Enough time has passed that the idea of writing a concise blog post on life in Dhaka is formidable. I’ll start with this, I have moved, started a new position, embarked on my research and said goodbye to my Bashundhara goats. For the duration of these transitions, Bangladeshi politics went wild.
A Bangladeshi Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and Birthday.
I will spare you every detail of my holiday season in Bangladesh. But I will say that I am the luckiest lady in the world to have a family like mine. Everyone uncomfortably squeezed their head into the Skype screen on Christmas morning. My cat had a very disinterested cameo while my mom prepared cinnamon buns. Thank you for letting me make the strange decision to travel halfway around the world. Thank you for continuing to make me feel special and loved even when I can be a pain in everyone’s behinds.
On Christmas Eve the Fulbrighters had a 4-6 hour final Bangla exam, the length dependent on your stamina. Theoretically I am an intermediate Bangla speaker now. If you speak to me in very slow, very well-articulated Bangla, I will catch the main idea. If you speak like a normal native person, I will nod my head to the side in agreement, feigning comprehension. Sometimes if I try to get fancy and use infinitives, people are so taken aback that I get discounts. It’s been working well enough. On the other hand, I get a kick out of reading Bangla street signs while stuck in traffic. Pah-reh-ke-nngg. Parking! : )
We threw a party for Christmas, invited the Bangladeshi gang, and ate mass quantities of Fuchka and chocolate. My favorite truly christmasy moment was gifting a wallah, Anis bhai, a rickshaw so he no longer has to rent from the company owner. Kelsey and I went to his neighborhood and hung out for a bit, meeting the rickshaw crew. Who were entirely baffled by our presence but welcoming all the same.
Thanksgiving was a similar idea. I had a lovely birthday, with a whole new set of Dhaka friends at a sushi place. It should be noted that I ate raw fish here and didn’t nearly die. The same cannot be said for Los Angeles. New Years was the first time I showed my knees in Dhaka at an American Club party. An entire second blog could be devoted to the ex-pat lifestyle and social scene. It’s, well, it’s something.
Immediately following Christmas, the Fulbrighters dispersed across the country, to Sylhet, Chittagong, Kushtia and Mymensingh. All places I plan to visit. Once the government lifts the national blockades.
Which brings me to-
If you have absolutely no idea about the political situation in Bangladesh, I won’t have a complete overview. The word miscreants has been tossed around a lot in the news lately. That should take a quick google search. Here’s a CNN update from today.
In short, on the anniversary of last year’s controversial election, the ruling party locked the former BNP Prime Minster, Khaleda Zia, in her office. For 17 days. Using tanks and water cannons. Conveniently, my new apartment is down the street from Ms. Zia’s.
I live in a safer area in what is called the diplomatic enclave, and foreigners are not targets more than anyone else walking down the street. So don’t stress out my mother any more than need be. That being said, there is the occasional blast, ominous text message from the US embassy, and a general alertness about town.
For example, on a walk home yesterday, a Bangladeshi man carried a homemade pesticide leaf blower- a mosquito-killing, cancer-inducing contraption. When turned on, the machine produced a blast and small cloud of fog. A friend and I leapt into the air and began to trot down the street, both immediately assuming it was a petrol bomb. Or last night, when a few cocktails went off in the distance, my housemate Cami knowingly looked at me and said “so….Fireworks?”.
I don’t feel at risk, and usually go about the day normally. But the government is more than a little dysfunctional at the moment and is facing a wave of random acts of violence. Happy hartal-idays.
Fun stuff instead:
I ride a mountain bike around the city. I go on runs with a hash group. I was taught how to make real coffee. My previous use of instant nescafe was truly offensive. I’ve started painting a little again. I bought a guitar that looks really pretty sitting in the corner but doesn’t get enough attention. I listened to the entire Serial podcast while running on a terribly boring treadmill. My housemates are all great cooks, and I feel totally inferior in the kitchen. I’m meeting new, brilliant people everyday and enjoy sitting on rooftops discussing everyone’s unique story that landed them in Bangladesh.
I met with my PI from JHU this week. He grew up in Dhaka and it was fantastic to stroll around Banani with someone reminiscing about Bangladesh in the 90s. He also noted “I feel like I’m walking around with JLo!”. This is because blatant staring at female foreigners (or any females) is a Rickshaw wallah’s favorite pastime. It’s akin to perpetually being on stage. In defense of Bangladesh, Morocco was 3000 times worse.
Dhaka is a place where in a 10 minute span, you can lose all faith in humanity and then regain it. I’m plenty happy, often challenged, and learning a lot. I’m constantly confused as to why things are the way they are, and have accepted that state of mind. I’m currently watching Adeeba, another housemate, dance around the kitchen to Bengali folk music while she cooks for a family dinner tonight.
Finally started my research this week. Next post.
Before I lose all of your attention, please enjoy some pictures, they are in no particular order:
And hopefully, I’ll get back into the swing of updating the blog.