Sunday, February 28, 2010

writing center

One of the undertakings I've been involved with in the last six months has been establishing a writing center. I think I functioned mostly as a sounding board while Lisa organized. I did sit in on the hiring committee and we hired Sammara who has been doing most of the work since then. The space is lovely, the mentors are trained and slowly the students are trickling in for writing help. We had the inauguration ceremony today on the last day the Vice-Chancellor was working before the new one took his place.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

book fair

Yesterday I went to the book fair with my friends Lisa and Mahmud (my officemate). It goes on for the whole month of February, celebrating language, literacy and mother language days.

We met at the central public library and national museum. The banners were interesting. There was also a small public demonstration about recent violence in the more remote provinces.

I don't remember what this banner said, but the pointy thing is a musical instrument, not a sword.

This one definitely had an anti-imperialist (esp American) message.

Then we walked through a handwriting contest. Hundreds of kids were copying out a passage in their best script.

Some are more religiously observant, or at least dressed that way.

We walked along the Dhaka University campus. This was work the art students had done.

(someone should tell me to straighten my shirt and collar!).


I'll probably never read Bangla at the level of The Little Prince, so I decided a picture was easier to carry than a book.

Inside the book fair. It was enormous -- went on and on.


Face painting and hand painting -- the messages are about Mother Language Day and the Bengladeshi flag.

Lisa and Flat Stanley -- someone who travels with her and is eventually returned to her nieces and nephews.

Books in English...

more books in English...

and a few books in Bangla, some rhymes I know, but phonetically, not in Bangla script. Well, it gives me something to work on!

off to swim.
a good Shabbat -- 3 loads of wash done, grocery shopping and some brownies (too dense) made. need a better recipe.

have to decide soon about Matan's spring break -- over pesach -- maybe a seder in Kathmandu? or a beach in Thailand. not sure.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

moWmachi moWmachi

moWmachi moWmachi
kotha jaW naci naci
daRaW na Ekbar bhay
oy phul phoTe bone
jay modhu ahorOne
daRabar SOmOYto nay

the bee, the bee
where are you going dancing?
please stop once brother
that flower blooms in the forest
I go to collect for the honey
no time to stay.

choTo pakhi choTo pakhi
kicimici Daki Daki
kotha jaW, bole jaW Suni
Ekhon na kobo kOtha
aniYachi trino Lota
apOnar baSa age buni.

little bird, little bird
where are you going, chirping?
where do you go, tell me and I'll hear.
I will not talk to you now
I brought twigs
First I build my house.

pipilika, pipilika
dOl bOl chiRi Eka
kotha jaW, jaW bhay boli.
Siter SOncOY cay
khaddo khujitechi tay
chOY paYe pil pil coli

ant, ant
your group left you alone
where are you going?
tell me, then go.
I want a winter reserve,
therefore I am searching for food,
with my six legs moving moving I go.

Since I'm not making much progress on conversation, I'm learning nursery rhymes. There's a book launch tomorrow about Bangla rhymes, but it's across town about 30 minutes after I finish teaching, so I'm hoping to get a copy of the book without going. Might yet get to the book fair before it ends at the end of February.

otherwise in the news, quiet day at school. grading, writing center (no students yet), baking these not-very-kosher biscuits. without the onions since Matan doesn't like onions. wish he was home. I still get nervous after dark, though he's usually not home before dark. sigh. of course, no electricity makes it seem all the darker.

Monday, February 22, 2010

rickshaw numbers today

the first one grumbled about 30 taka even though he agreed on the price before I got in.

the CNG driver (1) said 100 to the campus, I said fine, and we went 3 blocks before the CNG broke down.

the second CNG driver said 50 to campus, I said fine, and we zoomed off. I think this is where my appetite goes -- I'm not really frightened, but my stomach stays about 3 kilometers behind and never really catches up.

after school, going to look for the swiss army knife, the rickshaw driver agreed to 30 taka, and then at the end, gave me correct change for 50 and smiled.

the next rickshaw driver, going about 1/2 the distance of the previous one, agreed to 30 before I got in, and then upon arrival wouldn't give me change for 50, wanted more, I scrounged and came up with 30 in small bills and walked away even though he was still strongly disagreeing.

the last rickshaw driver agreed to 30 taka before I got in, but when I got home wouldn't give me more than 10 taka change for 50. I no longer had small enough change. so I said fine.

