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  • Gregory T. Wilkins

Dhaka, Bangladesh (2016)

April 1 - 3, 2016 I bought my airline ticket in November and can expect that some changes to the flight may occur. Originally, I was to leave at 4:05 pm from KLIA. I received word in February the flight time had changed to 3:20 pm. Two days before my departure, I looked at the airline website and saw that the time listed was not 3:20 pm but rather 3:20 am--a 12 hour difference. I notified the travel agent of this via on-line and was informed that no the flight was leaving at 3:20 pm. I insisted that she look again. She returned short after and said that yes the plane was leaving at 3:20 am. I asked why was there a 12 hour error, and I was not notified. She insisted that I was told via email. This was clearly not the case, and I was not going to argue with a chat icon. No sooner I had hung-up with her was I notified that the April 1 day was canceled and the flight was going to leave now on April 2. I looked at the airline website and noticed that Biman Bangladesh also canceled the March 31 flight. I got this sinking feeling that this airline is unreliable and can’t get its act together. Swollen eyes greeted me with head bowed and crouched shoulders. She glanced up as I passed her. I nodded gently as if to say everything is going to be alright. It was she that greeted my experience at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). I arrived early to KLIA because taxis, after the sun goes down, increase their fare by 50% or more. Often times they charge $200 ringgit ($50USD). I wasn’t about to throw away good money, and time was on my side. So, I packed my things before lunching at The Pavilion and afterward returned to the guesthouse and made my way to the subway. The Green Line (monorail for $2.80 ringgit) would get me to KL Sentral and from there I would take the purple line (KLIA Express, $55 ringgit). And with the savings, I would chill out at the airport and still have ringgit to burn.With the fiasco I had trying to get on the plane, there was no guarantee that it was even going to get me to Bangladesh as yesterday and the day before the plane was canceled. I sat my main backpack and smaller one onto a luggage cart. They are free here; why spend the day like a pack mule if wheels are plenty? I was off to explore the airport and decided to wait at arrivals so I could keep an eye on the departures board. It was there that she sat, hunched and forlorn. Her long, dark hair rested in her face. Nothing was with her, no luggage or bag, merely a purse clutched tightly at her side. I sat on the faux leather bench with a seat between us. It was she who looked up in my direction and greeted me. Over 10 hours we spoke about her life in Indonesia, family expectations of her to be married, cultural norms, and the many challenges she faced back at home. She shared that she came to Malaysia for love. She had met a French man on-line, and they had been in correspondence the last 4 months. She said that he worked for Petronas, Malaysia’s leading oil company. She pulled out her phone and showed me his picture and the many texts that had spanned distance and time. Her name was Erny. She grew up in a small, rural village and was one of six children. Her father, a retired former police officer, was a hard man to know and love, yet she did everything she could for him to care for her. Sadly, he died in February 2015. She was the only child in her family to leave the village and go to Jakarta. Everyone told she was going to be a failure, return home pregnant, or beaten. None of this transpired. She paid her way to get an undergraduate degree in marketing and business, the first in her family to do so. She created her own business as well as worked for another company. She would travel 2 hours one way each day to attend college and made excellent grades despite the challenges. Regardless of her success, her family still viewed her as a failure. She shared that when her father died, no one in her family gave money for the funeral. Funerals are costly in Indonesia and the village also must be fed when someone passes away. She paid for everything, and the family regarded her still as a failure as she was unmarried. So 28 years old and labeled a hag. She had fallen in love two other times to foreigners--one Chinese man in Thailand, and another man from Saudi Arabia who lived in Turkey. None of them worked out as she often times found them stuck in a lie. All they wanted was her money. When she met the Frenchmen, she hoped that this was the one. Her mother’s curses of being old and never holding her baby would be cast aside. The French guy stated her needed millions of ringgit as he had run in financial difficulties. He asked if she would help him, and she requested a loan from her girlfriend ($1,500 USD). She sent the money to him electronically. Erny decided to then go to Malaysia to help him as she had fallen in love--mind you, she had never been out of the country before or a plane and made this journey alone. Long story short, he was not at the airport to meet her. She sent him many texts that she was at arrivals waiting for him. He told her he could not get away but another man was going to come meet her. I told her whatever transpired she was not to leave the airport. I explained that this Frenchman was probably a Malaysian guy impersonating a foreigner, had stolen her $1500, and was playing a game with her. I told I had met many women on the streets of Malaysia that were prostitutes that had been lured to the country by people who said that they would offer them a good job, salary and an apartment only to be kidnapped, their passports stolen, and they were beaten and became sex workers. Under no circumstances was she to leave the airport. And if anyone came looking for her for her, she was to inform the police or airport security immediately and if needed to scream and yell to scare the bad people away. She booked the next flight back to Indonesia. It was to leave at 7 a.m., and she was going to sleep in the airport close to security. I bought her food to sustain her, and I was off to catch my flight. I gave her my email with the hope that she will send me a note that all is well. Time will only tell if she will follow through on her promise. I got to the check-in counter as advised three hours before departure. The plane was to leave at 3:20 a.m. I arrived to the airport in the early afternoon and to the counter check-in at midnight. There was already a line of 40 some odd people, all men, waiting with luggage carts piled high of Saran wrapped blankets supported by string, cardboard boxes tightly held snug by rope, luggage of every size and shape imaginable and groceries. Yes, groceries. I was informed that wives expected foreign products as they were hard to come by in Bangladesh, and if she did not have an interest in whatever her husband or son brought back, she would sell it to her neighbor for a profit. There was no resemblance of a line so I remain huddled in this chaotic strewn mess trying to inch forward with the masses. Once the flood gates were opened it turned into a very slow moving cue with every sacred inch one luggage cart distance closer. We were all going in the same direction, but no one would budge or give an inch. It was every person for themselves. If you waived someone on, glares would shoot your poor decision down and a universal groan could be heard and felt through the crowd. And so I kept my space--wheel to neighbor’s heel. If even before leaving Malaysia the traffic was mind boggling I could only fantasize how tumultuous it would be once on Bangladeshi soil. Security was just as chaotic as trying to check-in. It felt as if every undesirable person had chosen to take my flight and no one had any sense of manners or proper etiquette. Trying to save me from the circus, the flight staff behind the counter put me forward on the plane, but said that most likely the plane was going to be full because of the two flights before were canceled. I appreciated the gesture and requested a window seat for the potential view and a place to rest my head. I was exhausted. I had been awake now for over 24 hours and was feeling sleep overcome me. Security was this long process of wait, go, wait, show your passport and travel documents, wait again, and do the same thing 2 more times for visa and getting into the lounge waiting room. It was a free-for-all once you got into the lounge with people spread across the furniture like wild animals, pushing to get to the gate, and no one showing any sign of care for anyone. I definitely was a fish out of water, and I was the only Westerner on the flight. The flight luckily left but was an hour late. Two days of flight delays and now this. Biman Bangladesh I can tell is poorly managed. It is an airline I would not want to consider flying again in my life time. It is a testament on how the larger country is run. I cannot imagine that it will remain in business for long. I tried to sleep on the flight, but the captain kept the lights for the duration--taxing, take-off, flight and landing. They did feed us a small meal of rice, juice and a slice of cake that had frosting that tasted like shaving cream. The one blessing is that they had in-flight entertainment but no headsets to listen to the content. The entire flight was a comedy of errors, and it felt like I was on “Candid Camera” waiting for Allan Funt to jump out from behind the curtain giggling at my misfortune. One we arrived to Dhaka, the flight got to the gate. Someone must have forgotten to mention it to security as our entry gate remained chained and locked. Guests and flight crew were stranded between glass and ramp for 20 more minutes until the right person found the correct to open the locks. Passengers grew restless and began hollering at the airport staff. Fortunately I was one of only a few foreigners coming to Bangladesh. Our wait at customs was quick and painless other than the staff insisting that I provide an actaul address of IUBAT. It was a good thing I printed out the confirmation letter with the Vice Chancellor’s name on it as well as phone number. I got the run around but was out of there much quicker than the locals. I quickly made my way to arrival baggage claim only to find that all the baggage claim signs were broken. I shuffled from one to the next. I had hoped that the process would be quick as I had beaten the crowd of Bangladeshis that were on the plane with me but I counted my chickens before they hatched. There was a two hour wait for our luggage. The people hooted, whistled and hollered angrily. The good thing was my bag was intact when I did receive, but I was unsure if my contact from IUBAT, Mazadur Rahman would be there to receive me. The heat of the morning weighed on me as I choked in the thick, polluted air. My backpack was heavy as it sat on my hips, 23 kilos and counting with an additional bag on my chest. I so badly wanted to sleep after being up for more than 24 hours, but there was no time for that as I had to stay alert not knowing how trustworthy the people would be with me as a White foreigner. I emerged into the heat of the city with every breathe challenging as it was thick with diesel and petrol, dust and pollution. The strap from my backpack was pulled tight and I loosened it from my chest. Sighing with the hopes I would see Mr. Rahman, I scanned the crowd. No one looked familiar. I thought to myself that maybe I had exited the wrong terminal? I inched my way out of the driveway and in between cars and made my way to the parking lot. No one. So, I returned to the terminal and walked to arrivals gate. May be I would have better fortune there? But no. I saw a security office and explained my predicament. He motioned to a man in the distance by the guard booth. He pulled out a mobile phone and allowed me to make a call. One ring, two, three and Mr. Rahman greeted me from the other end. He was in the far parking lot at the airport and in less than 10 minutes got me into the mini-van and we were off to IUBAT. Ringgit $ Spent: $3.20 - ice cream cone and apple pie $16.30 - Italian sandwich, cold drink and 2 cookies $2.80 - Raja Chulan to KL Sentral $55.00 - KLIA Express $33.55 - 2 burgers, 2 drinks, 2 fries at KLIA USD to Taka - 1 to 79.50 = $100.00 = $7950.00 Ringgit to Taka - 1 to 18.00 = 61.00 = 18.00

