Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What did you just say?!

So we are regularly reminded that it can be a little crazy to live daily life in a language other than your mother tongue. We've worked a lot on the language and sometimes things are surprisingly good, but other things are just bound to slip by. While comfortable is an overstatement of where Sam is with Bangla, she has gotten good enough that usually she knows what is gong on (which is really about as good as it gets with her in any language).

Recently though, Sam was noticing the new painted signs on the walls around the road we travel along to Atticus' school. Since the wall borders the military cantonment (base) and the last word was "nished" which means forbidden, Sam had assumed it meant 'No Entry' or something. However, it continued to nag at her that the verb (Prosrab kora) was unfamiliar, and she was too lazy and forgetful to remember to look it up once she got home. So, in our usual manner when we don't know something in bangla, she asked Taborok one day as they drove by on the rickshaw. He kind of turned back and laughed a little and seemed weird. In English he, said,' You know, it is like...going.'

'OK,' thought Sam, well this confirms it. It is another word for entry. So she says (in bangla) 'So it is the same entry forbidden - going in there not allowed.'

Taborok, very amused and kind of uncomfortable then says 'Noooo!' It means like, when a man sits and goes against the wall.'

'Oooooh!' says Sam, 'that kind of 'going!'

See, the funny thing is that it means URINATING. So the wall sign says "No Urinating" basically. Commonly men just pee on the wall along the side of the road everywhere here - well, truthfully, everywhere in the world - but here it is particularly widespread, and this is part of a campaign to reduce it).

The funny part of the story is if you put yourself in Taborok's shoes, it was probably pretty hilarious. Imagine someone you know who is learning English asking "What is urinating?" and having to explain it in a language you don't speak much of yourself.

Just one of many fun language encounters we have on a ear daily basis that we thought we’d share…

Posted by Picasa

Saturday, March 27, 2010

More Photos Available!

As we metioned before, Jon's dad came for a visit and we had a great time getting around to several parts of the country. He has set up a blog and is updating it with his pictures from the trip. He's got great shots of the place, and more pics of us - which we know you can't get enough of.

He took a lot of photos and is adding them often. We'll put a link on the sidebar to the blog, but if you're itching to get a look right this second, the address is: http://photographsofbangladesh.blogspot.com/

Bricks, Banging and...Boats!

It is apparently construction/roadwork season in Dhaka. It definitely is in full swing all around us. Above us, the landlord is adding another apartment at roof level, which means there is constant banging and clanging from construction taking place just above our heads. After having spent most of the day inside yesterday, we went for a walk and decided to have a little treat at Mango café. As we sipped our banana frostys we all noticed that we felt particularly relaxed and relieved, for some reason. The banana frosty at Café Mango is pretty delicious, but this seemed exceptional. Then we put it together that the construction noise that has been ever present above us for the last week or two was gone, and that it might have been driving us a little more crazy than we thought!

In addition to work being done above us, all of the roads in DOHS (our neighborhood) are being redone. The process is quite interesting to watch. For one, it began with the arrival of tons of bricks and brick breakers. Then there were giant piles of bricks everywhere. Next came the men with pickaxes that tore the old roads up. It is exhausting to even watch. The combination of the usual piles of rebar and bricks for the regular building construction, the added bricks for the roads, and the torn up roads has basically made the whole area look like some sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland. They’ve gotten our road mostly torn up though, so we’re excited to see the next stage. Here are a few pictures of the situation.

So, for reasons mentioned before, spending the day at home hasn’t had the same sanctuary effect as it once had. The positive side is that it motivated us to get out of the house today and check out the special exhibit on traditional boats of Bangladesh that is at the national museum. Atticus is a big fan of boats and he was excited to see all the models. The exhibit was well done, although a bit more information would have been nice. It had excellent replicas of different types of boats and the different regional styles. You can’t take pictures inside the museum, but here is a shot of Atticus with a boat outside of the museum.

