Tuesday, December 29, 2009


in Israel. very quiet. sometimes I hear birds. usually not even that. walking in the desert this morning, I just couldn't believe how quiet it is. I'm saving that up for next week.

also how spacious the negev is. also saving up those views.

everyone got here by Sunday night. We've just been hanging out. some talking, some swimming, some walking, lots of eating. some shopping, some movies, a wedding, a family gathering (over 25 people), and then some more eating and hanging out.

almost time to leave. we haven't visited anyone north of Ashkelon. yikes. I suspect we're not going to make it to visit many people this trip. sorry. we really needed to see each other. usually we come together after having been away from here, this time we've come separately and need to see our family. another time -- we'll be back.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

in Israel

Matan and I have been here for a few days now (Wed-Sun), mostly on the kibbutz. The first few days had sandstorms, but yesterday was brilliant. Even Friday afternoon had cleared enough to go picking oranges. I've been grading off and on (really, with 16 papers, how can I even sit down more than once to do them?!) and will be done before the others arrive from the States.

When? who knows. They've been re-routed because of the snowstorm on the east coast. If they arrived in Newark, their new flight is scheduled to take off shortly. So, no, they're not arriving here Sun am. Earliest is now Sun 6pm.

So we're in Beer Sheva. Matan went rappeling yesterday with Doron -- pretty much all day. I'm being pampered with the best food ever, both on kibbutz and here. Hot bath. The quiet is a pleasure. So peaceful and sunny.

In a while I'll go get the rental car. May even try to solve the Bituah Leumi (national insurance) issues, though for some reason, they want us to come to their Ashkelon office(?). Still haven't made many plans, waiting for everyone to be here together.

Hope everyone is safe and warm!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

journey to Israel

Finished teaching for the semester. Collected most of the papers and went home on Tuesday to finish packing. Some bulky presents, but not a lot. Some warm clothes, but not nearly enough (the MN folks will bring us some warmer clothes!).

On the way home from the university, I asked the driver to arrange a cab to take us to the airport at 6:30pm for our 9pm flight. We stopped at a taxi stand and he talked to a driver -- arranged the price, told him where we live, all in Bangla so there wouldn't be any confusion.

Home and packing. Cooked lovely paratha with corn and mozzarella cheese, saved half for later, but the ants got it first. I hate little ants.

We finished and were ready to go on time. Go downstairs and at about 6:35 call the cab driver who says there's a big traffic jam and it will take him a few more miniutes. Go back upstairs to get mosquito spray since sitting downstairs we are just big tasty targets. Call the cab driver every 10 minutes and he keeps saying "big traffic jam" and that he'll be there in 10 minutes. I have other people, one of the other renter's drivers call to clarify in Bangla that the driver is indeed on his way. By 7:15, I'm really scared. We are only about 10-15 minutes from the airport, but everything in Dhaka depends on traffic. If there's a "jam" on the way to the airport, we have to leave early, accordingly.

We walk out to the bigger street to see if we can find a CNG or cab. Of course not. We'd have to go back towards the center -- where the jam is much worse -- to find one. I am so scared that we'll miss our flight that now my brain is working on last resorts. Oh yes, friend at the Radisson, they might have cabs there -- so I call her. She says she'll have one sent immediately. We walk back to our apartment building since 19 rickshaw drivers have offered to take us, even though they are not allowed on the main road to the airport.

At the apartment building the driver-who-didn't-show calls to say he is not in the right neighborhood. I give my phone to the (latest new) apartment manager and ask him to tell the driver that he doesn't need to come. (actually I think much nastier things to tell the driver who had, at that point, over 3 hours to find our apartment building since we arranged for him at 4pm to pick us up at 6:30pm, but I refrain). I start to cry very softly. Waiting for the Radisson guy to come. Now it's 7:45 and our plane leaves in one hour and fifteen minutes. The guard, the other renter's driver, the apartment manager all stand there. Finally they say, here, go in this renter's car and we'll work it out. We get all loaded into that car and the Radisson car comes around the corner. Yes, there had been a train and that blocked traffic for 5-10-15 minutes around here. So we get in the Radisson car and start on our way.