April 3 - 10, 2016 Morning Muslin prayer greeted me as I stirred from my slumber. I slept soundly as my body was exhausted from travel, my mind racing to connect opportunities with my goals, and all the while knowing that time would be swept away before I could say lickety-split. Hot water is not an option in my shower. Turning the handles they spin in my fingers, around and around they go, eventually stopping but nothing comes. First one and then the other …but nothing. Water, even cold water, does not come out. What could I possibly be doing wrong? New digs, new secrets to simple living. I decide that maybe a shower is not part of the plan for today. A scruffy 5 o’clock shadow will have to do; I pull on my boots, trousers and v-neck t. I boil the water from the kitchen sink and slip in two earth colored eggs into the gun metal, tin vessel. Fortunately the kitchen gas is working on my one plate stove; I feel like I am camping indoors. There was a soft knock at my door. I opened it to find the old man that lives in the garage. He pantomimed for me to go downstairs (pointing his finger down the steps) and driving with his fists clamped around an imaginary wheel floating in thin air. I was perplexed because no one had told me that I was going to be picked-up to go to school. I raised my brow and told him in English, “Me? Car?”. He stared at me blankly and motioned for me to join him. I turned off the gas to the one burner stove, pulled my backpack over my shoulder, and darted down the stairs. There was a man my age dressed in pressed trousers, shirt and shiny shoes. He smiled and shook my hand. I asked him in English the same question not knowing if he would understand me, “Car? Me?”. He politely smiled and took me by the hand. I climbed over the metal entrance door frame to the mud puddles and torn-up street. The heat of the morning hitting me hard and the smell of rotting vegetables wafted in the air. The car was unable to make it down the path and was around the corner. I waved to the man at my apartment, and I dutily followed my new companion. Here’s to a new adventure! And there it was-- a brand new Toyota Carolla, grey with shiny windows and tire rims. Another man was buffing away the dust and grime and quickly stopped as I came around the corner. He opened the back door and the new car smell of leather filled my nose. I thought to myself, “Why hadn’t anyone told me I was going to be picked-up”? The second man smiled and motioned for me to get in. I asked him again, “Me? Car”? He grinned and nodded his head. He was unable to talk with me in English, and I definitely did not know Bangla and neither of us knew enough of either language to entertain Banglish. I am a big believer of the 11th commandment--to honor thy tummy. While I loved the idea that I was being picked-up, the jaunt to school was only 15 minutes away. Surely this vehicle wasn’t for me. Could it? So instead of climbing in and being swept away by two strangers, I smiled and shook my head no. I said, “Me no go. Me walk. Me go to IUBAT”. The men smiled and nodded. They spoke in Bangla, and I had no idea was being said. I shook my head more assertively repeating what I said a moment ago--“Me no go. Me walk. Me go to IUBAT”. One of the men pulled out his mobile phone to make a call. He tried and no answer. He tried another number and no answer. I could tell he was frustrated. Not wanting to add insult to the matter, I smiled a big American smile and pantomimed with my fingers while saying, “Me walk. Me go. Me go to IUBAT”. And away I went with my backpack firmly strapped to me, as I whistled “Hi Ho Hi Ho” from Disney’s Snow White and Seven Dwarfs. I turned the dirt filled street corner hoping that the car with the two men would disappear. Dutifully they followed me from behind. I could hear the car’s tires crunch beneath the rocks and litter from plastic bottles and bags. My mind raced. How long would they follow me? What do I do if a chase ensues? They pulled alongside me and opened the electric windows. They wanted me to enter the car. I smiled and waved while clearly saying no as I continued to walk. “How long would this last?”, I kept thinking to myself. Another block? To the end of road? All the way to campus? Regardless, I had made up my mind. I knew how to get to school more or less, and I was not going to get in the car. Worse case scenario I would yell and scream while creating a commotion if I was going to be forced into a moving vehicle. My mind raced seeing the headlines, “Crazy White Man Escapes Kidknapping”. Not soon after, they left. My mind eased and I breathed a sigh of relief. I arrived to campus and was glad to be behind the University’s secured gate. I later asked university administrators if they had sent a car to pick me up and what had transpired. No, the car was not for me and was told it was a good thing I did not get in as some foreigners had been kidnapped for ransom. I also asked that if a car is ever to be sent for me to let me know in advance so I could plan accordingly. *********************************************** Friday is considered the weekend here in Bangladesh. The majority of the people get one day off. Government employees get two days off, and if you are a garment worker, housekeeper, or private driver you work 7 days a week. Being from the USA, I am used to a 5 day work week with Saturday and Sunday off. In Bangladesh you go to work on Sunday. Getting used to a different schedule takes a while to get used to but slowly I am catching-on. Fortunately, Westerners work 5 days a week, but I ended up going into work in the afternoon on my day off so I could do work on the internet (only to find Facebook was connecting incorrectly), to fill my water bottle with filtered water, and to chat with my new friends. (Now if I can only begin to rethink Sunday as a work day.) Even with a second day off, getting out and about was challenging because of the language barrier, access to transportation, and trying to make my way through the city chaos. It would be better to stay close—walking distance was my perimeter. Salaries too are challenging: a custodian gets $3000 takka/month (less than $40) and works 7 days a week, a security guard gets $8000/month $100/USD) and works 6 days/week and has a 12 to 15 hour schedule and gets housing, a university administrative officer gets $27,000/month (approx. $340 USD) works 6 days/week with an 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. schedule and in addition $1500 (approx. $20USD) is taken out each month for savings and when the employee leaves gets it back (in theory...sometimes the employer reduces it if the employee leaves without sufficient notice). ********************************************** I bought a cotton, short sleeve shirt with handstitching at Aarong department story, the nicest store in Bangladesh. It cost $1714 takka--more than 2 weeks salary for a Bangladesh custodian. If you include the other items I purchased, it was almost 1/3 of a university administrative officer salary. Hypothetically it’s like if someone from the USA was making $6,000USD/month, I had spent $2,000 for two shirts, a scarf and a pair of sandals or 3 months salary for a Bangladesh custodian and more than a month’s salary for a security officer. That’s a lot of money. No wonder they think I am rich. ******************************************************************** Teaching English, I have come to realize how much slang we use in our day to day vocabulary in the United states. I provided my class some tongue twisters for fun and one of the twisters said something like “how much would a groundhog hog”. I talked to them what a groundhog was and then the students wanted to know if it was a kind of pig. I shared that in this context hog meant the groundhog ate a lot like a pig. I shared with them that sometimes in English we take words and give it a new meaning. One of the students asked if it was like the phrase, “I am a chicken”, and I responded that was exactly what I meant. People are not chickens but when we are scared or afraid we might act like a chicken. I asked if they knew what slang meant; everyone in class thought it was for bad words like ass, shit, damn. I explained that these words are naughty words or expletives. Slang words are vocabulary that is constantly changing and evolving. We spoke about the word hip as in hip bone but also hiphip hurray, hip as in cool and hippie. We also chatted about cool as in temperature and cool as in awesome. They asked about the word fat and phat. Conversation morphed into Banglish--Bangla English-- as well as British English and American English. They wanted to know which one was correct, and I shared that they were all correct. It is more important to know in which context or audience you are speaking so that you would be understood. We then compared what words they knew in British English and American English. Examples that were shared were: ring:call, lift:elevator, bubbler:water fountain, mate:friend, etc. We also then compared how language is changing with regards to text language. Everyone had the opportunity to share words or phrases they knew like OMG, LOL, BFF, BF/GF, etc. I shared that this is one way language is evolving in that you could have almost an entire conversation in text language and parents might know nothing of what we are speaking if they saw it on our phone. I also taught them the word gibberish. They had no idea what it was. I said it was like a made-up word that meant nothing--sorta like when we talked to babies and say goo goo gaga. I then asked if they knew what supercalifragilisticexpialidocious meant, and they had no clue. I asked if they knew Walt Disney or any of his movies. I received blank stares. They knew the idea of Mickey Mouse, but did not know exactly what he looked like or the name of other Disney characters. I asked if they knew the story about “Mary Poppins” and still blank stares. Their homework assignment was to watch the song on Youtube. *************************************************************** I have gotten my friends here to begin saying “See you later alligator, after while crocodile”. It has turned into a game as to whom can get it out first. We always have a giggle. When I then said, “See you soon you big baboon”, they laughed even louder as they had no idea what I was talking about and thought I was talking gibberish (the word they learned yesterday). I shared with them that a baboon is a type of monkey and then showed them pictures on Google. ******** If you are not Muslim often times it is then said you are an atheist; it does not matter if you are a Christian, Buddhist or Jew or Jain. Sometimes, on rare occasions, you might be asked who is your prophet-- Jesus or Mohamed but this is rare. The average Bangladeshi is very concerned that you have religion as part of your daily practice. I find some of their perspectives interesting. For example, Judaism came first, and then the Prophet Jesus came and said this is the way to live your life and after that came the Prophet Mohamed who then said that his way was the path to God. Each had rules and laws to follow and overshadowed the other. It is felt that the only way to God is through the word of Mohamed as he cast the other teachings as important but the only way to Allah (praise be to his name) is through his teachings. Ancient faith practices are valued but one is cast aside for the other--Jew, Christian and ultimately Islam. Often times it feels like competition--whose cock is bigger in the locker room. At the end of the day, I think it is more important that we respect what each person has been given. As the ol’ adage goes, “size is not important”. What gets in the way is that we wave our cocks around like one has to be proven less important versus loving what we have and believe as true. Think of it like kids in a sandbox. The goal is to play and have fun, not kick sand in your neighbor’s face. If she wants to build sandcastles, let her do so in peace. If he wants to cast a moat around it let him do so. It’s the act of being engaged with one another learning about each other and having fellowship that is more important to me. You don’t knock down the castle because you can. If you want to take your pail and shovel with you then do so, that right is your prerogative. However, wouldn’t it be more fun to play together versus alone as no one wants to spend time with someone who does share and calls everyone names? ******************************************************* Tutul and Shadhed took me into Old Dhaka to see Lalbagh Fort and the National Museum. Traffic was a trial of patience and strength even despite the fact that this day was a day-off for government workers and the roads were “clear”. By the time we got to Lalbagh Fort a line had already begun to form. We took a tea break around the corner to get out of the intense sun as the entrance had not yet opened. I always get a tickle when admission charged is different prices for different people-- citizens, neighboring countries and rich westerners. The locals for Lalbagh pay 20 takka, neighboring countries 100 takka and industrialized nations 200 takka. What is even more amusing is when travelers make an issue at the ticket counter. I have learned to grin and bear it. Lalgbagh Fort was never fully completed. It began being built in the 17th century as a Mughal complex. It was started by a prince and then abandoned. Continued by another man whose daughter died there and has a tomb on the premises. It was then abandoned. The fort consists of a mosque, a tomb, two gateways, and a water collection system, stable, water fountains, hammam, and a barrack-like wall structure. Old Dhaka has tight streets where few cars can enter but rickshaws tout with wild abandon. They twist and turn between pavement, mud, and pot holes. Stores of commerce the line the way with everything you can imagine you might need or want. The gentle ringing of rickshaw bells calm the chaos as the day crescendos into madness of beeping horns, Muslim prayer, hawkers selling any and everything, and everyone wanting a good deal and fair price. It is not for the faint of heart. Keep your hand on your wallet as sticky fingers are known to take you for a shock and surprise. We were told before we left Uttra that Ahsan Manzil was closed on Friday. Fortunately, we found that they were open on Friday but with odd hours. The entrance would open at 3:30 p.m. To take the heat off the day, I took my friends to lunch. We had a traditional meal in Old Dhaka and hung about until the doors to open. Thirty minutes before, we took a rickshaw over to the museum. Ahsan Manzil is located on the banks of the Buriganga River. Construction began in the late 1850s and was completed in 1872. It was home to the Nawab family. It was later sold to French traders. Defeated by the English in 1757, the home became English property. In the 1830s, the house came into the hands of a new landlord, and he increased the size of the place plus added a mosque. In 1888, a tornado swept the city and severely damaged the home and was later abandoned. An Englishman helped reconstruct the home, and in 1901 quarrels erupted on ownership and to whom the house belonged. The family decided to rent out portions of the home, and it eventually became a slum. In 1952 the government took control of the building and left it to the Bangladesh courts to manage. In 1985 the Dhaka National Museum purchased it, competed massive renovations and opened it to the public in 1992. Foreign admission is $100 takka. Takka Spent: $220 - dinner for 3 people and bottle of water at outdoor cafe by airport $8946 - from Aarong --soap for Tutul as thank you ($29.41) , cotton panjabi with handstitching on front/back/arms ($3228.57), cotton short sleeve shirt with handstitching ($1714.29), cotton shawl with handstitching and mini-mirrors ($1128.57), black leather shoes ($2240.38) $339 - 2 packs of cookies, and raspberry jam $1000 - lunch for three people with 7 soft drinks plus tip at restaurant $385 - white, cotton tie pants for Bangla New Year $1383 - silk scarf ($1040), white v-neck t-shirt ($290) $128 - 2 Cokes (600 ml) and 2 travel packs of cookies (all $32 each) $840 - hand loomed cotton scarf ($300), hand loomed cotton and silk scarf ($500), 40 takka tax (items were made at Proshika Fabric Trust) $20 takka - rickshaw ride


