Saturday, February 27, 2010

Saying Goodbye to Chloe

A week ago I was in Malumghat with my family for a mini-vacation when I got an email with the urgent message to call home. It was midnight. I called my sister, one of the twins, five years older than me and a rock of support since childhood. "It's Andra," I said. "I just got your message. Is everyone okay?" My heart was racing and I held my breath hoping the email was less important than it sounded.

"No," she replied, knowing there was no way to ease into the news. "Chloe died." And then we cried together on the phone a thousand miles away from each other. I had to go home. Fifty hours later I arrived to the home of my childhood and a scene of intense grief and gracious hope. I have felt privileged to be here from the moment I came.

The past few days have been spent poring over pictures of a round cheeked blue eyed beauty. A sweet baby who quite literally made everyone fall hopelessly in love with her. She is a shining star in the broad sky of our family. We have marveled at the impact of her short life and have stood speechless in the face of the love and support of others.

Chloe changed my life with her mere presence and joy. In her death I am grateful for the comfort of the spirit and for my testimony of our Savior, Jesus Christ and of his love and sacrifice for us. I am grateful to know she will live again and be with her faithful parents who love and miss her immensely. I am grateful for her gentle reminder to love my children always.

My little sister, Chloe's beautiful mom, said it was okay to post this and link here if you'd like to get to know Chloe a little bit better. She's worth it.
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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Redhead Holding Hands (Happy Valentines Day)

I like this picture because it shows two cultural phenomenon that surprised me.
First, the orange/red hair. There was this older guy on the airplane over with us who had dyed his hair and beard bright orange. I thought he must be a quirky fellow until we got off the plane and started to run into the glossy hue on men everywhere. It's henna dyed and is apparently so popular because the prophet Mohammed was supposed to have reddish hair.
The second thing is these two business men walking down the street hand in hand. Men and boys of all ages here are constantly hugging or walking together holding hands, or resting their hands with friendly ease on each others hips and shoulders.
I saw the same thing in Vietnam but I guess it surprises me here because of my preconceived notion that Muslim men are more staunch and less affectionate. I have no idea why I think I should have any idea how Muslim men should behave, but I guess I do.
Anyway, kudos to these anonymous businesmen who unwittingly displayed some of my favorite points of cultural interest.
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Saturday, February 13, 2010


We went to Kentucky Fried Chicken today for our neighbor's birthday party. She turned six. Enzo calls her "La La" for some reason. When I told her mom she said, "That is a rather affectionate nickname, don't you think?" I was a little worried about this ambiguous response but after thinking it over I think she means she likes it.

KFC was all we expected it to be. A very American feeling locale down to the poster on the wall explaining how the Colonel came up with his original recipe.

One thing surprised us, though. The staff were noticeably stressed out. They were all over the "no shoes in the playspace" policy. They ran around with stacks of plates piled high with chicken. There was one worker sweeping the entire time we were there, snaking the broom under tables and chairs to recover fries as soon as they fell. No one smiled. No one chatted.

This was in stark contrast to the usual come what may attitude that one usually finds in customer service situations here. I'm afraid the KFC is embracing the grumpy task oriented American worker persona along with the chicken sandwiches. It's kind of a bummer.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Reduce Reuse Recylce

I remember reading an article a few years ago about recycling efforts in Bangladesh. Apparently there is an industry here for collecting and sorting the plastic drink bottles from other countries. There were pictures in the article of children climbing over color coded mountains of plastic. There were pictures of women carrying huge loads of discarded plastic on their heads.

There is also a big shipbreaking industry here. Aging ships come here on their final journey, deposit their wares, and then stay, beached and ready for demolition. They're torn apart by hundreds of men climbing like spiders up and over every inch, sorting and saving every last usable item.

There is road out of Chittagong lined with shops selling salvaged shipbreaking items. There are piles of rusty beams, sheet metal, circular windows, ladders, gumboots, faded orange life rings and anything else you can imagine being recovered from the doomed disabled vessels. Our friends told us they once found dozens of slot machines for sale there. What kind of ship was that?

Of course, this is a great thing. I'm truly impressed with the environmental and financial benefits harnessed by these efforts.

And, I hope that this same spirit of salvage and reuse isn't applied (as rumors have said) to the piles of medical waste sometimes seen, heaped and waiting for removal, on the side of the street. I stepped on a catheter the other day (accidentally, with shoes on). It was lying next to a syringe.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


It says "Beauty Parlour & Sliming Center".
Do you think it means "slimming" or some sort of face mask?
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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Turning Two

Yesterday we celebrated Lena's second birthday! We planned a day focused on toddler enjoyment.
We started out in a CNG going to the peninsula hotel. This requires 2 CNG's for our family and it's never totally clear if the driver knows where we want to go. So there is always the possibility we could end up in separate but equally unfamiliar parts of the city. Hasn't happened yet.
We rode to the Peninsula Hotel, the self proclaimed best business hotel in the city. We just went for the pool which you can use for 400 taka per person per hour. It's crazy expensive , but we were celebrating after all. Because it's winter here the gardeners and pool attendants were very disapproving of letting the babies get wet. We decided to risk their health in the chilly eighty degree weather despite their hands on hips warnings.
After swimming we walked over to Sugar Bun, the fast food joint in town with the biggest play place. All the kids had a good time, climbing on the random collection of toys and avoiding the Sugar Bun employees praying in the back corner. The one downer was the little boy who was so scared of us white folks that he started screaming every time Lena walked, pig tails bouncing, his way.
The Sugar Bun Bakery made the personalized bunny cake that ended the party. We drew even more attention to ourselves singing happy birthday to the bemused but delighted Lena. We walked home quickly through the crowded dusty streets, back to the apartment for baths. She looked ready for sleep as we put her down with a final reminder, "Happy Birthday, Lena. We're glad you're here."
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Friday, February 5, 2010


Titus and friends playing soccer on the stairs

The residents of our apartment building are all staff and faculty of the university. It's a tight-knit supportive group of people from places and backgrounds as varied as as their specialties. Luckily for us, there were some talented parents among this group that brought children with them. From the day we arrived these kids, ranging in age from toddlers to teenagers, have helped keep each other entertained. They have been bright lights in the darkness of difficult adjustment.

Today a family left, taking two kids with them. We'll miss them. We'll miss their parents.

And, as an outsider, I can only speculate on how very much the university will miss their mom.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Maggie is in second grade. She is 7 going on 8.

The last two weeks there have been several birthdays in her class. The kids have turned 9, 10, and yesterday one turned 11.

I was surprised but she reassured me, "Mom, don't worry. It's not like I'm falling behind."

I asked Titus but he had no clue how old anyone in his class is.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Better Coping

It turns out that previous post was kind of a downer. I've heard that it didn't really jive with the rest of the blogtisti groove.

I think I was in a little bit of a funk yesterday. I suspect it has something to do with borrowing the first season of "Bones" from a neighbor. I have a love/hate relationship with crime shows. All those crazy murders tend to bring me down somehow... but I'm fascinated. I watched a couple of episodes pre posting and I think the melancholy came out in spite of myself.

It's morning now. No "Bones" yet. I'll tell you another way I've been coping.

Sometimes when there is laughing and pointing I smile and wave back. Sometimes I do the whole snake eyes thing back and forth, smiling the whole time, and I think they understand what I'm saying inside, "Hey, you can see me. I can see you. Isn't that cool?"

Once when I was walking to the university some teenage boys kept yelling and waving at me from a rickshaw stuck in traffic. I couldn't be annoyed because I was listening to Beyonce at the time so I waved back and smiled. Over the next few minutes, as traffic dispersed they kept waving and smiling, hanging out of the rickshaw as it rolled away. They were funny. I laughed and had a great day.

I appreciate the coping advice you've given me. I'll do better.


I was warned.

In the tiny amount of time I dedicated of my pre-Bdesh life to preparing to come here I read about the attention bestowed upon foreigners here. But, since the book compared the attention to a famous movie star among fans, it was easy to forget it might be a problem.

We get a lot of attention. A lot of it is because of the children, especially the wee blond headed Lena. A lot of it is because of me. In a particularly skinny part of Asia I stand out even more than the usual visitor.

Crowds gather. We're often followed. Fingers point. Laughing, etc.

It can be stressful. So you develop coping strategies.

I went to a night market with Summer one time. A group of teenage girls followed me around for a while laughing and pointing at me while I perused gold ribboned fabric. I was suddenly so angry! My mind and heart raced for an outlet and what came into my head was all of the opportunity I have in my life compared to these girls. Instead of a zen like moment of charitable outreach, I wanted to shove it in their faces. "I've had opportunities you can't even dream of!" I wanted to shout, tantrum-like. "So leave me alone!"

I made it through the evening without indulging in that particular fantasy, and since then I've wanted to find out how others here cope. I felt like I needed something other than gloating about my wheel of fortune first world upbringing. I've asked around and heard how others cope with the public moments when you'd give anything for anonymity.

Don't make eye contact.

Keep walking.

Laugh a lot.

Pretend you're surrounded by aliens.

Pretend like everything around you is in slow motion.

Think of another place in the world, a busy place, like an intersection. Remember that people are sitting at that intersection right now, waiting for a light to change.