Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Next door to our building is an elementary school. When we're down in the carport in the mornings we can hear high pitched voices calling to each other. They get higher and more insistent when they spot us through the barred windows on the second floor that see over the wall. The brown faces with big smiles press to the window and call to Enzo and Lena. The babies never notice but I always get distracted. It must bug the teachers too because on a couple of occasions someone has come along to close the shutters with a bang.

Yesterday the AUW students and faculty faced off in a basketball game in the court at the school next door. The kids and I went to watch. It was the first time we'd been in their courtyard. I thought that maybe we could spend time on their play equipment when the little ones lost interest in the game. I had seen the play area and from our rooftop. From 5 floors up it looked quite cheerful. By "quite cheerful" I mean that everything was painted red.

The playground consisted just of a couple of metal swings and two teeter totters (one of which was broken and unusable). We played on both for a while and unsurprisingly little people did get hurt. Ragged and pitted concrete doesn't make for soft landings, even when covered in a thick layer of dust and litter. The kids had the most fun jumping off a broken concrete staircase whose railing was nothing but rubble and whose metal frame stuck out threateningly in all directions.

Sometimes it's hard to remember the green grass surrounding the network of colorful playgrounds we were once accustomed to.

A friend of ours once told us a story of an international aid organization that raised money to build a playground here in Bangladesh. It was to cost 10,000 US dollars to get the playground here and set up. The money was raised by donation while people here found the perfect village and location for the park. Everything was in order until a government official announced that there is a tax on something like that. About $15,000 dollars, he thought. The organization tried to negotiate and explain how they would never be able to pay a tax like that. In the end, the playground was built somewhere in Africa.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Morning Blues

It's late morning but dark and gray outside. The atmosphere is heavy with anticipation and maybe even rain. I hope it cools things down, maybe a breeze will find its way inside.

The dark day fits my mood. I'm sneezing and sniffling, allergic to who knows what, and wondering where my patience has gone. Perhaps it's still enjoying the weekend.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hair Cut Specifics

The other day Titus came home with an unexpected homework assignment. In the "other" section of his homework journal was written "haircut". He explained that his teacher had asked him to write it down because his hair was too long and for each day he returned to school with it un-cut he would receive a demerit. Titus was really bugged.

We waited for Bryce to get home. He went straight to the source, the student handbook which states, under the heading "General Appearance":

Students should be habitually clean and dressed neatly. The school uniform is to be worn on all class days and for all public school functions... Boys should have their hair trimmed regularly...

The next few minutes were spent wondering why anyone would include such an non specific rule in the handbook.

For example, "What do they mean by regular? That just means at even intervals. Every six months is regular, or every two years for that matter."

"What about trimmed?!? Half an inch could be cut off waist length hair and that could be called trimmed!"

You get the idea. You have to be specific around these guys.

There was some talk of resisting the injunction. Titus didn't want to be told when to get his hair cut, after all, and nobody felt like taking a trip down the dusty street to the barber.

But, since Titus doesn't actually care how long his hair is, they finally decided to go.

The pictures are pre-cut. What do you think? Too long? I don't have any after pictures because it looks like the camera isn't waterproof anymore.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Thoughts on Polygamy

"Bangladesh, like many others countries with large Muslim population, does have law, as personal law, to regulate polygamous marriage of its Muslim communities. The relevant portions of that law, i.e., section 6 of the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance 1961, reads as follows:

1. No man, during the subsistence of an existing marriage, shall, except with the previous permission in writing of the arbitration council, contract another marriage …

2. … (such) application form … shall be submitted to the chairman (of the arbitration council)… and shall state the reasons for the proposed marriage and whether the consent of the existing wife or wives has been obtained thereto.

3. On receipt of the application … the Chairman (of the arbitration council) shall ask the applicant and his existing wife or wives, each, to nominate a representative, and the arbitration council so constituted may, if satisfied that the proposed marriage is necessary and just, grant, subject to such conditions, if any, as may be deemed fit, the permission applied for.

This law has given the Arbitration Council a wide discretionary power to deal with the issue. Also, it has not defined what can possibly be ‘necessary and just grounds’ in this regard. These are why, according to legal experts, this law is prone to be abused. They think it necessary to define the expression ‘necessary and just ground’ with illustrations. Herewith I would like to add that that should be done in light of the rules of conduct provided in the holy Quran. No doubt, that will ensure maximum good to the Muslim individuals as well as the society."

Excerpt from Polygamy in Bangladesh

by Ana on Dec.20, 2009, under polygamy in various countries

I've had some interesting exposure to the idea of polygamy the past few days and wanted to find out more about it's role in Bangladeshi life. Unsurprisingly, the practice of polygamy here doesn't always follow the letter of the law (Or the spirit of the law for that matter. Refer back to the article above for an interesting summary of the interpretation of polygamy from the Quran).

It seems common to hear stories of Bangladeshi men marrying their second wives secretly, without the knowledge or permission of their first wife. There also seems to be an unhappy tendency for families of first wives to be abandoned financially in light of the second marriage.

It is a huge social issue with complex reasons for and against. I know I only understand it on a very superficial level (especially since I'm a foreinger here and found these articles on the internet). I just wanted to share a little bit here because it's been on my mind.

I thought this article was interesting too, especially because it discusses some possible benefits of polygamy from a very simple muslim perspective.