We're at the airport by 8pm (it really is very very close to our apartment), and then race through the lines. The check-in people say we're very lucky since the hold is being closed but they call down to hold it for our suitcase. In this chaos, I lose the book Matan was reading. Pretty sure it stayed at one of those three counters that we were shifted around there. Immigration -- we totally cut the line since our flight was boarding. People were not happy with us.

Boarding as we get there. They separate the men and women but I insist that Matan boards with me. Then we discover the book is missing and I turn around and go back -- but only as far as immigration, can't go out to the ticket counter. No book. Good food, good movie, good sleep -- what more can we ask for? Ok, so getting up at 3am in Bahrain is not ideal, but it's before midnight there. Very orderly procedure for getting to hotel (including transit visa), but squeezed into a van with a few too many people. Nice talk with a woman from Dhaka who is at a different university. Hotel is fine, we go to sleep, I had a nice shower, but no hot water for Matan! Have a buffet breakfast and a beautiful ride back to the airport. What a different city that was. Traffic is orderly, streets are clean, there are sidewalks. Buildings are built. The airport was loaded with things to buy buy buy that you had to walk through to get to your gate. Changed a bit of money and bought someone some fast food...

(not my picture)

Next flight to Amman was pretty quiet. More cosmopolitan than the flight from Dhaka. Also not 98% male.

In Amman we have to change money for the taxi to Israel, and, it turns out, for single-entry visas. So they are $15 each, and once we leave the country (in 2 hours), have to get new ones next time. Still, everything seems to work well. We get the cab and set out. Looks so much like Jerusalem. Zoom through the urban areas and then have stunning views (I'll try to upload the pictures) before we drop below sea level coming into the Jordan valley. Agriculture rules! We also saw a few too many sheep hanging in the meat market. I'd prefer future food to not have heads attached. I got a little green. Matan was also getting carsick from the speed and the sharp curves. By 3pm we were at the border, and then there was a process of walking, cab, walking, bus, walking, through the different stations. They wanted an exit tax from Jordan but I guess my weary objection worked -- we'd only been in the country 2 hours!

Then we waited in the bus for another half hour until we were driven over to the Israeli side. Took awhile to get through immigration -- I don't remember them even asking for the "other" passport before -- usually we just arrive and hand over the Israeli passport as though we've landed from outer space. Nothing since our last exit from Israel. I suppose our American passports are starting to get interesting: visas from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Bahrain and Jordan in the last six months...

Finally we get out and look around and don't see anyone waiting and someone says, go that way, your parents are just outside the gate! And indeed we could see Chava and Yehuda from there! We start to walk toward them and someone yells (in Hebrew of course), no, you have to go back and walk around a different way, and so we do, finally getting out to where we were met.

Lots of hugs -- it's been nearly 2 years since I've been here, and Matan grew 4-5 inches since he was here in July (!) -- and then we get on our way. Stop for shwarma, the boy has been dreaming of this -- and we have wonderful salads. The route to Gvulot is only 3.5 hours now, even with a food stop, on road 6, and we're at a huge family gathering with new nieces I've never met and so many other people who have grown in the last two years.

Slept well, woke up to a sand storm and am glad to be here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