We also looked around other parts of the museum and Atticus particularly enjoyed the exhibits on birds (of course). It is a little embarrassing to admit we hadn’t taken him to the national museum yet – and we felt all the more guilty as we remembered watching him today that Atticus is surprisingly fond of museums. We didn’t try to tackle the whole thing (it is a big museum and has widely ranging levels of quality in the exhibits), but we spent a while there and afterwards we had an ice cream cone out front. (In a funny realization, Sam noticed that she has gotten an ice cream cone outside the museum every single time she has ever gone!)

So it was such a nice little outing today - there weren’t really even any bad traffic jams going to or from the place. It was almost like Dhaka had noticed that it was being a little rough on us with the heat, gas shortages, electricity shortages, water shortages, traffic jams, construction noises, etc… and we were wearing down a little, so today it gave us a nice easy break. Thanks Dhaka, we needed it!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


The dry season in Bangladesh is well underway and will continue, from what we have heard, for the next couple of months, until finally the rains are unleashed in June or so and it will be rainy and muddy everyday again. When we arrived it was towards the end of the rainy season and when Sam came for both trips in the two prior years it was during the rainy season as well, so we had gotten used to the rain and mud as part of life here. Then beginning in about October the rains slowly dissipated. It was odd after having experienced rain on a near daily basis (it had also, by chance, rained nearly every day in both Boston and Colorado the spring and summer before we came here) to realize that it hadn’t rained for several weeks. During the wet season we were, of course , looking forward to the dry season, but we soon realized that the dry season brought its own difficulties. The biggest of all probably being the dust.

As you can probably imagine when there are several months without a drop of rain things get incredibly dusty. We immediately noticed that the air quality got much worse without the daily rains to knock the particles out of the sky. You could see the gunk in the air, and feel it coating your lungs. In fact, most people seem to have chronic respiratory problems during the dry months (including us). We also noticed that everyday our apartment seemed to be coated in a fine layer of dust. This is a constant battle to keep at bay. Although most people have nannies/maids here to do the daily chores we have opted not to hire one (partially because we have noticed that many of the expat children here with maids are often incredibly ill-behaved and have no habit of cleaning up after themselves and partially because well, our parent taught us how to clean up after ourselves…).

So, this constant dust means that we have to be vigilant with dusting, sweeping and mopping, which is kind of a pain because our apartment is probably the largest place we have lived in our adult lives. To add to that, the entire place is tiled and in many of the rooms the tiles are white. To add to that, you have to turn off the fans when you are sweeping , which when it is 90+ degrees is pretty unpleasant. The entire process of sweeping and mopping the entire apartment then, can take easily two hours (especially when Jon does it because, as anyone who has worked with him knows, he is incredibly…we’ll say, thorough) and it is less than fun. Because of this Jon has been trying to devise a way to both speed up the process and do a better job (usually by the time we are done mopping it is covered in dirty little footprints – curses!).

So while we were out at the store the other day Jon noticed a Wonder Mop mixed in with the other floor cleaning items. He thought ‘hmm, wonder mop, that may just be the answer to our problems.’ Actually, he was thinking that he needed to replace at least one of the floor squeegees for the bathroom that had broken. We decided to buy it and try it out. Following our trip to the store, we stopped by the school to pick up Atticus and as soon as he saw the Wondermop he was extremely excited and held it in his lap and talked about it the whole ride home(maybe he had a premonition about its wonder-ness).

So does the Wonder Mop live up to its name? O.M.G. Yes!
As soon as we brought it home it brought immediate joy to the family (well, mostly Jon and Atticus, but Sam was happy to see Jon so excited to mop…). You could say it mopped away our sorrow. Jon unwrapped it like a kid on Christmas morning and was quickly out on the back patio at the mop sink and then trying it out by mopping the bathroom. While he was in there Atticus went in to see what all the excitement was about and soon joined in the mopping fun. Ahh, nothing like mopping to bring a father and son together. After the mopping was finished Jon set the mop out on the back patio in the mop sink thing that is there. Later that evening Jon was squeezing in some TV while we had power. He soon realized that he hadn’t heard Atticus for a while( which is always suspicious), but he did hear water hitting tin. He went out to the back patio and found Atticus playing with the mop. He had filled up a bucket, was soaking up water and then pulling the lever that squeezes out the mop head and wringing out the mop over the edge of the balcony on to the tin roof below. Here is a pic of him wringing it out.