April 11, 2016 4 days, 7 days, 15 days and 40 days

4 Talk about what comm. will do/prayer continuous of Koran, open casket for male not for female, 7 bread with cheese and sweets for comm. Fam does not eat but pays for food, 15 days comm. Feast and 40 family gives away special belongings of the deceased to a holy person in the community,, annual memorial ********************

While here at IUBAT, I have been giving 1:1 English lessons to some of the faculty. One of my colleagues with whom I share an office came to see me in the afternoon. He had been corresponding with another professor abroad and was looking for some data. The person sent him a return email and attached the document. What my friend did not understand was the language in the email. It said, “Here ya go”. He wanted to know what the phase meant as he was not going anywhere and ya was not his name. I explained to him about slang and what the reply actually meant. We had a good laugh together. I realize more and more how often in the USA we use slang when we talk with one another. It is more than I had ever realized.

There I was sitting at the dinner table calmly when the room began to move. At first I had no idea what was transpiring, and then it hit me. The earth was quaking--not a slow roll or a violent shake but a nudge to remind us that Mother Earth was in charge. The room shifted and rumbled, left then right then left again. The ground moved beneath us, and I sat cautiously not knowing if I should run or wait it through. Me and the two nursing faculty stared at each other silently--first in bewilderment and then an oh shit wide eyed glare. None of us moved and then laughter erupted. We all knew that we experienced an earthquake. It was unsettling but inspiring. We were left unscathed. We began to take bids as to how severe the quake was. Logging onto their phones, the nurses saw that the quake began in Burma, and we experienced a 6.9 shake. The dogs outside were uneasy. Could you blame them? Peering outside, the neighbors were in lungies and sarees; they made their way to the muddy street, hovering in corners and chatting. Was an aftershock going to happen? Homes here are simple brick and mortar. A major quake would have taken any of these structures down and leveled them. Fortunately nothing came crashing down around us. It was an interesting way to end a Bangla year as New Year was fast approaching.

All the barbershops in Bangladesh that I have seen only do a close shave. When I saw it, I shared with my colleagues at IUBAT that I wanted to go with them to get one. Shahed and I decided to not shave for three days so that when we went to the barber it would be for a shave with a flat razor.

Tatul had a favorite barber that he suggested we visit and was told it would cost about $100 takka for a shave a a shoulder/neck massage. We did not ask the price before we sat down in the chair because this is where Tatul goes all the time, expecting that we would be treated fairly. Guess again.

The service was good, but at the end the guy wanted $1500 takka! Shahed bargained it down to $1000 takka but that was still a rip off. We were paying the white skin tax price. The total should have been $200 takka. Lesson learned--always ask the price before getting any service.

We will NOT be returning there, and the barber has now lost all future business from Shahed and Tatul as well as any international guests that will be visiting at IUBAT.

I went into Dhaka to celebrate Bangla New Year with Mostaque and Shahed. We left at 9 a.m. from IUBAT and made amazing time on the bus because there was no traffic. Holiday merriment kept the onslaught of cars, rickshaws and buses away. Instead of taking the packed bus, we found an a/c bus that cost a few takka more and headed to the New Year grounds. We got to the park and meandered our way through the labyrinth of people and beggars. In the distance we saw a stage set-up and decided to see how close we could get to the bamboo fencing. Throngs of people pushed forward, and I was in no mood to try to manage backpack, camera, sun and humidity with the pressing crowd. We followed the fencing around to the side of staged area. Many police and security swarmed the venue. There was an entrance opening in the fence, and we decided to move through it as if we knew what we were doing. No one stopped us as I walked confidently through the area. Plush seats and couches were set in front of the stage with large fans to cool the guests. This VIP area was for the state police and military officers. I instructed Shahed and Mostaque to sit down. We would pretend that there was a reason why we were here...and besides, who was going to stop the Westerner? And if there was a problem, I would politely leave if asked knowing that most likely this would not occur. Well, it never transpired. We spent the entire day in the shaded VIP section with free bottle water and cushy chairs. The Minister of Defense and his entourage were introduced, and I smiled, nodded and applauded on cue. One by one they stood, shook hands and had the press flash some pictures for the evening news. This music lasted all day with one after another keeping us singing, clapping and foot tapping. Then there was an announcement. James, the #1 singer in Bangladesh and India, was going to perform live on stage later in the afternoon. The crowd erupted in applause and cheers. I had no idea who James was and Shahed and Mostaque informed me of his rise to popularity. We were going to hold tight in our spot. None of us were going to get up to go to the bathroom for several reasons: 1) there wasn’t a bathroom in sight; 2) if you left your seat there was a mass scramble for someone to snatch it; 3) there was no guarantee that we would be able to get back into the VIP section. And so we remained plastered on our armchairs, taking pics with anyone who asked, and graciously smiled and waved to the crowd. James received a huge Bangladesh welcome when we came on the stage. The crowd went wild with excitement as they sang his songs and cheered for more. Security towers became abandoned as guards were pressed against the crowd and were afraid for the personal safety that they might collapse. Regardless, boys climbed the scaffolding and trees to get a better view heeding warnings. And the dancing...watch out world. It was a frenzy.

