Saturday, October 31, 2009

just blah

no one on skype when I woke up and I really wanted to talk. water aerobics was fun, and I should have stayed and had breakfast with the ladies since skype folk were not around at 10am either (10pm Friday night). no news on the summer classes at Century though the rotation was yesterday.

not sure enough how to get to the place in the old city with all the bike shops and I *really* don't know how to get back with a bike. cab company dithered all day. soon, soon, they said. neither of us had the energy to make it happen.

little kid rang the doorbell every hour for 3 hours until I told the landlord that his son was starting to bug me, but no, the landlord said, he is not my son. he works here (the kid is maybe 2 feet tall. maybe 5 years old). he kept asking me to call a number he had written down, and I did try once, but it wasn't a working number. not sure what I think about this. is he in school?

I read Bee Season and didn't do much other than some more laundry. we had many leftovers: spaghetti, meatloaf, chocolate chip cookies, apple crisp. Matan practiced.

the lethargy magnified otherwise usually tolerable situations: we both have slight colds and not much energy. my joints hurt. every plane that flies over seems to make more noise than the previous one. the little ants seem to have multiplied and wander constantly across my arms, but sometimes it's just a stray hair. good thing we have plans for next weekend: we've invited a family over for supper on Friday and have been invited to a school outing on Saturday. busy is probably better.

Friday, October 30, 2009

landlord laundry puzzle

The landlord asked to speak to me earlier this week and I have just been out every day and evening since then. I kind of wondered what he was thinking about. So today I went down. He asks how we're doing, and I said there are challenges. Indeed, I had just finished doing a lot of wash, the apartment is pretty dusty and starting to need a thorough cleaning in the kitchen and bathrooms and the cooking, well, somedays I do, somedays I don't. I really didn't feel like talking to him. He's so difficult for me with all this "service" that he wants to provide when I can see the numbers clicking in his head how much money he can make...

I suspect that his father gave him hell about me taking the laundry out in the overflowing duffle bag and coming back with loads of clean laundry, especially because we did it by rickshaw this week! He wants to solve this problem for me. And I told him, I thought about getting a washing machine, but his electric situation is so bad that I don't want to be the one he blames for blowing out all the building. (the a/c overloaded this week). So even though his father had an electrician come up and ok'd the place that I thought would be good, I hadn't moved forward on that. I don't know, maybe I still think we're moving out at the end of the period we've paid rent on (mid-Feb), and in that case, I would not want to be hauling a washing machine with me. And I do have a solution that works pretty darn well even if it's a shlep.

So I think his assignment was to figure out what it would take to make me happy with this apartment, short of allowing me to have a maid here when I'm not here (and even that came up as an option, but with the replay of the long lecture about security, blah blah blah, but I know everywhere else allows it).... What am I willing to pay for laundry? 2000 a month, I said. Not for 4 loads (at his current 500/load), but for 12 loads -- three a week! Ok, he's taking notes. He suggests getting a machine for the whole building. Now that's a good idea, I think. Anyway, temporarily, I think just to keep me from taking it out of the building (I am amazed that this is so important to him), he will have it done for 2000/mo for 12 loads. Is that really 160 instead of 500? I've got to wonder what's going on here. I am puzzled.

So, we're off to a Halloween party tonight at the high school. Looking for a bike for Matan tomorrow. Swimming in the morning. Made chocolate chip cookies today and they turned out well.


This week it seems like we made lots of arrangements: settled on tickets from the US to Israel, from Dhaka to Israel (via Bahrain and Amman), from LA to MN and back to LA, from Dhaka to Nepal and back (at Thanksgiving). wow. looks like we're going places!

Also submitted a proposal for a conference in November and now have to write the paper. It's on online teaching and literature.

Student-teacher conferences with Matan's teachers. He's really doing well, though stressed. Ironically, while he feels English and History are weak subjects for him, his teachers disagree. His teachers, for the most part, did not know that his schedule is so strangely divided among the different grades: 2 classes with freshmen, 3 classes with sophomores, and 1 with juniors.

My classes are going pretty well. The advanced one is more willing to work. The 2nd year class just doesn't show up when the assignments overwhelm them. This does not make the work go better.

We're looking for a bike for Matan.

Really happy to be swimming a couple times a week in an outdoor pool.

Started Bangla script class.

The real challenge this week: some kids from his school were in a car accident last weekend and didn't know who to call. Five kids were injured. Ambulances didn't come. Eventually they took the injured by car (passersby) which was probably the best of terrible options, esp for the kid with the punctured lung. The parent group was meeting on Sunday (anyway), so we grappled with what do we tell our kids to do in that kind of situation? How do we encourage them to call their parents? What numbers do we have for reliable help in an emergency? So now Matan and I do have phone numbers *in our cells* for the local recommended hospital and the Embassy's emergency line.

Halloween party tonight at the school.

If this entry feels disjointed, yes, that's the way this week was. And yet, it wasn't overwhelming. Just moving from one challenge to the next, step by step.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I really prefer to have electricity at 10pm

because when the lights go off now, I just roll over and go to sleep. or kind of go to sleep because it really is too hot to sleep without the fan on. and then I wake up in an hour when all the lights go back on, no matter how I've tried to figure out which ones were on and I should turn off now.

other than that -- a strange day. way more transport than usual -- to bangla class (CNG), the ride through the slum took twice as long as usual (rickshaw), and I finally walked part of it, worked for awhile, met people for lunch at the American club (CNG since it was before my scheduled car time) (and since I had my swimming suit with me for later, I took a quick dip in the pool before lunch. ah.). and then to meet up with the travel agent (rickshaw) and paid for our tickets to Amman in Dec (yea!), and then water aerobics and then walked back to the apartment (stopping on the way for water)(rickshaw). but I forgot my membership card at the American club so I went by there on the way back to the school (one rickshaw there, two more rickshaws to the school) to meet up with Matan because I thought we had a ride home with the laundry (but we didn't so we took rickshaws). yes, I didn't catch that all, either. we're all ready to crash and then the lights go out. only two short segments used fuel, other than walking or pedal power....