bike buying

before this fades...
We did go to buy the bike on Saturday. I try to think of an equivalent journey -- it's not like taking off for some unknown neighborhood in Chicago on a gulf cart, but that's about as close as I can come.
We went at 1pm so we'd have lots of daylight -- it wasn't clear if this was going to take 2 or 4 or 6 hours, so I said if we don't leave by 1, we're not going. We walk out to our main road and look for a CNG - that's the 3-wheeled motorized transport. It's allowed on all the main roads. They're not always available and they have been known to charge high fares. OK, so we found one right away but the guy did not seem to understand "Bongshal" and I wasn't sure enough of my pronunciation and/or whether it was a street or a neighborhood. So I look around and yes, already, two or three people are pausing to see if they can help. I describe Bongshal as bikes? and the guy behind me nods and starts to tell the driver. Two more people chime in and a discussion ensues in Bangla. OK, so he's got the idea where we want to go and I make sure that all of the 7-8 people now gathered agree this is the bike street. Yes, yes. Then I ask the driver what the fare will be and he answers (but it's not a number, or at least not one that I understand). I look around again, and my lovely cohort starts negotiating. They tell me he's agreed to 200 taka. I'm surprised (it's 100 to work and that's about 25-30 minutes. I thought this would be at least 500 taka (about $7).

Great -- we're on our way. We ride through the neighborhoods we know, go through the neighborhoods we've seen once or twice (the tour or on a bus) and then we get into unknown territory. I take out the map and the driver tells me where we are. Right direction. Then we go very slowly on some crowded main roads where we are between buses and trucks and can't see much of anything. The popcorn vendors offer us some popcorn. We make slow progress. Going on 2pm. I ask if this is Ramna Park, and yes, then he shows us the Supreme Court. OK. More traffic. More city. The city goes on and on.

Then he says, here we are. No bikes in sight. I ask at the nearest market vendor about bikes. He says other direction. At this point traffic is so thick that we get out to walk and thank the CNG driver very much. We walk across the street and start to see bike stores. These are open market stores -- everything is accessible from the street. Matan starts to ask prices. Too many flashy bikes, mountain bikes, multiple gear bikes.... I wonder if I brought enough money.

We keep walking. There must be 100 stores. Just on this street (we don't realize that it goes on and on beyond, in fact the used bike stores are a whole additional area). Matan finds the bike he wants. Still too much. We keep going. He finds another one like it. This time the price is better. We get ushered into the back of the shop and seated. Don't understand. Are they getting the bike out for him to look at? They want me to pay before he tries it out? No, they're sending someone to bring the bike from storage. They don't actually pull the bike out of the 20 on display (good thing since there was rust on the display bikes). We wait and look around at all the locks and bells, etc. The bike comes. Matan likes it. We pay for it. They start making adjustments. He brings it back to have the seat raised. We ask how to get it home (crucial and unsettling question since we are now many miles from home). They said to walk about 10 minutes to the edge of the market where the motorized traffic starts up again and there to find a CNG and put it on the roof.

We start walking. People ask us how much did it cost? We find the edge of the market but turn to start looking for a cab or CNG and find nothing. This part is a bit unsettling. We ask a rickshaw/flatbed driver, but really it's way too far to go by bike. However, once we start asking questions, lots of people have suggestions. They send a 10 or 12 year-old boy with us back in the direction we came from. He's been told to find us a CNG, help get the bike on the roof and set the price. And he did it! It took about 4 CNGs until one agreed to take us (this uncertainty is challenging) and then he started looking for twine on the street to tie the bike on the top. It worked. He set the price (same 200 taka!) and we were on our way. This driver went a different route, but actually got us back in less than an hour. I think part of the argument at the beginning was whether to take this faster route or not, and the first driver wasn't sure enough about it. So. Here's a picture of the bike upstairs in our living room on the first night and then there's a picture of our morning fog and if you look very carefully, you'll see Matan on his way to school. He looks distant, but that's because I'm taking the picture from the 5th floor. By now he's gone to school 3 days with the bike and is really happy with it. We'll get him a helmet next week when we're in Israel.

Monday, December 14, 2009

bike buying and yesterday's conference

will be described in a future post.
have to get to school.
flying out tomorrow night.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Happy Hanukah!

