Monday, November 30, 2009

a very short visit to Nepal

we left Thursday much later in the day than we were supposed to -- the flight was delayed from about 2 until 5pm. got there in the dark, the hotel came to pick us up, but had given away our room. they did, to their credit, find us another room at the hotel next door. the guy who met us also asked what else we needed and then arranged bus tickets for the 7am bus the next morning to Pokhara. we went out to eat at a steakhouse nearby, leading Matan to say when we got back to the hotel, that it seems like we're really going to splurge on this vacation! this in a hotel which (at the time) had no electricity, no elevator, no heat, no hot water, the toilet didn't flush, the tv didn't work (and didn't even before the electricity went out), but it did have heavy warm blankets, so we slept well that night.

I'll write more tomorrow, but don't worry, the hotel rooms improved and the picture I'm posting is from the hammock at the hotel this morning.

We had a good break, went way out of urban areas into very rural villages, by bus. there were stunning views next to houses with no electricity or running water. lots to think about.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Happy day to all who celebrate and safe travels to all who are journeying.
Thanks for your support, cheers, questions and concern throughout this amazing adventure we are having.
Off line for the next couple of days. Must say I'm looking forward to that, too!

ps the amex appears to have authorized so I think we're good to go!

so will the amex card work?

trying to be grateful that the IPASS ran out and the credit card (one of the stolen and cancelled ones) was rejected. IPASS notified me and I changed the card to amex. unfortunately, amex has not yet authorized the transaction, nor the replenishment. makes me really nervous to travel today with a credit card that might not be working from abroad. working on getting it verified in the States that there might be charges from Bangladesh, Nepal, Bahrain, Jordan....!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

ready for something a little more quiet

I'll have to get a picture of the new sign at the entrance to our neighborhood: "no horns in ----" since it seems that horns are usually connected directly to the gas pedal. or the brake. or both. There are traffic signs with a big circle over a horn symbol to show folks that this is a no horn zone. Matan says it just reminds folks that they have horns. I find myself jumping lately when a car driver honks over and over and we're all equally stuck in traffic, but I'm on a rickshaw and getting the full benefit of his blast. No car windows to buffer it a bit.

Guess I'm to the point where I'd like a little quiet. The planes go right over our apartment building, pretty darn low. And trains, I usually like them. There's a guard or police officer that blows a whistle at hourly intervals throughout the night. I think. I still like the roosters. They seem to blend in.

The rest of the week was challenging, as well. Monday I got some grocery shopping done, but not much else after work. Tuesday I went to swimming and then thought I could get to the commissary between 5 and 7pm and back to Matan's school for an award ceremony. No. traffic was miserable and after about an hour on a rickshaw, I just said let's go back to the school. With the groceries. sigh.

Today the students in the first course continued to say they could not read an autobiography, but now, since they were supposed to bring it with them to class today, I have very little patience for this. There are 30 autobiographies in the library. I don't care if 20 of them are by Nelson Mandela. It does not matter that there is no internet connection in their village over the holiday. They got the assignment 2 weeks ago. And yes, the book has to be read by next Wednesday even if there is no school for the next 5 days. And yes, there will be an in-class essay on the make-up class day on Saturday next week (lest we think we have 5 whole days off, there are make-up days here when there's a holiday bridge over what should have been a class day....). I think maybe one person had read the articles for today so that quiz didn't go very well either. Is the frustration coming out of my ears?

At least when all of my powerpoint presentations were lost on the thumb drive today, I could replace everything (I think) since I actually write them on computers and save them on the drive only to move from computer to classroom. Of course, if anything was really lost I won't know until I look for it sometime in the future.

So. yes. that kind of week. Looking forward to the weekend vacation. Two days in Kathmandu and two days in Phokhara. No computer.

Monday, November 23, 2009

mostly better

The bank was not helpful. They are a separate entity from the American and online version where my account was established. They tried to help but it would take a very long time to get the money out.