We decided that since he wanted to play with the mop we should just go ahead and mop the whole apartment. We asked Atticus if he wanted to just mop and he excitedly said ‘yes!’ (is this normal? Probably not.). Of course, Jon was also just as excited, but hid it a little better. So Jon and Atticus set off to mop the place. Atticus did the wet mop and Jon followed behind him with the wonder mop and dry mopped. It was the best mopping experience ever! It went so quick with two people doing it. And Atticus was excited the whole time (well he got a little bored with it towards the end, but still finished). And Jon was amazed at how clean it got the floors and how quickly the floors dried (so was Sam after Jon came and got her to show her). Never has mopping been such a great experience. Thanks wonder mop!*

*This has been a paid advertisement for Wonder Mop. Well, not really, but if they want to email us and talk about endorsement, the door is open…

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Power and Outages

Some days Bangladesh can really kick your ass. It is a wonderful opportunity for us to be here, and we love it, but sometimes, you have a day where it is just damned hard. In the face of this, small acts of resistance are what get you through it.

On the way from Atticus’ school to Jon’s class today, Jon and Taborok were driving by a construction site and saw a fight break out between a woman worker and a man worker. Her job is likely a brick breaker, which means she sits all day in the hot sun and breaks up bricks into small pieces with a little hammer because her wages are so absurdly low that it is cheaper to have her, and hundreds like her, do it rather than to use a machine. Why are her wages so low? Because she has no power- she is a poor woman in Bangladesh that is “lucky” to have a job that buys even a third of the rice she’ll eat in a day.

So she and the man were yelling at one another and making threatening gestures. At some point the woman picked up a brick and threatened to hit the man (after he had raised his hoe thingy at her). She backed down though, just as Jon passed, and she didn’t follow through with the threat. Moments later Jon heard a thud, and turned back, and she was on the ground, apparently unconscious (hopefully not dead). Jon, naturally outraged to have seen a woman just beaten publicly and concerned for her safety, told a nearby cop that he needed to go over there. The cop clearly didn’t give a crap, and even said “There’s not a problem” even though he was clearly aware of what had just happened (and was in fact chuckling a bit about it). He was basically a lazy, sexist and classist jerk and didn’t feel like she was worth his time (big surprise!).

It was upsetting on so many levels, but what really was Jon going to do? It was over anyway, so he went on his way. Shortly thereafter, while having tea with Taborok at the tea-stall near his Bangla school, Jon’s zipper on the pocket where he keeps his wallet got stuck. Within no time, five or more people were helping tug and manipulate the shorts to help Jon get his zipper undone. (In retrospect, one guy had his hand pretty far up Jon’s shorts, but by then it was really only about getting the zipper fixed- Jon as an actual individual and his upper thigh boundaries, were inconsequential!) The zipper was fixed, and all was well. Jon quietly considered how many people fell over themselves to help him, a white (aka powerful) man with an inconvenience, while nobody seemed to think that poor brick breaking woman who made the mistake of talking back to some man on the job and had got herself knocked unconscious needed help. There weren’t people falling over themselves to help her. She isn’t important; she is barely even visible. Yet Jon is both highly visible and, as a result, highly important. Again, privilege and power kick your ass when you look at it. The injustice of it all was overwhelming.

So this was the day Jon was coming off of when he got home, and he needed some escapism. Sometimes, overwhelming days in Bangladesh just need to be veg’d out. In our case, that vegging comes in the form of the complete dvd series (minus season 6 which is airing in the US now) of LOST. This isn’t really a show we’d watch in the US, but here, it is completely comforting. It is escapism at the pinnacle – the people are on a freaking magical island for God’s sake! It doesn’t matter if the show is good, or if it is well played or even makes any damned sense (which it generally doesn’t) – it isn’t HERE. Nothing relates to here. Nobody we know here watches it, nothing culturally translates, and it isn’t, frankly, worth talking about beyond the confines of the hour long show itself. So when we are overwhelmed with what has been termed “cultural fatigue,” – we get LOST.