I think we lit candles before anyone else I know! of course, we needed YouTube to help us sing Maoz Tsur! Looking forward to soufganiot and holiday celebrations in Israel next week.

meanwhile, my week in dhaka...

finishing up classes. students are finishing up papers. racing to get them to me by Tuesday, when we leave town. there are still 2 weeks left for them in the semester -- a week of prep for finals (no classes) and then finals from the 24-31 of Dec. Since both of my classes are writing classes, a final paper is ok instead of a final exam.

this morning it would have been nice to know that water aerobics was cancelled but I guess they just figured everyone knew there was a school event today, so the pool wouldn't be available. got a good 30 minute walk home instead. I'm so kvetchy about getting beeped at -- I know the drivers use the horn instead of the brakes when they approach corners. this even makes sense to me for rickshaw drivers: who wants to lose the momentum with an unnecessary stop at an intersection? but cars, they don't have to push those pedals so hard to move from gas to brake. also the cars who approach me from behind, I guess they really want to make sure I don't make any sudden moves, like dashing into the middle of the road from walking on the side, so they beep 3 or 4 times as they approach. just me walking on the side, and them driving down the middle. it's not a conversation.

today's plan: go to Bangshal and find a bike. I'm starting to wonder if we shouldn't just get the *local* too fancy bike for $150 -- since this jaunt is going to be 1-2 hours by cab and who knows what we're going to find there. I think I'm getting less adventurous. certainly less interested in seeing new neighborhoods when the cost is hours and hours and hours in traffic jams.

also today - Matan has to try on hiking boots so that we know whether to get them here or in Israel. If they are very expensive here, we'll get them there. In any case, we'll see what's here and wait to see what's there.

there's a party tonight at HEED that I should go to, but I feel very awkward since I haven't been back to the language center since the end of the script class. I was going to have tutoring, but never did call since it's been a pretty overwhelming last 3 weeks or so. I guess it's also that the people I studied with are not there anymore, so it's mostly people I don't know.

conference tomorrow on being Bengali in the outside world. should be interesting. skipped 2 days of conferences yesterday and today -- feeling a bit lax about not going, but also just needing a weekend.

anyway -- doing pretty well. seem to have reduced the bug issue, the washing machine is ready for us to use when we return, and I'm feeling fine. didn't do much cooking this week (one pizza? bacon cheeseburgers? brownies? is that really it???), so it's a good thing we eat meals at school. and take away from the American club... sometimes...

Friday, December 11, 2009

I lose the details when I don't write often

Maybe it's the details I'd rather not remember -- seems petty, like bugs, but while not dangerous, the annoying factor takes up much energy.

Starting to recognize that I need occasional days where it's ok not to go out and deal with the noise and crowds.

I'll come back to these: parent meetings, department meetings, student conferences (no wonder, um, there's a theme here of intense interpersonal contact this week!). Downtime at home in the evenings seems like hiding out, but maybe it's essential?

And now, in spite of thinking maybe I'll just stay in on Friday, I had breakfast with a friend, and need to go out if I'm going to bring any presents to folks in Israel, and I do want to see the play at Matan's school. AND I worked on the syllabus for next semester for the comp from lit class (which I'll be doing at Century in the summer online, so I really want to set it up for the future versions, as well).

Hard to believe we're leaving on Tuesday!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

learning, still learning

pretty nice day overall. went to school late. still no 10 taka bills to be found.

working around it, like everyone else. worked on next semester's readings for the course that I'll be teaching both at BRAC and next summer at Century. reading articles (yes, I am thrilled to be able to spend time reading academic articles...). worked with one student who needs access so her computer can read the articles to her and two of the pdf files didn't work. so we tried again. still no success, so I helped her figure out which parts of the articles would be helpful in her paper.

the department had lunch with the provost and heard about plans for teacher development across the university. interesting meeting after he left, too. it's a hugely different environment when faculty are not unionized.

water aerobics are great. next semester it's not going to work quite so well since one of the days is a teaching day and the distance is just a bit too far to be able to finish in one place and get to the other.

finally -- stopped on the way home to look for solutions to eliminate the mosquitos. It is not a particularly risky or dangerous situation, just annoying. there are chemical/electrical things that get plugged in at twilight in each room.

