here in Dhaka with the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF). Jon has been working with some anti-sweatshop activists back in the US and with the garment workers union here. We decided that we wanted to share Dr. King’s legacy with the garment workers in hopes of open up a cultural dialogue. We invited the Human Rights officer from the US embassy to come peak at the event, which we thought would be an important symbol.

We also thought that it would be nice to have some quotes and slogans in both English and Bangla at the event, but since we are procrastinators, of course we were making these all the night before and the day of the event. Jon enlisted the help of his Bangla teacher to translate some things, but there was some problem with him even understanding th english version of what we needed to translate, because it isn’t the type of thing he had ever really learned in English (this is specialized lefty stuff!) but Sam also busted out the dictionaries and figured out how to translate some of the more difficult words and ideas. Dr. King’s speeches are quite poetic and full of metaphors that are difficult to translate, so it was a challenge but quite satisfying in the end.

Here are some shots of us making the posters (Atticus was the photographer that night) and the posters themselves.

Jon went down to the event early to get set up. Since his CNG driver was a total maniac who could not stand to slow down or be stuck in traffic, he would find his way through even the tightest squeezes and he got there earlier than he expected. In fact, Jon really liked this guy – so much that he paid almost triple the usual fare as a tip (still only 300 taka total, or less than 4 dollars) just in appreciation! Since he arrived so early, Jon spent the extra time trying to communicate with the NGWF folks and getting things all set up. They were all very impressed that we had translated the posters into Bangla and because Bangladeshis love to share compliments, all commented on how beautiful the handwriting was.

Meanwhile, back at the house, Sam mobilized Atticus and Taborok into a CNG (he was not coming as a driver today- just as a friend to support Jon at his event) and headed down a little later. Sam had to warn Taborok ahead of time that he couldn’t get too upset at the crazy high price the CNG would charge (because foreigners always pay much more) and even though it was clearly difficult for him to let Sam negotiate the fare, he kept quiet and let it go. It was sort of sweet watching how much care he showed to Atticus, and when we were walking on a crowded street he even reached for Atticus’ hand. Of course some of this is the reflex to grab a kid’s hand that any parent has when it is crowded, but it also shows how much he has really become Atticus’ cha-cha (uncle). Also, on the way down, in a crazy example of how small this city of millions can be, Sam ran into someone she knew over 2 years ago here – he saw her in the CNG and ran over. He’s here doing research too, and actually only lives about a kilometer from our house, but they ran into each other clear on the other side of town. Crazy stuff!

Anyway, the event was a great success. It was a true cultural dialogue. The message of Dr. King’s struggle for equality, justice and peace was received with great enthusiasm by the garment workers and organizers. Similarly, the stories of his struggles and his use of non-violent direct action were also an inspiration to workers and many parallels between King’s work and the ongoing struggle here were clearly present and felt by everyone in the room.

It was a little funny because after we got there, Atticus really wanted to be up front with Jon on the panel, and since the embassy guy was late (and since everyone in Bangladesh is head-over-heels in love with Atticus) he ended up sitting at the table in front of the audience for the whole presentation. He was really good though, and spent the time drawing on little slips of paper. First he drew a picture of the Industrial Workers of the World Poster next to him, and even copied the Bangla! Here is a photo – it almost made Sam cry (and it looked like Taborok was a little teary eyed too!) when he showed it to her. Here is a photo of it.

The theme of the night was to show connections. As Dr. King himself said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” We expressed these connections in our words, with visual displays of the global connections of various leaders for change, and by our physical presence.

Jon spoke about who Dr. King was and the work he did, drawing many parallels to the current situation in Bangladesh, such as the fact that Rosa Parks was herself a seamstress. He also discussed what King’s legacy meant and why his legacy was important to workers in Bangladesh. Part of the way into the program, a massive contingent of garment workers showed up for a leadership training that was to be held later in the evening. The room was already fairly packed with about forty or fifty people, and as about fifty more garment workers arrived it was standing room only and bursting out the back door.

As a closing to the program, Jon reminded folks that King had spoken of having a dream, and encouraged people to share their dreams. People were encouraged to write their dreams (or even just their names) on a poster board which said in both English and Bangla “I have a dream.” One NGWF organizer excitedly grabbed the pen and asked people to share their dreams as she wrote. It was a nice scene of people shouting out their dreams as she wrote them on the poster.
Here are some shots of the event, and the crowd.

