Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Drug Busters

Today, instead of their usual maroon plaid uniform set Titus and Maggie were permitted to wear their Drug busters T Shirts and "a clean pair denim blue jeans". A small concession but they were both totally excited to forgo their usual proper appearance for something a little less traditional.

The front of the T-shirt gives the mathematical equation for drug less happiness:
Life - Drugs = Freedom

We hope the converse isn't true (as pointed out by our middle school neighbor):
Life = Freedom + Drugs

Maggie came home doubly excited by the news that she, "out of the whole elementary school" won first place in the poster contest. She said some of the other posters were disqualified because it was too obvious that an older brother or sister had helped them. Her poster said, "At WCA we say drugs go away!" Pretty clever, huh? She won 200 taka (not quite three dollars) and is planning on saving it for something special.

It sounds like there was a little program about drug avoidance given by the high school drama class. I asked what Maggie learned and she said, "Well, I'm definitely not going to drink drugs." So I think it was successful.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Storm Blog

Last night I dreamed that someone was throwing chairs down from around the table. This morning when I woke up an awe inspiring thunderstorm was booming outside. Lightning flashed through the sky every few seconds and the deep rumbling was almost continuos. We watched, riveted to the spectacle just outside our window, until dawn lightened the sky to deep gray.

Rain started to pour, as the thunder died out. Palm trees blowing in the wind reached their bright green fronds to the sky as if in gratitude for the shower that rinsed off months of dust and soot.

It’s sunny now, and hot. But today the sun is shining on a new Chittagong. One that is crisp and green, full of electricity and possibility. Anything could happen on a day like this.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

To Market

We found these home made bubble wand sets at the market. They work really well.

At first she just asked if she could take Lena shopping. Then, when I refused, she came up with the idea that we all go shopping. There was such a sense of urgency and anticipation about the suggestion that I wavered, even though I knew there was no part of me that wanted to take two toddlers shopping in an open market in a developing country. She pounced on my hesitation and arranged for her brother to drive us. Through the 20 words we mutually know we arranged for a time. 3:00. That's when everyone is home from school or up from naps.

She was happy. She bounced around sweeping and mopping while I played with the little ones, uncomfortable in the corner already anxious about what I had agreed to do. After a little while she said she needed to go shopping and left. This was a huge relief. I thought maybe I had misunderstood and she decided to go without me.

I was reading on my bed when she came back, dazzling in a pink and blue shalwar kameez that sparkled and shined. Her hair was done. Heavy eye make up had been applied. "Madame," she said. "Go shopping."

Of course, there was no way we could go shopping then. Even if she did look so well prepared. I tried to convey the complicated sentiment that I wasn't about to go shopping when Enzo and Lena were napping, Maggie was due home from school in half and hour, and Titus an hour after that.

In the end I had to call a Bangladeshi friend to translate. She graciously spoke to both of us on the phone and when I got the phone back she related, "I've never heard of a maid thinking like this before. She wants you to go shopping with her and she thinks it will make you happy. She said you already promised to go and that her brother is waiting at the car. Andra, I have to tell you that this is very strange. I don't even know what to think of it."

I looked at Maria, so obviously excited to go and asked my friend to translate that I would go, just not until 3:00. So, all was settled. For real this time.

I had to resort to bribery to get Titus and Maggie to go. Enzo had to be awoken from a nap which goes against some very deep seated beliefs. But, at 3:00, we were downstairs, eight people piling into a car built for four.

The market wasn't very far away and we were able to park just outside the gate. We got out of the car and stepped over a man, missing both arms and both legs, prostrate on the ground. We walked by a child, with blood on his face and arms, who looked like he had been dragged on cement. We avoided and sidestepped children begging, huge eyes in gaunt faces, while we were whisked through the market.

After visiting a few shops, looking quickly at the wares while trying to keep Enzo quiet, Lena in view, Titus occupied, and Maggie polite, I realized that I was expected to spend up big. "Madame, shopping," was repeated by both Maria and her brother as I looked around desperately searching for something I actually wanted to buy.

I picked out a stainless steel tiered lunch box that Bryce had said he wanted. The brother bought it for me. Maggie picked out a red purse with sequins and fringe. He bought it again. Titus, Enzo and Lena all got plastic toys that broke immediately.

We walked around for an hour, looking for something for me. I should have just agreed to the earrings that looked like tiny chandeliers. Or one of the plastic sequined headbands or hair clips. But, in my distraction I couldn't concentrate and kept saying no until I realized I was stuck shopping until I bought something for myself. Fabric, I thought, as we walked towards a shop under a huge marquee. There has to be something here I would like.

