Tag Archives: hindsight


This is part of my hindsight series, on things I would have packed if I had known how useful they’d be. Medicine is, of course, available here, but is often tainted or incorrectly labelled. There’s a reliable pharmacy in Gulshan 1, and probably other places, but having a stockpile of over the counter drugs is helpful, especially on Sundays, when Gulshan’s shops are closed. If, however, you want medicine that would be prescription-only in the US, you can often buy it without a prescription in the pharmacies, just know the generic name for it and order up!

We’ve been blessed by the dreaded Dhaka-itis several times. It takes many forms. In the winter, when they burn the trash and a smoky haze settles around the city, many people develop a harsh, phlegmy cough. Thankfully, I wasn’t one of those happy few. In other seasons, Dhaka-itis might be more gastro-intestinal: you pick up giardia, salmonella, e. coli, and even hepatitis relatively easy here, though the last is predominantly a threat if you eat outside the diplomatic bubble. One of our community members is particularly prone to the tummy bugs, getting horridly sick every month or so. The Mr.A and I go for a 6-8 week cycle, I think.

So, you might think my advice would be to bring Immodium. But it’s not! A lot of these parasites, bugs, etc. need to be purged from your system, not held in. The doctor almost never advises Immodium (never has for either of us Adventures), but he does advise rehydration and Pepto. I thought we had a pretty good stock of Pepto (even though Mr.A. had never had it before!), and brought about 100 chewable tablets. It wasn’t enough for the 2 of us. So, in hindsight, I would have packed about twice the number. We bought some here and ordered some more from the states.

Oral rehydration solution is so necessary to public health here, that it’s available in all major stores and mini-markets for less than pennies. The embassy doctor dispenses it like candy, so we always have a few lying around. The taste is horrid and salty, so if you’re coming with kids, you might want to mix it in juice, or bring something like powdered pedia-lyte. They say the saltiness isn’t noticeable when you’re really dehydrated. I’ve been there, it’s true, it tastes good when you’re really really sick.

Our other #1 medicine has been Tylenol (paracetamol, acetaminophen). We bought an industrial sized bottle at Costco, and have gone through it all, even though we were gone in the states for 4 months. We get a lot of headaches, fevers, etc. We have Excedrin and ibuprophen, but turn to the Tylenol more often, probably because it was the only thing I could take while pregnant.

Allergy medicine hasn’t been as necessary as we thought it would be. There aren’t many plants here that we’re allergic too. But, Benadryl has helped me get through a very itchy night or two when the mosquito bites had been too much for me. (I’m like a mosquito magnet, though…). If you’re allergic to mold, you’ll need your medicine, as there is obviously a lot of mold in this very humid place.

Speaking of mosquitos, DEET helps. All natural bug sprays/lotions aren’t so useful, at least not for this magnet, but they’re better than nothing. You can’t mail these, or take them in the aircraft cabin, so plan accordingly. The commissary has some bug sprays, but not always the most intense kinds.

I also bought some anti-itch lotion. It’s mostly methol water, but boy, is  it brilliant. Those mosquitos really do love me. It’s a miracle I haven’t had dengue yet.

I also recommend cortizone (skin issues are common because of the water issues), flouridated toothpaste, vitamins and possibly an anti-fungal. We’ve not had any need for anti-fungals, but there are some men in the community who do, apparently, so if you’ve ever had issues, bring it.

Again, all of this is available, if you want to put in the effort to hunt for it, but if you’re packing your HHE and can find it readily at the grocery store, that will be way easier than traipsing all over town to 3 or 4 stores to look for something.

…Dry Goods

So, I wrote up a rant about cleaning supplies as part of my “hindsight” series, but it didn’t come out the way I wanted it to. So, I didn’t post it last week, in favor of fulminating on the theme a bit. It’s still not ready, so this week, I bring you hindsight on… “Dry Goods”

What are dry goods? Back in the day, the term referred to fabric, garments, personal care tools, millinery, buttons, furnishings and fittings, etc. But, I’ll also include some of the craft, kitchen and bath items that aren’t consumable, because I’m a linguistic rebel like that. This will be a veritable ACME catalog of things.


For women’s clothes, I thought I’d need more than I do, mostly because we have someone who comes in every day to do our laundry. I don’t actually want her to do laundry every day because it’s wasteful, but she doesn’t it anyway, and irons everything, even the underwear sometimes. I do wish I’d brought more underwear though, as it’s all starting to get bedraggled. The extra pack of athletic socks is still unopened, and I have WAY too many t-shirts. I do get to wear my favorite clothes all the time though, since they’re always clean.

