Monthly Archives: March 2011

…Post Housing

I promised a photo update on my house once we’d done some rearranging and painting.

The finished living room, don't forget that the fridge is in here too, I just kept it out of the shot.

And the housing update isn’t just for you… It’s also the Foreign Service blog Round-Up theme of the week. Since this is our first post, we really don’t have very many good stories. The building we’re in is brand-spankin’ new.

There is a power shortage in Bangladesh, so, even though there are several apartments in our building, the whole building was not allowed to use more than the power allotted to the previous building on the lot: a single family house. So, we have an elevator, but no power to it (I can’t imagine living on the higher floors!), A/Cs that weren’t connected (thank goodness for the winter chill of 70 degrees!), and similar oddities.

The builder obviously did not consider convenience in designing the kitchens and bathrooms. The shelves in the kitchen are all in the wrong places, or behind cupboards that don’t open right. There wasn’t any place to put extra toilet paper in the bathroom, etc. But, thanks to the GSO, they’ve got most of those new house quirks worked out. We installed shelves to make a pantry, and in all the kitchen cupboards and the bathrooms. Whoever follows us won’t be so confused by the lack of shelves.

They will, however, continue to be confused by the wall switches. In every room, there is a place near the door for the wall switches. Each light or fan is controlled by its own switch, even if they’re a pair of sconces or something. However, we have about 6 extra switches in each room, and in some cases 4 times as many fan switch/spinners than we need. I still can’t figure out why, but we aren’t the only ones, there’s a pandemic of switches in Dhaka.

Our china cabinet, the green reflecting in the mirror is our dining room color.

The house is altogether too large for the two of us, but would be great for entertaining. We’ve had a few parties here, and most of the guests have liked it too. We’ve got nothing on the other houses in the pool for space though, at least as far as I’ve seen. Some people really have astonishingly large living rooms. There must be something in the culture that values that. Since the main thing we seem to do here is go and hang out at other people’s houses, it’s a good thing we’ve got living room space.

Everyone in the Dhaka housing pool has beige carpets on top of some kind of tile or marble flooring. We also all have beige curtains that can only be removed with a LOT of effort and a screwdriver. We tried to change ours to something a little different, but still haven’t succeeded. Most of us have the furniture shown above, but a few have some “southwestern” patterned upholstery and lanai-themed wooden furniture that hearkens back to the house on the Golden Girls. The lucky few have some of the “new” furniture, envied for it’s solid tones. You are able to slipcover in Dhaka, but the prices have recently gone up, we’re not sure why.

So, in general, nothing is terribly fancy, though it’s all serviceable. We live large compared to our housekeeper, but it would just be a typical apartment back in the states, just one with tile floors and an awkward kitchen.

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…Local Languages

Sometimes it’s fun knowing a few words in the local language. You get to hear conversations that sound like this:

“blah, blah, we have blah blah green blah in the house.”

And you feel so proud of yourself for recognizing those words. You can guess what they might have in the house… is it veggies? roaches? sofas?

However, sometimes it is not nice knowing a few words in the local language. Like yesterday afternoon. I was walking home from the school and got catcalled twice and scoffed at once.

Hey, Shada. (“Hey, Whitey.”)
*Snorting and looking over at me* “hm, bideshi.” (“hm, foreigner.”
“Oooh, mishti baby” (“ooh, sweet baby.”)

When it’s a toddler commenting on my strangeness, that’s one thing. But the neighbors and local adults?

Perhaps I am not aware of it when I am busy talking to other people, but I notice that this kind of commenting just doesn’t happen when I am with another person. I need a protective friend bubble to walk with me wherever I go, I guess.

…Grocery Stores

In the US, when you want to buy a 12-pack of soda, or a last minute pot-luck contribution, you head to the grocery store, a paradise of 30 grand aisles, gleaming floors, bountiful produce, abundant options…. but here in Dhaka, space and variety are at a premium. Each grocery store is about the size of tennis court at most (and those are the nicest ones, where the expats shop), and you have to shuttle around to the various different markets if you want to get a variety of items. They’re also notorious for high turnaround and unreliable product availability: buy it now or abandon all hope of ever seeing it again.