For a chilling example of how one wife reacted to the news that her husband planned to marry again, read here.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fun in the Sun

We spent yesterday fulfilling the month long promise to take the kids back to the water park. What could be better than a sunny day playing with friends in the water? Add a couple of goats climbing around the water slides and some stray dogs wading in the green water next to the toddlers and you have a uniquely Bangladesh experience.

It's a bit tricky enjoying this water park to its fullest since they only have power enough to turn on one attraction at a time. It's pretty obvious when the wave pool is working, but sometimes figuring out which slide is going can be a challenge.

The other steep learning curve we faced yesterday related to the comparative effectiveness of Bangladeshi sunscreen. For a country obsessed with skin lightening lotions you'd think they'd put more effort into making good sunscreen. Ours didn't work at all. We're all a bit pink today.

Wow, that water looks much worse in the pictures.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


You were so encouraging and still I couldn't bring myself to do the sari thing. But just look at this. Even despite my shockingly bad photography skills you can tell that Maria and Anzeli are quite stunning in their saris.

And then look at my goofy scary self with this apparition of Bangladeshi loveliness. I think this picture is reason enough itself for me to avoid saris in the future.

But, if you need further evidence, then listen to this!

Anzeli wears a sari everyday. No matter what the activity or weather she wears the ornate fabrics carefully wrapped around her tiny shirt and bare stomach. One day she explained to me that it's just the most comfortable option. She did squats, climbed on a chair, and jogged a little around the room to show me just how comfortable and movement friendly a sari can be.

The other main dress option here for women is the shalwar kameez. This includes pants, a tunic type top, and a long scarf. This is what Maria usually wears. On the day Anzeli was educating me on the many virtues of sari clad life she paused a moment to ask Maria why she didn't wear them more often. After a long serious discussion in Bangla Anzeli translated the reason why, "Sari make Maria too fat."

Yesterday, as the ladies leaving to their various New Year festivities Anzeli had Maria twirl around to show the overall effect of the shiny sequins and sewn on mirrors. She stopped her mid-twirl so she was facing away from us. "See," she says, pointing at Maria's well concealed backside, "sari make Maria too fat." She discussed this with Maria for a while who sadly nodded her head in agreement. They rearranged the drape of the fabric then went on their celebratory way.

Now I know there is very little chance I'll subject myself to such a revealing outfit among such honest people.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Two Angels

Through some rather unpredictable set of circumstances we have become the lucky employers of two house helpers.

Anzeli (my angel in an orange sari) came back the other day. Recovered from both her illness and her heartache of losing her most beloved Dr. Michelle Madam (she said to me, "I cry cry all the time. If Dr. Michelle Madam say you come India with me, I go. I go."). We hadn't expected her back but we were happy to see her.

But, while Anzeli was unwell we had hired someone else. Maria, the young divorcee whose pernicious former husband apparently left her and their two children because he didn't want to pay the medical expenses that having a family might bring. I have felt very protective of and loyal to Maria since the day she fell sobbing uncontrollably on my shoulder.

So, we decided we would have them both. We hoped that maybe Anzeli could share some of her wisdom gained over years of experience working for western families with Maria who is just starting to figure out what to do and how.

It seemed like a good idea but I was nervous that they might not like it. What if there was some sort of fight for seniority? What if they didn't like each other and took it out on us? In my crime show laden mind I imagined everything from cat fights to turf wars.

But, it turns out I had nothing to worry about.

They have spent the last two days laughing and talking. Last night, while there was nothing to do, they sat together, cross legged on the floor and held hands. They pulled colorful scarves over their heads and listened to the evening call to prayer together.

Today we discussed the Bangladeshi New Year Holiday coming up on Wednesday. I wanted them to take the day off. They wanted to work. We compromised that they would just work half the day.

Then they told me that I should wear a sari for the Holiday. I laughed and explained that a midriff bearing outfit was out of the question for a person of my size. To their credit, they were genuinely surprised that I would think so. In fact, in their opinion, what better way to dress people of all sizes than a carefully draped length of ornate fabric. I hadn't considered that logic (and still don't).

It looks like my housekeeping and cooking skills might be obsolete for the next two months. I'm good with that.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Not much news lately. We took the kids swimming again last weekend. This time we tried the pool at the Agrabad Hotel. It was a much bigger pool but instead of being surrounded by flowering trees in decorative pots we were surrounded by stacks of old chairs and broken drain grates. These pictures are from the other pool. Sometimes it's fun to have a waterproof camera.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Weekend Highlights

* Dying eggs thanks to some great ladies who brought a kit back from the states for us. Duck eggs. They were the only white eggs we could find. The kids told me they taste pretty good.

* Maria's confusion at our egg dying enthusiasm. I found the leftover eggs in the freezer this morning... Definite confusion.

* Maggie's easter basket covered in ants after hiding on the fan blade all night long. They must have come down through the ceiling. She had an amazingly good attitude about it.

* Enzo and Lena's delight at their new, truly obnoxious, plastic musical toys.

* 1:00 am live audio broadcast of General Conference. Definitely worth it.

* Finding out that Bryce very likely isn't suffering from a rare tropical respiratory infection. Just another run of the mill cold.

* Summer came back!

* Thinking to myself that next Easter I'll get to be near my family, celebrate together, and look forward to many more Easters to come. Two months to go...