Sunday, January 31, 2010

reading, writing, thinking

Good books this weekend: Mary Oliver's Rules for Dance (thanks Kelly!) and Wiillem Van Schendel's A History of Bangladesh.

Matan wanted to know why Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the "Father of the Country," was assassinated in 1975, and, you know, none of the newspapers talk about the situation in the country before the overthrow. Perhaps this is because the current government is so closely related to the one overthrown and history is now being written in this direction. Anyway, I was ready to read and this book was one that I'd started before. Turns out that, as I tell my students, I could read just the sections I was interested in that day, and went backwards and forwards as my interests lead me.

Good conversations, esp with Lendy and Tom, about our expectations and work here as fulbrighters. Maybe having the tickets back to the States (June 12th) now sets a very real deadline for anything else I want to see and do.

So, it's time to get to work. Lots to do before teaching tomorrow. Classes are challenging as I strive to find the middle ground between expecting too much and too little, explaining too much or too little, and listening carefully to what the students are saying and not saying.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bangla nursery rhymes, Poe, and a children's film festival

Reconstructing a week's worth of outings... feeling wonderfully included in the happenings that the folks in my department know about. also Sabreena is a neighbor, and offers me a ride back at night, immensely widening my horizons. I'm so grateful!

Last Saturday the British Council was the venue for a talk "Bangla Nursery Rhymes: An International Perpspective" by Prof. Afia Dil.

She spoke about Bengali culture as an amalgamation of cultures and noted that the Benagli face is the most beautiful in the world since it is a combination of all faces! This mixture of cultures is revealed in the nursery rhymes. She talked about the role of nursery rhymes in teaching language and said that every fruit, flower, and color is included in a Bengali rhyme. However, in too many rhymes, the girls are still debased, as she said, though that is changing. Other changes include cultural changes, political changes and a reflection of communal identities. One example that particularly spoke to me was her explanation of the lack of the word "thank you" (there is a word, but not used often). The expression is more facial acknowledgement, but actually not using the word is explained by "thank you" being inadequate. That would conclude the transaction and, in fact, mean you were even. More often, not having thanks at the end means quite frankly, yes, you are still beholden and, no, two words will not do it! The discussion was primarily in Bangla so I did not follow it (though Sabreena helped keep me from being completely lost!). One interesting issue was the idea of natural calamaties as part of a philosophical approach, but I did not understand if there were rhymes that reflect this. One universal aspect of the rhymes is the moon, obviously seen all over the world. She suggests that its change, renewal, newness, is something that, yes, we see in our children. They are always new.

On the panel: Prof. Shamshad Murtaza (he studied at Arizona around the same time I was there), Prof. Firdous Azim (my dept head at BRAC), Prof. Afia Dil and Prof. Wahil Ahmed.

(in the middle of this week, we also went to a lecture at IUB about Edgar Allan Poe)

And then Thursday night a group of students and faculty went to the children's film festival. Piled into cars, getting through lots of traffic, (now I understand better why Matan's cello teacher finds it difficult to get to our house -- it's probably 2 hours each way during the afternoon and evening), and finally getting to Alliance Francaise.

Tapan Sinha (1924 - 2009) directed the film we saw. "Golpo Holo Satti is a satirical film on how a heaven-sent servant (played by Robi Ghosh) brings order and peace to a quarreling disorganised family. Bhanu Banerji and some lesser-known actors (with the exceptions of Bharati and Chaya Devi) comprise the cast. This was remade in Hindi by Hrishikesh Mukherji as Bawarchi, with Rajesh Khanna in the lead role" (Wikipedia).

I wish I had the names for everyone in this picture. For the most part, the faculty are behind the students...

We also tried to get to a poetry reading after the movie. If the movie ended at 6:30pm and the reading was at 7:30 pm and the distance was probably 5 miles? no, by 8pm we were apparently not even near yet. so we gave up and came home. Could have been interesting: an Italian professor reading Urdu poetry in which language? I never know if I'm going to understand or not. Fortunately the movie had subtitles in English. YEA!

