Sunday, June 27, 2010

General Strike (or Generally Unstriking)

Yesterday was the day of the hartal (general strike) which the main opposition party, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), called for to press their demands for something or another. The hartal has been planned for like a month and we’ve been interested to see how it would go. Actually, the newspapers reported that it was because the ruling party is trying to evict the chairman of the BNP from her house on the cantonment (military base) because of a “faulty lease,” (which it probably is since everything associated with politics seems to be tainted in some way or another). It was the first hartal in three years (well the first real one, loyal readers will recall there was a half-day hartal called waaay back in September by an obscure group with way to long of a name). At one point in time hartals were a pretty common tactic that the parties here used to undermine each other. In fact, part of the justification for the suspension of the government several years back was that the hartals over party-issues and petty grievances had gotten so obstructive the government couldn’t function. That is debatable, but certainly most people would agree that the political parties here are frustratingly un-functional and petty.

Although we generally enjoy when political parties are undermined we were admittedly a little torn with this one. As many of you may know, Jon and Sam are usually in support of mass and direct action to press for change because these types of actions can build revolutionary consciousness, empowerment, and a sense of struggle and solidarity. But on the other hand the hartal yesterday was called by the conservative businessmen and fundamentalist Islam party alliance, which you can probably figure out, we don’t generally support.

On the morning of the strike we decided that we would go ahead and send Atticus to school (despite his best efforts to stay home - maybe he is a BNP supporter) since his school was to remain open (though with reduced staff). This gave us a chance to go out and check things out. On the way to school Jon and Atticus commented that they were disappointed not to see any road blockades, pickets, burning cars, etc. In fact, most of the businesses were open that are usually open. The only major difference was the relative lack of cars on the roads. So after dropping Atticus off at a generally deserted school, Jon was feeling a little disappointed in the lack of civil strife in the diplomatic zone where Atticus’ school is and he came home and convinced Sam that we should take a stroll down to Gulshan 2, which is a main intersection and market area, to see if we could find any action. We had begun to wonder how much the strike was really being observed since so many businesses were open and even our landlord (who is the chairman of the local BNP arm!) still had his workers come in to continue the construction on the roof. Nevertheless we wanted to see for ourselves.

The walk to Gulshan 2 was much more pleasant than usual because there were so few cars on the roads. Once we got to Gulshan 2 we noticed that the circle at the intersection was open to rickshaws (it is usually closed because of wrongheaded anti-rickshaw policies) and they had free reign of it. We also noticed the forces of order were out in full strength (the papers said there were 12,000 cops out in the city for the strike). But overall, the usually highly congested area was very pleasant since there were so few cars. Everybody seemed to be in a great mood too since they didn’t have to dodge cars and buses especially the ricksaw-wallahs who slowly pedaled around casually looking for fares . Even the cops and Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) were in a good mood ( they are usually busy carrying out extrajudicial killings in so-called “crossfire” with “criminals,” but today they got to just kick back in their little truck). We didn’t really know what to do with ourselves once we got two Gulshan 2, but since it was so pleasant we felt compelled to hang around. We decided to go get some absurdly overpriced coffee at the Westin.

Below are some pics of Gulshan 2 and the rickshaw controlled streets as well as the some Happy RAB cops and beggar kids.

Finally, after hanging around and realizing that we weren’t going to see any street action we headed home. On the way home we got stuck in a downpour, but we had our umbrellas with us so we didn’t mind. We actually kind of enjoyed walking home in the empty, rain filled streets. So, while we didn’t necessarily support the parties that called for the hartal , we did appreciate the break from the urban craziness that it offered. Atticus also really enjoyed being one of only about a dozen kids at his school that day and got a kick out of how few of his classmates were there.

Although the papers reported that there were some clashes throughout Dhaka, ironically, we enjoyed this general strike for the peacefulness it brought to the streets rather than the strife. Hopefully next hartal will be for something important rather than petty and partisan. Anyway here is a picture of sam enjoying the rain.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Porridge and Nothingness

It is almost the end of Atticus’ school year. We can hardly believe that he has gone for a full school year at the French school. He’s learned so much, and we are really proud of him. The other night he had his end-of-year party and school play. The play was Goldilocks and the Three Bears, with a bit of a French twist.