Cancelling the atm card took a 7 minute phone call to the states. the person in the office next door laughed out loud when I got off, I guess my patience was obviously I went over and talked to her about the whole thing.

Worked on replacing other local cards. Realized my phone was out when it went dead while I was talking to my embassy contact. My computer was also out at the time so I was getting a bit frazzled. IT came up and figured out what connection was loose on the computer. The phone got some minutes added. Good thing I wasn't trying to grade or teach or anything like that. Reading for a lecture for Wed was about all I could do. I had done quite a lot of prep while procrastinating last week on the presentation(!).

Made plans to see a friend who is leaving next week. Decided to get new photographs since all progress in getting new documents in Dhaka depends on having photographs. Every office wants photographs. So instead of having the driver take me home, I went to a commercial center, got the pictures and with 10 minutes to spare got to the American club before the office closed. New document granted. Slept poolside while waiting for my friend. Glorious to talk to her. I miss seeing her everyday at language class. Turns out she can also help with my lack of local currency. Brought supper home for Matan. And just felt like it was going to be ok.

This morning was cold so I wore a long sleeved shirt and went directly to campus by rickshaw. It's a little longer than 30 minutes and that was chilly so I was very glad for time enough for hot tea. I like the paratha and egg too. Wonder what exactly makes it spicy!

Soon after I got to my office I got a call from my landlord that someone called him and said he had my documents. I had sent an email to the landlord Sat night just to let him know that his card was in my wallet and if anyone came around, that would be the source of the information. My suspicious side was concerned that someone knew where we lived and wanted more; my better side thought if anyone found it, that would be a logical place to return it. And indeed, a cab driver found the pile of cards, no wallet or money, stuffed into the back seat cushion of the cab. He hadn't had the car for the last 2 days and found the documents when he got the car back and was cleaning it out. So I got the number from the landlord and our English department coordinator did all the talking. Arranged for the driver to come to BRAC and I left my phone with him so if he came when I was in class, the coordinator could meet him.

Most all of the contents were returned. I was especially glad to see my driver's license and our insurance cards. The credit cards and atm card are cancelled so they're not much use. All those wonderful business cards from contacts here. Wonder what they can do with the purchase data about my modem SIM -- that's gone, too.

So teaching today was somewhat distracted (I know). Did my presentation for the theory class and asked them for feedback, esp since the conference people do want it written up into a formal essay by the end of January and I am interested particularly in the applications in Bangladesh. My students can help me see the project of online learning from a wider perspective.

Lots of really helpful and concerned people around me.
I'll write about Ibsen some other time. Hard to remember that was this past weekend too. And we're off to Nepal on Thursday.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

mostly very frightened

I hope that the local bank will be able to replace the atm card. Don't really want to list everything we have and don't have. Feeling very vulnerable.

Haven't slept enough to cope properly.

Need to get new photographs urgently: for local cards and on-the-spot visas in Nepal.

better get up and get going again. the cynical me wonders how much weight I lose on this one. during the first two months of anxiety, I lost over 10 kilos.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Matan places 3rd -- both individual and his team -- in math competition

Three days of math! Hosting kids from India, Pakistan, Nepal. Some field trips (they had math problems to solve!), some pizza outings, but mostly math and more math. Long tie-breaker for the individual scoring.

wallet stolen at conference

sure took all the fun out of that presentation.
5 minutes before I went on. while I was working on the computer setup.
less than 5 feet away from me.

with a trip this week, I admit, I'm just sad and scared.

Friday, November 20, 2009

the cluelessness

I just want to know --

how do I know when not to schedule Thursday conferences?
clue: when classes have been cancelled because admission tests will be held on campus. no student can get in without admission test ticket.your students will not have admission test tickets.

how do I know when I get billed for internet?
clue: when there is a box that says messages as the program comes up. try to open it. you'll see messages from the last month and a half that say when you filled the SIM and when it was billed. not random at all.

how do I know that you can look for people on Facebook by year at high school or university?
clue: it says so there. ok. I figured it out. eventually.

how do I know there's a final exam at the end of Bangla class?
clue: there's been one every time the session ends? how did this come as a complete surprise?

hmmm. when I write them down, it doesn't seem quite so infinite. It was a week though of too often feeling very dense and not very perceptive.