Friday, January 29, 2010

in the news

didn't hear the news about the hangings in the night until later in the day Thursday. the newspaper didn't come on time in the morning (and when we got it, it was a 2nd edition). did see mild protests in the streets. the article in the NYTimes doesn't mention that the head of the country who was assassinated in 1975 was the current prime minister's father.

and in an article about honor killings:

"The news from Bangladesh is that a teenage girl was recently punished with 101 lashes after she was raped and impregnated. Village elders apparently decide such matters in rural Bangladesh where Sharia law prevails. The girl's family quickly married her off but when the pregnancy emerged her husband demanded a divorce and reparations. So the elders issued a series of fatwas against the girl's family, fining the father and expelling the family from the village. Oh, and they pardoned the rapist."

sigh. Sharia Law does not prevail in most of Bangladesh, and, in fact, several political parties have recently had their charters revoked based on their demands for more rigid implementation of Islamic laws. but the rural areas are apparently quite different. learning every day.

another class completed at HEED language center

The center is moving down the street for those who might come back looking for it. My phonetics II class consists of two nuns, Sr Helen and Sr Mallow, from the Phillipines, one retired fellow, Murray, from New Zealand (here long-term) and one Australian, Leah, who recently married a Bengali guy. Our teachers were Sultana and Jean.

Murray and his wife have purchased this rickshaw for the guy who drives it. He's independent most of the week and then on the weekends works for them for a salary. That's Murray's wedding picture (I think) on the back of the rickshaw.

I'm going to continue next month with private tutoring, one hour a day, three days a week. On the days I don't teach, since I found it really difficult to get to the Bangla classes when I was thinking more about upcoming classes.

over the counter

oral rehydration therapy. yup. kind of like gatorade but about 5 cents a packet. should have had this handy, they told us in orientation, but until you really need it, you don't look for it. there was even a dialogue about it in our Bangla book. apparently it's one of those really important concepts here...

So according to Wikipedia, ORS (oral rehydration solutions) are available from UNICEF and mentions Bangladesh as an example of significant success with this fairly simple product.

And while I was at the pharmacy, I got some medicine for a burn that hadn't healed. No prescriptions necessary here.

rooftop party

Last Thursday night we were invited to a rooftop party. I promised pictures. Here they are -- thanks John and Samantha, who live next door to us here.

So, as I said, it was our landlord's 32nd birthday party, but also the opportunity to have a party for his wife who is 7 months pregnant. She sat, surrounded by sweets, as each person came and sat next to her to feed her something and to receive a sweet in return. (The colorful backgrounds are sheets that were hung around the edges of the roof. I think it might have been chilly otherwise, and certainly less festive!).

This is her mother-in-law.

Her father-in-law.

Her husband.

And, of course, you knew this was coming: me!

The Importance of Elsewhere

by Philip Larkin

Lonely in Ireland, since it was not home,
Strangeness made sense. The salt rebuff of speech,
Insisting so on difference, made me welcome:
Once that was recognised, we were in touch

Their draughty streets, end-on to hills, the faint
Archaic smell of dockland, like a stable,
The herring-hawker’s cry, dwindling, went
To prove me separate, not unworkable.

Living in England has no such excuse:
These are my customs and establishments
It would be much more serious to refuse.
Here no elsewhere underwrites my existence.

via Sharon Gerald. works for me.

technical difficulties

quite possibly I should not have uninstalled the modem on my computer. even though it's been telling me to do so for quite some time (different versions, apparently).

so now it does not connect anymore. I'm using Matan's computer for this. all of my pictures are on the other machine. I've been trying to upload them for the last week. that's part of the reason I finally uninstalled. that and it would throw me out about once an hour.

I may take my computer over to the American club and hope it works there. they would also bring me food and drinks. just have to wait for the wash to finish and get it hung on this beautiful sunny day.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

birthdays and parties

This week we went out! YEA!
But first we had a quiet birthday for Matan on Sunday. His mom got him a silly metal sculpture of a rickshaw.

Colorful, though, eh? Sometimes he'd rather not arrive to a destination by rickshaw when everyone else has drivers. And sometimes he'd rather not arrive with his mom. OK, definitely his 16th birthday.

On Tuesday night, we went to a friend's birthday party in a nearby neighborhood. They have three boys so Matan was very happy to be there.

On the way we saw a building lit up for a wedding. There are weddings nearly every night during the winter. The parties are up on the roof.

On Wednesday, the whole department interrupted a professor's class to wish him a happy birthday and have some cake!

On Thursday our landlord called and said that we were invited to a party on the roof that night! I'm so glad we didn't have plans since it was a real treat. I'll add pictures of it later (when I saw that my neighbor had a camera, I asked if he'd send me pictures). Turns out that not only was it his 32nd birthday, but a chance to celebrate his wife's 7th month of pregnancy. Here the pregnant woman gets new (and in this case) very sparkly clothes and sits surrounded by sweets. Each person comes up and sits nexts to her and feeds her a sweet. She, in return, feeds that person. Lovely ceremony. And then everyone eats all of the sweets. Then birthday cake. Then a huge dinner. All up on the roof.

It was the first time, in nearly six months, that I met the women of the family.