There is always the local open market (the closest is a warren of dark alleys and strange smells, another one in upper Baridhara is smaller, but less stinky), but that won’t help you if you want soy sauce, noodles or a box of cereal. They’re for fruits, vegetables, meat and fish only.

Where do the expats shop?

Lavendar: Closest to the embassy area is Lavendar, behind the highrises in the NW corner of Gulshan 2 circle. It’s a 2 story shop which has groceries on the first floor and toys, gift supplies, children’s quality art supplies and oddities on the second floor. Their produce selection is small, but includes some imported grapes occasionally. You have to have your selection bagged and weighed by the produce attendant before you bring it to the check-out. Lavendar has a decent variety of products, including Nutella, cereals, baby formula, cleaning supplies, etc. but it’s a very tight space, and therefore hard to get around. It’s always busy. There is a meat counter, but relatively small. They’re also one of the primary bread makers in town, and sell their breads at many outlets.

Agora: Agora is about half-way between Gulshan 1 and 2 circles, on the west side of the street. Parking is available in the subterranean garage, but it’s a squeeze, and I’d only try it with a good turning radius. There’s also a hardware store next door which sells mosquito rackets and decent tools. Agora is bright and open compared to Lavendar, and has an extensive and well-displayed range of imported lotions, creams and soaps. They have a meat, chicken and fish counter, as well as produce. They have some tasty fried chicken and a seasonal pastry selection, as well as a good selection of beverages.

Meena Bazaar: On Road 11 in Banani, driving towards Gulshan, just before the bridge over Banani lake is Meena Bazaar and another, smaller market. Between the two of them, they seem to have a wide variety of cereals and slightly different selection of goods. I only shopped at Meena when I was there this weekend, but loved how bright and clean the store was. The staff were also very friendly. They had some instant sauce mixes I haven’t seen elsewhere in Dhaka (predominantly Indian foods), some bottled sauces and a larger produce section than I’ve seen elsewhere. There are very clean looking meat, chicken and fish counters. With the second market in the same building, I think this is a good place for one stop shopping. There is parking on the street in front, or the neighboring streets.

The Korean Mart: Also in Banani (on a cross street off road 11 near the Meena Bazaar and the bread paradise of DuMiok, which everyone raves about), is the Korean Mart. This is the place to go for tofu, East Asian vegetables, teas, sesame oil, condiments, and Japanese curry. They also carry a variety of ramens and kelp. If you’re desperate for twee Japanese-style stationary and office supplies they have some here, as well as a selection of plastic storage containers and kitchen ware. The food selection is small, but very specialized, and hugely expanded the range of meals I could produce.

DCC 2 Market: The DCC is actually a mini-mall, with a variety of shops intended to appeal to visitors and expats. Way back in the day, it was the only place to shop for anything imported. Now, there are 2 grocers here, as well as stores selling pearls, sports equipment, picture framing, antiques, baked goods, pet supplies and hardware, among other things. The two grocery stores are in the opposite corners of the first floor. I have not been in the southernmost one, even though it is the larger and more advertised of the two. The northern corner’s little market, down a dark hallway between a fabric store and a dry cleaners, has an extended selection of canned goods, imported cheese, pet supplies, chinese candies and a freezer full of frozen meat.

Other recommendations from expats?

The German Butcher, for your sausage and cut meat needs. He’s near the Gulshan Ladies Park.
The British Sausage Shop, near the ARA, also a variety of meats and sausages.
The Pork Shop, on road 13 in Baridhara, across from another decent, but small market,  looks a bit shady, but has good pork, supposedly.
The Pic-N-Pay, in Baridhara DOHS, on the DOHS road, supposedly has a decent selection, but the lighting is bad. There is also a new market in/near Baridhara DOHS on Progoti Sharani, but I haven’t been there yet, and it’s a bit of a trek, given the insanity that is Progoti Sharani Road.
Southwest Gardens,
carries organic produce shipped in from fields near the Sundarbans. I like their selection, and the place is serenely quiet, compared to shopping for produce in the open market. They also carry giant, frozen organic chickens, fish, and unusual meats (quail and lamb, for example). It’s on Road 99, House 23, in Gulshan, in a house with a blue gate. They’ll do a delivery service for you too, with a minimum purchase. Go in the morning for the best selection, or expect mostly empty bins.
The Guy Outside the ARA runs a vegetable stand with a changing selection of seasonal goods, and Doritos, Pringles, and boxed juice. It’s very convenient to shop here, and he often has something unusual that you might not see elsewhere, particularly if you generally have your housekeeper/cook shop for basic veggies and fruits.
The American Commissary, if you’re lucky enough to qualify for membership has alcohol, imported cheeses, frozen foods and American junk foods, as well as 3 kinds of capers. Surprisingly, nearly every grocery store in this list has capers, tahini and Nutella. Expats are a strange bunch.

The large supermarket Nandan closed just before we arrived in Dhaka, and is supposedly moving. However, I have read some local articles about how they operated without proper permits, and may not be returning to the Gulshan area. There is another one down in Dhamondi, so you can do your variety shopping there, if you’re outside the diplomatic area.

EDITED TO ADD:
Apparently one of the two grocery stores in DIT 2 has expanded its offerings and now has a fresh meat counter, direct from Australia. It also sells rice paper skins for egg rolls or wantons. I haven’t bought either, but people really recommend it.

Also, the Nandan on Gulshan Ave is open. It’s right across the street from the Agora, and has an illegible neon sign in Bangla out front. Do not try to self-drive there, as there is only one parking spot for the store and it’s down in the 3rd basement, they triple park it, and it’s a complete PITA because they run up to pull you away from your shopping to shuffle your car. Dumb system.

…Old Dhaka

Yesterday we took a CLO trip highlighting all the famous sites in Old Dhaka. Some really were “sights” but many were not really. Like the 500 year old temple that looked like it was built in the late 1980s. These are some highlights from the trip, in their non-edited versions straight from the camera. Included are: the Lalbag (Red Fort), Pink Palace, the Parliament Buildings, an old mosque and the Armenian church, as well as some boats on the river port.

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…Post Furniture (submit yours!)

The woman behind the FS Swap is also the editor of “At Post,” the photo blog of FS life. The theme of the moment is post-issued furnishings, so I submitted a truly boring picture of the couches in our house.

I am hoping everyone else can submit some more interesting shots. I know people with furniture that throws back to the Golden-Girls-Era, and people who have furniture so swanky, they must have an “in” in the GSO’s office. Someone¬† found out their furniture was on it’s last tour, so they recovered it in a frighteningly strange local fabric.

This was one of the things I wanted to know back when we were waiting, bidding and hoping, so I hope others will add their photos to the mix.

Submit your “at post” photos to kennedyas@yahoo.com in web-ready format. (I bet she’d prefer things at a 400×600 size or so.)

 

…Mail

When my friend was in the Peace Corps, we would send her care packages from the states, addressed to a box in a small town in Central America. Mail was slow, someone sent her cookies in the Fall, and she received crumbs in the Spring. Mail was insecure, if you sent something that the postal worker was interested in, she might get an empty box, or something noticeably lighter than the postage claimed. Mail was also expensive, particularly in those days of life just after college, where $10 seems like a lot of money. I remember thinking about how much bang for the weight-buck I could send her, with lightweight things. (Like the bag of chicory to make Nescafe a little more like Cafe Du Monde).

Here, in Dhaka, we’d probably suffer the same tortures, but for the kindness of the government in providing us the the “Diplomatic Post Office,” a mail program like that which sends letters and parcels to the Military via APO. The DPO treats us like we’re still at home in the states, domestic postage rates apply, even though the item is sent here to Dhaka.

That means we can order stuff from Amazon, eBay or Etsy, and not have to pay crazy international fees. Of course, there are many restrictions on the DPO, we can’t send items over a certain size, or containing certain specific items (liquids, batteries, etc). We can, however, get a 5 pound box of orange slice candy, vitamins, colored pencils, and other things that are not available on the local market.

We can also get care packages. In the last few months, we’ve been blessed with an abundance of care packages, and getting that mail is one of the most exciting parts of my week. (The mail doesn’t come every day.) They’ve been silly things, serious things, foods and treats, games…. all in flat rate boxes. They’ve made living here more possible, and it’s with very heartfelt gratitude that I want to thank you all for sending them. It means so much to me!