So I got to read the English essays on the admission tests that day that classes were cancelled. And I haven't missed any internet payments -- the threat of being dropped from the unlimited package kept me in line! And new friends on facebook -- people I haven't seen in many, many years. Others I didn't even know were in my "class" at Hebrew U since they were in different divisions! Finally, I just got pictures of the last class in Bangla and went to work. I was not ready to take an exam in script yet.

I'll catch up more tomorrow. It's been a pretty good week, though a hard one with starting out behind (sleeping through last weekend) and having a conference presentation tomorrow that's kept me working steadily all week. I think it's ready. Not ready enough for me to go to water aerobics 2 hours before the talk, but ready enough to sleep well tonight.

the little ants

size and color of my freckles will eventually drive me crazy. they are so tiny that I usually don't think I'm really feeling them. like a hair in a breeze or a drop of water on my arm. and next thing I scratch and yes, that was an ant. they come up off the tablecloth onto the computer screen or the keys or my arms. they leap from the sink when I do dishes. but the worst worst worst is finding them (occasionally) in bed.

I'm truly less disturbed by a once-a-week cockroach than these constant little nasties.

Monday, November 16, 2009

a bit about teaching

Last week I had a class that I went into knowing that I didn't want to do what I had planned for the second half. Did*not*want*to*do*it. By the midpoint I had figured out what to do (gee, they had said "more practical applications, please" very clearly in the midterm evaluations I asked them to fill out), and there it was. In the text was a story we all had read - Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" - and this theory book, probably because it's American, didn't have much of a Marxist analysis section. So that sample essay hadn't been evaluated in that light. I took Peter Barry's "Intro to Theory" (British) and went to his section on "What Marxist Critics Do" and said now let's apply it to this story. I did it as well and since I really didn't have a prepared outcome, was good to see what they all came up with. It worked really well.

The next class was less successful -- it was me trying to tell them everything I knew about feminist theory and trying to manage the three texts we had, plus an article by Annette Kolodny. That was the class with the either/or on the ppt or internet, and other equally unsuccessful items.

Today was supposed to be about post-colonial theory. They had too much to read. I had their annotated bibliographies. So I decided to have them choose one of the readings, to take Peter Barry's question about the version of the theories he presented and to answer his ponderings based on the authors/texts they had. And to assume the others hadn't read them (loud approval here from the group). They will present these on Wed and had time to work on them today. Meanwhile, I sat with each person individually on the annotated bibliographies. Some were great, others needed additional ideas. I think this was the most productive use of time even if we finished early. Also in one case it seemed like I did magic since he was describing a source that he couldn't find and I knew I had read it recently. Probably after reading his research proposal. AND I was pretty sure I had printed it out, so somewhere it was accessible. Indeed, I found it in my office and gave it to him. I love that I have time to look through people's proposals and wander a bit through the sources.

On the other front, the class with drafts that needed comments. Well, I skipped Bangla class this morning to finish those and decided that they needed far more revision than from Mon to Wed (the deadline had previously been Mon, so I would have been giving drafts back on Wed with more revision time). I told them we were moving on, starting the next unit, but that I was taking advantage of the tutorial day - no classes on Thursdays, just TA groups or extra sessions. So I want to see every one of them on Thursday with a revision (and a worksheet that I gave them to evaluate their thesis, topics and supporting evidence) since most had not yet developed a thesis. They were not thrilled since it had seemed that the end had been in sight. On the other hand, the papers were not ready for final revisions.

So why was I still behind this morning? Well, I got distracted on the paper that I'm writing for the conference on Saturday. A really cool screenshot application that I can add arrows and boxes is fun to play with and really, really, helpful so that I will not have to rely on internet access for my presentation. YEA! Thanks again, Paul!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

back up and at 'em

feeling good today. sleeping for 48 hours pretty much takes care of whatever ails me.