I need to take it all more in stride.

Lest you think that I could just easily pay more, it's true, I could. But what Matan and I have discovered, time and time again, if we offer 50, they assume that we have no clue about anything, and then say 100. Or, as happened last week, 500. So we're learning that we have to enter into the negotiations, in order to preserve some sanity. I tried that "offer more" route. It backfired every time. But over time, yes, I just prefer to walk if possible. Which, of course, then deprives people of their livelihoods.

when they don't read

So a couple of weeks ago I dismissed a class when it seemed like only one person had read the assignment. Most of the folks didn't even have a copy yet.

They were surprised. That worked once.

Today when the reading quiz results were dismal, the answer was not to say, ok, bye, but to ask how many had a copy of the short story with them. About half. I started thinking of alternatives.

OH. Writing. Indeed. So they had an in-class essay about plot and characters and pov, etc, that they had gone over in tutorial (those who came) and they could use the essay they should have read (much better if they do, since the next essay will be built on this story), or, if they don't have it, there's a handy short story in the text. In any case, I'm not discussing the elements of the short story with a bunch of people who haven't read it yet.

So they wrote. Or they read. Many of them read. Such is life.

elsewhere in the news:
the largest and fastest elevator was not working at school today. it's easier to go up many flights than to go down, at least in my knees' opinion. I just didn't even go back up after the second class.

got the swiss army knife for Matan's trip. huge sigh of relief. only went to two more stores today.

have to write some midterms. can hardly believe we're there already next week.

many skype conversations about fafsa and taxes and financial aid and summer plans. hard to believe we're there already, too.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Most days I think this adventure was a good idea.

On the days that the folks in the States struggle with the complications of taxes and FAFSAs, and if those same days it particularly seems like they didn't really need an extra English teacher, and the rickshaw drivers have decided that I am a walking atm funding person, then I take a deep breath, and say, overall I think this will have been a good idea.

language martyrs - Shaheed Minar

While I didn't go to the memorial site today, I did get this small memorial banner yesterday. Most of the salesclerks were wearing them, so I asked for one. They were surprised, but one went off and got one, brought it back and pinned it on me.

Issues of language use started soon after the partition, with Pakistan legislating Urdu as the state language. In the early 1950s, language was one of the significant issues of the emerging nationalism.

Now Feb 21 is a worldwide holiday: International Mother Language Day. So even as we celebrate here, I certainly have qualms that my kids do not read and write very well in their own mother language. hmmm.

Otherwise this week -- Matan and I spent the first half of the week getting better. Lots of sleep. I went back to the clinic Tues and Thurs and it seems that the tests are fine. Back to classes, and even a make-up class for one I missed while sick. Still have prep and papers to grade for next week, but it seems more possible now.

Back to cooking, cleaning and laundry, and feeling better about being caught up. AND I even went out yesterday to buy some clothes. I'd postponed this as long as I could since the last time I went to this store, nothing fit. But the weather is warm (over 30C -- in the 80sF) and jeans are not necessary to keep warm anymore, so it was time to try again. This time I had many choices and had to pick and choose! What colorful options there are: purples and greens and oranges!

Finally, even though I'm cooking for fun, I think I'll never really cook seriously here as long as I can call and get this wonderful, spicy fish surrounded by vegetables, delivered. sigh.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


feeling better, better weather (air is clearer), classes going pretty well.
Matan is back to school, but only for a week, then his class trip trekking in Bhutan.
I'll write more later.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

history re-written

DHAKA: Bangladesh will rename all government institutions named after "illegal autocratic ruler" Ziaur Rahman, a former president, a day after it rechristened the Dhaka international airport named after him, sparking strong protest from the opposition BNP.