Monday, October 26, 2009

she's from Maplewood

New month of classes starting at the language school: script! One other person is in class with me. So we ask each other where are you from and what are you doing here? and she said Minnesota, and then narrowing it down a little, the Twin Cities, and finally ... Maplewood! Amazing. She couldn't believe that I'm a teacher at Century.

got to get going

grading to do. couldn't seem to do it last night and then the lights went out at 10pm and I said, oh time to sleep. (it's not entirely impossible to grade during the load shedding -- we do have one light connected to the generator in the dining room). but, no.

then I woke up at 4am, obviously ready to grade. hmph. so I sit down to the portfolios and discover that I do not have a single copy of the assignment sheet (thoroughly cleared out the folder yesterday), and in that clearing out, also managed to leave the syllabus at work. nothing online. it's all saved at work. this is so not like me. have to figure out a way to save work things in an accessible place. maybe good old D2L. taking the laptop to work everyday is not great. Matan has adopted my USB drive since his got lost. so I worked on the portfolios, but have not done the real grading.

also must get an abstract in for a Fulbright conference. got the cfp (call for papers) yesterday, the deadline was last week. dept head says email the organizer anyway. so it's ok, just get it in now. I can do that: the subject is online lit courses. not thrilled that the conference is on a day when Matan is competing in an international (!) math competition being held here in Dhaka. we've also volunteered to host visitors, but may not be included since we're out of the neighborhood and do not have a car. it will be the third day of his competition, so I'm not sure if that's the day I wouldn't want to miss, or if I'm available Thurs-Fri, is it ok to have other plans for some of Saturday? all new to me.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

vacation flights

The folks from the states are arriving in Israel on Dec 20th. We're looking at flights around the 15th via Amman, Jordan. We'll take a taxi to Israel from there.

Maybe on the way back going via Petra? We have to be back to Dhaka by the 4th of January.

The travel agent here does not recommend Gulf Airways but will book it if I insist. It's over $400 cheaper for the two tickets than the airlines he recommends (Etihad or Emirates). But his flights would have us staying over in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, and I'm not keen on doing that either.

I know he's used to working with the ex-pat community so his basis for setting up the flights might be a higher comfort level than we actually need. Bad service? I can live with that (food or entertainment). Being stranded and losing vacation days in Israel while waiting for a different fight? Not so much. Have to decide soon.

Friday, October 23, 2009

pizza in the oven

some days we don't even pretend to eat local cuisine. I was going to wait until we could get the local bakery's pizza base when I remembered that I have yeast. So I just tried to remember how mom made pizza: yeast/sugar/warm water, flour, salt, oil? hope I didn't leave anything important out. It felt and tasted right. We have pepperoni and shredded cheese. all we need now is electricity for the next half hour.

rehydrated today. put a container of crystal lite into a 2 liter bottle of water and drank pretty much the whole thing. when I don't feel like drinking water, I know I have to figure out a way to get it in.

no rain lately and not quite as hot. wash dries quickly. dust accumulates rapidly. definitely a change in seasons.

paypal wins. I give up.

Last month it was so easy to order the necessary cello part from cellos2go and pay with paypal. Unfortunately, paypal decided that someone accessed my account and limited access. Next time I tried to log on which was this week, nope, no access.

That someone was surely me, since when I accessed the account to fix it this week, they slapped another limit on it.

They suggested three steps needed to restore access - to prove that I'm the account holder. Two steps were easy: change password, institute new questions. The third took more time and involved linking a credit card to the account. Paying a small fee and then getting the transaction number. Ok, did that too. This is taking 3-4 days so far and the cello lady has already sent the humidifier to MN since I paid so promptly last month.

Now they say, no, even though you did those things, please call us and we'll tell you what to do next. Actually, first they offer me the option of answering the phone at home in MN either immediately or in one minute (if I needed to get off the line). Don't know whether to laugh or cry about that. But this calling them to resolve the issue doesn't work very well either. I tried, but pre-paid cell minutes go pretty fast when one has to get through stupid automated menus.

When I finally get through they say, ok, now fax us your utility bill with your name and address. Unfortunately I got off without getting the fax number and the site will not give it to me. Call us, they say, so we can give you the best fax number. I don't know if our utility bill even has my name on it. Maybe. Probably not.

I gave up. My brother (thank you!) paid the bill.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

kind of queasy

Already this morning. But I wanted to go to the last day of Bangla class. And I needed to go to the U since I'd left the portfolios there that I have to grade. So I just kept pushing on. By 1pm, I decided this really wasn't working and asked if I could get a ride earlier instead of waiting until 4pm. And it was fine. I fell asleep in the car on the way home.

Some days it's really a problem that there's usually no toilet paper at work. I'm not skilled enough yet with the spray hose that is next to the toilet (everywhere), nor have I figured out how that works without a towel. Drip dry?

So, coming home was good.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


My students are surprised by quizzes in the first five minutes. Don't I know that sometimes they just can't get there on time? Or that they can't really read two short stories in one week?

But they did seem to appreciate having signed up to talk about some of the concepts and that being their area of expertise today. Others, who had missed class on Monday, were very surprised at how much those with topics had to say. I wonder if there really is little participation in other classes? One guy said he'd never heard those people talk before.

