Monthly Archives: June 2011

…Reading

Not surprisingly, there aren’t a whole lot o’bookstores in Bangladesh. You can buy school books, blank books, and paper at the stationary stores, and there are some guys that walk between the cars selling books in English, but the selection of 7-10 books usually isn’t what I’m looking for.

So, I had a Kindle. And I read a LOT of books. A lot of free and bad books, and a lot of cheap, bad books, and a few good books that I paid a bit for. (With Kindle, there are no used books stores offering steep discounts on paperbacks.)

But then, one day, the Kindle broke. The screen just went all streaky and weird. But, luckily, the Kindle was under warranty, and Amazon would send me a new one to replace it.

I waited.

I waited some more.

Finally, I wondered what happened.

My Kindle had ended up in the not-lost-but-not-going-to-ever-make-it-to-Dhaka hell of the regulations on DPO, pouch and other mail. It was eventually sent back to Amazon, but I’d lost my chance on the free replacement. They credited me some random amount of money (Kindle cost – use cost?), and said I could buy another. So I did… and got it here, a different way, a legal one, but one that Amazon doesn’t recognize due to the vagaries of the DPO’s ever changing regulations.

It arrived today. I am very excited to load up some of those books that I had already bought but never got to read, and to search out some new ones to fill these summer nights in Dhaka.

Thank goodness I didn’t have to fly back to the US just to pick it up. Because you know I would have, eventually.

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…Sponsoring

After you’ve been at post a while, and gotten your sea legs more or less, you are often called upon to serve as a ‘social’ sponsor for an incoming employee (and their family, if they’re bringing one). Depending on the size of your post, you might be almost exactly matched for lifestyles with the incoming person, or just the only one available to help at the time. Dhaka’s a medium sized post, so we’re mostly matchy, but not 100%.

Our first sponsees arrive (at the inconceiveable hour of 4:30 or so) tomorrow morning. Thankfully, they overnighted about half way here, so they aren’t trying to make the 30 hour journey from the east coast in one fell swoop. To help prepare them for their arrival, both the Adventures have been sending them helpful (and overly-advice ridden) emails about what they need to bring to Dhaka, how to find us at their airport, whether they can bring gold boullion (ok, we didn’t address that, but it’s apparently something a normal traveller can’t bring to Bangladesh, fair warning), etc. We’re also responsible for setting up their house, checking that they’ll have enough temporary towels and the like to get by until their first shipment arrives, showing them around town to the main sights, etc.

In anticipation of their arrival, we did a little preemptive grocery shopping for them. Our CLO provides a helpful list of things that most people get, and we came up with some other ideas too. There is also a list posted in the commissary here, but it’s full of such strange suggestions that I am not sure if it’s for real or not. On our preparatory shopping list are:

Small dish soap bottle
Sponge
Coffee Filters
Hand Soap
Toilet Paper
Paper Towels
Toothpaste
Pasta
Sauce
Cereal
Milk
Canned Soup
Bottled Juice
Cheese snacks
Frozen Dinner (lasagne or something)
Coffee
Bread
Butter
PB
Jelly
Salt & pepper
Pre-washed fruit and veggies (courtesy of our housekeeper’s talents in bleaching produce)

Of course, we have it pretty lucky, as we’ll only need to get them about 1-2 days worth of stuff, as we’ll be able to take them shopping the day after they arrive. When we came, it was a long holiday weekend, so our sponsor had to think ahead for several days. The CLO list includes stuff like cold cuts and mayo, spices and such… but those things are so particular, pricey, and weird here… so I am crossing them off the necessary list.

We’re also going to gift them a few things to round this list out, but I’m keeping that a secret until they arrive.

We’re borrowing some movies from the CLO so they’ll have something to do in that bleary, early morning fug that they’ll be in when they get to their new house. Hopefully they’ll like the options, two of them are childhood favorites of mine, so they might be too “retro” for modern kids!

We’ll also do our part to keep them awake and acclimated to the time change. We’re spending the afternoon having lunch out, and swimming, and having dinner at a big embassy barbeque party. Hopefully that will be enough to keep them awake until dark, so that they’ll be on Dhaka time soon.

We’re excited to meet them, hopefully they’ll have an easy transition.

…Singapore, part 2

Singapore is known for one thing in this part of the Foreign Service world… it’s the place where you go for a med-evac. (aka medical evacuation). We’re not sure if it’s because of that, but few of the Dhaka-types seem to go there for weekend holidays. The flights are direct and convenient, so it’s a bit surprising that so few go. (Perhaps it’s because the hotels are so expensive?).