There’s also those great charity sales, at which you can pick up cheap cotton knit clothing and the occasional other item (my hauls include: blouses, jeans, cords, jackets, sweaters, maternity clothes, baby clothes, polos, and heaps of shirts made of cotton knit in various styles).

Tailoring is cheap too, BUT. If you don’t have the right fabric, it doesn’t matter how cheap it is. So, bring some fabric. There are two kinds of fabric readily available here: cotton fabric of a quilting/craft weight, and silk. The first costs about $2.50/yd and the second is between $7.00 and $9.00/yd. So, not really all that cheap. Well, the silk is cheap, comparatively, but it’s mostly solid colors, or WEIRD. There is suiting too, in the men’s shops, actually, but if you want something particularly soft or stretchy, you won’t find that here. (Some tailors are talented in finding other fabrics, but it’s a bit of an ordeal where you give them a down payment, they go to the market downtown to get samples, you examine the samples and choose one or send them back for more samples, and only really works if you’re not really fabric picky. I’m really bothered by scratchy fabric, so maybe this is just a problem with me?) In sum, Nearly everyone agrees that fancy fabrics or stretchy fabrics should be brought in, if you want to get something fancy or stretchy made.

You probably will also want some kind of prototype or pattern/image to show the tailor to base your item on as well. Western clothes are not part of the women’s habille here, so you have to give them a lot to work with.

I wanted to have a western dress made of sari fabric, but that seems too avant garde for everyone I propose it too, so it hasn’t happened. Plus, many saris are just way more expensive than I thought they’d be.

I don’t have much to say about men’s clothes, perhaps the Penguin does, but he’ll have to tell me what for a later post.


Bring hairpins, safety pins, and rolling pins (j/k). There’s loads of gold and pearls here, but nothing that doesn’t flash or glitter. The shoes are all TEEEEEENY tiny, extremely uncomfortable and glitzy. That might be good for some people, but my poor feet can’t take it. However, the streets are kinda mucky and/or dusty and/or fecal, so you’ll be trashing many of your shoes at the end of the tour, which may affect which ones you want to bring. You’ll also be fighting mold in your shoes, so YMMV.


If you sew yourself, or do any other craft, bring everything you’d ever think you need. Except, of course, the aforementioned quilting weight cotton. You can find that. I haven’t found a shop for sewing notions other than an hour away at the market for fabrics. The student shops in Gulshan 2 Circle sell single sheets of colored paper, but no construction paper, card stock, drawing, painting, artistic  or scrapbooking paper. They do sell acrylic paint in the basic rainbow and gold and silver, brushes and wall paint. There are no notebooks/sketchbooks other than very slim elementary school notebooks. No yarn (other than a tiny bit at that same fabric market, but its soooo far). There are no tools other than basic crayons pencils, sharpeners, and scissors, and all of those are only at the grocery store, Lavender. There are some twee stationary things at the Korean market, but I’ve been pretty unsuccessful at finding much of anything. I guess if you wanted to learn basketry, there might be some reeds in the marsh you could pick and dry, but that’s a bit extreme. There’s also a “mall” in Banani I’ve never been in because it looks like the #1 place to die in a fire or earthquake, there may be something there.


And, since the last two aren’t technically “Dry Goods,” I’ll just list the crucial things I’m remembering right now:


I really meant bring a rolling pin. No one here makes pies or rolled cookies, so if you don’t have one, you’ll want one. Oven thermometer (unreliable gas pressure). Kitchen scale. Parchment paper or a Sil-Pat (though saran wrap and aluminum foil are available at the commissary). Clear pitchers for water and juice (which are mostly available frozen). Smaller tupperware. Kitchen appliances that are NOT/NOT digital, as the power goes out all the time. You really want things that have dials and knobs, so that they’ll come back on when the generator kicks in, especially your slow cooker.

You don’t need a lot of plastic things, as there are tons of plastic vendors here, for trash cans, laundry baskets (in the perfect for we-do-laundry-every-day sizes), wash tubs, opaque pitchers, large tupperware, dish drying racks.


Shower Curtains and hooks (SOOO many bathrooms in every house!). More water pitchers, for purified water to brush your teeth in, you can get them here, but they’re pretty large. Anti-slip bathmats. First Aid stockpile! Bathroom scale.


…Hindsight: Produce

If I were to do it all again, what would I make sure to bring to Dhaka? Many of these would be great at any hardship post, but they definitely would have made life here nicer in some ways. I’ll do these posts in a series, so check back for more. I’m starting with this one, because I am still hungry after last week’s post on cookbooks!

A Farm/Garden

You don’t have to create a Living Roof like this one at San Francisco’s National Academy of Sciences… container gardening is best.

