Sunday, April 25, 2010

Water, Water, Everywhere...

So today we arrived home after a little trip out and our dawan ( the security guard / super old dude that sits in a plastic chair by the gate and dozes for most of the day) pointed out that our drinking water delivery had come but they had left it downstairs. It consists of 3 big ol’ water jugs, and we live on the fifth floor of a walkup, so we were not exactly delighted to see that the water guys hadn’t carried it upstairs for us. Ah well, we thought – let’s not be spoiled little babies. Jon handed Sam the grocery bags he had and grabbed a big jug and we headed up the stairs. Our dawan brought a bottle up too so we gave him a little tip. Then Jon headed down to grab the last one.

Sam and Atticus were noticing that Jon was gone an awful long time. They figured he got caught up in some conversation or something and went on with their business. About ten or fifteen minutes or so later, Jon shows up at the door drenched in water (and sweat) carrying the water bottle. Things hadn’t gone well.

It had all started fine when Jon went to grab the last bottle. Of course, he had to almost literally fend off would-be helpers ‘No, no, I can do it. It’s ok,’ he said to them all. The insistence that he could do it himself had apparently bred some sort of sense of urgency and so he felt like he was in a hurry for some reason. So he quickly picks up the big bottle and as he swings in into position to walk away, it goes rocketing out of his hands. It hits the ground - CRACK! The bottom cracks open and water begins to spill everywhere. Frantically, Jon grabs the bottle and flips it over the salvage the water left inside. (Remember too, that everything in Dhaka has an audience, so there are like 3 or 4 guys watching it all.)

But this isn’t enough to save the water really, because the jug is broken and we need to store it flat-side down in order to use it. There was another empty water jug down there so Jon decided to transfer the water from the broken one into that. So he stuck it between his legs, and went to work getting the lid off the empty one. Now the dawan is involved, trying to help pry the blue plastic cover thingy off the top of the old empty one, and Jon is trying to balance the one in between his legs and the one his hands.

The dawan went to get a bucket, but Jon didn’t understand what he wanted him to do with the bucket. He was trying to explain that he didn’t want to put the water into the bucket, and then he realized that he could just set the one between his legs in the bucket.

So finally, the lid came off, and now the broken one is stuck in the bucket. The dawan held onto the bucket while Jon tugged and pulled (getting splashed with water the whole time) and finally got the broken one out.

Now came a new challenge, because the water jugs have a little thing at the top that makes it so water wont come out unless it is pressed in my the dispenser (to make it easier to load it onto the water dispenser without it splashing all over when you put it on upside down). It was surprisingly difficult to remove. Finally, by pressing and prying and holding his finger against the thing that needed to be depressed, he got the water into the new one.

Meanwhile, Jon had set the lid to the non-broken water container on a pile of door frames that he was standing next to. The garbage man had come during all of this and the garbage was behind the pile of door frames. So now, the lid was lost. Jon looked around and found the lid finally.

He then carried the water up the five flights of stairs, in 99 degree temperatures, soaking wet but not defeated. Of course, on seeing Jon in such a state, Sam grabbed a camera to immortalize the moment.
The lesson: This is probably why nobody wants to let us do things for ourselves.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


So since our lives have been a little mundane lately with day-to-day tasks we haven't had much to post on the blog (I know, I know you've come do expect constant thrills and biting commentary from us, but sometimes we are also just boring). We would like to share some words of wisdom we have learned from a local neighborhood improvement society though. These little gems of wisdom are posted in a park near Atticus' school (and Sam's old apartment) where we sometimes take walks or just take refuge from the city. Enjoy!

Before continuing though it is good to know what your current mood is. It may be helpful if you print this up and stand with it front of a mirror so you can precisely judge from your expression your current mood.

After figuring out your current mood you can proceed and enjoy the benefits from the advice below.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Getting Fruity

There has been a lot of anticipation in the air lately. Part of it is the weather- this is the hot-before-the-rains season. So the entire season is really building up to the monsoon, and it is getting really really hot. Every now and then we get a little release with a rainstorm (we got a huge storm last night, for example) but generally there is really a sense of building up in the air.