Only sometimes it isn’t even that easy. On this particularly overwhelming day, all Jon wanted was to get his mind out of the place- to go into the vegetative place of tv land. We can’t watch LOST when Atticus is around (for one it is too scary and for two we don’t really watch tv when we ought to be parenting…) so the timing is already limited, but just as we are about to pop it in and relax- the power goes out. AARGH!

Now that the hot season is here, the power is awful. It goes out at least four or five times a day, usually for an hour or more. We have a building generator that runs a few fans and a few lights, but not all things. Sam, however, noticed the other night that one electrical outlet in our bedroom was running on the generator. Being the problem solver she is, she devised the plan to string plug adapters from the bedroom into the living room to the tv. We then plugged the tv and dvd into the closest adaptor. HA! HAHAHA! Victory! We watched LOST during the power outage. Take that!

Now, we aren’t proud of this, really, Sure, we should have used the power outage to have some sort of meaningful conversation, or read a book, or do work, or stare lovingly into one another’s eyes, but frankly, we weren’t in the mood. We just wanted to escape; we just wanted to watch the stupid tv when we wanted to watch it and Bangladesh wasn’t going to let us- but we won.

We haven’t told Atticus about this, and probably won’t. We prefer the power outages as forced digital free times for our family, but today, it was a much needed victory in terms of tiny acts of resistance.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

We’re with Coco

How many Christiansens does it take to open a coconut?

The answer: about 4.

While we were down in Cox Bazaar the resort had given us green coconuts to drink the water out of (this is a popular drink) and Atticus was extremely excited to try it. He was also extremely disappointed to learn that it isn’t sweet and he wasn’t a fan. He got it into his head that he must love brown coconuts, not green ones, and was talking about coconuts for what seemed like weeks (although we guess it was only a day or so).

Given his newfound obsession with all things coconut, Sam noticed him staring longingly at the brown coconuts in the store last week and picked one up. Now, while we like coconut just fine (actually Sam thought she didn’t like it for years and avoided it, but discovered a few years ago that she, in fact, loves it) we don’t tend to buy fresh coconuts very often in the US because A) they are expensive, B) they are a ridiculous amount of work to deal with and C) we have no idea how to tell a “good” coconut from a “bad” coconut, so all the money and work might be for a crappy coconut. And who wants a crappy coconut?

Well, here the cost factor goes away – they are 30 taka, so for 50 cents we figured we’d give it a go. The other factors though – not knowing what to buy and the amount of work, are universal. We brought the coconut home, and fortunately Jon’s dad knew how to get into it (it didn’t make it any easier, but at least he knew the general process…). So for part 2 of our ten thousand part series on food, here is a photo demonstration:

First you draw a face on it.

Then you kiss it.

Then you rip all the hair off it, take a knife and gouge out the soft spot until you can drain all the juice out (turns out Atticus doesn’t like brown coconut water either, although you can see him eagerly awaiting it).

Then you bang it around until it cracks open. (A knife is somewhat helpful – although it is still a pain in the neck. Notice how many hands are in this picture…)

Then you pose for photos with it.

Then you peel off the outer husk – NOT EASY. Maybe there is a trick we don’t know?

Finally, after all that gruesome process, you can enjoy the delicious fruits of your labor! Fortunately, our coconut was pretty good, although it was luck, not any method of selection. Other than checking that there is still some water shaking around in there, we are told there isn't really a way to know a good coconut from a mediocre one.