Unfortunately, this is where Enzo, the sleep deprived toddler really lost it and where Lena became lost between the rows of hanging fabric. It was clear we had to go. Even Maria could tell.

So in the car on the way home her brother asked Maggie, "What is the favorite color of your mother?"

"Orange," Maggie replied.

"Madame," he turns his attention to me, "I will find for you some wonderful fabric for shirt. It will be orange, and perhaps white and perhaps black. Yes?"

"Yes," I agree. What else can I say?

Bryce laughed when I told him we had gone shopping. I didn't even tell him the whole story before he started laughing. And now I have an orange, black and white shirt to look forward to.

It was a thought provoking experience for me. Out of everything that I learned I think the one I appreciate most right now is that Maria, our maid, a 22 year old single mother in her first job, is looking out for me and wants me to be happy. Whatever other frustrations we run into (shopping or at home) that's really nice to know.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Outside Adventures

When I say "outside" I really mean the covered carpark/basement of the building. When the little ones need a diversion out of the apartment we'll either head to the roof where the sun shines hot but the sky is pretty, or the basement where the dust is plentiful but the shade is nice. Today we went downstairs.

We usually take a ball or two downstairs and kick it around for a while. Then there is the fun involved in trying to play in the bucket of dirty water the drivers use to wash the cars. That usually leads to trying to touch the newly shined vehicles leaving smeared handprints for the drivers to wash off later.

Sometimes the guards take a break from gate watching and newspaper reading to play a little bit. This guy is often running back and forth practicing his cricket bowl. He sometimes makes fun of Enzo's bad form when throwing the ball but Enzo doesn't mind. They're good friends.

Sometimes we play a little hide and seek around the generator. But when it's on we try to avoid the exhaust.

We also try to avoid this table that is ominously piled with wires presumably capable of both providing the entire building with power and electrocuting unsuspecting passersby (especially those with damp little hands).

There's a great little cart to push and be pushed in (although I never seem to get a turn).

And that's what it's like to play with Enzo and Lena downstairs. We've done it often enough that they've got the whole routine down to half an hour. That includes the time it takes for the necessary wash down and change of clothes that follows each visit "outside".

Taking it Slow

We're getting back on track. There hasn't been any fevers or unexplained bouts of tearfulness today. We're taking it slow and taking advantage of all the books we've accumulated in the past month. Thanks to some well timed care packages and an unplanned trip home we now have enough books to keep everyone in reading. Titus is reading the Animorphs books for the third or fourth time now. Maggie is making her way through Junie B. Jones and Horrible Harry. Enzo's favorite seems to be Brown Bear again and Lena's favorite is still which ever book Enzo has.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


|məˈlāz; -ˈlez|


a general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify : a society afflicted by a deep cultural malaise | a general air of malaise.
The occupants of this apartment are suffering from severe malaise. Symptoms include lying for long periods of time on pillows and staring at ceilings. Or if one is a toddler, purposeless whining and wandering about in only diapers.
The resident head nurse blames the hot weather. I don't disagree. I just want it to go away. I'm opposed to any discomfort, illness, or uneasiness that decreases toddler nap times.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mr Fix It

Yesterday the plumber came to fix the drain in our wet sink (I will not describe the odious concept that is a wet sink since it is probably the one thing in Bangladesh I hate the most). But the plumber comes and I start to feel embarrassed, like someone is playing a joke on me, because he's the same guy that has been introduced to me before as the electrician and carpenter.

I'm not complaining. I think he does a good job, fixing everything from drains to light switches, I'm just not sure how to respond. Do I act as though we've never met before (even though he was here last week) since now he's in his plumber persona? Do I smile and say, "I remember you"?

I suspect they use these titles to reassure me that he knows what he's doing but I think I'd prefer a ubiquitous title like The Fix it Guy or Repairman. It makes me miss Fred, the capable facilities manager at Orchard Park, who didn't see the need to rename himself every time he came to our apartment.

However, lest my mom worry she's raised such an ungrateful child, he did do a good job. He even cleaned out the drain in our shower.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Today Titus and Maggie met someone new who asked them, "What do you like to do for fun?"

Titus said, "Play video games."

Maggie said, "Movies."

I just wanted to post some pictures of them having fun to prove to myself they like to do other things as well.