In addition, we have been waiting to hear about a grant proposal Sam submitted to stay for an extra five months and we just finally heard that she got the grant. Hooray! So now we know that we will be staying until December 15, 2010 instead of leaving in July. We are happy to have the grant and looking forward to the added time we get to live here.

The other reason there has been anticipation in the air is that we are now beginning to get a glimpse of the wonderful fruit season ahead. It is a little early in the season, but everywhere you look there is fruit growing. Some fruits have come already - such as mountains of delicious fresh watermelons on every corner – but a lot of the fruits are hanging tantalizingly above our very heads. Here are some of the bountiful watermelon displays. What a treat to have fresh, ripe watermelon in the middle of April!

There are fruit trees all over, so if you look around you can see mangoes, papayas, bananas, and of course, the national fruit of Bangladesh, the jackfruit, growing everywhere. The jackfruit is a strange thing. It is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world - and pretty freaky, frankly. The gigantic bulbous fruit grows off the trunk of the tree, rather than the branches, which is just odd looking and makes the tree look like it has a problem, rather than a fruit. For the most part, they aren’t fully grown yet, but they are still fairly big right now and growing everywhere. You can cook them at this stage with vegetables, which Taborok swears is delicious, but Sam isn’t interested. She is not a fan of jackfruit at all, and generally avoids it all costs. Here are some pictures of the fruit growing and one of Jon for scale.

Bananas are always available and always delicious here, but we thought we’d include some pictures just to add to the fruity picture collection. Here are some growing overhead and some waiting to be purchased at the market. Notice the size and shape are smaller than typical American bananas. This is something of a sensitive subject… Many Bangladeshis feel like they need to point out that the little bananas are better and sweeter, and that the bigger bananas are foreign and not delicious. Taborok used to give Sam so much crap when she bought the big bananas that she just started buying the small ones to get him to shut up about it! The small ones are fine, but a little small, and our foreign palattes don’t mind the slightly less sweet bigger ones anyhow. All in all we usually end up with the little ones both to support buying as locally as possible and to avoid the lengthy conversation about bananas that comes with buying the bigger ones.

Also available often but growing in abundance right now is papaya. None of the three of us like it either, and ever since our fried D.P. pointed out that since they share a similar compound as stomach acid they kind of taste like vomit, none of us have been able to eat it at all. Thanks DP.
As many readers may know, as much as Sam dislikes jackfruit and papaya, she loves mangoes like there is no tomorrow. Very few things can make her as happy as a plate of fresh ripe mango from Bangladesh. She has always arrived toward the end of mango season and usually only gets about a month worth of perfectly ripe and wonderful mango, and this year she completely missed it, so the anticipation has been long brewing. Everywhere we look, are little green mangoes growing on the trees. Some people have even set nets up to catch them and fences to protect them:

In fact, just the other day Jon was talking about the mangoes with Taborok and Taborok was saying that the green mangoes are tasty with a little salt. ‘Oh really?’ said Jon. We’d never heard of eating green mangoes. So Taborok pops open the storage area under the seat of his rickshaw and hands Jon one of the many green mangoes he had apparently collected up. (I guess we know why people need the nets and fences…. Although in his defense, he collects them up to bring home for Ranu his wife, who really likes them – which is just really sweet.)

We sliced that sucker up and it was DELICIOUS! It was sort of like a really tart green apple, so with a little salt it was great. Sam still loves ripe mango the most, but green mangoes are now one of her favorite things too. The mangoes on public trees are ambiguous in ownership, so as Sam pointed out, if Jon really loved her he would bring her mangoes home that he collected up over the day (thanks for introducing that one Taborok). Well Jon has been eyeing several mango jackpots around the neighborhood, but usually folks are watching them and have cultivation formalized. Here is a guy with what we call the mango-getter. It is a knife on a stick basically, but it seems to work surprisingly efficiently and well.