A cabinet meeting last night renamed the airport Hazrat Shahjalal, after a great Muslim saint when it also decided to change the names of other establishments after Rahman, the general-turned-politician who had founded the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) currently being led by his wife Khaleda Zia.

"According to the cabinet decision no structures or institutions will bear name of illegal autocratic ruler Ziaur Rahman following the High Court verdict regarding cancellation of the Fifth Amendment," prime minister Sheikh Hasina's press
secretary Abul Kalam Azad told reporters during a post meet briefing last night.

He added that the cabinet also decided to change the name of Shaheed Ziaur Rahman University, Barisal to Barisal University.

Referring to an earlier civil aviation ministry proposed Azad said the renaming of ZIA was justified also as all other major airports were named after great Islamic Sufi saints who shaped the peoples mind with their liberal outlook.

But in an instant reaction BNP said the government would have "pay severely" for the decision saying a countrywide movement would be launched as a protest.


If I understand correctly:
The Fifth Amendment had legalized the Rahman government. Now the Supremee Court has declared it retroactively illegal. I think.

The opposition party, the BNP, (headed by Rahman's widow), had just this week, returned to Parliament after boycotting it for months. What a welcome.


So I talk to Matan about how history is written, about signs of legitimacy, and sometimes about Monty Python.


The History Teacher
Billy Collins

Trying to protect his students' innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such as
"How far is it from here to Madrid?"
"What do you call the matador's hat?"

The War of the Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom
on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom
for the playground to torment the weak
and the smart,
mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered up his notes and walked them home
past flower beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long, rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.

(thanks to Kelly for sending me this book).

Monday, February 15, 2010

borrowed mantra

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.
--Theodore Roethke

via New Kid

for days when I feel like I'm really not taking advantage of all of the opportunities here.

and then Matan says I'm getting old.
and short.
but those are not bad things, he adds.

hoping for renewed energy and wonder.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

and where did you come *from* in January

that since then you have been feeling cruddy? what a great perspective on the doctor's part, because, you know, she's right. I was pretty fine for months. and then I went away and when I came back, I just haven't been feeling quite right. so while we've pretty much rejected malaria since the spikes in the fever are really mild (but there will be blood tests for this and dengue and everything), but did I look at Jordan as carefully as I considered Bangladesh before deciding whether we needed malaria pills? (not necessary in either case). interesting, indeed.

so I'm on antibiotics because there is definitely "noise" in my chest and whether it's more about breathing or more about sinuses, it doesn't really matter, the antibiotics will work their thing. I've done the productive coughing for the past week!

but the rickshaw driver just really chose the wrong time to give me a nasty speech. I didn't understand the words, but I know that what I was offering to get from the American School to United Hospital (for their pharmacy), was twice what he'd charge a Bangladeshi. I'm used to that. but I wasn't up for paying three times it and get scolded, too. so I paid him more than he was asking, said no to the change, and said that I wouldn't go with him again. not that he necessarily understood me anymore than I understood him. but he's one of 3-4 rickshaw wallahs at the school and I can choose not to go with him. Matan says they ask him for money whenever he goes by (on his bike). I know, I know, we have so much more money than they do, but I'm exhausted. Sometimes the whole ride is dragged out to twice as long as need be while I hear the stories of the children and the brothers and how it would just make all the difference if I'd give them 1000 taka. (I don't always have 1000 taka, but they're sure I do). This for a 20 taka ride. I get why Matan prefers his bike.

Nonetheless, it is a beautiful ride. I just don't always have the energy.

Friday, February 12, 2010

blog silence

I'm sure I will feel better. sooner or later. meanwhile, I'll go to the clinic on Sunday since the fever is going up, not down. no Ball for me tonight, nor Book Fair tomorrow.

some pictures to remind me that it's been a busy week. I haven't slept it all away, though the last 48 hours have been pretty much sleep.

the flowers in Jan and Feb here are fabulous and the weather (except the dusty air and the mosquitoes) is perfect. Last weekend, I went to Matan's school's International Fair and worked at the American booth.