We’ve mentioned before that whenever the French school has an event, there just always seems to be a strange thing that comes into it- recall the weird Vincent Van Gogh theme of the Xmas party, the Pixies (a late 1980s-early1990s alternative band with less than child-centered lyrics) blasting over the loud speakers for the soccer tournament, the strange Carnival exhibition that seemed to involve forest spirits (we think?),etc… So this play was no exception. Case in point: Atticus’ role in the play: a shadow. Yep - A talking shadow that peeked out from behind the shutters and spoke in unison with two other eerie shutter peeking shadows. In fact, there was a chorus of three shadows that piped in here and there as Goldilocks background commentators. Actually we don’t know what they were saying – it was in French, and Atticus didn’t know the translation (or chose not to share it…), so it only added to the creepy factor. The true creepiness came in the middle however when Goldilocks (who incidentally is an old flame of Atticus’) is lying in the bed sleeping and the next grade up of girls came in to sing some kind of weird melodious dream sequence. They lined in a circle and then shifted positions in a clock-like manner as they sang. It was freaking scary – but props to the third and fourth grade girls- they could sing really well.

So the play progressed along and we are pretty sure there must have been some secret French existential meaning imbued into the classic tale, although we can’t prove it due to our paltry linguistic training.
Anyhow, here are some pics from the play.

Oh, and the really strange/great part? For a conclusion, the whole play just suddenly shifted into a lip-syncing rendition of “Our House” by Madness and the kids recreated a Madness concert (posters, air guitars and all). Why? Who knows? It was fun though.

Fathers Day and FIFA

Well we’ve been slowly starting the process of putting the pieces of our everyday life back together. Jon returned to Dhaka a few days before Father’s Day. It was really nice to be back together – even though just when Sam and Atitcus were getting past the worst of jet lag, Jon came in full swing. This time seemed harder than usual actually – maybe it was the short trip, the emotional toll of the trip, or a combination, but either way, in truth none of us are quite at 100% just yet. But we’re getting by.

For Father’s Day we kept it simple (Jon was barely able to stay up until 5pm, so it isn’t like we could really party it up!). Sam and Atticus were going to pick up a new plant for Jon, since most of our others are beyond saving (although Jon won’t admit it) but things just didn’t come together for it. Instead, we opted for the classic – a tie! What says “I love you” more than the most typical present imaginable? Well, nothing, that’s what.

For the big fun of the day, Atticus and Jon played some video games together, which is really a perfect activity to typify their friendship.

The other major focus of our life lately has been the World Cup futbal (um, that’s soccer, for you USA’ans out there). Sam and Jon (but especially Sam) really like to watch futbol and every four years is a real treat with the World Cup. The last World Cup was right when we moved to Boston, and Atticus was only 3, so he didn’t really get into it. This year –well, he’s way into it. Every morning he gets online and checks the previous night’s game scores (because of the time differences many are played after his bedtime) and updates us right away. At first he was naturally all about rooting for France, but after they were (resoundingly) beaten by Mexico early in the group matches, he abandoned his French comrades. His choice of who to root for now is mostly arbitrary (as is anyone’s really) but he summed the World Cup up in a nice sentiment last night: “It is hard to know who I really want to win the World Cup because there are just so may nice countries out there.” What an internationalist (or a politician in the making…)!

As for Bangladesh, they seem to be equally widespread in their loyalties, although for some reason Argentina (with a MAJOR majority) and Brazil (second favorite we’d say) are strongly supported here. Dhaka is in the grips of World Cup Fever (dare we say – Fifa Favah?) It is really fun though to go out along the streets of Dhaka and see all the flags waving from windows. There are really just a variety of flags everywhere- and Atticus is remarkably good at identifying them. There is a real international spirit in the air. Our building has an Argentine flag waving just above our balcony (I mean of course – our building is owned by a former military man –I’m sure he loves the fascist era of Argentina…Viva Peron!). Down the street is a three story long Brazil flag and more little flags along the way than you can count. Cars and rickshaws have little flags of teams they support and outside of electronics shops you can see crowds of poor folks and rickshaw-wallahs watching the games on the display tvs.

We love that we are getting to experience the World Cup in a country that cares about it! We love hearing the cheers come in our window that line up with the same game we’re watching. We don’t love when the power goes out in the middle of the game – and neither do other folks- there have been at least 2 riots that have broken out because of power outages during popular games!