In addition it turns out coconut is super good for you, and despite (again) all the products of oils and pills available, we argue that the best way to get the nutrition from it is to just eat it straight up. There is a strangely active community of people that make some fairly outrageous claims about coconut all over the internet (the “Coconut Research Institute” must be pretty authoritative, right?!) and it is hard to know how much is real and how much is just weird. On a basic level, as far as healthiness goes it seems to have good fat and fiber, is supposed to be good for stomach problems (here people claim that green coconut water is better for stomach sickness than anything else), it is pretty filling as a little snack, and it tastes pretty good. Plus, we’re fairly certain you must burn off more calories getting the thing open than you can possibly consume from eating it!

So, while most of you are in the US and will have to shell out big bucks – go ahead a get a coconut tonight in our honor and think of us as you smash into it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Apnar Chobi Tulte Pari?

Portraits of Bangladesh

One of the fun things about Jon’s dad being here has been that he is also really into photography. Actually, he is far more into it than we are, but either way, it was nice to have a shooting partner and someone to appreciate the photography aspect of life here (which is rich).

In the afternoon after our waterfall day, Barry and Sam walked up the coastline to a little village named Peshwar Dip alongside the resort. The fun part about it is that everyone, especially kids, here really likes to have their photo taken, and enthusiastically offer some pretty adorable photo shots. We had befriended some local kids behind our huts that lived in the village and within minutes of our arrival word had spread and basically the entire village of children had piled out to the beach for photos. We met up with Jon and Atticus who happened to be going by on a boat as they returned from a Bay of Bengal swimming excursion and we all walked through the little village and took photos and enjoyed the hospitality of Bangladesh that is indescribably warm and welcoming.

Even when Jon and Atticus almost accidentally peed in a graveyard (they were stopped in time, phew!) everyone was understanding and helped them to find a less sacrilegious peeing spot. At one point, no less than fifty or a hundred kids were following along with us as we walked around. Our evening photo excursion was a wonderful reminder for us (and wonderful introduction for Barry) of what a friendly and welcoming country we are lucky to be in, and we are happy to get to share it with others!

Some of our favorite photos of Bangladesh are portrait shots rather than landscape scenes. It makes sense though, when we think about it - Bangladesh is a beautiful country, but the greater beauty is in the ever-present kindness on the faces of the people who live here. Here are some photos we shot while going around the village and a few more portraits we shot along other routes in the last week or so.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

More Southern Adventure

So after our day of island adventure, the next day we stayed closer to the area where our little hut was located, and explored Himchory (or Himchary or Himchari -spelled differently all over the place), a part of Bangladesh south of Cox Bazaar. The big attraction was supposed to be a beautiful waterfall, but either we were at the wrong waterfall or this is some kind of misunderstanding or something - the waterfall was pretty weak.

The view after climbing the (surprisingly steep at points) stairways to the lookout, however, was gorgeous.

At the top is a little place with some fruit and knick-knacks (at the bottom is another little market) and we had some delicious watermelon, enjoyed the view, and had about 100 people pose for photos with us. We also ran into a friend of Atticus’ from school - small country, and even smaller bideshi community!

Like we said, there was also a cute little market at Himchary and we did some shopping and looking around. Really, this place had everything Cox Bazaar has without the massive crowds (although remember crowded is a relative term).

Jon got a hat, Sam some sandals and some gifts for friends here, and Atticus got a fan and some little seashell animals. We had some drinks, Jon got in an argument with a guy for telling him about the charge for the bathroom after the fact, and afterwards we went across the road to the beautiful beach to relax a little while we posed for about a hundred more photos with people.
Here are some random pictures from the Himchari area:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Boats, Buddhists, and the Beach

The first day in Cox Bazar we decided to take it a bit easy. We hung out and just enjoyed the view for a long time, resting from our long drive the day before. We decided we wanted to get out on the water so we took a boat out into the mouth of the Rezu river to a little beach on the Bay of Bengal. It was ridiculously beautiful - almost indescribable.