I wasn't feeling well at all so I really couldn't eat anything. What a shame. I had some kind of stomach flu or food poisoning from Thurs through Sat. Finally feeling better. We've been pretty fortunate not to have had any serious gastro problems, but there are days that we have to go easy because something's disagreed with our systems.

I also got a present this week:

Odd that I didn't realize how much I needed a desk. Maybe working in bed is not efficient? I know that I don't like doing work at the dining room table here. So now I have this very nice desk in my study corner of my room, surrounded by windows facing east with great morning sun. (Ok one direction faces south into another building [site] with concrete views. we'll ignore that one, there are curtains).

Friday, January 15, 2010

the washing machine, the roof, and somewhat at sea

Warm and sunny makes all the difference in my mood.

It's been an awkward return. I, once again, feel like I am the introvert at the party among the folks I see. It's so hard to talk. Need to call some of the people I know and meet for coffee or an evening meal. Today I did meet Lisa for brunch and we're going to see Invictus at red shift later this afternoon.

So this week:

Sunday I just felt socially inept. period. I was back at HEED and felt like I'm a remedial language learner (and socially, too, as well...six months in the country and I'm back at step one. meet new people since the ones I met in August are now gone...). Walked to the PTA meeting and met a few more new folks, but started to feel as though I'm here very temporarily and the end is clearly in sight. One of the people talked about vegetable gardens on the roof, but that's really only for people planning ahead over the next few seasons. I realized that the cooking lessons they were talking about were for their cooks (to learn things like lasagna). I'd like to find lessons in how to go to market and cook what's here.

Took a rickshaw to work, but he went in such a round-about manner that I could have gotten there faster walking. Finally, worked on syllabi, felt quite lump-like as everyone else was swept up into the chaos of advising -- loud, lots of people, lots of running about -- and then suddenly all of my colleagues were gone. I think they went to lunch and probably thought I had a ride at 4pm (since the next day they asked me, maybe as an afterthought?). anyway. I just took my stuff and started walking home.

Was that the day I went to the American club? It's all sort of blending together in my mind. I think it was. Met up with Alex and met his wife, Bridget, and their new baby. Met Rebecca and Andrew. When I poke my head in, I usually see people I know.

Monday I think I worked with Sabreena a bit -- she's going to be the TA for my class of 7 people in research methodology. Tuesday I went out to Savar (wrote about that already). Wednesday - think I should have stayed home sick, but wanted to get to the Bangla class since I missed it Tuesday.

At work it seems like I'm changing about 75% of the class materials, so while I'm teaching the same two classes, they have very different lesson plans. Of course, having some of the same people repeat the class encourages me to think about presenting the material in a different manner (they didn't get it the first time) and maybe I can choose more accessible materials. I did get my evals and they were fine. In the research class they were even excellent.

Thursday was the end of advising and the result was that one of my colleagues didn't have enough students in her class. So she was going to have to teach mine. This was quite a shock. She was no happier than I was. Apparently I prefer to teach more than to be relieved of a class (!), but I think it also seemed to come at a moment that I was feeling particularly far from home and kind of questioning whether all this upheaval is actually contributing something. In any case, her class made -- with 5 students -- by the deadline on Thursday afternoon and she and I were both pleased. The dept head texted me later that she was glad it worked out; she's happy that the students are getting me for a teacher as much as possible.

So that's this week. Except Thursday evening when both of us were home by 7pm and retired to our rooms with books and computers and seemed like the most anti-social or unsocial beings around. Wish I was modeling "friend-making" better for Matan. It's definitely not one of my strong points. I'm pretty good in the long term (so I don't feel sorry for myself), but in light of this characteristic, I kind of wonder if short term opportunities like this might not be better utilized by more outgoing folks.

And now, for something completely different: a washing machine! YEA! and our roof-top drying space. Along with views of Dhaka from the roof. Yes -- buildings in every direction. But, lots of green poking up between the buildings on every possible piece of land. So today is sunny and warm and one load of laundry is dry already, and another hung. Unlike one of the days this week when Matan's gym clothes took 3 days to dry (he has a spare set, usually that's enough)!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

another cold

knocks me out a bit. even the out-of-town beauty of the Savar campus was not enough to make me feel better. the commute was just more than it was worth. left the house at 7:30am to get there by 10am? I think it's barely 10 miles up the road. The return trip in the afternoon, with terrible traffic (I mean the kind that the driver thought was so bad that he got off the main road and cut through a market...), took less than an hour to get home. hmmm. less than an hour to go 10 miles and that's good?

can we say comfort food? bread pudding cooking. glad that the humous was already made. ready to curl up under the blankets.