But I don't want to veer too much into the class-led discussions in the theory class. Though they were well prepared today for the most part, I think some of the students were just not interested in hearing others talk about the readings, esp when they were just going from one citation to another. On the other hand, for Monday they are preparing the discussion *and* two quizzes. They seemed kind of energized by that challenge. Interestingly enough they divided into two groups that I suspect reflect their earlier educational backgrounds. One group immediately changed languages and held their prep meeting in Bangla. The other stayed in English (one of the guys does not know Bangla).

Proposals for research projects came in today and I'm looking forward to working with them. Already I'm reading new books and lots of post-colonial theory as it seems to permeate everything here.

Reading Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines now. It's the third book of his that I've read since I got here.

Seems like I read with an Israeli perspective when it's about nation building, bombing the British to end colonial rule, national languages, religious divisions.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

slowest common denominator

In the mornings, I go to the language class by CNG through some pretty upscale neighborhoods. I go by a lot of embassies and big homes.

But after class, I cut through a slum to get to BRAC. There's no point in going by faster vehicle, since the traffic jams are caused by so many rickshaws on such little roads. Nobody is going anywhere fast.

We go into the slum under this sign; I still don't know what it says.

There are tin shacks to the right and left, and then water up to the edges of the shacks or the road.

Garbage is piled pretty high along the way.

Kids do not look like they're in school. The map just shows a road, no neighborhood. On the map it looks like one could walk through, but I don't think I'd be comfortable doing so. I don't feel unsafe in the rickshaw, but I wouldn't want to linger.

About half way through, where the buildings start to be more permanent looking, there's a big school with a courtyard.

Traffic jams start as the rickshaw school transports are letting kids out. I didn't get a good picture of these vehicles: they hold about 8 little kids driven by the bicycle driver. Slowly we see more permanent buildings as we get closer to the paved city streets.

And then we emerge about a block before my university building onto totally modern roads.

The University building is 20 stories tall; my office is on the 13th floor and I teach on the 3rd floor of the shorter building (the one with the glass elevator). We have to leave about 15 minutes before class since the elevators are always jammed: 26 people are allowed inside!

This is the school parking lot.

At the end of the day, I get into an air-conditioned car and am driven home. It's the disparities from one end of the day to the other that are unreal.

Monday, October 19, 2009

beautiful weather, low energy

I must admit that every time I see the words snow and MN in the same sentence, I appreciate the sunny and warm weather here. Occasional rain, finally, out of the monsoon season (I think).

Matan decided that two days of Bangla lessons was enough work to do on vacation and I said as long as he tried one more day (today), he could stop. I still get so much out of every class period, but my cohort is ending as Rhoman leaves for Nepal and the States, and Aasta is not starting script since her consulting gig in Dhaka ends in November or December. I admit to thinking what 2 extra hours a day might mean in my schedule, but I'm still more interested in learning the letters. Feel like Alice in Wonderland here and am hoping that being able to figure out some signs might be helpful.

Students didn't do the work. Gee, that's familiar. 3 of 10 turned in essay #1 in the 2nd year comp class, though 3 more came in by the end of the day. Even written instructions for peer reviews did not clarify enough that the peer reviews had to go to the author of the paper, not (just) to me. What did they think the point was (other than that, yes, they do get points for doing them)? In the upper division theory class, 80% had not read the little tiny "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker. I didn't want to have the discussion of a formalist approach since it was so detailed and it wouldn't mean anything if they hadn't read it.

The spaghetti was even better as leftovers. Even the (just plain) tomato sauce is spicy. I especially liked the label on some cookies that listed the ingredients as flour, sugar, egg, milk, etc. I'd never seen "etc" listed like that! Don't think that's FDA compliant somehow.

The downside of getting a ride home is that I come directly home and go up those 5 flights of stairs and then it's really hard to move. I should go out for water or go to the club to go swimming. Or even go to the club and grade. But some days I just don't have more energy left.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

what day is it?

a pretty good day overall. started with panic at 5am that I wasn't prepared for my classes and it took almost 15 minutes for me to realize that it's Sunday and not Monday. While I do go to class and the University on Sundays, I don't teach until Monday.

Matan was not very enthusiastic about 8am classes during his week vacation. Not sure if they'll be compelling enough. I'm sure that part of the fun for me has been my classmates. I guess we won't go away this weekend if what he'd most like is to sleep in. Another time.

Work went well and then lunch with two colleagues at a restaurant with a view of the nearby lakes (which only 10 years ago, one of them said, were beautiful. now they are surrounded by tin shanties and are very polluted). We were pretty mischievous in that one of the teachers was trying to contact a student who was avoiding her and not answering her phone. The other colleague was giving the student the benefit of the doubt, maybe she left her phone at home? or maybe she's in class? So I offered my phone to try. The student didn't answer the call from my phone, either, but within five minutes she called me back and I handed the phone over to the teacher who had been trying to get in touch with her!

The ride home took less than 15 minutes, zoom zoom zoom. And I got an hour nap before starting to work. I have to work some in the evenings since I get to work at about 10:30 am and left today by 4, with a long-ish lunch! It's still unusual to me that most of the teachers are at their desks from 10 (or so, depending on when they teach) until 5pm. And students simply expect that the teachers will be there until 5pm, and available for discussion. I like seeing my colleagues so much, but it's really different for me. Also our offices are shared and very open, so people are going in and out all the time.

Matan did the shopping today and hauled the water. Takes a lot of water to cook spaghetti. Of course the power outage comes when I cook. Cooking by flashlight, yes, you get used to it. I do miss having a microwave though. Here's the picture from yesterday of the woman doing the wash by the well.