But generally, we’re happy that Atticus is able to experience his first real conscious World Cup in a place where others are excited too. And even though we almost always root for the post-colonial nations against the super-powers, this year we feel like we are even happy to see the US advance to Stage 2. We think US soccer fans deserve a little joy (although we’re totally rooting for Ghana in their next match – sorry!). Atticus has become obsessed with Brazil as “pretty much the best soccer team in the world” and so his hopes have lately been pinned on them – although, frankly, one loss and the kid seems to switch to the next team, so who knows who he’ll be going for by the time the finals arrive! Either way, it has been a nice way to get excited and have some fun together.

Thanks to everyone for their patience in our absence and thanks for all the kind words you’ve sent. We hope to get back up to our usual pace at the blog and are happy you’re all still reading!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

We Will Miss You Forever Jules

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been reeling from the tragic and sudden news that Jon’s sister had taken her own life. We found out over a choppy signal on Skype, and while we worked on the details of getting out of the country (we were in the middle of our visa renewal process) and getting to Colorado, we were mostly in a daze. We spoke to our family and agonized over the limitations of communication and the distance between us. We spent hours at the immigration office on the same day we heard the news - all in a fog. We made flight reservations for astronomical amounts of money in order to fly at the last minute.

The reality of it all was hard to take in.

Often it seems like we forget about our “real” life back in the US. It felt like time had sort of stopped and that it would wait for us to pick up where we left off when we returned. Well, it didn’t stop and we didn’t know just how quickly it was passing. We didn’t know that the last time we saw Julie would be the really last time. We didn’t do or say any of things we would’ve done or said if we could’ve possibly known. We can only spend the rest of our lives wishing we’d had a chance to say goodbye.

What would we say anyway? Would we have wasted our last moments pleading for it not to be? Of course. Would we have spent the last seconds begging for her to wait and stay with us, even if it was more painful for her than we can imagine? Despite our knowledge that it is selfish - of course. Would it have made any difference? Who knows? The reality of now is that we miss her more than words can say. We will never have the chance to make our case for staying with us, and we will never get to say how important she was in our lives.

We made it to Colorado in time for the funeral. It was surreal in the way that all funerals are, but acutely bizarre under the conditions of jet-lag and reverse-culture shock. It was hard to process – it is hard to process. The pain and sadness was directed in so many directions.

One thing that seemed so stark was the emptiness of life in suburban USA. Compared to life in Bangladesh, everything seemed so clean and perfectly manufactured to create a sense of stability - but it was all so meaningless. In the dark of night, how much comfort did it bring? None. It was just pressure to consume, to buy, to fulfill some sort of unwritten measure of consumer attainment. It was hard to process our anger at how this pressure may have affected Julie and easy to fixate on given the abrubt cultural shift. If only we could have talked one last time about the ridiculousness of these pressures- that she was fine how she was; that nobody cared if she owned a house, or had debt, or had the latest fashions, or was thin enough to wear them. We just loved her and liked being around her. We hope deep down she knew. We felt angry that this lifestyle was hurting the people we love, confusing them into feeling inadequate.

How could anyone as amazing as Julie ever feel inadequate? It makes us sick to think about it.

Yet there has to be a way to see beyond this anger and sadness. We aren’t really at the place where we are able to see the bright side, but we are able to appreciate the totally awesome person Julie was.

Julie was the one who always understood where we were coming from - closest in age, political affiliation, and general irritable temperament. Julie was the one who always came to visit, whether it was Colorado Springs, New York, or Boston, and always had a good time. She was at our wedding, at Atticus’ birth, and every major moment in our life. She was the best big sister, aunt, and sister in law we could have asked for, and we hope that deep inside, beneath the pain of everyday life, she knew it. Julie was always the one we never had to explain ourselves to – she got it, got us, and we are forever grateful for it.

We can only do the same for her- she doesn’t need to explain this to us. We love her; we respect her right to make this, the most personal of all choices. Julie, we wish it was different, but we know you made your choice.

We struggled with what to post on this subject. How could you capture such a sweet and amazing person in any meaningful way in a blog post? We don’t really know, which is why this blog post has been about us.

Sam and Atticus arrived back in Dhaka on Friday, and Jon follows in a week. For Jon it has been comforting to be around his family and yet it has been hard to deal with the fact that there are now only four siblings. The return, for Sam, has felt surreal – nothing seems to relate back to the simultaneously comforting and harsh reality we left behind. It is hard to find meaning so far away right now. We’ll try to keep making sense of the world and are sure this new perspective on life will be forever present in the observations we make from this point forward.

Rest in Peace Julie. We love you so much.