Bangla class (last week of this session). then I went to the American Center to pick up a package and to the bank to take out money and get another 1000 taka in 10s. lots of work at school -- printing out all those annotated bibliographies, drafts to comment on, lecture for tomorrow to prepare. still haven't written the conference paper. yikes. lots of email about the upcoming Nepal trip. travel far by bus and not have much time anywhere? or sit still and enjoy one set of views? Pokhara? Nagarkot? views? relaxing? elephant rides? hikes? bikes? ok, we definitely need a few weeks...!

then another meeting at Matan's school - this parent advisory committee is taking up more time. quick hike over to the American club to pay the bill for the month and pick up dinner.

now I've got to go over those drafts. while there's electricity.

(and for those who are keeping score at home, we are back *on* for the reasonable laundry for another 2 weeks, but we have serious misunderstandings in the interpretation of when rent payments are due. I am weary. Don't these things get settled and then you move on with living? Or is it all inter-cultural?).

Saturday, November 14, 2009

too congested

that's all. tired. need to grade and write a paper for a conference next weekend. want to go with Matan to get this elusive bike - the ones we saw last weekend were too flashy, too expensive, too complex. the place to buy them is an hour or two away, depending on traffic. if we don't go today, it's postponed until Dec. yuck.

I'll probably go to the doctor tomorrow at the clinic at Matan's school. They host a travellers' clinic twice a week.

back to bed for now.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Savar and sinuses

Yesterday I went out to BRAC's residential campus. All first-year students spend one semester at Savar, about an hour outside of Dhaka. It was quiet and peaceful. Reminded me very much of kibbutz with the community dining hall and grounds. My department head was doing the advising with the five students from the English department before their spring semester registration. She asked them a lot of questions about how their courses were going and pretty much told them what classes they needed to register for!

I enjoyed the trip out of town and having some time to chat with her.

Today has been very low-key with too much sinus headache pain to do much of anything. If the tylenol doesn't start to help, I'll go to the travellers' clinic at Matan's school on Sunday. Did have good conversations on Skype today with quite a few people, backed up the laptop (I think), and made brownies. Matan missed tutoring since he didn't wake up to the alarm clock and I didn't know he meant to wake up. And flag football was cancelled because of a Christmas fair (!), but he went back to the school to hangout at the student center this evening.

Meanwhile, the laundry solution has been halted! It was too good to be true: we had clean clothes, sheets, towels, everything, delivered for a reasonable price for two weeks. I think someone told the landlord that he'd made a mistake and he said to me: "my people can't continue to do this" -- gee, and that's with a washing machine and a dryer. I wonder how "my people" are supposed to manage! (He simply doubled the price we had agreed on for the month [after two weeks] knowing that I wouldn't continue to use the service). sigh. He is installing a washing machine for self-service use. However, the prices he was trying out on me in our discussion were ridiculous. as usual. not sure why I expected anything different. not sure what we're going to do. It's kind of sad that he says electricity costs so much -- as though providing maid service would be less expensive. Maybe that's the wall I'm hitting my head on -- (no wonder my sinuses hurt! :-) -- if the bottom line is someone can be hired to wash by hand for much less than running the machines. sad, no?

Thursday, November 12, 2009


*didn't want to go to Bangla class. After one hour, I left. The teacher wrote words on the board and after we carefully copied them down, he erased about 1/3 of the letters and said, oh no, that's just how they're pronounced. Now we'll see the correct spelling. I do not want to copy down incorrect spellings. I *know* how these simple words are pronounced. argh.

*getting to the U early is good: less traffic, cafeteria still serving breakfast, I take time for tea.

*students in the first class doing peer reviews. Six arrive on time. The other five come in at five minute intervals, all needing individual explanations about the peer review, the assignment for Monday, the changes in the syllabus. should have known when I was on the verge of tears, that something is wrong. usually I can handle this.

*sudden interview pops up for a job search I'm on. oops, must go upstairs to sit in on it. (opening a writing center here).