I'm actually getting really used to the call to prayers from our local mosque. It's not annoying like the one in the University neighborhood. sort of mellow melody.

The picture: the National Assembly building from yesterday's tour.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

touring Dhaka

Tour was a very good idea. We went to places that I would not have gone on my own. The first thing we saw, before leaving our familiar neighborhoods, was a monkey crossing the street. I'd heard there were monkeys in the area, but hadn't seen one yet.

We started at Dhaka University, founded in 1904, and completely different from the setting of my vertical, two building university. Dhaka University has grounds and big old buildings. It's also the site of historical uprisings in the 1950s against Pakistan's decision to make Urdu the national language, thus marginalizing Bengali. The movement was a National Language force, still highly revered in Bangladesh even though independence from Pakistan took nearly another 20 years (1971).

Then we went to the port called Sadar Ghat where over 30,000 people a day travel by boats in and out of Dhaka. The boat we saw loading had 3 levels - people were spreading blankets on the lowest level to stake out seating spaces. They were leaving for a 6 hour journey. Lots of fruit sellers and other stands.

Next was a place called Pink Palace, more correctly known as Ahsan Manzil. Apparently the site was French and then in the late 1800s built into a palace by one of the most politically influential "zamindars" (translated in my guide as

feudal landlord, but I think it's more about implementing the British rules. could be wrong about that). Lots of portraits and household items, including the dining room and one of the bedrooms, but most unique was the elephant skull and tusks. Sorry, no pictures allowed in the building; they collected cameras at the entrance so I only have a picture of the outside.

Then the Shankharia Bazar which is also known as Hindu St. We are a day or two before a Hindu celebration so there was much excitement in the quarter. Platforms were built crossing the narrow streets -- we had to duck under them to go through the streets. Inside the platforms, statues were being set up. People were peeking under the curtains and taking pictures of the ones that were ready. We were also invited to see turtle soup being prepared but the combination of live turtles and very bloody preparation area gave me enough warning that I wanted to pass on this. Didn't even take a picture as I was getting kind of queasy. I did take pictures of sugar sculptures (hmmm, do I sugar coat this adventure, or what?). We also went down one of the side paths to see rooms where people live, a well, and someone with more challenging laundry issues than I have.

It was really nice to have the driver meet us at the end of our walk through so that we didn't have to double back.

We travelled through neighborhoods where the rickshaws outnumbered the cars by, I'd say, 100 to 1, unlike in the area we live and work where the cars, while still in the minority, are more like a third of the vehicles on the road.

Star Mosque is the only mosque I've been in so far. I'm not sure how to approach entering the ones in our neighborhood, so it's good to have a guide who insisted that it was open and found a door on the side. From the early 18th century, unique in its mosaic work.

Then we went to Lalbagh Fort which is from 1678.

Its buildings are seen on the 10 taka and 100 taka notes. Beautiful grounds with grass and flowering bushes. Interesting museum inside with coins, documents, weaponry, and baths. I'm going to ask in my language class what it says on the sign; what I understand is that there are three entrance fees and the third one is for foreigners!

The last stop on our tour was at the National Assembly, built from the 1960s until the 1970s. The current government meets there but the opposition party has been boycotting the meetings since the election last December. Not sure yet how to explain that.

Then Matan and I got dropped off near a restaurant that we hadn't been to since our first week in Dhaka. Good thing I asked for a business card or we'd never have found it again. We had very spicy food and now have clear sinuses. After that we took a CNG home and have just relaxed for the rest of the day.

(Pictures are taking forever to load -- I'll get back to you on the National Assembly!).

Friday, October 16, 2009

things clicked this week

* I found that I knew exactly the best way to get somewhere by rickshaw, more than once.

* The clothes I had made are pretty and the new clothes I received (sort of like "My Sister's Closet"?) fit well and the pants can be used as a sample for having more made. Since the pants I brought from the States now fall down. Which could be a problem.

* Awesome awesome CARE packages! I must have been sounding a bit discouraged about 3 weeks ago that four (!) packages were sent! We have Reece's Peanut Butter cups, new socks, earplugs, a new miniature rubber ducky, matzoh ball soup mix, kleenex - unscented (!), and a red-ink stamp "WTF?" that I think I'm supposed to use for grading. Or maybe for the bills our goofy landlord sends us.

* Work was challenging but good. I knew what I was doing. I could adjust the reading quizzes to work for the class. This week I made a list of terms and they signed up to speak about them so they knew some material very well, and knew what else to look for in the readings.

* Book launch last night for Shazia Omar's like a diamond in the sky was great fun. I knew more people than just the colleagues I came with which surprised them! Some from Fulbright, some from Bangla class, some from the conference last week, and some from the dinner party earlier in the week. Apparently it's a very small circle of English speaking, probably pretty well off, folks who know each other.

* Going on a tour of Dhaka tomorrow.

* The cello works and Matan had his first lesson here! This thrilled me beyond what I expected.

* He finished his first quarter at school, but the stress of the last week was almost unbearable for him. Too many big projects in too little time. He got a new planner and I'll try to help him plan ahead better next quarter.

* Matan has next week off school so he's going to come with me to Bangla classes (he'll have private lessons for 4 days). It's a very welcoming center and he can stay for lunch if he wants.

* I think we're travelling out of Dhaka for a few days next weekend. Tea plantations?

* Today? slept in, will read, swim, do some wash, pay some bills, talk on skype (Shaked's going to be in MN!) and otherwise relax. Cheers!

Our Bangla class at HEED language center: Rhoman, Kris, Sultana (our first teacher), Aasta, Pulock (our current teacher). We finish 2 months at the end of next week.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

full days

Very busy week and it's only Tuesday. Saturday I woke early again (that nasty 4am early), but I went to my water aerobics anyway. Only three people came since apparently there was a major glitter ball in Dhaka that most of the expat community went to. Even had I known about it, tickets are sold out last spring, so it's not really for the transient souls. So we mostly talked in the water and did a few laps.