I went to visit Tutul’s family that lives in Bhairab. It takes about 2 hours+ to get there if you leave in the early morning before the traffic hits the road and if you go on the weekend. Leaving mid-day or during the work week it can take you twice as long. Bumpy roads were in store for us as we hurdled ourselves over rocks, broken pavement, speed bumps and narrowly escaping buses with blaring horns from running us off the road. Brick factories lined the outskirts of the city with large, cigar-like smoke stacks billowing black soot. Garment factories and mosques cued the locals in single file, British style decorum. Stopping for a quick bite to eat, we drank chai from a local shack. An old woman welcomed us as dust from the street and blaring horns kept us in check from getting too comfortable. Across the way a large side of beef was hung on bamboo poles as the local butcher spread open the cadaver gutting its innards with a sharp knife, cutting away at the flesh as flies and wild dogs hoped to get a quick taste. The neighboring stall to the right of our tea shack made hot, fresh bread on a large, black griddle. The baker would flip the dough ever so carefully to not burn his fingers and hand. Passing them forward on a small plate and recycled paper, I tore away at the deliciousness set before me; it reminded me of a Mexican tortilla. My fingers danced to try to keep the heat from scorching them as I delicately pulled the dough with my right hand minding to not use my left as the left is considered dirty as it is used to wipe your bottom end. Finishing our food and drink we made our way back to our van for the ride to Bhairab. We drove for another hour and veered right. Small shacks made of corrugated metal and bamboo lined the path. As is the custom, we would arrive with gifts of sweets in hand--cookies, Bangladeshi goodies and a watermelon. His family was gracious to welcome us; it was only proper that we not come empty-handed. Arriving in tact, we turned down a narrow lane that if you stretched your arms and hands from one side of the vehicle to the other you would hit vegetable stands and passersby. Oblivious to the big city folks, villagers would nonchalantly pass and stare in wonder as they saw my white face packed tightly inside with my Bangladeshi friends. Children would scatter and dogs remained idle in the road narrowly escaping van wheels from crushing their skulls. Flooded areas on both sides of the vehicle gave way to a small path where we could pass and slyly venture between two trees and down an even smaller alley to Tutul’s in-laws. How we managed to pass without slipping into the abyss is beyond me, thanks to the skillful driving of our captain. A large cement wall with a flower relief welcomed us as the green metal gate gave way and family poured out in thanksgiving. Animals scurried away. Tutul’s grand-father by marriage hobbled over to us as Shahed greeted him with a handshake. Large glasses balanced on his nose making his grandfather appear wise; his lungi wrapped tightly around his middle and snow white, chest hair gave him a distinguished look.You could see the cataracts from behind the rims of his glasses and his hands shook as he hung the laundry from ropes stretched across the courtyard. Tutul welcomed us to his in-laws home as he effortlessly took off his shoes and walked against the cool, grey cement floor. His brother and sister each greeted him and us with his wife peering from behind gleefully smiling. She was a child bride when they married as she was sixteen when they wed. Lemonade was served to us to quench our thirst from the long journey and to take the heat of the day away. We shared in small talk as gifts were presented to the family and the children mindfully waited on beck and call from their mother. The tall ceiling and metal roof rose high with a large ceiling fan suspended to keep a gentle breeze flowing. It was good to settle in and call this home for the afternoon. Hopefully the electricity will remain. In the distance and across the rice fields Tutul’s mother and father lived. He asked if we wanted to meet them and with a resounding yes we were off. The land of his wife’s father was large and we passed through it to Tutul’s father’s land. I was told that some of it was recently sold for a new home being built. As we approached his father was there to greet us. He welcomed us into the new home brightly painted tourquoise with new solid wood furniture and finely carved bed. His mother was in the former home cooking and preparing us drinks and snacks. She soon followed with a tray overflowing with goodies and a smile the size of Texas. She was delighted to have her son home, but Tutul remained outside the new home as he was managing some family matters as his relationship with his father was strained. The village grapevine that a foreigner was visiting quickly spread. I could see children and families gathering along the path outside their home--first four than eight and later a dozen soon swelled to around 40 people. I was asked if I would join them and say hello. And so I put my shoes on and ventured outside to give the village a friendly hello. As I walked forward, children would dart in and out from behind buildings and palm trees. They were excited to meet me-- though shy and reserved. Mother with babies on their hips would pull their saree over their heads and duck away. I brought my camera out to entice them for a snapshot, but they would scurry away before I could even take a picture. While they were curious to meet me this process was going to take longer than I had anticipated. I was asked if I would sing them a song. My mind raced with ideas. What would be appropriate? What would draw them forward and they might find appealing? I decided to not sing the American National Anthem as I thought it might offend and appear over zealous. And then it came to me, I would sing “Silent Night” --soft and lullaby like. As I sang the villagers came out from hiding--one then six and soon all were gathered. They emerged from behind the metal facades, palm trees and the backs of older brothers. They came forward inching slowly toward me and by songs end I was encircled by everyone. Their eyes smiled and toothless grins of grandmothers nodded in delight. They did not know I was seeking about the Prophet Jesus, but that did not matter. They enjoyed the soothing melody, and they gave me a round of applause. Now that I had their full attention, what could I do to keep them engaged? What better way to move an audience from lullaby to engagement then a fun song. So I pulled out a classic, “The Hokey Pokey”. I explained that all the children would need to participate and if the older folks wanted to play along I would love it. So I provided the directions in English and they were translated into Bangla. “When I put my left hand in, you are to do the same. And when I pull it out, you follow. Whatever I do, you must also do.”And so it went--put your left hand in, put your left hand out, put your left hand in and shake it all about (everyone laughs), you do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around, that’s what it’s all about (with everyone clapping to my rhythm). And so it went from left hand to right, left foot to right ending with put your whole body in and put your whole body out with giggles and laughter erupting when I shook it all about. It was a hit! I was asked if I knew another, and so I taught them “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” with hand motions and something not as long as “The Honey Pokey”. I could have done this for the next hour and sold tickets but refrained as it was very hot outside and I needed a break. And besides, this was Bangladeshi style!

What I find refreshing here in Bangladesh is that the vast majority of people have no idea about popular culture in the West. I asked if they knew what Versace, Prada, Chanel or Givenchy were and blank stares were cast. I asked if they knew what Cinderella was or Wizard of Oz and still nothing. I asked if they who Walt Disney was and still nothing until I asked if they knew Mickey Mouse and then success. (Can imagine not growing up watching Wizard of Oz as a child?)

I asked my students to write a story about a fairytale. They did not understand what a fairytale was so I provided an example-- “Tiger Tiger” in Bangla which is the same tale as “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” in English. I learned that most families do not tell their children stories at bedtime let alone own children’s books. The concept of a public library is foreign and when a school has one everything remains there and nothing can be checked-out--even at the library at IUBAT; all books remain on campus and inside the room.

I told my students the story of Hansel and Gretel, and I had them captivated. I acted the parts out and they roared in delight. One thing I wish more children could do here in Bangladesh is participate in storytelling and the power it holds in teaching lessons and encourages critical thinking.

***************

Dust of the city covers everything--office desks, sidewalks, automobiles, brown skinned faces and back of necks. You cannot escape. It is everywhere, like Allah. It is there to greet you in the morning as you peer out grime covered windows past the cobwebs caked in it. Looking out in the distance, the building across the field looks like mirage though it stands firmly on the earth. The women are wise to wearing a burka as their face is partially shaded from the filth. Reaching to wipe the sweat from my brow, my hand retreats to a palm of shades of gray. You learn to shield your eyes from the rickshaws and the fast approaching sedans kicking up the sand and its fine particles in its aftermath. Removing my watch strap from my wrist, a fine line earmarks where it once lay. As the call to prayer echoes across the neighborhood and men and boys hurry to the mosque, they roll their sleeves to wash hands, feet, face as well as forearms to elbows as if preparing for surgery so all that is sacred remains holy.

Yesterday I asked my students if they knew the game Hangman. They did not know it. I shared with the concept and asked if they wanted to play. They were intrigued. I asked them to take a subject they knew and provided them an example. My students were nursing students and had been studying anatomy. The first word that was played was the word vagina. Then it moved flowers, furniture, and instruments. It was the perfect way to have learn while having fun. I look forward to showing them how to play Win, Lose or Draw next.

Sonaragon, the Golden City -- Sadarbari, Painam Nagar, Goaldi Mosque ******************

6 seasons (shororeetu)-- summer, grishma; monsoon, barsha; autumn, sharat; late autumn, hemanta; winter, sheett; spring, bashanta

Takka Spent: $646 - handmade and hand-stitched table piece

$504 - hand-stitched shawl - white linen with flowers (blue and white)

$1600 - lunch for 3-- 2 Pepsi, 1 bottle of water, biriyani, chicken

$750 - hand-stitched shawl - black cotton with block print paisley and white hand-stitching

$96 - cookies and 2 Cokes

$150 - handmade batik paisley print block $1650 - large family sized pizza and pitcher of 7-Up for three people $5500-- black sherwani $4461-- wood bead necklace (354.68), 3 screen print bags (180), jute bag (254.81), jute black bag w/mirrors (634.62), 2 wood rings (216.74), beaded necklace with large gold beads (470.59), leather sandal (1423.08), wooden necklace with colored beads (151.96), beaded necklace with orange colors (323.53)-vat (171.56) $1850(?) - lunch w/drinks for 4 people at Artisan Hotel--Shororeetu is restaurant name $78.00 - 3 chocolate ice cream bars $65 - liter Sprite April 11 – 21, 2016

Death is part of life. It is ritual; it is mourning; it is celebration of a life well lived and honoring. And with death comes an eternal resting place--a forever home for the living to bring prayers, flowers, burnt offerings, and familial memories and contemplation--a sepulcher, a monument and testament that you were (are) here.