Here they are playing in the inflatable paddle pool I brought with me last week. Kudos to Target for having their summer stuff out in March. Check out the guy on the roof of the next building who watched them play for about 20 minutes.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

F is not for Fun

I know you're aware of Titus' hate hate relationship with school. If not, then I'll just sum it up: Titus hates going to school here.

About a month ago I saw a spark of hope. He was given an assignment to create his own insect. The requirements: draw a picture of the insect in its ecosystem, create a model of the insect, and write a paragraph describing the ins and outs of this insect's life.

Titus was totally hooked. He came home from school, immediately filled out his worksheet to help his assignments along, and made a 3-D model of the insect he named Grant on the computer. It was such a relief to have him be so engaged.

Fast forward to a few days ago when we got an email from his teacher informing us that Titus had not turned any of it in and that he was facing getting three F's for the science assignments he was missing.

This sparked a long discussion between two confused parents about the relative value of education, assignments, and learning. Is there any way to force a feeling of intrinsic value in school and school work? Is this just a nine year old boy thing to do? Are Bryce and I just confused because we belong to the boring set who actually liked school?

We talked it over with the little guy and weren't at all surprised when he said he didn't care if he got all F's. He wasn't surprised either when we said we did care so he gamely finished all three assignments in about an hour and a half and turned them in the next day. Ms. J (bless her) extended the deadline for our irresponsible little procrastinator and he came home the same day with three perfect scores.

He couldn't quite hide his smile when he told me his grade. He even went so far as to say his classmates were impressed with Grant - the realistic burrowing insect.

But, I'm still not sure. Were we right to force the issue? Would it have been better to leave him to his F's and the satisfaction of knowing he made his point?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Welcome Back

During the 45 minute flight between Dhaka and Chittagong I was given a snack box with a samosa, pakora, and sandwich inside. I wasn't hungry but the sari draped stewardess insisted and added a mango juice box to the mix. I sat with the boxes perched on my knees until we were landing when I inexplicably stuffed them into my purse and carried them off the plane.

I picked up my luggage and made my way street side where I had hoped to find a CNG to take me the final half hour of my trip. No luck. The three CNG's that were there were quickly filled by other passengers so I stood frantically wondering what to do next. Of course, I played it cool for the other passengers, making sure they could never tell that I hadn't planned to stand in the humid sunshine with a couple of suitcases and no way to get home. Luckily, an entrepreneur with a van offered me a ride and after a quick negotiation (I'm not much of a barterer) we headed off to his van.

Crossing the street put me directly into the midst of the tiny hungry beggars so sadly common here. A little boy, maybe around five, with a toddler on his hip followed me for a while. Sometimes he'd lightly hold my fingers. Sometimes he'd stroke my arm. I pulled the snack box out of my purse and handed it over. He broke into a surprised grin, held the prize over his head, and took off running down the street.

I had a ridiculous cozy feeling inside knowing I had made this little kid so dang happy for just a few moments. I walked along with a lighter step towards my ride home and as I approached it I realized I was being followed by two airport security guards. They were wearing the threatening purple/turquoise/khaki camouflage that inspires my cautious suspicion. I stopped with the driver by the van. The guards stop two.

"Hello Madam." One of them says. Tall with a mustache.

"Hello." I say.

"I see you give something to the children."

"Yes," I admit.

"Ah." He smiles at the other, a short man, skinny, who is also smiling. "This is not good. It's... illegal."

"I just gave them some food. They were hungry." I'm confused. Why are they smiling so much?

Short and Skinny responds, "Yes, and I'm hungry too." I'm catching on now and tell them I have nothing left and if I did I would give it to the kids anyway. They think this is pretty funny.

Mustache starts again, "Is illegal but I forget for maybe twenty dollars." Short and Skinny nods. Apparently he could forget for twenty bucks too.

They were definitely the most cheerful hustlers I've ever encountered. They kept at it, asking for 10, then 5, then just one dollar. They never seemed the slightest bit disappointed when I refused and even waved and smiled as we drove away.

So, in summary, I made it back to Chittagong. Safe and Sound.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Back to Bangladesh

Just a few hours until my flight leaves. So many thoughts and feelings I'm not up to the task to share. A sad goodbye to my family here. A hopeful hello to family there. And one of my favorite poems continuously on my mind.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

By Antonio Machado
Translated by Robert Bly

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Forever Families

Life continues in perpetual unforgiving motion. In three days I will board a plane and revel in bittersweet memories while steadily moving closer to holding my children tight. I am lucky I have chubby arms and clumsy hugs to look forward to.

Just look at that little face!
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