Usually there are mosquito nets -- this I will deal with when we return in January. Duct tape on windows (and doors) that don't get used.
Even got an electric zapper that looks like a badminton racquet that I imagine Matan will have fun with once it's charged.

overall, a pretty good Tuesday.

another queasy morning

no, I don't think I'm dehydrated. my officemate is astounded by how much water I drink every day. maybe the water makes me queasy?!
too many mosquitoes. finally set up the "good knight" anti-mosquito systems. combination of electric and chemical gadget that runs all night. still 3 mosquitoes over my bed this morning when I woke up. earplugs help not to hear them all night.
not sure though if the bites are even mosquitoes. maybe more bedbugs? looks like I have measles.
good thing the grading is temporarily caught up. I can go out on the mission for 10 taka notes once again on the way to work this morning. Matan keeps needing all the ones I come up with in change.
cheerful, eh?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

nope, no 10 taka notes, not today

maybe day after tomorrow. really. that's what they said in the bank. no 20s either. I got a bunch of 50s. they work for most of our jaunts.

pretty good day. almost caught up on the grading. walked from the university to Matan's school for a parent meeting. it's about an hour walk. not all of it is pretty and some of it literally stinks, but I need to walk a bit.

Matan's school trip in Feb is to Bhutan. what an opportunity!

10 taka notes

I can't believe I'm going to work 2 hours late so that I can stop by the bank on the way and maybe get 1000 taka worth of 10 taka notes. The last 3 days I've had to keep track of whether I have enough change for the rickshaws. Matan always needs at least 30, if not 60, taka in 10s. Last week I stopped at the market just to change a 500 taka note (less than $10 and no, they would not do it at the grocery store for a small purchase).

wish me luck.

Friday, December 4, 2009

thanksgiving trip to nepal

We got to Nepal late on Thursday, maybe the delay was meant to be as we saw gorgeous mountain peaks as the sun was setting and we were landing. If we'd gotten there during the afternoon, we might not have had that spectacular view. As I said earlier, were met by someone from our hotel at the airport, but our room was actually at a different hotel. So the first night was pretty minimal. On the other hand, we went out for steak and enjoyed that very much.

Huge steaks. Warm blankets at the hotel. And a wonderful host (from the hotel we eventually stayed at on Sunday night) who went and got our tickets to Pokhara for the next morning, 6:30am.

In the morning, we got a taxi to the pickup point (200 rupees was twice what it cost us to take a taxi back upon return, so that hotel manager seemed less reliable... he also asked for 300, but when I didn't have enough small change, went back to 200. hmmm).

Bus trip -- took a long time to get out of Kathmandu. So we saw quite a bit of the city in the early morning light. On the way we stopped for breakfast and lunch.

Lunch with Podhar (if I'm not mauling the name). He was returning to Pokhara from working in England. Has brothers and sisters in Pokhara (not a big city) and his parents live "up in the hills". Their farm was washed out in a mudslide -- all of the cultivating is done on terraced sides of the hills (or mountains). He offered to take us up to the farm, but it would take a couple of days to travel and we weren't going to be in Pokhara that long.

We continued until 2:30pm on the bus. As for the local stops, Matan's new philosophy: I used to hope there would be toilet paper, now I wonder if there will be a toilet...

Lots of almost dry riverbeds with huge bridges over small rivers. Some of it is seasonal, some is climate change. Pictures didn't seem to come out. Not sure why. We did see kayaking and river rafting in some of the bigger river areas.

Heading west, away from the Mt Everest mountain area, but near to the Anapurna range. That's approximately a 20 day trek, with Pokhara one of the main starting places. So there are lots of stores with trekking gear and folks getting ready to go or returning. Day or week treks were leaving all the time. We walked from the bus drop off place towards the lake front since we kind of knew that's where our hotel was located. We stopped and asked questions and changed more money. Matan wanted to know mostly about renting a motorcyle... less than $10 a day, not many questions asked!
Our hotel:

First we tried to rent a motorcycle, and the hotel called someone and he brought it over. The owner and Matan went out for a spin and to fill up the gas, but it was a big bike and had manual gears, so the owner said he was reluctant to rent it to Matan. That was ok with me, and we decided to postpone that project until the next day. We also postponed the dawn visit to the lookout points until Sunday, even if it was going to be cutting it close with our 7:30am bus ride back to Kathmandu.