The down side to green mangoes, as with ripe ones, is that cutting them is a pain in the neck. Green mangoes are more easy to handle than their slippery ripe counterparts, but there is still a weird pit area that you have to slice the flesh off, and it is just difficult to tell where to cut exactly. Maybe we’ll get better with practice, but by then the season will be over! If you are able to get a hold of green mangoes in your part of the world, here is a photo demonstration of cutting them (for some reason).

Well, you didn't even notice it but we tricked you into reading part three of the 400,000 part series of food entries, so Ha Haa! We hope you've enjoyed it. Expect even more fruity entries once the real fruit season arrives!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Museums, Memory and Memorials

So as we mentioned last time, Sam got a great chance to get out of Dhaka and go visit a rural village with the Liberation War Museum’s mobile museum program. She has been wanting to do an observation trip with the mobile museum’s human rights education program for a long time, and finally the timing worked out right. This trip was especially great because the program was going to be held at a little town in Khulna division where a former student activist of Dhaka University lives now, so Sam got a double-whammy on the research front: an interview for her dissertation and the chance to observe this program which she plans to write an article about.
So she got an excellent interview with an amazing character that has lived through, and been instrumental in shaping, some fascinating moments in the place’s past- some examples of things discussed – his multiple times in prison as a political prisoner, his time in a guerilla training camp, the nuances of leftist politics in the 1960s, and his armed (failed) attempt to overthrow the government in 1974 (and subsequent additional jail time…). He was such an interesting guy, and as one of the trustees of the museum (who Sam was travelling with and has known for a long time) put it “He never lost the fire.” It was great to get his input and an indescribable experience to listen to the stories he had to tell.

The other part of the trip was for Sam to observe the human rights education program that the mobile museum puts on in rural schools around the country. The museum is a mini-version of the Liberation War museum here in Dhaka, and the idea is that most of these kids out in the rural parts of the country will never be able to actually visit the real museum, so this gives them a chance to see some of it in person in their hometown. The museum contains artifacts and photo exhibits about the period leading up to the war, the war and genocide that occurred, and the aftermath.
Here is a picture of the mobile museum:

Since the 1971 war involved genocide, the museum has taken this tragic history as a way to open a discussion about the issue of Human Rights and crimes against humanity. They have created a program that combines teaching about the history of the genocide here, and teaching generally about human rights. They have an illustrated display of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, done by local artists in relatable imagery that describe the human rights. The students look at these, watch a film about the genocide that took place here, and view the mobile museum display. Sam accompanied the program to a little town called Chuknogar and went to a girls school to watch how it all works out. Here are some photos of the banners depicting human rights, kids watching the film and some girls looking at the human right’s banners – it was definitely exciting (for Sam) to watch a young Bangladeshi girl writing down and thinking about her basic human rights an what it all means for her personally.

The program was great and Sam got lots of great data for some work she is doing on the program itself. She also had a great time chatting with the girls and getting to know them. The other piece of the program that Sam is especially excited about is that after the students watch the film, see the mobile museum , see the human rights display and have a discussion tying it all together, they are encouraged to go home and interview someone they know who was alive during the war (1971). They then collect this story and write it down to give to their teacher who sends it to the museum. The museum gathers these oral histories, prints them in an annual volume and the student gets a certificate and their name in the book. What they really get though, and which is the most exciting part, is a moment in which they are recording the history of their nation as it was experienced through someone they know. They become particpants in their own conception of history and they learn that the only actors of history aren't politicians and generals.

The oral history archive that the museum has amassed is now as over 2000 stories, with tales ranging from the freedom fighter that fought in battle against the Pakistani army, to the family that hid them or hid refugees during attacks, to the woman who went without food for a week so she could feed the freedom fighters hiding in her field. It is an extremely thrilling project and (as you can tell) Sam is really really excited to be a part of it.

The other thing about the town of Chuknogar that is remarkable is that there is a killing field there that represents one of the worst known genocidal incidents in human history. On May 20, 1971 the war had been going on for about 2 months. Chuknogar is fairly close to the border with India and near a crossing point. There was a market there that turned into a sort of transit camp for the refugees fleeing violence elsewhere. The massive migration of refugees into India was in the millions – people fleeing for their lives after their villages had been literally burned to the ground and many already mourning the loss of most of their family members.

So on this night as a large number of people were gathered in Chuknogar to take rest the night before the last day in the journey across the border, the Pakistani Army unexpectedly arrived and opened fire. They killed indiscriminately and the body count was in the realm of 10,000 dead within 4-5 hours. There was nowhere for people flee in the large field and they were basically like fish in a barrel. The incident is the largest recorded single incident of mass murder in history.

The field has a memorial to the incident. It was particularly powerful to visit with one of museum trustees Sam was traveling with because he was himself a freedom fighter and lost most of his family in the war. It is a powerfully sad place no matter who you would be with, but his presence made it all the more real. Sam also met and talked to a vegetable farmer who worked the land by the killing field and he told her that his father was working in the same field when he saw the army roll up. He cried out a warning and then the army shot him dead. The man’s father was the first casualty of over 10,000 people murdered that night. It was incredibly poignant for Sam, who by sheer coincidence, was visiting the site on the anniversary of her own father's death eleven years ago that day. Here are some photos of the memorial.

So, the trip to Khulna was a success and a great opportunity. It was great to see this tragic history being turned into an opportunity to teach young people about human rights and tolerance and Sam got some excellent data for her dissertation. Trips like this are why we are in Bangladesh. It was also short enough that Jon and Atticus didn’t have time to get into much trouble while Sam was gone – or else it was long enough that they had time to cover it up.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Eggs and Bunnies

Well once again we have come upon a holiday that while technically relgious seems to have a seperate American (consumer) identity that we end up embracing as a result of just living in the US (normally). So, much like Christmas, even though we aren't Christians, we do celebrate Easter in the secular eggs and Bunny sense. Atticus painted an egg at school and got the day off. We didn't have access to paints that we were sure about the toxicness of though, so instead of doing a bunch of eggs that we would have to throw away afterwards, Jon ad Atticus just each painted an egg each. So, tradition was fulfilled for Atticus' sense of memory and holiday-ness, but we didn't waste a bunch of eggs. Here is a picture of the boys at work and having fun showing off their masterpieces.

We also have a tradition where the night before Easter, Atticus leaves his basket out for the Easter Bunny and it gets filled overnight with candy and a little toy (so as not to buy a new basket every year - we aren't that happy with the consumer aspect...). This year Atticus was stressed that he didn't have his basket. We told him we could leave a gift bag out on the table instead. He was still concerned that the Easter Bunny wouldn't understand though so he took matters into his own hands and drew a picture to leave with the bag, making it clear that this was his basket.

Well the picture worked, and he got his loot. Easter morning he got some chocolate, a little toy and some jelly babies. Yeah - jelly babies. In the tradition of gummy worms or Swedish fish, we have: jelly babies. Frankly, this candy is a little creepy. It is more than a little disturbing to eat little babies, but Bangladesh doesn't get credit for the crazy on this one - these are imported from Australia.

So it was a fine Easter. We didn't hide eggs because the paint wasn't waterproof and as the eggs got moisture on them in the refridgerator the paint kind of started coming off and it would've been a mess. We also have a pretty highly restrictive food containment policy in the house (to keep a variety critters convinced that our apartment isn't worth coming into) and laying boiled eggs around was in clear violation of the policy. We topped the celebrations off with a delicious dinner of tofu sloppy joes and pasta salad.
Tomorrow morning Sam is heading out to a rural school with the Liberation War Museum's mobile museum for a few days and Jon and Atticus are going to kick it in Dhaka as just the boys. Expect some stories from this one...