I am surprised that I do not see as many cemeteries as I would have thought in a country with over 165 million people, the 8th most populated country on Earth, a country that is 86 times smaller than the USA. I see few places that bury their dead. They are there, just not as pronounced as they are at home. Cemeteries are tucked around corners, within a neighborhood, and if your family is blessed with land, it is plotted on your homestead.

Some people are buried beneath the earth while others are in raised graves. The poor are cast in communal pits covered in earth and left to themselves with the intention that wild dogs and birds will remain at bay. Families cherish marked graves, and it is the vast number of poor that makes my heart ache knowing that decades past and loved ones might not ever recall where they lie.

If you are male, the casket is left open but women’s are always closed. Family members wrap the body in a shroud after being washed and blessed. In Bangladesh within four days of passing, the community and close family members gather to discuss who will recite the Qur'an at the gravesite. This happens around the clock at the cemetery plot for several days.

After 7 days have passed, bread, cheese, and sweets are offered to the community and close friends. The family does not eat but pays for the food. It is a time for the community to show their respects for the deceased. Approximately 15 days later, there is a larger community feast.

40 days after passing, the family gathers the belongings of the deceased. A holy person within the community comes to the house and receives as a gift the deceased’s earthly goods. Property is then divided among the children and wife as dictated by the Qur’an.

Islam is much more than a religion; it is a way of life. Islam is guidance from God that directs us through life, and God willing into the next life. It is for this reason that God also guides us through the process of death and dying. This is my understanding from what I have gathered from Bangladeshi friends and the internet.

It is expected that all adult Muslims should have a will. “It is the duty of a Muslim who has anything to bequeath not to let two nights pass without writing a will….A man may do good deeds for seventy years but if he acts unjustly when he leaves his last testament, the wickedness of his deed will be sealed upon him, and he will enter the Fire. If, (on the other hand), a man acts wickedly for seventy years but is just in his last will and testament, the goodness of his deed will be sealed upon him, and he will enter the Garden.” The Islamic will, in Arabic, al wasiyah is a set of instructions that come into effect after a person’s death. The will is acted upon after the payment of funeral expenses and any outstanding debts.

Islamic law allows a person to bequeath up to 1/3 (one third) of his or her estate to whomever he or she wishes, providing the beneficiaries are not from amongst those who will benefit from the remaining 2/3 (two thirds). Those who are entitled to the final two thirds of the estate are set out in chapter 4 of the Quran.

An Islamic will must be witnessed. A person making a will should choose his witnesses carefully, remembering that a person who inherits is not able to be a witness. If he or she does, they will not be able to inherit. The ideal situation would be to choose two trustworthy Muslim men to witness the signing of the will. However, if this is not possible, then two non-Muslim men may be taken as witnesses.

A Brief Explanation of the Law

According to verses of the Qur'an, the first right on the property of the deceased is that of the creditors. After the payment to the creditors, any will made by the deceased shall be executed. The remainder of the property and assets of the deceased, if any, shall be distributed among the inheritors in the specified proportions.

Two Categories of Inheritors

  • Inheritors who are to be given a fixed proportion of the total inheritance; and

  • Inheritors who are to share, in a specified proportion, the balance of the inheritance after the share of inheritors of the first category has been given.

The first category of inheritors includes parents (in case a person has any children or brothers and sisters) and spouse. On the other hand, the second category of inheritors includes children, brothers and sisters (in case a person dies childless) and parents (in case a person has neither children, nor brothers and sisters).

It simply means that in case any or all inheritors of the first category are present, first they shall be given their stipulated portion of the inheritance. The balance of the inheritance shall then be distributed among the second category of inheritors, according to their specified proportion. On the other hand, in case any or all of the inheritors of the first category do not exist, then all the property and assets of the deceased shall be distributed among the inheritors of the second category, according to the stipulated principle or according to their specified shares.

The Shares

Shares of the Inheritors of the First Category

Parents

The share of the parents (as inheritors of the first category, i.e., when the deceased has either children or brothers and/or sisters) shall be one-sixth each.

Spouse

The shares of the spouse are as under:

In case of Husband:

If the wife dies childless -- half of the total property and assets of the wife

  • If the wife had any children -- a quarter of the total property and assets of the wife

In case of Wife:

If the husband dies childless -- a quarter of the property and assets of the husband.

The husband must leave/bequeath for her enough to live for one year in their residence.

If the husband had any children -- one-eighth of the property and assets of the husband.

The husband must leave/bequeath for her enough to live for one year in their residence.

Shares of the Inheritors of the Second Category

Children

The deceased's children shall share in the balance of the property and assets of the deceased, after the stipulated shares of all the inheritors of the first category have been given. The share of the deceased's children is as follows:

  • If there are both sons and daughters -- the share of each son shall be double that of each daughter, in the balance of the property and assets of the deceased after the shares of the first category of inheritors is given.

  • If there are only sons -- all the sons shall share equally in the balance of the property and assets of the deceased after the shares of the first category of inheritors is given.

  • If there is only one son -- he shall take all the balance of the property and assets of the deceased after the shares of the first category of inheritors is given.

  • If there is only one daughter (and no other children) -- she shall get half of the balance of the property and assets of the deceased after the shares of the first category of inheritors is given.

  • If there be two or more daughters (and no sons) -- they shall share equally in two-thirds of the balance of the property and assets of the deceased after the shares of the first category of inheritors is given.

Brothers and Sisters

In case the deceased is childless, and has any brothers and/or sisters, the share of brothers and sisters of the deceased shall be exactly the same as that of his sons and/or daughters respectively, if he had any. Thus, the share of the brothers and sisters shall be as under:

  • If there are both brothers and sisters -- the share of each brother shall be double that of each sister, in the balance of the property and assets of the deceased after the shares of the first category of inheritors is given.

  • If there are only brothers -- all the brothers shall share equally in the balance of the property and assets of the deceased after the shares of the first category of inheritors is given.

  • If there is only one brother -- he shall take all the balance of the property and assets of the deceased after the shares of the first category of inheritors is given.

  • If there is only one sister (and no other brothers and/or sisters) -- she shall get half of the balance of the property and assets of the deceased after the shares of the first category of inheritors is given.

  • If there be two or more sisters (and no brothers) -- they shall share equally in two-thirds of the balance of the property and assets of the deceased after the shares of the first category of inheritors is given.

Parents

In case a person has neither children nor brothers and/or sisters then his parents shall share the balance of his property and assets after satisfying the claims of the inheritors of the first category (in this case, the spouse of the deceased).

"Kalalah" Inheritors

Besides the stated relations (i.e., children, parents, brothers and/or sisters and spouse), the Qur'an has also referred to another kind of relations -- the "Kalalah". In the Arabic language, the word "Kalalah" is used in different meanings. In verse 12, it is used for relations other than the parents and children of a person.

Thus, if a person wants to add any kalalah relative (brothers and/or sisters, in the presence of children, and maternal and/or paternal aunts and uncles etc.) with the inheritors specified in the Qur'an, in their absence or after their share has been given, he can do so by nominating the desired person. Such nomination cannot be made for any of the persons whose share has been specified in the Qur’an; neither can such nominations alter any of the shares specified in the Qur'an.

According to the Qur'an, if anyone has made such a nomination in favor of any of his kalalah relatives, the following rule shall apply:

  • If the nominated person has one brother and/or one sister, then a sixth each of the nominated amount shall be given to this brother and/or sister. The balance of the nominated amount shall be given to the nominated person.

  • If the nominated person has more than two brothers and/or sisters, they shall all equally share one-third of the total nominated amount and the balance of the nominated amount shall be given to the nominee.

What about the Balance?

According to our understanding of the law of inheritance given in the Qur'an, there can be certain instances where a portion of the wealth of the deceased is left over after all the heirs have been given their shares. In the same way, if a childless person has neither brothers and/or sisters nor parents, a significant portion of his wealth shall remain undistributed. One solution to this problem, as indicated above, is that the Qur'an has directed the person to make someone his heir. But in case, the person has not done so, then what is to be done with the remaining balance? “It is prescribed for you, when death approaches one of you and if he has some goods to leave, to make a will in favor of his parents and close relatives, correctly and fairly: a duty for all those who guard against evil.” (2:180)

And:

“If other relatives or orphans or poor people attend the sharing-out, provide for them out of it and speak to them correctly and courteously.” (4:8)

So if something is left from the defined categories, after the payment of debts, then the excess can go to the needy of the other relatives that there may be.

This is the law of inheritance of the Qur'an.