We had dinner up on the patio, and, well, didn't go out for the evening. What tired folks we were! Lots of reading which I dearly love on vacations.

In the morning I did wake up for the sunrise and went up to the patio to wait. What I could see before the sun rose was the neighborhood just under the hotel. People obviously didn't have electricity, they came out with flashlights to the outhouses, they started fires in the backyards for cooking. Kids got dressed to go to school. (This picture is better if you click to enlarge it).

After breakfast I went out and walked around. I found a motorcycle rental place around the corner and talked to the owner about having someone give Matan a quick lesson before he went out on his own. We agreed on a price (less than $10 for lesson and 2 hours) and I went back to tell Matan. He was ready!

I was pretty nervous, but sometimes I just have to let go a bit. Walked to the lake. Talked to women who were selling handicrafts from Tibet. Couldn't afford anything they had to sell anyway. They were pretty aggressive and just didn't seem to believe that, no, I don't have that kind of money. Eventually I shook them. It's an awkward feeling, but it was also really hard just to walk along the lake without a crowd. I walked in each direction - found the Chabad house, found bookstores, found lots of Hebrew! - even menus and letters of recommendation!

Later I just waited in a coffee shop and Matan eventually came back from the hills. We went to lunch and I wanted details!!

More great food, easy going Norah Jones music, and he told me about his adventures. He didn't get too lost, didn't have a cell phone (at least not with a SIM that worked in Nepal) but the owner gave him his card so if he had any problems, someone would have helped him call in. All in all, he was happy. I thought I was going to rent a motorcycle, too, but in the end, I decided that I would rather not. oh well.

The day was clear and the mountains visible (the dawn had been cloudy, so I was really glad I didn't do the trek up to the observation point that day).

We hung out, read, walked, and eventually went out for supper. This time it was Italian with music from the 80s. Lots of older tourist trekkers (ok, my age), not only the post-army kids from Israel!

The next morning I did go up to the observation point. The car stalled about four times on the way up (it's 40 years old, they said)

but I had a clear sky to see the mountain peaks.

We had to hurry to get to the bus and back to Kathmandu. Another beautiful day. Lunch -- lots of rice -- what more could Matan want?!

Long time getting into the city, but by about 3pm we were at our hotel. It was amazing. Just lovely. If we ever want to go deluxe, it would be $18/night instead of $14, and then there's a bathtub and balconey, too! The downstairs area was welcoming and folks sat around -- sofas and guitars, some computers (and wireless for those who were carrying laptops -- which we were not!), a beautiful garden with a hammock.

We went out to the most famous pizza place in Kathmandu (though our hotel clerk said maybe we wanted Pizza Hut -- it had just opened that week. we said no!). Fire and Ice. We played chess and enjoyed the food.

Found out there was no exit tax to be paid (there is, but now it's included in the price of the airfare), so we had a bit of money to spend. The credit card may have given me a bit of security, but it was not useful when it came down to buying say, good walking boots for Matan. oh well. we managed on the cash reserves, just so folks aren't expecting a lot of presents!

Flight back was uneventful. We'd brought another pizza with us for the airport... it's kind of odd to know a few people on the flights, like Matan's school principal or one of the high school seniors traveling on his own to see someone in Nepal. I'd sure like to spend a few weeks there the next time!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

back to work

deep in grading and class preps for the last two weeks before winter break. our semester here continues until the end of December with finals, so my students do not yet sense the urgency of getting everything in before I leave on the 15th.

will post more about Nepal soon.

bought jeans and a fleece jacket yesterday in Dhaka. what a great feeling to know where to get something I really needed. hope Matan gets over there too since he could really use some jeans that fit better.

ok, back to work.

everywhere in Nepal: