Saturday, January 30, 2010

Fun Fair Weekend

Another blessed weekend.

We just got home from the annual school fun fair. A carnival atmosphere with games and prizes galore. Enzo managed to keep the ice cream cone to himself since Lena thought it was too cold. She had a homemade doughnut. Maggie had a glittery butterfly painted on her face. Titus was bummed that he didn't win the cell phone in the big draw but seemed genuinely pleased with the inflatable Zebra he won in the music march.

The highlight for us was the tiny human powered wooden ferris wheel. No safety straps or rules need apply. I hope the video works.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Book Woes

Last week I decided that the babies' paper shredding book destroying days were over. The remaining books with intact pages were relocated to a high shelf. Now reading time involves me holding the book and pointing out what they should be interested in (kidding!). This is really starting to make Lena mad. The scenario goes something like this.

A book is requested.

I get it off the shelf.

We sit down on the couch and prepare to read.

Lena realizes I'm not giving her the book to hold.

Attempts to commandeer the book are made.

Crying ensues.

Lena gets off the couch and begins an angry back arching march around the room.

Lena proceeds to hit things (so far only things not people) until she gets hurt (wooden bookshelf, cast iron bars, cement walls).

Lena, now hurt, comes back for a cuddle and ends up listening to the rest of the book.

This has been happening with progressive predictability for the last two days. It's both entertaining and alarming. Have I gone too far taking book privileges away? Can I expect an almost two year old to hold a book without attempting to remove it's front and back covers?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Embracing Bdesh: Juice

I'm not sure how many other lucky countries import "Tipco" from Thailand but we're really digging the fact that Bdesh does. We've probably tried at least fifteen different flavors of juice from these guys and they're all delicious from broccoli and spinach to blood orange. Even Aloe Vera Juice turned out to be pretty good. They claim to be 100% natural and are sweetened with fruit juice only. The best part of it is how we can all enjoy this juice together. Bryce was thinking if this whole "professor" thing doesn't work out he might try to start a business importing "Tipco" to the states. For now we'll just keep bonding over breakfast with juice.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Chittagong Dhaka Highway

I arrived in Bangladesh with the notion that I would be able to get to Dhaka once a month for church. We're closing in on the end of the month here and, I have to be honest, we might not make it back. There are a lot of factors that we learned to take into consideration on our anti-vacation about a month ago. One that we hadn't considered before is the treacherous nature of the Chittagong Dhaka Highway.

The other day I heard the story of an near miss involving some friends of ours on this harrowing stretch of road. I heard the story second hand but have no trouble believing that they spun 180 in the middle of the road, miraculously missing other traffic and also avoiding going over the steep embankment onto the nearby rice field.

On our trip along the Chittagong Dhaka highway we had our own accident of sorts. We rented a van and it came with a driver. Sharif (sp?) was ever so patient with the noise level in the van (I suspect it was partly to impress Summer. Once, he cleverly brought up the subject of marriage and immigration to the states in a conversation where they had previously been talking about oranges).

Sharif was a fair driver as far as I could tell. He seemed to honk at all the appropriate times, he stopped slamming on the brakes when he noticed how it made Enzo and Lena shoot forward off the bench, and he exuded a confidence behind the wheel that was impressive and comforting. He managed to lull us into such security that we could observe the overturned and flattened buses mired in filthy paddies with curiosity instead of dread.

So it was as Sharif was passing a bus that was passing a bus that we became trapped in between said bus and an oncoming truck. There was a sickening crunch as the truck scraped down the side of the van, taking out the rear light and twisting the door as it went. The colorful metal sides of the bigger vehicles were all that could be seen through the windows. It seemed certain that we were going to be crushed then left as prey to oncoming traffic. But, seconds later, the van was left alone, scarred but safe, in the middle of the highway.

That is when Sharif pulled a u-ey and chased down the offending truck. He forced the truck to pull off at a gas station where the drivers (and about 10 gas station guys) alternately yelled at each other and slapped the damaged van while we sat inside (wide eyed and unsure whether or not we should get out). About forty-five minutes later we were back on the road. It turned out it was the truck driver's fault.

I'm not so sure, in light of these blessed near misses, whether or not we should chance the Chittagong Dhaka Highway again. Maybe the train?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Block Printing

Have I ever mentioned that one of my very lovely sisters in law lives here? Bryce's sister, Summer, works at the university as well and lives nearby. I know. I'm very lucky. To illustrate what an unbelievably great lady she is I'll tell you that I braved the streets of Chittagong all by myself (!) just for the privilege of hanging out with her.

Summer has a knack for turning wherever she is into a cozy familiar room that looks and feels like the home you never knew you had. She's had a grand idea for curtains in her room for a while and yesterday we tried out block printing to get them started.

A lot of the fabric here is decorated with block print. Maybe we should have asked someone who had done it before to show us the ropes. As it is we might have just turned her apartment into the scene of the biggest messiest stamping project ever. But we had a great time. And just looking at those little works in progress makes us happy.