Among the 20- and 30- something couples, it’s also a bit of a code. If you’re going to Singapore, you’re probably going for one particular reason. And, yes, we went for that reason too. We’re pregnant!

That’s a big reason for the fall off in postings recently; I’ve just not been feeling ship-shape, and since I started the new job at the same time, it was a tough period of trying to sleep as much as possible whenever I was not working. I’m feeling better now, as we enter the second trimester, and the doctor in Singapore says everything looks good (all the right fingers and toes, organs, brain size, etc.). I’ll be delivering back in the states this winter, so expect some cute baby pictures then.

We passed out sweets at work (a Bangladeshi tradition whenever there’s good news to be shared), but I can’t send any out to you all, so go scavenge up some chocolate and celebrate in absentia.

…Singapore, part 1

(I apologize for a lack of pictures, imagine a thorougly modern world city, with ample trees, sidewalks and fancy shopping, poised on the coast, and you’ve got Singapore.)

We’re back from a whirlwind immersion in modern luxury that left me in tears on the way to the airport. Why? I was that depressed about having to leave the McDonalds, the Pho, the opportunity to try clothes on before you buy them… and walkable streets, open parks and movie theaters.

Those tears were a pretty clear indication that I enjoyed the trip a lot, of course. I’d move to Singapore, if opportunity presented itself, though the sheer number of malls and shopping centers might make me fear for my bank account. I think we spent 80% of our waking hours in malls of some sort or other, even when we weren’t shopping, we were walking through them on the way to other things. The official language of Singapore is English, but it’s a cultural melting pot, and the architecture, sound and taste are pan-Asian and Western combined.

We arrived at the bleary hour just before dawn on Friday, after an altogether too short red-eye from Dhaka. The flight was 4 hours, punctuated by a meal, children who acted like banshees (not babies, but older kids who screamed like them for long long long intervals—childrearing is very different here than I am used to), and a few bouts of turbulence (it is the rainy season after all). Thankfully, our hotel had arranged for a private car to take us into town, and we checked in incredibly early and crashed on the bed until noon. The room had this great opaque shade that made daytime seem like night.

We then crawled down to the first floor to partake of the included lunch, yummy, and then ventured out into the wide world of Singapore’s tourist industry. We went first to Sentosa Island, a cross between a beach resort, a Disney-like gardening theme, and a casino. We visited an aquarium and saw a dolphin and sea lion show with local pink dolphins. They’re rather ugly because their mottled pink and grey skin looks more like they have a disease or bad case of sunburn than something natural. One of the sea lions was a total ham though, and danced to the music the whole time.

We also walked on the beach there, saw a fountain that was reminiscent of Gaudi, and ate the first of many ice creams over the weekend. I was totally wiped out by the time we got home later that night, crashed again, and woke up just late enough that the housekeeper was already opening the door to clean our room.

On Saturday, we got a tourist transit pass and made our way out to the zoo. The exhibits were almost completely open, many of the animals were on islands surrounded by a stream as way of containing them, rather than cages. They also had some free ranging orangutans. It was truly an amazing zoo, and I’ve been to many of the world’s best zoos. What made it even better was the gentle drizzle that kept the day cool, and the animals active and alert. We saw an elephant show and another sea lion show. Mr. A was chosen to be the audience participant (a big “macho man”) and was challenged to toss Frisbees from quite a distance to a sea lion on stage. He did remarkably well, even considering that they handed him a floppy rubbery disc that I wouldn’t have been able to toss to the computer screen in front of me now. Next door to the zoo is the equally awesome Night Safari zoo, made especially cool by the night mist and the solitary trails between exhibits. We made it back on the last train to our subway stop and creeped back to the hotel for another dead sleep.

Sunday was full of shopping, eating Pho and cheesy fries and picking up some of the stuff requested by people here in Dhaka (lemons, for instance, are unavailable here… weird).

Monday was more of the same, but much hotter and Tuesday we visited a movie theater to see the new X-men movie before hopping on the plane back to Dhaka. We made sure to pick up the strange Korean meat product that was described by previous visitors to the Singapore airport as “meat crack” and sat amongst a forest of orchids above a koi pond while we waited for our flight. And here we are, back in Dhaka, where the weather is surprisingly pretty and blue today, you can thank us for bringing it back with us.