We had a commencement ceremony on Sunday with the President of Bangladesh speaking. On Saturday we had to have a rehearsal -- in a different location, so it was sort limited in its effectiveness. But I did get to go out with my colleagues for fasika (I think that's what it was called - have to check). (uh, the small person in front is not in my department but people like to get their pictures taken here!).

and the night of the commencement, yes, I remember it clearly, Sabreena brought over a mosquito net for my bed and I've slept well ever since!

classes are going ok - up and down with one class, to the extent that I sent them packing about a week ago when it seemed that noone had done the reading. Sabreena, the TA, is helping the students understand what I'm expecting, and helping me understand what they need. She did the tutorial yesterday on her own when I stayed home sick.

Matan is working hard at school and I'm impressed that he hasn't missed an assignment since we got back from Israel. He's doing his registration for next year for Mounds View already. Also getting many emails from colleges since he did the PSAT a year early (they do it both sophomore and junior years here).

I really feel like I've been fine most days, and then boom, I get a bad cough or cold or stomach upset, so that the last 6 weeks have been pretty off. not sure how to help organize a conference a month from now -- all of my energy has gone into classes since I've tried to take advantage of the days I feel fine.

One question I haven't answered: why Bangladesh? It was pretty much a matter of things falling into place. I wanted a sabbatical that would take me out of the States. I was pretty much open to the whole world, but definitely had a preference for Asia. The Fulbright people at a women's studies conference suggested that I use their search function to see which countries were looking for what. I plugged in community college teachers (many countries actually prefer teachers who are used to pretty heavy teaching loads and little time for research) and women's studies. I also did a cc teachers/American lit search. Well, the answers come up alphabetical so Bangladesh was at the top of both lists. Lots of the options removed themselves: much of Africa wanted French competency, South America Spanish, and Arab countries Arabic. (not all, but enough that when it came down to specifics like teaching American Lit in Jordan, there was an Arabic langugage knowledge preference, if I remember correctly). Then there were different variations in English subject matter -- like Viet Nam wanted someone to teach journalism. I think it came down to about 10 that would work, I only remember the 3 that I put as my top choices: Bangladesh, Hungary and Trinidad and Tobago.

Next -- at that same conference -- I sat by someone at supper who had been to Dhaka (though her Fulbright had been somewhere else in Asia) who could connect me to the dept head at BRAC. The dept head asked for my resume and wrote a letter of invitation that looked like I was the person they wanted. Since it's so competitive, I think that was probably very helpful.

I really wanted to come to some place that I might not otherwise get to. I thought maybe that a semester might have been adequate, but then Matan wouldn't have had the same option to join me (at least not with 1/2 of his tuition being paid). It's true there were moments (here) that I thought one semester might have been enough, but this second semester -- except for being sick -- has been very different so far. We know more people, we spend less energy on logistics, and while I hardly feel I'll be any kind of expert on Bangladesh, I am asking better questions now than I would have known to ask six months ago.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

more crud

so as Matan says, it's more than every other week. this is the third time since we got back from Israel that I'm just not feeling well. sleeping enough at night, mild sore throat, no fever, just not zooming.

and folks, usually I do zoom a bit more than this. maybe it's the 5 flights of stairs and the 15-20 liters of water? they seem to be getting heavier, instead of lighter. hmmmm.

but we have plans -- this weekend is the International Fair at Matan's school (must make chocolate chip cookies by noon tomorrow), and then the rehearsal for the convocation on Saturday afternoon, and the convocation itself on Sunday. hope to make aerobics Sunday 4pm, but not sure that I'll be back in the area by then.

next weekend I'm going to a ball. I've never been to a ball. and the next day, to the national book fair with a university group.

so we do stay busy, what with teaching and some cooking (lasagna in the oven tonight)and lots of reading and some writing.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

we have tickets home

it's an odd feeling. there's a deadline now (June 12th) to see and do everything I haven't gotten to yet.

not feeling well (again), but I slept many hours last night and hope to nip whatever it is.

big weekend ahead with graduation ceremonies, rehearsals, dinners, and the inevitable traffic jam and logistic considerations. the president of Bangladesh will be at the ceremony on Sunday so no bags, cameras, phones (?), etc. it will be interesting.