Many people here have lovely roof decks perfect for making a rooftop garden. Unfortunately, there aren’t any great seeds available here. You’ll have to train your gardener, if you have one, on how to grow these plants, and some might not be able to handle the seasons, but many of them would do well. If I were coming here again, I’d get:

Food For Health Emergency Garden Seeds There’s enough in there to help you recover from an apocalypse, so there should be ample for a roof garden. Includes: Corn, Peas, Radish, Sweet OnionBeet, Tomato, Eggplant, Kohlrabi, SpinachCabbage, Swiss Chard, Romaine Lettuce, Buttercrunch Lettuce, Carrot, BroccoliJalapeno, PepperCucumberPole Bean*, ZucchiniCrookneck Summer Squash, Green Hubbard Squash, Spaghetti Squash. (Italics designate things available only seasonally for 1-2 months in Dhaka, and bold is not available at all. Many of these plants could be grown year round, if you’re willing to water them and improve their soil). *There is a long bean here, but it’s nothing like a green bean. It’s a lot tougher, for instance.

Assortment of Culinary Herbs Fresh Herbs are rare here, except for in early spring when Cilantro takes over the market. This assortment of seeds includes: Italian Parsley, Thyme, Cilantro, Sweet Basil, Dill Bouquet, Oregano, Sweet Marjoram, Chives, Summer Savory, Garlic Chives, Mustard and Culinary Sage

Lettuce is particularly hard to get here, especially if you want something other than the anemic green leaf lettuce that never gets bigger than 3″ or so. So, if you like salad, bring a lettuce assortment. A blogger friend has become the hero of the community for the lettuces she grew from a mesclun seed mix.

I personally have a tomato addiction, so I’d bring an assortment of heirloom tomato seeds too. The local tomato is a mealy Roma/plum tomato. It’s good for cooking in a sauce, but is usually rather repulsive raw. Those who are less of a tomato fiend may find it ok. I am terribly tomato picky though.

There are bugs (links to a study of the insects that affect farming in Bangladesh) and birds here, so you’ might want some kind of organic pesticide and netting. Netting and construction workers are available here, and one of our neighbors has a kind of greenhouse made of net to keep the birds out of their garden. There’s sun in abundance, however, so a glass or plastic greenhouse isn’t necessary, unless you really want stunning year round tomatoes.

This looks like the roof gardens I worked on in Berkeley, bucket planters and all.

The soil here is all delta silt clay, so you should bring some soil amendments to help those tender roots grow. The carrots available in the market are all stubby and wide because of the dense soil. The poor things can’t dig very deep in the silt-clay. Plants like runner beans or herbs would never make it without lightening up the soil. When the soil drys, it clumps and cracks, so you’ll want to bring a humus agent and/or some vermiculite to retain water and nutrients.

Some kind of low-chemical fertilizer would also be good, as the soil is not always very rich. The local produce is heavy with pesticide, fertilizer, and post-harvest chemicals, so it is a good idea to keep your own produce chemical free.

Both humus and fertilizer can be made by composting, and the Berkeleyite in me feels more than a bit guilty for not doing that here. I like a rolling composter for roof gardens. This one looks like the Death Star, for twice the fun! This one looks like a barrel of fun (groan!). The key to a rooftop composter is that it shouldn’t have to be completely composted and emptied before you add new material. Most of them have some kind of catchment system to allow access to the finished compost without having to pick out chunks of uncomposted stuff. Compost heaps aren’t very practical because of space and smell issues. A good composter should be odor free, even in Dhaka heat. Also, since your time here isn’t all that long, comparatively, you might want some compost kickstarter to get things going.

On many roofs, you can install a drip irrigation system. Our roof has a spigot in a convenient spot to help you with that. Alternatively, you can have your gardener water the plants every day with a hose. However, this would require training the gardener thoroughly, as these plants are not grown here, at all, and most gardeners aren’t really green thumbs, regardless of their job title. Ours killed a bromeliad, for example, a plant that’s pretty hard to kill.

Raising chickens is not unusual here, at least among the local population. I’m not sure if your landlord or GSO would approve of a chicken coop, but if you want to give it a try, get some chicken supplies before you come too. This coop is pricey, but stylish… a veritable chicken chalet!

Last, if you’re a novice to gardening, you might want some instruction before you begin. I haven’t read any of these, but they’re all about gardening after a disaster. They all seem to be helpful for a novice working in strange conditions and without access to a helpful local gardening center.

Gardening When It Counts, by Steve Solomon (4.1 stars and 104 reviews on Amazon)

The Resilient Gardener, by Carol Deppe (4.6 stars and 41 reviews)

Mini Farming: Self Sufficiency on 1/4 acre, by Brett L Markham (4.3 stars and 83 reviews)

Raising Chickens for Dummies, by Willis and Ludlow (4.9 stars and 120 reviews)