Weekend, thank you for coming. Please come again soon.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Two (as in two seats)

We didn't bring a stroller. It was a deliberate decision. We were bogged down with 15 items of luggage already. The good stroller we would have liked to bring weighs about two tons and takes a genius an hour to put up or take down. So we didn't bring it. Of course, as soon as we arrived we wished we had.

There is some doubt whether even that heavy duty, big wheeled son of a gun could have handled the sidewalks here. They are a patchwork of brick and cement of varying levels and angles that require the savvy pedestrian to watch his footsteps with athletic care. The curb varies in height up to 24 inches or so. The potholes are frequent, huge, and unmarked. Although, sometimes there is a skinny board balancing across the gap that the barefoot locals step across with admirable confidence. I walk around.

So who knows if our stroller would have managed it but when we arrived we realized we needed a way to get these little guys around.

Bryce and I went shopping one day for household essentials and stopped at a likely shop with ironing boards. While checking out the boards (with five or six shop assistants trying to help by setting the boards up and taking them down repeatedly) we noticed these little push bikes nearby.

They were made of the same kind of stinky brittle plastic popular in dollar store brands. They had bright clashing colors that hurt the eyes and heart. But to our arms, aching from carrying two toddlers around, these plastic push bikes looked like salvation! But, there was a problem. They were all single bikes and we have two little rascals.

We checked them out a little. We fiddled around with the handles until the shop assistants gave up on the ironing boards and came over to push them back and forth for us to see. We were very impressed.

"Two?" We asked gesturing at one of the single bikes, trying to indicate an extra seat. The assistants didn't speak English but the shop owner spoke a little.

"Ah, two." He replied and gestured expansively with both hands at two of the bikes in front of us.

We conferred for a minute trying to figure out a fail-proof gesture to indicate two seats. "No. Two." Bryce insisted pointing at one bike and patting the seat.

"Ah, yes." We waited a few minutes while one of the assistants hurried off in another direction. I was forced, with polite but unflagging insistence, to make myself comfortable on a tiny plastic stool in the crowded shop while the men stood around not knowing what to say considering Bryce's complete lack of Bangla.

Finally, the shop assistant returned with a bike in every way identical to the one Bryce had first pointed at. Bummer. "Two?" We tried again pointing at the seat with even more insistence.

"Ah, two. Yes. Not too big, not too little. Two, yes." It took a long time again to explain that while we agreed that two was a great age to be riding around on these bikes we actually wanted one with two seats. Finally, just as we were about to give up another assistant showed up with this gem. Two seats! We bought it right away and left in a hurry (probably our biggest mistake since we paid 85 dollars for it).

So now we have this ugly yellow bike. A tipsy little accident waiting to happen. It definitely can't handle the sidewalks around here but it manages the streets and car park okay (if you walk and turn slowly). We'll be lucky if it lasts through the month.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Good Cheese

Yesterday Titus came and snuggled with me on the couch. He relaxed into me in a way I'm so familiar with from Enzo but that I haven't felt with Titus in so long. We talked.

He'd had a good day playing video games and Legos with one of the idolized older boys in the apartment building. They had even gone out to lunch just the two of them. Earlier, when I had given him the money for lunch, he had promised me that he wouldn't just eat naan. But it turned out that the food was too spicy and (tragedy of tragedies) some of it had gotten on to the naan, so he couldn't even eat all of that.

I reminded him that he had to go back to school today. Sigh, "I know," he said, turning over and getting comfortable on the other side. I was dually amazed at how big and how little he seemed.

Together, we tried to remember what activity was supposed to happen at school today. Was it music, library, or PE? No good, Titus still wasn't excited about going.

"I don't want to live here." He said quietly.

"I know."

Frustrated sigh. "It's just... I really wish we could live somewhere that we could always have good cheese, you know?"


I hope he's having a good day at school today. Crackers in his tiffin box, but no cheese.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Day in the Life

Enzo and Lena have been pretty good about the change from living in a little cottage on 5 beautiful acres to an apartment without much opportunity to play outside. Unfortunately, they've become really good at watching the two Elmo movies we have. They also like bugging each other in the usual pinching pulling screaming fashion.

Enzo has become quite good at climbing the bars on the windows which means that we have walked into a room to find him clinging to the bars 6 feet off the ground (he hasn't figured out how to climb down).

Lena is passionate about playing with the desk drawers with has resulted in daily incidents of squished fingers (she doesn't seem to realize she's doing it to herself).

They've reset the wireless a couple of times and pulled apart all but two of the board books I brought. I've suspected for a while that I lack the kind of star quality that keeps little people happy day in and day out. Now I'm sure of it. So if you have any ideas how I can keep these guys entertained and out of trouble I'm open to suggestions...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Embracing B-desh: Shoes

We did a little bit of shopping the other day for the babies who continue to grow. Bryce saw these shoes and couldn't resist. They were about 3 bucks each. Lena's pair are pretty impressive with a startling combo of floral, stripes, glitter, vehicles, sports (can't see in this photo), laces, and velcro. The sole has stars and fish. Enzo's pair are equally impressive, especially the blue sole, but he wouldn't stay still for a picture.

I learned from The White Tiger that all this in one pair of shoes means more value for the money. Why have shoes that are only pink when you could get all this? I think we got our money's worth.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Confession Time

I have the impression that some of you might think that I'm an adventurous sort. That I'm a good traveller. That we must really have things together to come out here for a while to live. I shamefully admit that I might have reinforced that idea here and there but it's time to come clean. That's not me.

For months before we came my mantra was, "I don't want to go." So we would go over our options. Again and again we'd wade through the river of reasons the decision had already been made. And almost the instant I recommitted myself to the idea I'd have flashbacks of Vietnam (not the war) and think again, "I don't want to go."

Of course, it is a great opportunity and, as predicted, I don't regret being here. But I'm no great example of traveling genius. In fact, I might just barely fit the definition of a traveler at all since I spend most of my time avoiding meeting the chaotic face of Bangladesh head on.

For example, a true adventurer traveler buys the Bradt guidebook as a weight to assist their dive into a new culture and country. They understand the hip author's derisive comments about touristy hotels with clean sheets. I, on the other hand, look for phrases like "interact with the locals" and automatically want to cross that beach or restaurant off the list.

I do wish I were a little more of the adventurous traveler type. I'm surrounded by cool expats, faculty and staff of the university, that swap developing country stories like baseball cards. I'm awestruck by their confidence and endurance. I wish I were more like that. But it's time to be honest. I'm not.

I just felt like you should know.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

VIP in town

I didn't have anything to do with it but everyone around me was buzzing with the news. Thought you might want to read about the VIP in town. I spent the day reading to the babies, getting my hair done by Maggie and a friend, getting to be a voice over in the movie Titus and the boys were making, and trying to keep it cool when all the kids started playing dodge ball in the apartment.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Time changes

We've been here over a month and I'm still confused. It's like everyone in the whole country is on a mission to keep me in the dark about what time it is on what day.

To start with there is the weekend. Instead of the tried and true Saturday/Sunday combo I'm used to Bangladesh goes with Friday/Saturday. It makes sense for a largely Muslim country to want to have their holy day off. I get it. But I can't seem to wrap my head around the work week starting on Sunday.

Then came the time change. They tried Day Light Savings here for the first time this year and weren't sure they liked it so when the time came to change their clocks back they just didn't. Of course it started to be dark early and suddenly all over the country people took matters into their own hands and changed their hours of operation. Pandemonium, or at least widespread confusion, ensued. So the government decided we should all change our clocks back and resume normal hours of operation. And what better time to do this than at 11:59 pm on New Year's Eve?

This week my confusion is worse than ever because the university changed their schedule to accommodate their special visitor. They worked through the "weekend" and will finish the school week on Tuesday (I think) instead. It's nice that they'll have a four day weekend this week, but I might not recover my sense of time.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Rickshaw Ride

The good:
environmentally friendly

The bad:
tiny seat
bumpy ride
feeling bad for the poor bloke pulling you along

The ugly:
they're a mite unsteady
sometimes stop or turn suddenly depositing passengers on the road,
possibly in front of other traffic

Not our favorite way to get around but rickshaws still rule the streets around here. Bryce and the kids took the camera to try to get a sense of the ride and the sights around town. Thought you might like to see some of it.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sunset in Chittagong

Our building has a lovely rooftop patio. It's our main outdoor play area right now. We were up there the other night around sunset and managed to take a couple of pics. The kids all got involved in a rather messy game of playing in a dusty puddle.

Sounds on the street are less abrasive way up on the rooftop (5 floors). The city is usually softened in a haze of dusty smog and seems almost friendly. It's easy to observe the goings on around us with this birds eye view. We watch cows moseying down the side streets nibbling on grass and garbage. Our eyes are drawn to other rooftops with brightly colored laundry waving in the breeze. Sometimes the breeze shifts, a sewer tinged smell permeates the air, and I'm suddenly reminded that I'm actually here and not just imagining this.

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Monday, January 4, 2010

Back to School

Titus and Maggie went back to school yesterday. They were nervous and excited (at least Maggie was excited). They're attending an international school here with American Curriculum. It is the closest we can get to what they're used to. At the same time the student population is mostly Bangladeshi. There is one other expat in Maggie's class and none in Titus'.

Maggie came home brimming with news. She talked non-stop until Titus came home an hour later. When asked how school was he said, "It was pretty good." And when asked how he liked his teacher he said, "She seems really nice." Rave reviews for Titus!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Week of Travel

We spent the week after Christmas traveling around. I've tried but I can't think of a way to describe what the trip was like. I'll just share some pictures and you can imagine what you will in between. We hit the beach at Cox's Bazar, monopolized on the serenity of Molumghat, and then entered the "Chaos Capitol of South Asia" in Dhaka.

We met a lot of new people. A couple of whom shared some philosophical pointers for coping with life here. One said, "Chittagong bites." This is helpful to remember when trying to describe a bad day. For example one could say, "Today it bit me hard."

Also we learned that "living in Bangladesh is like a roller coaster. Somtimes it's okay." (Imagine his hand moving steadily upwards like an airplane taking off. "Other times...." (Picture the hand turning downwards rapidly... it never came back up again).

Philosophically speaking, it's great to be back in the apartment we call home.