************************************************************************

While here at IUBAT, I have been giving 1:1 English lessons to some of the faculty. One of my colleagues with whom I share an office came to see me in the afternoon. He had been corresponding with another professor abroad and was looking for some data. The person sent him a return email and attached the document. What my friend did not understand was the language in the email. It said, “Here ya go”. He wanted to know what the phase meant, as he was not going anywhere and ya was not his name. I explained to him about slang and what the reply actually meant. We had a good laugh together. I realize more and more how often in the USA we use slang when we talk with one another. It is more than I had ever realized. ************************************************************************ There I was sitting calmly at the dinner table when the room began to move. At first, I had no idea what was transpiring, and then it hit me. The earth was quaking--not a slow roll or a violent shake but a gentle nudge to remind me that Mother Earth was in charge. The room shifted and rumbled, left then right then left again. The ground moved beneath me, and I sat cautiously not knowing if I should run or wait it through. The two nursing faculty and I stared at each other silently--first in bewilderment and then an oh-shit-wide-eyed glare. None of us moved and then laughter erupted. We all knew that we experienced an earthquake. It was unsettling but inspiring. We were left unscathed. We began to take bids as to how severe the quake was. Logging onto their phones, the nurses saw that the quake began in Burma, and we experienced a 6.9 shake. The dogs outside were uneasy. Could you blame them? Peering outside, the neighbors were in lungies and sarees; they made their way to the muddy street, hovering in corners and chattering. Was an aftershock going to happen? Homes here are simple brick and mortar. A major quake would have taken any of these structures down and leveled them. Fortunately, nothing came crashing on top of us. It was an interesting way to end a Bangla year as New Year was fast approaching. ************************************************************************ All the barbershops in Bangladesh that I have seen only do a close shave. When I saw it, I shared with my colleagues at IUBAT that I wanted to go with them to get one. Shahed and I decided to not shave for three days so that when we went to the barber it would be for a shave with a flat razor. Tatul had a favorite barber that he suggested we visit and was told it would cost about $100 takka for a shave a shoulder/neck massage. We did not ask the price before we sat down in the chair because this is where Tatul goes all the time, expecting that we would be treated fairly. Guess again. The service was good, but at the end the guy wanted $1500 takka! Shahed bargained it down to $1000 takka but that was still a rip off. We were paying the white skin tax price. The total should have been $200 takka. Lesson learned--always ask the price before getting any service. We will NOT be returning there, and the barber has now lost all future business from Shahed and Tatul as well as any international guests that will be visiting at IUBAT. ************************************************************************ I went into Dhaka to celebrate Bangla New Year with Mostaque and Shahed. We left at 9 a.m. from IUBAT and made amazing time on the bus because there was no traffic. Holiday merriment kept the onslaught of cars, rickshaws and buses away. Instead of taking the packed bus, we found an a/c bus that cost a few takka more and headed to the New Year grounds. We got to the park and meandered our way through the labyrinth of people and beggars. In the distance, we saw a stage set-up and decided to see how close we could get to the bamboo fencing. Throngs of people pushed forward, and I was in no mood to try to manage backpack, camera, sun and humidity with the pressing crowd. Pressed between people and bamboo fence posts, Shahed dotted through the crowd with me not far behind and Mostaque in quick pursuit. I felt like a maharaja with bodyguards on either end. We followed the fencing around to the side of staged area. Many police and security swarmed the venue. There was concern by the government that Muslim extremists would put a damper on the festivities as they had made public statements warning doom and gloom. There was an entrance opening in the fence, and we decided to move through it as if we knew what we were doing. No one stopped us as I walked confidently through the area. Sometimes it pays to be “That White Guy” as crowds parted and we were ushered in to the coral of cushioned seats, sofas and electric fans. Plush seats and couches were set in front of the stage with large fans to cool the guests. This VIP area was for the state police and military officers. I instructed Shahed and Mostaque to sit down. We would pretend that there was a reason why we were here...and besides, who was going to stop “The Westerner”? And if there were a problem, I would politely leave if asked knowing that most likely this would not occur. Well, it never transpired. We spent the entire day in the shaded VIP section with free bottle water and cushy chairs. The Minister of Defense and his entourage were introduced, and I smiled, nodded and applauded on cue. One by one they stood, shook hands and had the press flash some pictures for the evening news. I was part of the VIP scenery and played the part well. This music lasted all day with one after another keeping us singing, clapping and foot tapping. Then there was an announcement. James, the #1 singer in Bangladesh and India, was going to perform live on stage later in the afternoon. The crowd erupted in applause and cheers. I had no idea who James was, and Shahed and Mostaque informed me of his rise to popularity. We were going to hold tight in our spot. None of us were going to get up to go to the bathroom for several reasons: 1) there wasn’t a bathroom in sight; 2) if you left your seat there was a mass scramble for someone to snatch it; 3) there was no guarantee that we would be able to get back into the VIP section. Therefore, we remained plastered on our armchairs, taking pics with anyone who asked, and graciously smiled and waved to the crowd. James received a huge Bangladesh welcome when we came on the stage. The crowd went wild with excitement as they sang his songs and cheered for more. My ears deafened to the hoots and hollers as the base of the speakers pounded into my head and out my stomach. Security towers became abandoned as guards were pressed against the crowd and were afraid for the personal safety that they might collapse. Regardless, boys climbed the scaffolding and trees to get a better view heeding warnings. And the dancing...watch out world. It was a frenzy. ************************************************************************ I went to visit Tutul’s family that lives in Bhairab. It takes about 2 hours+ to get there if you leave in the early morning before the traffic hits the road and if you go on the weekend. (Leaving mid-day or during the work week it can take you twice as long.) Bumpy roads were in store for us as we hurdled ourselves over rocks, broken pavement, speed bumps while narrowly escaping buses with blaring horns from running us off the road. Brick factories lined the outskirts of the city with large, cigar-like smoke stacks billowing black soot. Garment factories and mosques cued the locals in single file, British style decorum. A man on a boat paddles across the green water as the sun rises across the rice fields and is obliterated by the dust from road traffic and air pollution—the days of yesterday blurring with a future economy. Stopping for a quick bite to eat, we drank chai from a local shack. An old woman with more history on her wrinkled skin than days on the Earth welcomed us as pollution from the street and blaring horns kept us in check from getting too comfortable. Across the way a large side of beef was hung on bamboo poles as the local butcher spread open the cadaver gutting its innards with a sharp knife, cutting away at the flesh as flies and wild dogs hoped to get a quick taste. The neighboring stall to the right of our tea shack made hot, fresh bread on a large, black griddle. The baker would flip the dough ever so carefully to not burn his fingers and hand as the oil would splat and pop in all directions. Passing the bread forward on a small plate and recycled paper with business plan notes scribbled on the flipside, I tore away at the deliciousness set before me; it reminded me of a Mexican tortilla. My fingers danced to try to keep the heat from scorching them as I delicately pulled the dough with my right hand minding to not use my left as the left is considered dirty as it is used to wipe your bottom end. Finishing our food and drink, we made our way back to our van for the ride to Bhairab. We drove for another hour and veered right. Small shacks made of corrugated metal and bamboo lined the path. As is the custom, we would arrive with gifts of sweets in hand--cookies, Bangladeshi goodies and a watermelon. His family was gracious to welcome us; it was only proper that we not come empty-handed. I was thankful that Shahed and Emtiaz had planned ahead. Arriving intact, we turned down a narrow lane that if you stretched your arms and hands from one side of the vehicle to the other you would hit vegetable stands and passersby. Oblivious to the big city folks, villagers would nonchalantly pass and stare in wonder as they saw my white face packed tightly inside the minivan with my Bangladeshi friends. Children would scatter and dogs remained idle in the road narrowly escaping van wheels from crushing their skulls. Flooded areas on both sides of the vehicle gave way to a small path where we could pass and slyly venture between two trees and down an even smaller alley to Tutul’s in-laws. How we managed to pass without slipping into the abyss is beyond me, thanks to the skillful driving of our captain, Ibrahim. A large cement wall with a flower relief welcomed us as the green metal gate gave way and family poured out in thanksgiving. Animals scurried away. Tutul’s grandfather by marriage hobbled over to us as Shahed greeted him with a handshake. Large glasses balanced on his nose making his grandfather appear wise; his lungi wrapped tightly around his middle and snow white, chest hair gave him a distinguished look. You could see the cataracts from behind the rims of his glasses, and his hands shook as he hung the laundry from ropes stretched across the courtyard. Tutul welcomed us to his in-laws home as he effortlessly took off his shoes and walked against the cool, grey cement floor. His brother and sister each greeted him and us with Tutul’s wife peering from behind gleefully smiling. She was a child bride when they married, as she was sixteen when they wed. Lemonade was served to us to quench our thirst from the long journey and to take the heat of the day away. We shared in small talk as gifts were presented to the family, and the children mindfully waited on beck-and-call for their mother. The tall ceiling and metal roof rose high with a large ceiling fan suspended to keep a gentle breeze flowing. It was good to settle in and call this home for the afternoon. I kept thinking to myself, “Hopefully the electricity will remain, inshallah”. In the distance and across harvested rice fields, Tutul’s mother and father lived. He asked if we wanted to meet them and with a resounding yes, we were off. The land of his wife’s father was expansive, and we passed through it to Tutul’s