After the program, we came back home and Atticus was all fired up and excited, so while Sam, Jon, and Taborok decompressed with a few drinks, Atticus created his own poster. We were pleased with the level of radical-ness Atticus presented in the poster. He had really listened to the program, and had really learned the lessons of the connections we talked about. He said, several times, to Sam that he really liked Jon’s speech, and it was clear in the poster that he was convinced of the need for solidarity and direct action in the case of the garment workers. Some of the things he drew were the IWW logo, a string (remembering the thread of destiny quote form King) connecting all the IWW’s in the world, the anarcho-syndicalist red and black flag, the worker’s power symbol of the arm holding the hammer, a woman sewing t-shirts at a sewing machine, a cobra that represents the bosses and a regular snake representing the workers (we don’t really understand it, but that’s what he said) and several representations of his desire to either abolish money (as shown in the no-taka, no-dollar, no-euro drawings) and/or his simultaneous desire for the garment workers to have more money. His economic philosophy is still developing, but he’s on a good path, so we’ll let him work the details out later. On the back of the poster he continued the same theme, but this time we got a better picture of a sewing machine and a representation of the boss, which looks very much like the devil. The coolest thing about all of this, is that he was on his own over in the living room, while we were at the dining room table and all of it comes straight from his own little noggin. He is freaking amazing, even if we say so ourselves! Here’s a photo of the front and back (heck yeah, we took a photo of it!):

So, that covers the NGWF event, one of many things this month. This has been a really long post, but we hope it has given a glimpse into a part of our life that has not really been shown on the blog yet. More on our busy month to come…

Friday, January 15, 2010

Quick - Bring the Bucket!

Really, we are starting to wonder how we made it through thirty (+) years with such a low appreciation for the bucket. As we mentioned before, as soon as one use for the bucket ends (we’ve had more gas and hot water lately, so we aren’t really having to heat water for baths anymore) a new (although in this scenario, classic) use emerges. Atticus has had a cold this last week (of course he has a cold because he went back to school after the break and all the little germy kids got together and infected each other with whatever they brewed up while traveling around on vacation!) and he has had some chest congestion/a cough. You may not know this about Atticus (if you’re lucky) but the kid is a puker. He has stomach issues, generally: when he was a baby, we had to literally carry towels around when we left the house with him because he threw up constantly; when he’s nervous his stomach hurts and he gets diarrhea or nausea; when he’s nauseous he forces himself to throw up; and when he has a cough, he coughs so enthusiastically that it often makes him vomit.

So, even though we’ve had almost no stomach problems here as far as food-borne illness goes (which Sam attributes to a highly vigilant food cleaning and cooking system, which she has lightened up on slowly in increments to build up our tolerance little by little), we’ve still had to deploy the buckets next to Atticus because since he gets coughing he can’t make it to the bathroom in time to deal with the coughing consequence. It’s actually sort of funny how routine having a bucket next to Atticus has become.

What does this story have to do with living n Dhaka? Nothing really, but we thought we’d keep our ongoing narrative about the uses of buckets running and share this lovely little detail with you all. (He is feeling much better by the way and the bucket has been put away, for now.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


(a.k.a. That is sooo Coney Island (that's a blast from the past especially for Sam's sister!)
So Saturday was Atticus’ last day of vacation before he was back to school and we thought we’d make up for a somewhat lame break (actually he was content to laze about, but Jon and Sam felt persistently guilty about the lack of planned activity during his break) we decided to go out with a bang. We decided to head over to Wonderland, an amusement park that is pretty close to our neighborhood. We pass by Wonderland several times a week and have never gone (Sam has been passing by the strange and colorful castle gates over the last three years, and never crossed through their cartoonishly inviting arches- so it was time).
Wonderland was… well, it was something. First, one of the first things you see upon entering is this broken down ride. Notice the flames. We don't know if this is supposed to be ironic or not.
But, okay- whatever – we aren’t expecting it to be glitzy. This is good old fashioned kitschy fun. So we bought our tickets (60 taka to enter, but then everything costs a ticket (or two), which is 20 taka…carnivals are a universal rip off it seems). Then we headed out to find a ride that was running (and that didn’t seem like a death trap). We rode the first (and at that point, only) ride that was running (a swinging circle thing) and had a perfectly fun time for the three minutes the ride lasted. So what’s next? There weren’t a lot of people around, and that includes workers, so we sort of strolled around looking at the rides that all seemed to be either broken, under construction, or just un-staffed for no apparent reason. They were filming a music video around the place, which was sort of funny to watch, although not exactly mesmerizing. Then we saw the skee-ball. Oh, we can do skee-ball...
The best part about the arcade was that the way it worked was by giving the worker a paper ticket, then he would tear off the end and give the stub back, and then he would just manually turn on the machine. In the case of skee-ball, he counted out 8 balls and pushed them forward, sat on a little box next to lane (only one at a time worked) and you got to try for the big prizes:

3rd place (200 points) = a pencil case
2nd place (250 points) = a badminton racket (only one though)
And 1st prize (300 points) = a frying pan! What kid doesn’t want a frying pan??!!

Actually, Sam did want a frying pan, and if Jon loved her more he would have won it for her, but instead he only got a pencil case for Atticus. Oh well, the worker was pretty excited about the pencil case win.
Afterwards, Jon tried his hand at a carnival shooting game. It consisted of teddy bears holding hearts that said Happy Birthday hanging from strips of toilet paper on a moving wheel thing. Then Jon was given a pellet pistol and the goal was to shoot the toilet paper and rip it so the bear came off. The gun jammed at every shot, and Jon never hit the paper anyway. The image of Jon taking aim and shooting at little teddy bears with a pistol was the best part of it. Enjoy:

Ah well, next we went on the bumper cars, but it was only us – Sam in one car, and Jon and Atticus together in another, and it was a little lame to play bumper cars with only two cars.