I didn't make it to the rest of the conference (the movie and discussion) since by afternoon I was crawling. took a nap. We had odd electrical outages so the fan kept going on and off and I'd wake up and wonder what's going on. The generator in our apartment building is still not working quite right. So about 8 hours later, we seemed to be back on regular electricity. It is very surreal to use a laptop and the internet in a house lit by candles.

Our goofy landlord did not see the irony in sending out an electric bill by email that night when we had not had electricity for much of the day, and the building's internet service has been out for awhile.

Sunday -- back to school. Bangla class is low stress. I learn what I can. I understand more each day. It's also cultural information. One of the students, Aasta, talked about getting stopped by a police officer because the rickshaw was not supposed to be on the main road. She interpreted his "you don't know who I am" as letting her know who was in charge there, while our teacher said that he meant, "what do you think I am? I wouldn't kick you off a rickshaw late at night when you are all alone." Quite a different point of view.

Working hard at BRAC U to prepare classes and handouts and quizzes for a different student population. So many phrases in the readings are unclear to them and they don't ask. So it's only when I prompt or give a quiz that I get more of an idea about what's not coming through. Some of it is about the English, other issues are concepts that I suspect my students in MN would struggle with. For example, in the theory class, one author referred to "the Balkanization of literary theory" and they came up with a variety answers from the text surrounding the citation, but didn't know that it had to do with fragmentation.

The best misunderstanding though was one student who was convinced that he'd found a connection between William Carlos Williams' "The Last Words of My English Grandmother" and that WCW's grandmother was Emily Dickinson. Since Kelly Driscoll wrote an article about the maternal muse, this poem must be about Emily Dickinson. And he insisted, in class, that he had found this information and it was published so he was right. We talked about literary foremothers and traditions, but he only gave up when I said Emily Dickinson didn't have children, so most probably didn't have any grandchildren.

Sunday night Matan and I were invited to dinner at my dept chair's home. I understood that the professor with the 15-year-old son was coming as well, so I insisted that Matan come. A car was sent to fetch us. It took over an hour to get there. We arrive promptly at 8pm and are the only ones there until 9pm. Interesting discussion, beautiful home, fun to talk to her husband and son. Her son knew my friend Katya Azoulay's son at Grinnell. I knew Ron when he was in high school in Jerusalem. Then the vice-chancellor came and we talked of earthquakes (I didn't know before the weekend newspaper article that he was one of the country's experts). There have been 3 minor quakes since we got here. The other professor didn't bring his 15-year-old son.

More and more people came. The High Commissioner of India and his wife even recognized me -- we'd met already twice this week! (This pace is not going to continue). Most of the speakers from the conference came and a few other people I knew from other departments. Dinner was served at 10pm. Matan was getting nervous about tons of homework (end of the quarter and projects due in every class). We left at 11pm and fortunately it only took 15 minutes to get home. No traffic makes all the difference.

Monday classes. Lots of stress for Matan. He goes over to a friend's house to work on a project (they pick him up and return him). He gets up early today (5) to continue working on the projects.

Today. Hmmm. Work. Bangla class (Aasta got stopped twice by the police on the way to class today!). Got an email from the American Center that I have 2 packages waiting, but I couldn't go today since I leave early for water aerobics, so I write back that I'll come on Thursday. Less than 30 minutes later there is a small riot and bus burning down on the street and I'm so glad that I'm on the 13th floor looking at it from a safe perspective. Most people clear out of the way. Some folks get in on the window smashing. Apparently this used to be a more everyday occurrence, but since the election last December, it's pretty rare. Here's a link. From up above it looked less threatening.

And we went back to work. My ride insisted 4pm is my time and I wanted to get to the exercise class, so I walked and took two rickshaws (faster to leave them on one side of the major commercial circle that they can't cross anyway, and pick up another on the other side). Peaceful water aerobics. Lovely pool. Took another rickshaw to get some dinner (a take-off on Kentucky Fried Chicken) (brought some strips for Matan) and came back to his school to meet up with him.

Bruce Coville is speaking to the elementary kids tonight but I snuck in and got a picture of him signing books. The school brings an author for two weeks each year. The school is also gearing up for UN day on Thursday and I'm so pleased that they came up with an Israeli flag to represent Matan.

He was still at badminton (6 - 8pm) after wall-climbing (4:30 - 6pm) and from here we'll walk a couple of blocks to pick up the clean laundry and get a ride home from there. I think that's enough for today. Oh. I still have drafts to comment on.

long enough day.
I wish I'd gotten a picture of the guy with the flat basket the diameter of a bicycle wheel filled with live chickens on his head. I could say it's not every day I see that, but actually it is.

ps -- pictures didn't load, so I saved this as a draft. home now. When we picked up laundry there were 15 extra shirts and pants that if they fit, I should enjoy. WOW. what a day!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

a little lost, ironically, after an orientation this week

A good orientation last Sunday. It brought together most of the Fulbright folks who will be here this semester and for the year. Dr. Shirin Huq of Dhaka University spoke to us of the dichotomies: meek and arrogant, cheerful and depressing, honest and corrupt, hardworking and laid back, respect women but also view them as sexual commodities, transparent and complex, colonized and post-colonial, categorizing the country as a bundle of contradictions. Most of us have been here for a few weeks, a few of us, a little longer. Two of the after-college group got here only a day or two ago. Dr. Huq suggests asking for more input: get to know the music and myths. Understand that the warmth and hospitality can feel like interference. The people are loving and caring and ask lots of personal questions. Recognize that tremendous strides have been made in the past twenty years. She also suggests that it's really important to get out of Dhaka to see the countryside.