father’s land. I was told that some of it was recently sold for a new home being built. As we approached, his father was there to greet us. He welcomed us into the new home brightly painted turquoise with new solid wood furniture and finely carved bed. His mother was in the former home cooking and preparing us drinks and snacks. She soon followed with a tray overflowing with goodies and a smile the size of Texas. She was delighted to have her son home, but Tutul remained outside the new home as he was managing some family matters as his relationship with his father was strained. The village grapevine that a foreigner was visiting quickly spread. I could see children and families gathering along the path outside their home--first four then eight and later a dozen soon swelled to around 40 people. I was asked if I would join them and say hello. And so I put my shoes on and ventured outside to give the village a friendly hello. As I walked forward, children would dart in and out from behind buildings and palm trees. They were excited to meet me-- though shy and reserved. Mothers with babies on their hips would pull their saree over their heads and shyly duck away. I brought my camera out to entice them for a snapshot, but they would scurry away before I could even take a picture. While they were curious to meet me, this process was going to take longer than I had anticipated. I was asked if I would sing them a song. My mind raced with ideas. What would be appropriate? What would draw them forward and they might find appealing? I decided to not sing the American National Anthem as I thought it might offend and appear overzealous. Then it came to me, I would sing “Silent Night” by Franz Gruber and text my Joseph Moher--soft and lullaby-like. As I sang, the villagers came out from hiding—one, then six; a couple more and soon all were gathered. They emerged from behind the metal facades, palm trees and the backs of older brothers and mothers. Children hung tightly to daddy fingers. They came forward inching slowly toward me and by songs end I was encircled by everyone. Their eyes smiled and toothless grins of grandmothers nodded in delight. They did not know I was seeking about the Prophet Jesus, but that did not matter. They enjoyed the soothing melody, and they gave me a round of applause that echoed across the fields. Now that I had their full attention, what could I do to keep them engaged? What better way to move an audience from lullaby to engagement then a fun song. I pulled out a classic, “The Hokey Pokey”. I explained that all the children would need to participate and if the older folks wanted to play along, I would love it. I provided the directions in English and they were translated into Bangla. “When I put my left hand in, you are to do the same. And when I pull it out, you follow. Whatever I do, you must also do.” And so it went--put your left hand in, put your left hand out, put your left hand in and shake it all about (everyone laughs), you do the honkey pokey and turn yourself around, that’s what it’s all about (with everyone clapping to my rhythm). And so it went from left hand to right, left foot to right ending with put your whole body in and put your whole body out with giggles and laughter erupting when I shook it all about. I was a hit! I was asked if I knew another, and so I taught them “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” with hand motions and something not as long as “The Honey Pokey”. I could have done this for the next hour and sold tickets but refrained as it was very hot outside and I needed a break. Besides, this was Bangladeshi style! ************************************************************************ What I find refreshing here in Bangladesh is that the vast majority of people have no idea about popular culture in the West. I asked if they knew what Versace, Prada, Chanel or Givenchy were and blank stares were cast. I asked if they knew what Cinderella was or Wizard of Oz and still nothing. I asked if they who Walt Disney was and still nothing until I asked if they knew Mickey Mouse and then success. (Can imagine not growing up watching Wizard of Oz as a child?) ************************************************************************ I asked my students to write a story about a fairytale. They did not understand what a fairytale was so I provided an example-- “Tiger Tiger” in Bangla, which is the same tale as “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” in English. I learned that some families do not tell their children stories at bedtime let alone own children’s books. The concept of a public library is foreign and when a school has one, everything remains there and nothing can be checked-out--even at the library at IUBAT; all books remain on campus and inside the room. A bus filled to the brim with books comes through the shantytowns but many of the poor are illiterate. ************************************************************************ I told my students the story of Hansel and Gretel, and I had them captivated. I acted the parts out and they roared in delight. One thing I wish more children could do here in Bangladesh is participate in storytelling and the power it holds in teaching lessons and encourages critical thinking. The people are ravenous for serendipity and joy. It is the laughter and smiles that I think I will miss. ************************************************************************ Dust of the city covers everything--office desks, sidewalks, automobiles, brown-skinned faces and back of necks. You cannot escape. It is everywhere, like Allah. It is there to greet you in the morning as you peer out grime-covered windows past the cobwebs caked in it. Looking out in the distance, the building across the school field looks like a mirage though it stands firmly planted on the earth. The women are wise to wearing a burka, as their face is partially shaded from the filth. Reaching to wipe the sweat from my brow, my hand retreats to a palm with shades of gray. You learn to shield your eyes from the rickshaws and the fast approaching sedans kicking up the sand and its fine particles in its aftermath. Removing my watchstrap from my wrist, a fine line earmarks where it once laid. As the call to prayer echoes across the neighborhood and men and boys hurry to the mosque, they roll their sleeves to wash hands, feet, face as well as forearms to elbows as if preparing for surgery so all that is sacred remains holy. ************************************************************************ Yesterday I asked my students if they knew the game Hangman. They did not know it. I shared with the concept and asked if they wanted to play. They were intrigued. I asked them to take a subject they knew and provided them an example. My students were nursing students and had been studying anatomy. The first word that was played was the word vagina. Then it moved flowers, furniture, and instruments. It was the perfect way to have learn while having fun. I look forward to showing them how to play Win, Lose or Draw next. ************************************************************************ I went with my friends to visit the ancient city of Sonargaon a.k.a. The Golden City. Situated in the center of the Ganges delta, it was the seat of the medieval Muslim rulers and governors of eastern Bengal. Muslim settlers first arrive in Sonargaon region in around 1281. Today, the town is small. The one redeeming feature is the tourism that comes to see the folk art museum and the famous houses in Panam. Panam City was established in the late 19th century as a trading center of cotton fabrics during British rule. Hindu cloth merchants built their residential houses following colonial style with inspiration derived from European sources. Today this area is protected under the Department of Archaeology of Bangladesh. The city was linked with the main city area by three brick bridges - Panam Bridge, Dalalpur Bridge and Panam Nagar Bridge - during the Mughal period. The bridges are still in use. The street is lined with decaying history as brick and mortar, peeling plaster, and rusted railings compete with the elements. Some color and pattern remains, and I close my eyes to fill-in the difference. I imagine how magnificent this street once was. I peer through holes in the bricked doorframes and windows to witness niches and arched spaces once grand and overflowing with texture. Locals scatter as children ride bicycles and tease tourists. I wonder what will happen to this street as nature takes holds and trees push through the floor and roof of once splendid homes—only time will tell. ************************************************************************ There are six, Bangladesh seasons (the word for seasons in Bangla is shororeetu) -- summer, grishma; monsoon, barsha; autumn, sharat; late autumn, hemanta; winter, sheett; spring, bashanta. I find this fascinating and love the concept. The seasons are distinct like Minnesota’s four seasons. (Can you imagine telling someone there is sis seasons if they were not from a place that has only four and they insist that I would be wrong?) Bangladesh has both the world’s largest delta system and the greatest flow of river water to the sea. Without it, life ceases as we know it. Barsa is a time of torrential rains and winds that sweep villages and creates havoc on village communities and city dwellers; Mother Nature is an equal opportunist. When she arrives, Barsa places Bangladesh under water—more than 70%. Water from rivers, the sea, rain, tidal waves, floods and the melting snows of the Himalayas comes crashing down. The rains are at first a welcome relief from the season before as scorching every and everything in its reach. As the rains continue, the land turns into a murky brown and watery mass, ever changing in shape and texture. One day all is quiet and the next day fields and riverbeds are filled to the rim and overflowing. A mad scramble to safety as people and livestock move to higher ground or be swept away in delirium. Life as one knows it is altered with little mercy insight. One evening while at the university, the skies opened and torrential rains came crashing down. Fortunately, I was undercover but that barely made a difference as the angle of the rain made its way through the open walled building and through the cracks of the roof tin. Pounding and exhilarating it drowned out polite conversation. I watched and waited to take my cue from the locals if I should be concerned. I settled deep into my chair and anxiously waited for whatever was in store. This was not the rainy season and could only imagine the harshness of the season when it is in full swing. I take a deep breath and carry on knowing that any moment the roof might come crashing down or my feet swept from under me. Takka Spent: $646 - handmade and hand-stitched table piece $504 - hand-stitched shawl - white linen with flowers (blue and white) $1600 - lunch for 3-- 2 Pepsi, 1 bottle of water, biriyani, chicken $750 - hand-stitched shawl - black cotton with block print paisley and white hand-stitching $96 - cookies and two Cokes $150 - handmade batik paisley print block $1650 - large family sized pizza and pitcher of 7-Up for three people $5500-- black sherwani $4461-- wood bead necklace (354.68), 3 screen print bags (180), jute bag (254.81), jute black bag w/mirrors (634.62), 2 wood rings (216.74), beaded necklace with large gold beads (470.59), leather sandal (1423.08), wooden necklace with colored beads (151.96), beaded necklace with orange colors (323.53)-vat (171.56) $1850(?) - lunch w/drinks for 4 people at Artisan Hotel--Shororeetu is restaurant name $78.00 - 3 chocolate ice cream bars $65 - liter Sprite