Then came the strangest of all. The ride was called Jurassic Something and we got into a little jeep seat thing (typical of these rail-line rides where you go through a tunnel and look at things). Then we went into a dragon’s mouth into a dark room (no, despite the ride's name it was a clearly a dragon and not a dinosaur), where a broken projector played something incomprehensible and a broken film reel flashed for a minute before shutting off, then we came out the other side (from beneath the dragon’s tail), and went back around again into the mouth tunnel. This time the lights kicked on a there was a caveman scene. Then we got out of the little jeep seat, walked through a door into a cave, where disco music played loudly and it was pitch black except for flashing red and green disco lights. The previoulsy somewhat sullen worker began to dance frantically and another kid and a giant teddy bear came in and started dancing. We figured 'ok, it’s a dance party now,' so we danced. Sam took a picture with the flash, and this is perhaps the most wonderful thing of Wonderland. You couldn’t see any detail in the really dark room, but check out the bear costume in the light of the flash. This is the stuff nightmares are made of.

After a little bit of a dance party we got back in the jeep, came back out the dragon’s tail-end and went on our way. Even Atticus was at a loss for words, which is a rarity.

We went on a few more rides, including the Western Train, where we saw depictions of the coliseum, Africa (?), and China (?). We have no idea why it was called a western train. It was only one of the many wonders of Wonderland. Se here are few more pics from the day. We can’t say it was a bad time – fun was had, but it was mostly just bizarre feeling. In the first picture below, Jon's face kind of sums up our expression thoughout much of the day.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Kite Festival

Today there was a kite festival in DOHS park, which is just down the street from our house. As you all may or may not know, we're big fans of kites (Atticus even brought his awesome bat-kite over from the U.S. with us). Boston has a pretty nice kite event in the summer not too far from our house there, so when we saw that there was going to be a kite festival here, we naturally planned to go. We took over our kite to check out the haps and while it was certainly a smaller affair than the Boston show, it was still a fun little family event in the park. The event was hosted by a local art school and they had homemade paper kites for sale for 20 taka as a fundraiser type thing. We bought one for Atticus and a few for some of the other kids in the park that didn't have any. It wasn't really windy enough to fly kites today though, so mostly people just spent a little while trying to get them in the air and then gave up. Of course Jon used the method of running as fast as he could in a circle around the basketball course to create enough wind to get the bat-kite off the ground and was relatively successful as long as he kept moving. Eventually Jon wore himself out though, and we had to concede to the lack of wind. We talked to the director of the school and he invited us to another (bigger) kite festival in Old Dhaka next week. We think we'll go, but we'll see. In the meantime, here are a few quick photos from today.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cold Feet (and Everything Else!)

Gorum Pani Nai!
Remember when we were so cocky about how it never gets very cold here? Well, now we’re paying for it. It does get kind of cold, in the relative sense, and since there are no heaters in the buildings, it never warms up. It gets down into the 50s (F) at night (OK, high 50s, but that is still chilly) and the wind coming off the water is stinkin’ cold. The real relief was at least being able to hop in a toasty hot shower and warm up, (a treat because for most of the year a hot shower is not enjoyable because of the ridiculously hot weather). Well, those happy days have passed. We rarely, if ever, have had hot water for the last week or so, and there is little hope of a change soon.

Why? Oh, well, in a brilliant move, the government sold all the gas to foreign countries and didn’t plan ahead enough to keep enough to provide for the people that actually live in Bangladesh. Sigh. So now there are nation wide gas shortages, and many areas don’t have gas most of the day. Cooking is done almost exclusively on little gas burners, so it has created a real crisis where people can’t even cook their food. For us, our building’s hot water heater runs on gas, and the tiny little flame doesn’t heat the water at all, and blows out constantly, leaving no hot water and no hope for any.
To make do, we’ve found a new use for our prior laundry buckets.(See, as soon as you thought we didn’t need them anymore, buckets are back in demand.) We have now been heating pots of hot water on the tiny flame of the gas burners and with the electric kettle, and then filling the buckets so we can do bucket-baths. Actually, Atticus is real fan of this, and even if the hot water was fine, he’d probably prefer it. Here’s Jon getting ready for a toasty bath:

Despite our baby-ish complaining, it really isn’t that bad (we guess). We were reminded when talking to Taborok about it that he never has hot water, which is the case for the vast majority of people that live here. In addition, when we were reading in the paper about the shortages, we read that many neighborhoods are without gas at all from about 6am until 10 or 11pm. That means people have to wake up early or stay up late if they need to cook anything. So we are keeping things in perspective and aware that things could be worse. We’re still mad at the government for letting this happen (and so is everybody else) but we aren’t so self-centered as to think we’ve got it as bad a many folks out there. All in all, we’re hoping it will be fixed up soon, but not holding our breath (except when we are taking an ice cold shower- then we can’t help but hold our breath!)