So my week started with a very well organized orientation which provided information on the people, the politics, the school systems and surviving in Bangladesh. I like to hear from the experts and get a little more sense of a big picture. Reading the paper here is like trying to put together a puzzle and you're only being given 2 or 3 pieces a day and no idea what the picture is going to be. I did talk to the political scientist later about books to read. Knew which article he was referring to on the front page of the paper that day.

After the health lecture I felt like I'd missed quite a few cues: fruits and vegetables have to be washed in bottled water AND soaked in bleach (small percentage of bleach)?! And I'm getting told this 2 months after we arrive? I guess mostly we've eaten fruits with peels -- bananas and oranges, but I haven't peeled the apples or tomatoes! There was also warnings against any salads in places we don't know or trust, and pretty much not to eat any street food! The doctor also said that malaria pills were not necessary in Dhaka, and I mulled that over.

Then there were two people who have been in Dhaka for awhile - Dr. Tony Stewart and Sara Baumann. Tony is a prof at NCSU and has a program here affiliated with one of the universities in Dhaka. His talk on culture shock was superb. Specific information like having your phone with you, charged and everyone's number in it, is absolutely right. He talked about developing a safety net of people who know you and know where you're going to be. He reiterated the suggestions about not using the anti-malaria pills and had additional health suggestions. But for me, the most important part was the mental health section. "When normal frames of reference dissolve" - this is culture shock. Maybe it starts with an absence of privacy or an inability to control your environment, or suddenly being dependent on others, or the absence of basic amenities: these things together and then little annoyances can become magnified. Warning signs include anger over the littlest things, weeping, feeling like it's a problem with you, isolating. Well, that's when you most need to call on your network of friends. Watch for the signs in each other, as well. Raise the issue, ask if they're having a bad day. Venting can give perspective. Sometimes that's when going into an air-conditioned room and reading might be good for a day. Or take a vacation for a few days.

He talked about other cultural phenomena - "bitarho" as a response (could be feigned or manipulated) over being slighted and how important it is to apologize. Understand that you didn't understand. Try not to put someone in the position of having to say no as the result is often saying yes and meaning no (hmmm, like my students who didn't say they couldn't/wouldn't come to the make-up class?). Mostly he emphasized treating people with respect.

Sara's talk, while enthusiastic and interesting, just left me feeling wholly inadequate. She's a current Fulbrighter, or was from last year and will be finishing in February. She learned Bangla, is doing a Masters in Public Health and knows everyone. Pretty much the epitome of what we could/should be doing. She's done lots of things that she said were out of her comfort zone (acting, tv shows!) and says to try to do something uncomfortable every day. I don't think I'd last a week! She did show a slide with a learning curve -- I'm still in the up swing and apparently around month 3 there's a real drop in enthusiasm followed by a plateau. After that there was a split: either it goes up until you leave or drops! Great.

Later in the evening there was a reception at Katie's house. She's the embassy person whose responsible for us. I had come across her blog awhile ago, and mentioned it to her, so it was interesting to see some of what she had written about. Good to talk to all of the Fulbright folks. The ones after college or in grad school have real challenges in setting up research projects. It's probably easier to teach since that's pretty straightforward. Good also to meet with the folks who brought their families. I thought Matan was going to join me there, but he'd gone home thinking we'd leave from there, and I was already at his school which was only a block from her house.

While I really like getting together, it was a week of one event after another. The next day was the "reunion" I wrote about, then on Wed there was a ceremony with the English Department and the Vice-Chancellor to accept book donations from the Indian ambassador and tea with him and his wife. Then the conference. So I definitely started to feel very overexposed. I'm not sure that I'm outgoing or social enough for this task or that I chat very easily. I think I adjust pretty well to situations not being what I expect, but I'm still pretty shy at the end of the day.

So, about that culture shock? I think we're going to plan a few trips. Matan has a week off of school in another week. I want to get a tour of Dhaka next weekend and then the weekend after that, or maybe Thursday-Sat, to go on a tour in the countryside. Got the name of the travel agent that Katie recommends. So that's the plan.

Friday, October 9, 2009

the wrong day to wear jeans

oops. Not so good at this being grown-up and dressed-up thing. The English department hosted a conference on Caribbean literature and since I wasn't presenting and I wasn't teaching, I thought casual dress day. It was raining, too, and getting around by rickshaw in the morning does nothing to encourage me to dress up nicely. However, everyone there looked like they were dressed for a formal affair, a wedding, at least. The women wore saris -- my students were all incredibly colorfully dressed and clearly shining! My Mounds View Swim and Dive shirt was just not the right choice!

The keynote speaker, Dr. Sharmila Sen, of Harvard University's Press, gave a very interesting talk about the Bangali Mishti (sweet) connection to the Caribbean sugar trade with the emphasis (always, here) on a post-colonial interpretation of the texts. Other speakers presented on poetry, cricket and lungis. Most of the talks were in English, though not all.

The ride home took forever, but it was nice to be able to talk to my colleague, Lisa, about teaching for almost half of the ride. We don't usually overlap in ride time.