I'll catch up another time.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

struggling with the syllabi

I asked the dept head for feedback as I prepare the new syllabi. She said maybe a little less intimidating? (and didn't give me the evaluations.... hmmm).

Thinking more about the ones who didn't pass and those who struggled. Changing lots of content, but today, as I was reading blogs in between writing, over at Bardiac's there was a comment offering the article by Mano Singham "Death to the Syllabus." sigh. I also go back and forth, from the less constructed to the highly detailed. I'm more comfortable with the details, but since my students usually don't read them, I do wonder what's the point? In my online classes there's a syllabus quiz. I supposed I should do that in my f2f classes as well.

I do like to keep the schedule on one page. Easy to move chunks when we don't finish something as fast as I thought. Easy to see where the deadlines are. But I tend to have a lengthy document, too. So what I need to do is adjust this document to avoid the pitfalls that Singham describes:

What such syllabi often omit is any mention of learning. They list the assigned readings but not reasons why the subject is worth studying or important or interesting or deep, or the learning strategies that will be used in the course. The typical syllabus gives little indication that the students and teacher are embarking on an exciting learning adventure together, and its tone is more akin to something that might be handed to a prisoner on the first day of incarceration.

Why this is an exciting endeavor. I can do that, right?


So, we're back now almost 5 days and we've learned new things about no gas and no water, and how cold it can get in Dhaka. But I think we're fine, for the most part.

I'd say the real challenge is to remember to take advantage of this different place, that we only have 5 months left here. Yes, you might think I'm a bit crazy to look at it this way, but really, when I look at a call for papers for a conference in November, in the States, and want to submit something about women and gender studies here, I draw a blank. Well, I'd better get going if I want to learn something in this direction. It's not coming to me in my lovely 5th floor apartment, full of sunshine, and computer access to Pioneer Woman. (oh what wonderful recipes, we had the chicken part of the chicken parmigiana last night). I got totally distracted in the last 48 hours by politics in the States (catching up, since I certainly wasn't following along while surrounded by family in Israel), and new blogs that I'm not sure I really need to add to my days. On the other hand, I was intrigued by this post about interesting lives vs. happy lives here, and I don't think that one precludes the other, but there are moments when I need to think about what motivates me and what makes me (and others dear to me) happy.

So, today, I think I need to help Matan pull himself out of the internet and into his homework, his cello and getting a new swimsuit. I need to get myself set with all those assignments I brought home, sure that with my few weekend plans, I'd be getting through all of the books. Spent some time yesterday friending (on Facebook) some folks I know are in Dhaka, but haven't made enough efforts to get in touch with them. Signed up for more language classes since the tutoring plan did not speak to me enough to get me there: the best part of the studying at HEED was meeting other people and learning together. So I'm going to backtrack to phonetics II since I've forgotten too much to go forward at this point.

That's the plan. I still have a week before classes start. I'm thrilled that some of my 201 students will be in my 301 class. Looking forward to getting started once again.

So it's not the lack of water or gas or being cold that has made this week a bit difficult, but the sudden withdrawal from 10-15-20 people at the supper table on Gvulot. Or even 5-6 people in Beer Sheva. I think I speak for Matan here, as well, we miss you folks.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Gas rationing

Apparently the lack of gas in Dhaka will be alleviated by a plan to ration among the industrial users. Seems to be a problem related to the relatively cold weather. We had gas this morning AND hot water for showers!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

one day at a time

writing syllabi. working with the new thumb drive which is firmly attached to my keys with one of those plastic loops (that don't release once placed -- what are they called?). too many thumb drives lost, shared and laundered in the past couple of months.

washing upstairs with the new machine. this could be good. meanwhile there seems to be only a trickle of water going in and while it said 55 minutes to go, 20 minutes ago, it now says 52 minutes. hmmm. not in a hurry today.

as for getting the bike fixed, one suggestion was to ask the guards downstairs. maybe my approach about doing things myself is quite inappropriate. and indeed, within an hour the bike was fixed. hmmm.

still only a trickle of gas, and only sometimes. not enough to boil water or cook an egg. no hot water. not sure how this gets solved since the landlord said it's a supply issue. interesting. I think it's probably going to be more of a challenge than the intermittent electricity.

otherwise, settling back in. still no 10 taka notes at the bank. got some warmer bed covers. will get buckets for showers (and Matan took a towel to school so I expect he'll be extra motivated to work out today). (I can go to the American club).