*still no good lecture for the 2pm class. the one about feminist theory. I can handle things I know less about far better. how to squeeze in something that was one of my minor subjects for my whole MA and a main subject of my phd into 90 minutes, much more difficult. wanted to show a clip: didn't have a pen drive, took my laptop, could have either the powerpoint *or* the internet, not both simultaneously, opted for the internet first, get the clip up, no sound. oh, the dept provides speakers, not the classroom and you have to arrange for them in advance. the things we don't know to ask for.

*one single annotated bibliography turned in on time in that class. without any annotations. gave everyone who asked a one-day extension. we'll see what that yields today.

*home. figured out that this is a real sinus headache and simple otc medication will contribute immensely to me feeling more human.

*Matan has a cello lesson.

*I go to the much-anticipated PTA-sponsored meeting on raising teens in Dhaka. more on this later.

*I get home to find the door bolted and Matan doesn't answer. key won't help. try the doorbell and cell phone. no answer. pound a lot. neighbors offer help. I try leaving a message on facebook -- maybe he's in his room with the door closed, and air-conditioner on, and earphones? no, he's not online. try the intercom from their house. no answer. pound more. wake the 4th floor folks. pound more. door bell runs out of batteries. pound more. cell phone doesn't answer. pound more. now the third floor is involved. landlord and his father come up. they try waking Matan from the roof with a hose hitting his window. no response. the landlord suggests that Matan will wake up eventually and miss me. I think maybe he'll wake up hungry. so I slide a note under the door asking him to open the lock and call my cell phone. meanwhile I hang out at the neighbors. the landlord's dad doesn't give up. he's sending someone up the side of the building from the 4th floor. this person taps on the window and flashes a light in at Matan. Matan wakes up. they come running to get me because Matan is not opening the window to this stranger. he opens the door. sees many neighbors. whole thing took 1.5 hours...

*took awhile to fall asleep.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

kind of queasy

Came home after the first hour of class. Should have listened to my stomach before I left the house. Hope that it's only a mild version of Matan's gastro upset -- he was pretty miserable on Sunday, but better yesterday. At least there's still some chicken soup left!

I don't teach today so I figured I can prep at home. Fell asleep almost immediately.

Some odds and ends:
pictures of the new tablecloth,

our ready-for-the-weekend water supply,

and my class in script with David, the teacher, and Blanche (she's not the one from Maplewood).

a link to an article about global warming in a Dhaka refugee camp, a link about why college professors don't envy the young, and a link to an article questioning whether too many students go to college which I will surely use in the unit on educational philosophies in my comp classes.

maybe a few more pictures from the weekend.

Enough for today. Time to take another nap.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sonargaon trip with Mahmud's classes

Saturday we went on a field trip with my officemate's classes, to Sonargaon and Paran Nagar, previous capital of Bengal with ruins dating back to the 13th century. Only 27 kilometers from Dhaka, but easily 2 hours each way with most of the time spent on city streets at a crawl. The bus was called a murimati (I think) which has something to do with rice that's popped like popcorn...

We started at the folk art museum

which had some electricity problems -- some of the displays I saw more clearly in the pictures Matan took!

But the newer building with the fabrics! WOW! amazing works of art.

We walked through the gardens and saw boats, flowers,

people-powered ferris wheels and many booths with fabrics, saris, etc.

Matan enjoyed the shooting balloon stand and at 1 taka per shot (70 taka = $1), it was quite a deal.

Then we had a picnic at Paran Nagar which is a very old Hindu neighborhood, with little restoration done.

(yes we eat with our hands, even rice, no silverware).
Walking through the street -- it was a place of immense wealth at one point.

I didn't understand when I was seeing it, but most of the waterways are engineered to be moats and water sources, it's not a river running through.

Pictures of the girls dipping in the water,

and others exploring more buildings.