Today I opted out socially: no plans. Read a book from New Zealand called The Bone People by Keri Hulme. Talked on Skype a lot last night and today. Went out for one hour's worth of errands to the commissary (they had no LIFE cereal!) and otherwise allowed myself a whole day off. Ok, did some laundry since it didn't seem to be raining, but, of course, the rain came later! Tomorrow the aquatics class and then the conference continues in the afternoon with a showing of Pirates of the Caribbean and a discussion after.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

too much homework to be writing on the blog

about 50 verbs to figure out for Bangla class, and papers to grade and at least one more article to read before class tomorrow. trying to remember why I assigned so many articles?

long, long day today. woke up grumpy since I'd been awake in the night for about an hour and then finally fell into a deep sleep only to find I hadn't set my alarm and we're off, late from the beginning. no time to do homework over breakfast. and it's raining. so, no, Matan, the clothes I washed 2 days ago are still damp out on the porches. (maybe need an indooor rack for when they're 80% dry so they don't keep getting a bit wet?). rickshaws are less available in the rain, so getting wetter before 8am. wet ride -- wish I had a picture of me peeking over the umbrella covering my lap and knapsack. rickshaw-whalla claimed to know where he was going. so untrue. he knew where the neighborhood was. after that it was up to me.

I can go into class grumpy and come out ready for the rest of the day. not sure why since it's not about understanding it all. but only 3 students and a very wonderful teacher. at tea-time we chat about modems and plans to travel and how work is going.

after class I go to the bank. we need 10 taka notes (bills?) desparately since we seem to go through them pretty fast. there's always a shortage, so people hoard them. they round up or down to give 20 taka change or 50 taka change. a couple of weeks ago I got a whole stack of new 10 taka bills from the bank. felt like monopoly money. but Matan and I have been taking 4-5 each, every day, and they're getting used up (we had 100!). so. none to be had today. got 20s instead.

Korean bakery to try something new. rolls were ok. too much margarine in them (pre-spread?). ok for breakfast.

work. much work. still, got to talk to Shaked on Skype before I really got started or all the people came in. my officemate came in and "met" her since he appeared in the background as we were talking! his dad had a second stroke and was getting out of the hospital today -- except that my officemate had signed the check in green ink and they wouldn't release the dad until he came and wrote a new check. not only foreigners get frustrated here.

then the embassy calls to say there's an envelope from cellos2go, would this small envelope be what we're waiting for? since my 12:30 meeting got cancelled, I take off for the center. should be 15 minutes there and back. yes. right. it's pouring and traffic is standing still. an hour and 15 minutes later I'm back. I took a CNG this time so we could zip over there fast, but we just stood still on busier roads, where the rickshaws aren't allowed. if I was really productive, I would have been doing bangla homework. but I'm not.

back at work. yummy lunch from the cafeteria. lots of rice and chicken baryani. spicy stuff.

late afternoon. finally writing more quizzes for tomorrow's class. maybe with repetition the idea of doing the readings will indeed get through.

finally, my ride got postponed and my aqua aerobics missed to go to a "reunion" -- after the summer, the staff and faculty convene for a light snack (this is light?) and meet up with everyone they haven't seen all summer. I am still wholly unused to the idea that I get introduced to all the provosts and vice-presidents of everything and passed from one to the next as the prized fulbrighter in the English dept. met some really interesting people and hope to connect with them in the future. one in particular talked about getting our sons together -- his grew up in the US and it's his first semester back after about 10 years. he's 15 or 16 and not really happy that this is where his family is now.

ride home. yea. then a quick clearing out of the knapsack to go out. take the material and two shirts as samples and go to the shopping center near home to order 3 new shirts. hope this works well. not outfits this time. I don't like the baggy pants with no pockets version here.

next -- on to pick up the laundry and talk. I didn't realize I'd be getting a ride home, so we waited until the driver was back. with a little tweaking this could be the solution to the Tuesday night ride for Matan since she said this was a good night to pick up laundry as the driver would be there. hmmm.

home by 8pm. quick think about supper since Matan's due at any minute. no, his rickshaw driver didn't show so Matan called. he got a ride with another rickshaw driver that's based at the school. there's still a lot of traffic at that hour, not that it's moving very fast...

and now to get to the homework. ah, but we have internet at home. it's getting kind of late and I'm getting pretty tired.

(have not forgotten that I promised to tell you about the students. and the bugs. many bugs are dead now).

Sunday, October 4, 2009

magic modem

Yes, now I can connect at home without relying on the landlord or on the electricity working (at that particular moment). Unbelievable. Frustration really moved me to figure out a solution. Here's hoping this works better.

catching up

Since I have an orientation at 9am, I told my Bangla class I wouldn't be there. Still, it feels like skipping class since I could have gone to the 8-8:50 half of the 8-10 class. Maybe if I'd had my homework done? (it's really hard -- all of those endings indicating nominative, accusative or genitive cases. ouch). So instead, I came to the meeting place an hour early, had some fruit salad and am taking advantage of the internet. Maybe if I hadn't done a marathon of rickshaws yesterday, I would have been up for bouncing around to make it to class and then racing back to the meeting, but my knees are saying no to the leaps in and out of rickshaws more than once an hour! I may be losing weight, but agile would still not be the word I'd use to describe me, and rickshaws demand a balanced, smooth leap into the seat.

Catching up on last week's neglected topics:

The maid -- I decided that I came here to teach and not to be at home accompanying her. Her whining helped push me into that position. So when she didn't show on Sunday and I did all of the wash, and she came on Monday when I wasn't interested in hanging out there, I said that I wouldn't be needing her anymore. (She doesn't understand English so the instructions to come on Sunday were in a note home the previous time and the discussion on the phone on Monday were with someone she found who spoke English). Then she called and hung up about a dozen times which I understand is meant for me, as the one who can afford the phone calls, to return the call to her so I'm paying for it. I didn't feel like playing along and didn't return the calls. Tuesday I'm at work and the calls start coming in again. This time I asked my officemate to talk, to reiterate that it's a matter of not wanting to hang out at home rather than go to work, and so it doesn't work for me to have a maid. He's talking to someone she's put on who can speak English! I think we've got it all straightened out and then on Wednesday the calls come in again. Over and over, hanging up after one ring. I'm really not into this. (She wants her cv and photograph back, that's all). I know, I can afford the 2 taka phone call and obviously if this much effort is being put into calling and hanging up, she can't. Nonetheless, I'm starting to get really annoyed. Left the cv with the guard and haven't had any more calls. Waved when I saw her from a rickshaw this weekend.