We had a nice time playing around with the crabs and running around on the beach and then we headed back up the river for more scenic beauty. It was a relaxing, fun day – but there isn’t a lot to say about it…just take a look at the pics:

The next day we drove into the main attraction of Cox Bazaar. This is the official town and tourist attraction- honestly a little too touristy. Jon, Atticus, and Barry walked around the market and looked at some stuff, while Sam drove back to the hotel for her camera battery – grumble grumble. Anyhow, it was good bonding time for Sam and the driver (who had previously been a little crabby) and the boys got some shopping done, which we all know Barry loves.

The market was a series of circular buildings that stretched down from a main road to the beach. Apparently Barry had a plan of attack for tackling the market that he had not informed Jon and Atticus about as the three dizzyingly weaved around the shops with Jon and Atticus in a state of confusion with children trying to sell them seashell necklaces in tow. Barry had needed a hat since he arrived in Bangladesh and Jon and Sam felt that he needed a Burmese style lungi as well. Barry had seen an orange hat that he liked at a “fixed price” shop (almost nothing in Bangladesh is actually fixed price), but he decided to hard bargain by leaving after making a price offer that the guy didn’t accept. After having perused the entire market Barry decided to return to the hat shop and get the orange hat, which he has broken in quite nicely. The guy ended up giving it to him for 20 taka less than the “fixed price,” though still ten taka more than what Barry had tried for (that’s bargaining I guess). In the meantime the three had also purchased a lungi and a slinky for Atticus.

After the market the three headed down to the beach since they knew Sam would still be a while, and it is (after all) a beach town. The beach was pretty nice and of course we had to have our picture taken with several people. It was certainly a new experience for Barry (although we’ve gotten used to it) to have crowds of people around asking to have their photos taken with us. Here we all are at one of the most beautiful places on earth, and everyone wants a picture of us! Oh well, we try to oblige and smile and take it as a compliment. It can be a tiresome (as we were acutely reminded of in Lowachara rainforest a few days later –and which will be further described in another post) but we do think the best thing to do is to go along with it. Plus, it means we get a lot of photos of other people as well.

So, apparently beach vacations are sort of a new thing here and people aren’t quite sure what to do with themselves. Some of the young men were playing in the water, but most were just sort of standing there fully clothed (this is still a modest Muslim country) looking at the water (or the white people) while others sat under rented beach umbrellas. Jon and Atticus waded in Bay of Bengal and then the trio returned to the market area to meet Sam, who had returned with the camera battery.

Below are some photos of the market and beach courtesy of Barry Christiansen.

After the beach, we all reunited and headed out to the pier to take a boat over to Mohashkali island. This is a little island off the coast that is known for its old Buddhist stupas and a temple to Shiva and Durga. We took a severely crowded speedboat over, then got some rickshaws to travel around the island. Clearly the rickshaws have a little tour system, and they suggested a route, which we took. It was a great little ride around, in fact. We stopped at many different Buddhist temples/stupas and met the interesting Mr. Ling Ling, a monk who had only become a monk 11 days prior. It was fun to get a tour around this area because the look of everything is totally different than a lot of Bangladesh. It is much more Southeast Asia feeling, and the Buddhist influence is more visible. The architecture and feel was certainly more what you’d expect from Burma or Thailand than Bangladesh, so it was a nice change of style.

We also went by the salt flats, and looked around, which was an interesting sight. Finally, the ultimate goal was the temple and stupa high on a hill which after a little jaunt up some stairs, overlooked the island and coast. The view was nice and the man at the temple was especially welcoming and friendly explaining to us which gods the shrines were to and the history of the temple. He even took a rare flower from a shrine and gave it to us.

Here are some photos around the island:

Afterwards, we headed back to the pier, which was no longer there! Instead was a field of mud with little wooden boats lined up to create walkways out to the water, which was probably 100 meters or so farther away than before. Now we know the answer to our wonderings earlier in the day when we asked “Why do they keep all these raggedy little boats around that obviously can’t float?” We took another overcrowded speedboat back, had some tasty lunch at a little Bangladeshi food dive suggested by our driver, and headed back to the house for the night, sunburned and tired.