One of the students commutes from this village and our last stop was to visit her family's home. Up five flights of stairs and they hosted all 28 of us for tea and fruits. Then the long long ride back to Dhaka. I followed the map out of the city, but the sun was setting when we got back and I was very disoriented. Really I know so very little of the city.

a very good weekend

pictures coming. but now I have to get to class.

Friday, November 6, 2009

children's literature

thinking about whether to attempt a project looking into children's literature here. learning the script so slowly that it seems presumptuous to start looking at children's books. but I will be doing a department conference (they have one every semester) which is a full day affair in Feb or March. lots of people from outside the university will participate.

just thinking right now. seems like something I could do and would work well with both teaching and research.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

not that I'm counting, eh?

the electricity went out three times in the half hour I was in the grocery store. usually the generator goes on within 10 seconds, but not tonight. nope. it was out for a couple of minutes each time. some organized folks, not me, have flashlights with them. took forever to get through the checkout since only one third of the registers were working. lots of threes here. hmmm. ice cream soup for supper!

the guests aren't coming for dinner tomorrow, so we are going to look for the bike. Matan is tutoring at the school in the morning and playing football in the afternoon. hope we have daylight after that to try for a bike.

Saturday we have field trip with my officemate's class.

got the midterms graded today. the department chair checks the grades and discusses the progress for each student before she signs off on them. then the students have meetings next week with her before the students register for spring semester classes. the range of grades was very similar to the MN range (it's the same test!) but there were some interesting twists in the answers that surprised and pleased me.

maybe I'll just go swimming now. because, yes, the electricity is out again.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

on and off, mostly off

ooof. three electrical outages in the last six hours (since I got home from work). at about one hour each, that puts us at having electricity about 50% of the time.

at work, when it goes out, the generators kick in and computers, lights, fans, elevators just keep running. we only notice that we're off the grid when we start to feel the lack of air conditioning. the a/c doesn't work until the real electricity comes back up.

considering that we've been in the dark so much of tonight, it's very strange to have talked to the States on skype (and helped Shaked with a paper over gmail), talked to two people in Israel on skype and one by phone. so something's been working, even if the electricity was not.

such is life.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

good routines

waking up before the sunrise. riding in a rickshaw through the morning traffic. school with two classmates who are studying far more than I am (ouch!). but how were we supposed to learn all of the letters in 7 class days???

another rickshaw ride to work at 10am. teaching is going well -- we're at the midterm tomorrow. students coming in to talk about their research projects. putting classwork online since one of the classes I'm doing both semesters here, I'll be teaching next summer online at Century. lunch is trying new food at the cafeteria.

ride after work today was me alone in a minibus with a driver! so I get a ride home or, on Tuesdays, to Matan's school for water aerobics. fun group. after that I meandered down one of the main roads (got a meat pounder for Matan's shnitzel requests), and went out to eat at an Italian restaurant with a friend. so many good places are hidden off the street level, totally out of sight.

home by rickshaw. getting used to coming home in the dark. pizza carryout for Matan when he got home even later than I did. a fine day in Dhaka.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

one of the pleasures of this sabbatical

is having enough time to read as I prepare classes.

I can't imagine anything better than having 2 classes with a total of 21 students -- just enough to hold classes, to prep, to try new ideas and texts and to not have too much grading! I sit at my office desk and read for the literary theory and research methodology class and look up the articles the text refers to, and sometimes I print them out. Amazing access. Seminal articles. TIME enough to read them! I tell my students that I really like going through their research proposals with them and showing them the wonders of JSTOR. And then reading a few articles on David Copperfield and The Great Gatsby, just to see what's new in the scholarship there.

In our shared space, I also listen to my officemate's conferences with his students. He teaches linguistics and teaching materials prep, and it's new content to me. He also goes over my Bangla lessons so I can study the texts with a better translation than what I've managed to capture during class.

I'm keeping a list of the readings so that at the end, when the sabbatical report comes due, the list will be full of sparkling bits that I incorporated into my lectures or that I read for next year's contemporary world lit classes at home. Or even pieces that I don't know yet if they'll ever fit in to teaching, but they intrigued me enough to read today.