Risk analysis and parent meetings. When I signed up to be the parent coordinator for the 10th grade, it was mostly to meet with other parents and hear how they handle the teenage issues in Dhaka. The most challenging apparently are the weekend parties, out of school, held at clubs and restaurants, usually with alcohol from embassy connections. Not entirely illegal, but not quite appropriate either, at least not for 15-year-olds. Matan went once and was pretty appalled. He chose not to go this weekend. I wasn't sure about letting him go, who would be driving him home, what kinds of options would he have if he wanted to leave? He was staying with a friend who came with a driver and I had talked to the friend's mom. I'm really appreciating the sports coaches' pressure in MN to stay away from alcohol and missing the coaches and captains here.

So I tend to come home from these meetings pretty freaked out by the principal's talking about drugs, dangerous driving, prostitution -- what else do I need added to my worry list? Poor Matan, it takes about a week for me to calm down. One very wise friend said to listen to the people who live there. Our question is still the issue of night transportation. I mean, if I listen to my colleagues at work -- they're not taking rickshaws anywhere, nor are their kids. The Fulbright folks, the younger ones (just after college) rely heavily on them. The folks at the American school pretty much all have cars and drivers (provided by the school, I think. Maybe they have to share to get it heavily subsidized). Seems like lots of people use them to get to work and/or school, but I haven't sorted it all out yet. Nights are probably more risky, though we do have drivers we know whose phone numbers have been relayed by others. The risk, in my opinion, is less about mugging and more about driving without lights. I don't know how to evaluate this. My usual decision-making systems seem inadequate. So while I don't make a decision (to rent a car with a driver long-term), the default is that we have taken more rickshaw rides at night. Close by - like under 10 minutes to the American club, but not staying in after dark. And thus, a decision is being made. Not sure it's the right one.

I'll have to catch up about students and studying later.

And the bugs. Yes, bugs.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

so, what are we doing today?

The class, as I pretty much expected, didn't happen. Three people came: one early on to pick up handouts, two thinking there would be class. We talked about what they're reading and the way I grade responses, how that fits into the unit grade. Gave me some good ideas about what I'll need to clarify for everyone on Monday. Spent some of the time there prepping for the other class. Student who borrowed my book did not return it and I'm debating what to do about that before class Monday (I have a Fulbright orienation on Sunday, did not plan to go to campus). not stressing much, just pissed that she said she'd return it Saturday and didn't.

Seemed like the dept head wanted me to meet someone, but after hanging around for another hour, I decided to get on with my day's plans. Computer City again -- this time I got the modem for the computer. What I didn't know was that getting the modem was only step one. Next the SIM. SIM place asked for passport and photos. By now it was 3pm and I was tired (it had been a day of travel by rickshaw and CNG). Went home expecting to stay in. Maybe there would be internet at home? I could do homework even.

After some lunch and a short nap, I got up planning to go to the American club and maybe catch up on Skype? But decided that I could still get to the SIM place after getting pictures taken. Got the pictures, but the SIM place closed 10 minutes before I got there.

Time to go to the American club. A chocolate milkshake later, no one's awake on Skype, and I think it's time to call it a day.

Matan says I need a haircut. He says I look old. Maybe I do? Not sure a haircut would make a difference! This is me!
Here's a picture:

Friday, October 2, 2009

still not yet a normal week

We are nearing the end of the first quarter for Matan's school, but I don't think we've had a normal week of study yet at the University. This week classes met from Tues-Thurs, which means my Mon/Wed classes met once. Students, for the most part, have not yet acquired the readings (I can't say bought books when everything is photocopied). So the in-class essay, supposedly based on their reading and annotating at home, was a total flop. I'd anticipated a few needing the readings, so I brought copies of 3 out of 5, but 90% of the students needed this handout. So it turned into a in-class reading and quick write something panic.


Tomorrow we have a make-up class, but since our class didn't really miss any Mondays or Wednesdays (that is, those were the holidays, not the extra days bridging to a longer vacation), many of the students will have conflicts with other make-up classes. Wish I could just cancel it, but no, internet is not something I can fairly expect people to use and to see that class is cancelled. sigh. what a way to mess up a Saturday. I was told that I could/should schedule this make-up day, but even when I asked if it wouldn't conflict, I was told there wouldn't be a problem. humph. At least my 301 students could tell me, yes, there's a conflict, no, let's not meet, while my 201 students just nodded and said no problem (until one came the next day to tell me that there were indeed conflicts).

Today I got up early -- 7:30 -- and since the internet was not working at home (as usual), I went to the American club, swam and chatted on skype poolside. Back home by 10am and in a great mood. I do love to swim in outdoor pools and early morning is best!

We tried to get to a computer store, took a long ride by GNC, and found it closed. I haven't quite got a sense of what is closed and what opened on Fridays. Maybe some stores open later in the day. Maybe we'll try again tomorrow after class. Matan's phone is broken and I'm going to get the USB modem that works like a cell phone and I think we can get unlimited internet access for under $10/mo. Our neighbor next door no longer relies at all on the landlord.

Otherwise? I still want to write about some of those other ideas in a whole post and other ideas... but just so you know, we have had clothes washed and dried and delivered. They are so soft!