…Summer Transitions

It’s goodbye season in the Foreign Service, and this week has been full of them. Our CLO arranged a preemptive Adieu party for everyone a while back, and there was the monthly “Hail and Farewell” event, but only in the last few days have people really been leaving on their jetplanes (2 leave today, in fact). Thus, over the weekend, we attended 2 goodbye dance parties, had last-chance trips to favorite restaurants and doled out many a hug and a “keep in touch.”

Most of the junior officers departing Dhaka move on to pretty wonderful posts. Due to our ‘differential’ (a measure of how different life is compared to life in the states, either in violence or lack of creature comforts ), we get a little preference in the bidding and assignments process. High differentials mean higher preference in assignments, and zero differentials bid and are assigned last. In a way, this preference differential makes the first two tours (which are directed by the people in DC) somewhat more equitable across the junior officer’s ranks. It gives everyone a chance to experience different kinds of posts before tenure, at least that’s how I see it.

What that all amounts to is an exceedingly large number of generous offers to host us poor left-behind ones when we make it out of Dhaka on our vacations. Many of the goodbyes are accompanied with promises that we’ll “always be welcome in Paris” (or Tokyo, Sydney, or whatever world city they’re off to). Many of these swanker posts come with only itty-bitty housing, though, so I wonder if we could ever take them up on the offer without turning them out of their pied-a-terre.

It does make me excited about our own bid list, which is due out at the end of the summer transfer season. Mr. Adventure is excited to see what will be available to him for his first “in-cone” job (i.e. his first job in the career track he was hired for, as he is doing a mandatory rotation in a different career track for this tour), as last year’s list included some really exciting work with a variety of international organizations, in nations with dynamic situations, or engaging fascinating specializations within his field.

I’m hopeful we’ll find a place with something more relevant for me to do. I’d love to work with a study-abroad program, or to help hopeful college students prepare themselves for life in the US. I’d enjoy being a site-coordinator for a US travel-adventure camp or immersion program, or as an actual instructor in the field I was trained in (we’d need to find a Spanish or English-speaking country for that, though, as I don’t think I could learn enough of a foreign language to pull off intellectual discussions on ethics, logic or philosophy in less than a year, even with my PhD). Those kinds of jobs are available most every but here in Bangladesh, where the news that an incoming American college-student intern is surprising enough to garner some international media coverage. So, I’m hopeful. Let’s hope this year’s list is as cool as last year’s.

…the News

Bangladesh made the international press twice today, once for a report that honey hunters in the mangrove forests in the southwest (the area we visited by boat several months ago) face death by pirates and tigers in their quest for the best sweetness, and once because a young would-be rape victim apparently managed to dis-member her attacker and brought the offending part to the police as evidence of his attempted crime. What a newsday.

…Literary Allusion

It seems like it’s a Tale of Two Cities week. Last week, I started composing a blog post on that theme, and in Quiz Night this week, one of the clues featured the classic opening line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” In that line, Dickens captured the way I feel about most of my days here in Dhaka—simultaneously experiencing the extremes of wonder and horror, always a sense of both and rarely of the grey area in between.

It’s so different from my life in Oakland, where my days tripped by, one after the next, a haze of mellowness and gentle sunshine. Even the weather was moderate and mild. (Not to say I wasn’t beset by both good and bad happenings, but that it was never as visceral as it is here, in the land of endless sweltering heat).

The last few weeks in Dhaka have been the best of times: celebrations of life (weddings, babies, graduations, etc.), the advent of the annual rains (though some debate the joy in this, the locals and I both are very happy with the rain), welcomes, new jobs (mine!), etc. But, it’s also a bit of the worst of times: deaths, disease, departures, despair and, of course, the ever present haunting by South-Asian intestinal discomfort.

On my own part, starting a new job has been the best and worst of times as well. I have the joys of occupation and companionship, but those are contrasted with extreme exhaustion and the cultural-shock of being in an office for the first time in many many many years. (Most of my work life I was my own boss, or someone else’s, hired by the project or the course, it is exceedingly strange to be reliant on the schedules of others, to attend staff meetings and to negotiate the whims of the mysterious bureaucracy which employs me.)

But, I digress… and so segue into an apology for my long absence from this blog. It’s partly due to being overwhelmed by the new job, and just general Dhaka-malaise, but I’ve stockpiled a few posts that will follow this one today, and hopefully be returning generally to the land of the living and blogging over the next weeks. After all, there are holidays, balls, and adventures to describe, and if I don’t, who will?