I still have 10 days before I start teaching. Re-reading The House on Mango Street and plan to use it in my lit-based comp class. I suspect they'll like it better than The House of Seven Gables which I'm also re-reading. What was it about houses when I ordered these books?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

some pictures from Israel and pictures not taken

Even though there are over 100 pictures, I wish, as usual, that I'd taken more. Why don't I have a picture of Chava and Yehuda's house on the kibbutz? Or Dinah's house in Beer Sheva? We spent about 90% of our time in those two places but, of course, those are not pictures we took. Probably should have taken a picture of the neon green car we had, too, but it didn't occur to me.

This is a picture of the taxi ride from Amman to the border crossing at Beit Shean in Israel. The landscape seems like a mirror image of Israel: travel from the elevated city down to the valley and across the Jordan river.

We spent the first few days on Gvulot and in Beer Sheva. I finished grading papers, Hanuka ended. There were some sandstorms and cloudy days at first, and then only sunshine. We didn't even have rain in the south (while it was pouring up in Tel Aviv). After the folks from the US joined us Sunday night, we had more days of relaxing. We went swimming on Gvulot and out to eat in Beer Sheva. Some shopping for nice clothes. My friend Marva's daughter got married on Thursday in Ashdod so we saw many people we hadn't seen in years.

On Friday, the Gvulot Pelegs arranged a desert outing to Avdat. We were joined by cousins from the north. This is in the tourist center before we saw a short movie. We looked around for Matan and realized I'd locked him in the back seat of the car (parents aren't supposed to forget kids in cars, and this is a particularly big kid to have forgotten!).

Some pictures (Chava and Kris):

Matan, Hovav, Ronit and Karni are the big people, the two kids are Ronit and Hovav's Omar and Hila on Hovav's shoulders.

We were probably about 25 people with Chava and Yehuda, the MN Pelegs, Karni and Marcelo and their 3 kids (Lior, Noga and Lital), Ronit and Hovav and their 2 kids (Omer and Hila), Gil and Yoav, Doron, and the cousins from up north (another 5 people).

After Avdat, we went to a vineyard and had a tour and wine tasting there.

Lots of discussions about agriculture and politics. Land use in Israel is complicated since private farms, at least remote ones, are not usually authorized by the government. I guess the reasons are both historical (security) and economic (water). Then we went to Park Golda for a huge picnic.

We had a huge Friday night dinner at Chava and Yehuda's with lots of talking well into the night. Saturday morning was easy going between the different houses and lunch was catered at the moadon (meeting room) with lots of slides of the trip that Yehuda had taken all of his kids to Romania last spring.

We heard stories of that trip and more stories about the family. It was great to see with all of the people present so there was a lot of talking! Naps and more visiting finished out that Shabbat.

It's kind of hard to remember what we did day-to-day! We went out walking in the desert, we hung out at cousins and on kibbutz, we visited friends who lived relatively close to Beer Sheva (Michal and Lilac).
Went out to eat in Beer Sheva -- this was at Arabica:

Saw a documentary film on Gvulot that featured one of the people I knew when I lived on Gvulot. Discussion afterwards was particularly interesting about people growing up on kibbutz and leaving for cities, and other countries.

We did go up to Jerusalem on New Year's Eve and saw Jon and his sisters who were touring Israel. We stayed at Noa and Jackie's house and went to Ein Kerem for breakfast, as we have done for 3 of the past 4 years (!), but the resturant that we wanted to show the kids was closed for repairs. So we had brunch at a different place. Good thing there was no hurry since they took 2 hours to serve us!

We went to the ceramic place and had fun before going back to kibbutz. Friday night was Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak's 60th birthday party and the bnei kibbutz (kibbutz kids) came in from all over Israel, so we got to see most of the people we know! Shaked stayed on to go to out with her cousin, Shir.

Saturday was one last trip to Beer Sheva. Aliza and Elisha came down for lunch at Dinah's. Some last minute SuperPharm purchases before going back to the kibbutz and one last big family dinner. It's hard to write about it -- not quite ready for it all to be over for this time.

Shaked, Noga and Omer... Jan 2010.

28 hours to go 4 time zones

The question was how it took so long to get here? Left kibbutz in southern Israel at 5am Sunday. Jordanian border in northern Israel was supposed to open at 6:30am, wasn't open until 9am because of the FOG (!?!?!?). Takes about 1 hour to go between the borders with lines, fees, bus, lines, fees, taxi and then 2 hours by taxi to Amman. Plane actually left 15 minutes early. Got to Bahrain at 6pm with less than 8 hours scheduled before our next flight (so no hotel provided by airline). Flight delayed, so we did get to stay in airport more than 8 hours (3:15am takeoff) and then --- the best part -- upgraded to business for a solid 4 hour sleep. Arrive Dhaka 11am. Leave the airport at 1pm -- one hour in immigration, one hour --- after that -- still waiting for suitcases. = 28 hours.