Saturday, August 22, 2009

there are moments

Not that I really yearn to be back in the States and surrounded by familiar people, norms, products, noise, but it's been another challenging week.

Today I was thrilled that the maid came and did the laundry again. And more cleaning. Matan and I left for his school to pick up the key that he'd left there and for me to sign up for a 2x/week aquatics exercise class. From there I went to duplicate the key.

I know that I should not expect to find things where I'd find them elsewhere. But sometimes I start with the familiar. So I go into a hardware supply store and ask if they duplicate keys. (Sounds more like "key?", showing a key, me looking around, and asking if they make new keys). They say, no, go to the place where they make keys and point across the road a ways. I go across the road (ok, I go down to the corner and cross at the intersection rather than climbing across the barrier like most people seem to) and don't see anything that looks like "where they make keys," so I ask in another store. Don't even bother to look for a hardware store. He just says, no, but you should go to the place where they make keys. Duh. I ask where? And they point further down the road. I cross in between the cars -- there are cars densely packed into this back road, no one is moving anywhere except the people on foot -- and ask at the next store. And the kids says, no, you should go to the place where they make keys. An older man looks at me and then says in English, that if I go down the road a bit more and turn left, I'll see where they make keys.

Indeed. There was a long table up against a wall and a dozen men sat on the table with door locks in front of them and yelled out that they could make a key for me. No electrical equipment or buzzing sounds like keymakers. The first one said 2 hours. I went on to the one who said he could do it right then and there. If it didn't work, he would come to my house to fix it. He gave me his card and said something about the number. I took it and got in a rickshaw and went home. (I'm not oblivious to the huge number of children begging for money and following me everywhere. Just assume they are in every picture).

Got home and of course it didn't work. Neither did the phone number. I need to pay more attention to the details when people hand me a card and then say something about the number. So next I went out with Nilofa to the grocery store to return the window spray that didn't spray and to ask her to buy some groceries for lunch. She got vegetables I don't recognize and a great pineapple. She held my hand going across the main street as though I wouldn't make it on my own.

Now it's noon and hot and I know that I should finish this key business before she leaves with Matan's key and he comes home without a key. So I go back downstairs and look for a rickshaw, taking into account that it's Saturday and the streets are relatively free and most of the police will let the rickshaws onto the main streets where they can't go on the work days. Better to get this done today while the guy still remembers I paid him already. I get back to the place where they make keys (so obvious when one knows what to look for) and he's gone. Another guy says he'll come and fix it. In the rickshaw I ask him how this will work since I already paid the first guy? He said that's my brother, we'll work it out.

He tries to fix it. Offers to change the lock and provide 5 new keys. Tempting, but I suspected the landlord would not look favorably on me changing the locks (esp with the whole building's router in our apartment!). Too expensive, though. So he works on the lock and the key. I do suspect that he's made the lock less rigorous and that more keys would probably work now. So I have some (minimal) qualms.

An hour after he goes, I get a text message from the landlord to come to the office asap.

Three people are there to lecture me on the security threat that I pose to all of the tenants in the complex. Don't I understand that there should only be one key in an apartment, one head of the family, one sheep (?) leader. For me, as a foreigner, they made an exception and gave me two keys. No one else, in any of the other apartments has more than one key. Futhermore, I should understand that I never want to take people up to the apartment who are not close friends. This is hugely risky in Bangladesh. OK. I'm learning. So what would be the solution? They were genuinely appalled that I would make a key when they wouldn't give me one. I think the young apartment manager (the one who goes very much by the books) is just expecting that when he says no, then no. His dad (ex-military, I think) actually works more with the situation and tries to explain and persuade and to figure out solutions.

But their bottom line is -- no key for the maid and no maid to be here when I'm not in the building. I have been thinking about how to rearrange my schedule inside and out to get 10 hours or so a week that I could say, I'll be here, and she could get enough of the work done. Unfortunately, she really needs full-time work, so I'm not sure that we can do this. Nor do I want to just be on campus MW even if that's the only time I'm teaching. Plus I'm starting Bangla lessons M-Th 8-10 every morning. Not sure how this puzzle works out.

I wrote to my dept head and to my contact person at the American Center. Maybe they have suggestions. Maybe this really is the way things work here and I'm trying to make it all work the way I want to. But I don't have the impression that other people have to stay home with the maid all day.

More electrical outages. More internet outages. Making progress on the syllabi.

nb - I think that the title of this entry actually came after I read the google news round-up from a Chinese newspaper that said Bangladesh now has 98 cases of swine flu and officials fear 70,000 to 100,000 cases within two or three months.


  1. Maybe this could work for you -- if you are such a security threat, they could give you a refund on the rent paid and you'll move.

    I suspect that if you were a single male the landlord interactions would be different.

  2. I agree about the gender issue here. I'd start looking now for a new place in January! Can you find out which of your neighbors have maids to ask what they do? I wonder if you are the only female "head of household" in the building?

  3. I agree with the gender analysis here, too - and with the impulse to move! ;-)

  4. i think one needs to be more intersectional about the analysis here, and factor in race. sure, you might be treated better if you were a man, but the fact is that being a white westerner has a lot to do with it. you don't know dhaka yet or much about the way that people live there, and you're not taking into account the very real threats he faces as a landlord. hiring one's home to westerners already makes it more vulnerable to a variety of threats -- because of the assumption that all western visitors are wealthy, your joint is more worth casing out. he's right to be upset about the maid -- i lived in India for years and never once gave a maid a key and the right to come and go as she pleased in my house. and what do you know about her? where does she live? only families with live-in help or who know a lot about their domestic help often leave domestic workers at home alone or with access. i understand your frustration, but you really need to respect this guy's rules somewhat -- it is, after all, his property, and his country.