April 22 – 30, 2016

Bangladesh is a Muslim nation. Islam is the largest religion. Muslims comprise approximately 150 million people, which is the fourth largest Muslim population in the world (after Indonesia, Pakistan and India), constituting over 90% of the population. It is ever present with mosques throughout the country—many in the city and within walking distance, in villages as well as factories and places for prayer in schools, shopping malls and places of business.

It is not uber-strict like in some Muslim countries as women are not forced to wear hijab, veil or burka. Men too have varying signs of obedience from covered heads, unshaven faces and traditional dress. And if you look, there are also bars that appear to passersby as restaurants that serve beer and wine. It is a country that is wrapped in tradition and contradictions.

The Qur’an is a foundation for how to live life – prayer, what foods to eat, divorce, death, marriage, etc. – and community practice of arranged marriage, child marriage, rape. What rings true though is how much superstition is held in a country so steeply held in Islam. For example, it is against the Qur’an to wear an amulet to ward off evil spirits, but parents will hang from the necks of their children silver amulets to scare the sprits. The same is true for evil spirits in the village where homeowners will hang from their fruits trees large shoes to scare the spirits away.

Some other practices are:

  • Mothers mark their babies’ forehead with ashes or draw dark lines on the eyebrows to cast evil away from their child and make it appear to their spirit that the child is “ugly”.

  • A newly born child should be shifted from one house to another house by its maternal uncle; if not, danger or illness may come to the child.

  • If you choke when eating, somebody is criticizing or telling something bad about you.

  • Don’t allow a wild dog to rub against you as an evil spirit may enter you.

  • Don't eat (or even look at) an egg before taking an examination. You might get a 'zero'.

  • A new bride should enter the house of her husband while on the lap of her husband's brother-in-law (sister's husband).

  • If you see a broom before leaving the house, you will have a bad journey.

  • If a spider is found on you, then you should go shopping and buy something.

  • Never give something that comes to three. For example, if you have tea always get one, two or four spoons of sugar. Three is considered bad fortune.

Land insecure families are everywhere. Cost of housing is expensive. If you are fortunate to have an apartment or private home, you are blessed. Many people live on the street, buildings that are being constructed or fallen into disrepair, along waterways, and tucked around corners and fields.

In Bangladesh there is no difference between a slum and a squatter settlement. The latter are simply slums illegally located on land belonging to the government, semi-governmental units, public organizations and other organizations. These settlements are defined with a minimum of 10 households or a unit with a minimum of 25 members.

The socioeconomic status of the community is defined by low income, with the majority, or over 50 percent, of households having income below the poverty level of 5,000 Takka per month (a little over $60 USD), the majority of the labor force is in informal sector occupations (e.g. rickshaw drivers, street hawkers, domestic workers, etc.) or very low paying formal sector positions (in organizations ranging from factories to offices) and low levels of rent. Another important dimension is whether the settlement is socially perceived as a slum. Finally, security of tenure is captured by vulnerability to eviction. The average population density in slums was 831 persons per acre.

In my neighborhood, land insecure families surround me. If I were to go to the roof and peer over the wall, traditional apartments and shacks are intertwined. They push against each other leaving you wonder what would happen if push came to shove; it is a delicate balance between the haves and the have nots.

When I retire to my apartment at night, I think about the families that are land insecure. Their children I play with in the street. They look to me to take their pictures and sing them songs and with them I play marbles in the street, collect water bottles from the open sewage for recycling, and build swings from found twine and string. I share my hard boiled eggs with children and the elderly, give away my mealy apples and cut ripe oranges into slices of deliciousness. They do not ask me for what I have; instead, I provide them offerings of kindness if they chose to accept. If not, they point me in the direction of someone who has even less than they.

We talk to each other through smiles and pantomime. Hand gestures and waves hello greet me as I pass from one end of my community to the next. The faint of heart would never venture here. All eyes are on me as I cannot pass without their observation. Children sing out “hello” and I echo it in return.

Occasionally I come to drink chai with the men at the corner snack shanty as we huddle under corrugated tin, found wood and fraying fabric. Rinsing a community cup and drinking from it, we laugh and banter with one another regardless that no one knows what the other one is saying, but we nod in agreement over smiles and handshakes. I rub the head of daddy’s little girl as she tightly grasps my fingers, and I kiss her booboo away. Father and I share glances as he smiles in approval.

These faces, these moments, are memories that will be forever sketched in my brain as I return to the First World. I cannot escape them, and they too will recall the crazy American who fell in love with them unconditionally. Peace be upon them.

Dhaka is a city that is crushed with roadside movement—cars, buses, people, rickshaws, livestock, CNGs, trucks, street hawkers, etc. Pressed for movement and with everyone and everything wanting access all at once can be chaotic and mind numbing. Street traffic lights are nonexistent to underwhelming. When they are present, they often times do not work, and if they did work, most people would ignore them because of impatience and mayhem of not even considering the law…what law? It is the Wild West, where anything goes. The bigger you are often times meaning getting your way by bullying through the traffic.

Traffic cops are present at major intersections. They look powerless in the onslaught but fiercely stand their ground with whistle in hand and a baton in the other. Hand signals and waves tell drivers who is in charge, as the officer stands his ground. With a whack of the stick, he beats the backs of buses to move them forward leaving the vehicles marred and scathed, like a cowboy bringing in his cattle as the herd presses into the tiny corral opening.

In addition, police look for CNG drivers that have illegal vehicles on the road. Pulling them over to impound them and give tickets, it becomes a game of cat and mouse. Passengers are caught between trying to get from point A to point B without blemish while sucking in petrol fumes, dust, and driver cigarette smoke.

To help manage the horrendous activity of the city, specific areas close to help with the congestion. New Market businesses are closed on Tuesday, Uttara is closed for commerce on Wednesday, and Old Dhaka on Friday. This makes getting through some locations significantly easier and helps you recall what day of the week it is when you pop through a space that is usually butts-to-nuts with activity and this time gets you whizzing through. The other plus is that government is closed two days a week which alleviates government employees and the hustle and bustle. It is these days that I enjoy with one less blaring horn in my ear.

Waking, I felt like a million tons of broken bricks were being maneuvered in my belly. Afraid to rise from my bed, I thought I would lose it before I got to the bathroom. And then it came, not in solid form but a stream of shit water from my bowel. I had diarrhea, and I was MAD. I had been traveling for over four months and had a perfect bill of health. Now, two days before my departure back to the USA, I was struck with diarrhea? How was that possible?

My mind raced with every conceivable thing I might have eaten, tasted, sipped or drunk the day or two beforehand. I had not eaten anything that other friends had not. They were not sick. How was it possible that I was? I had this victim mentality of blaming myself. I was ever so careful and yet I was hit with this--DAMN, damn, double damn!

My body was weak and wavering. Should I go to work and face the shits in person so I could wrap-up my Bangladesh experience with colleagues or should I remain locked up in my bathroom safe and secure not knowing when the next explosion would hit? I decided to go to school.

Clenching my butt hole closed with every step, I got to the office safely. One by one faculty came into the shared office. I asked if anyone else was sick. Nope, no one—only yours truly.

Mazadhur and Ema were hosting a farewell lunch for me at their home. Would I have the energy to go? Should I even go? I wanted to pay my respects for their hospitality as a host at IUBAT. Was it wise? I decided I would go and explain my predicament as locals they would surel understand my queasiness.

The family had spent the morning cooking for me. The table was nicely spread with Bangladeshi dishes of every imaginable gastronomic delight. I tried to eat but couldn’t. As soon as food was brought to my lips, I could feel the beginning of an unhappy ending within my gut. And so I politely had small talk and drank water.

After lunch, Mazadhur walked me back to my apartment so I could lay down. It was a good thing too because I spent the remainder of the afternoon throwing up and on the toilet. Reluctantly, I returned back to the office at 5:00 p.m. to pick-up my backpack, camera and water bottle. Shahed and Tutul got me back home safely. And again, eruption.

Shahed made sure I had a salt water mixture to keep me hydrated. He and Tutul went to the pharmacy to uncover an anti-diarrhea medicine which I gladly swallowed down. Again I tossed my cookies and the River Nile poured out my ass hole. How much more water could I lose? Two days of this was enough already.

It was blessing that China Southern Airlines had rescheduled my flight. At first when I got the news a couple of months ago, I was an unhappy camper. The flight originally was to leave fifteen minutes before one o’clock in the morning. Once I arrived to China I was to have an eighteen wait over which would give me time to see the city and a taste of Asia. The flight had been rescheduled to leave at noon which was blessing in disguise because if the original time was intact I would be traveling on a sick stomach not knowing when or where the next shit storm would hit. It ended up being a blessing in disguise as I would rather be in bed and close to a toilet than on an airplane with diarrhea.

Months have quickly flown by as I have made my way across the globe—Minneapolis, Chicago, across Australia, North and South Islands of New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Bangladesh. I visited 16 universities, gave 18 seminars, explored 8 UNESCO sites, volunteered in 5 different global locations on sustainability projects ranging from bamboo cultivation, non-GMO farm production, rice planting/harvesting, rainforest reforestation, indigenous tree planting and nursery development, anti-fracking and environmental tourism. I collaborated with indigenous people in four countries, survived a severe case of diarrhea and food poisoning, a 6.9 earthquake, and a month long university teaching fellowship. December 2015 to May 2016…and I can say is WOW!

During my time in Bangladesh I had intense conversations about Al-Qaeda and other conservative Muslim movements as they murdered six computer bloggers, a 26 year old university law student, a university professor, and a queer activist who formerly worked for USAID—all in broad day light with no one witnessing who did it. I chose to not blog and be too outspoken on social justice issues during my tenure in the country. As they say, safety first.

It will feel good to be home on soil and with politics that I am familiar. I so love world travel though venturing back to the familiar takes me off my guard, allows to me breathe more deeply, and helps me appreciate the many blessings of living in the First World. I will always be an adventurer. It is in my bones. And even when I am not taking flight into the unfamiliar, I find I resonate with “other”—the immigrant and refugee experience, the voice often unheard, the face unseen or forgotten. These are my people. I hope that one day the world will see us as familiar versus being than cast out as strange and unfamiliar. Here’s to the next opportunity!























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