Sunday, February 24, 2008

Book Fair and Goodbye Woes

I haven't written in a while, but I have been doing and thinking so much this weekend...The closure is creating a sort of out-of-body experience for me. I am increasingly respecting all I have learned, getting really sentimental about the people I have come to love as family, and overthinking the development that remains to be done here in Bangladesh.

On Friday, Azim took us out again for our "final goodbye" that actually was another "second to last goodbye" after we made new plans for next week. After a morning of internet browsing, catching up a little on work, and lunch at el Toro, we took CNG's to the National Museum in Dhaka. We stood amidst the crowd before a red iron gate and waited for a silly-expressioned, takes-himself-all-too-seriously-in-an-endearing-way Bangladeshi man to come out of the crowd. For a good twenty minutes, all that came from the crowd were weird stares, solicitations for buying flags and maps, and some outward curiosity. Finally, we called and he came.

We followed Azim and his friend Jahid all over the area, weaving in and out of traffic. Azim was the first in the group and he didn't exactly make any efforts to ensure that all eight of us could cross when he darted into oblivion. I just followed and whenever anyone got mad that they nearly hit me, I just played stupid. It worked quite to my favor. It's kind of been my gameplan since arrival. We finally got to the book fair, where there was a huge line to get in. The crowding was insane, and no one even knew where the line ended. As it turned out, it was spiraling backwards, but ended up creating a coil shape and not getting out of it. More and more people needed to get in line but there was no more sidewalk for them to stand on, so they made the best out of the small area. The line was moving quite quickly, but line jumpers just breezed by people. A group of guys stepped right in front of me, and because I have zero cultural tact, I yelled at them. I think it made them very uncomfortable, so they went right behind me, splitting our group up. It was awkward and funny at the same time. Such is my life.

The book fair was a big market of book stands, but most books were in Bangla. It was interesting to see so many people in line for new reading material. I guess their market system doesn't provide them with Borders and Barnes and Noble, so this was the most convenient place to get the goods. It was an encouraging sight to see people so interested in reading. I bought Muhammad Yunus' book and I hope I can have him sign it before I go.

The crowds at the fair were insane. It smelled like feces and sweat and we couldn't even walk two by two. At one point, the crowd, as usual, circled us and stared. We were waiting for Debrah and Reema to finish buying their books and people just kept moving in on me, Azim, Nick, and Evan (who for part of that time was running back to get Reema and Debrah). When Jahid finally returned, he could barely break through, and was jumping around and making odd noises. He so WOULD do that. The tv cameras were upon us and people were yelling questions at us. In these situations, I am always either very excited at the novelty of my undeserving celebrity or I become an introverted coward, horribly offended by the excess of attention. In this instance, I just kind of took the attention as standard and tried not to react in any way. I was afraid, however, because of the recent Warden messages the embassy has been sending. Apparently the Dutch comics about Mohammed that stirred emotions only a few years ago have come back in second edition. Crowds can easily get out of hand, and I am easily wound up. Bad combo in this situation.

We left the fair and went to the fine arts museum(?). There, a big round room had paintings hung in sequence according to their place in the titled work "The Story of Sidr (Sidr is the name of the cyclone that recently hit Bangladesh causing horrible damage to the southern villages)". The painter was there, and you could buy some of his work if you wanted. The paintings were beautiful but I can't really afford to spend a few hundred dollars on a piece of art. I'm a college student; no need. The rest of the museum was nice. There were beautiful stone sculptures in a nice outdoor yard behind the main building and college kids were hanging out on the roof, creating a pretty cool atmosphere.

I haven't mentioned this yet, but Nick's friend from the field/ translator was with us. He told us a few stories about his time at Dhaka University (he's a student too). Supposedly, before the current system of martial law was put into place, the student body was violently divided. Student groups were provided guns by the university and given a lot of power in the political process. People everywhere have said different scary things about the student population, but until now I just assumed them to be intimidated by the passion and drive for change. I figured people don't like change, so these speculations are just expressed fears of the change passionate people can bring. They were actually fears of the violence and physical pain that government-supplied guns can bring.

After that, the weekend mostly consisted of me being sick and trying to get better by working out and relaxing at the American Club and working on some reportage. My project is due this Wednesday, I have a presentation Thursday, dinner with the bosses after that, Azim-goodbye on Friday, Professor Littke arrives Sunday, and I leave midnight next Monday. I have thought about friends and family constantly while I have been here, pining over their existence at every calm moment, but now I am getting the chance to see them, and all I can think about are the people here. I don't want to go. I want to give the servant-girl, Badon, an education and a new wardrobe and a new life in general. When I leave, there is no one to defend her against the irrationality encompassed in Saleha-apa's morning banter. I want my partner here to realize she can conquer the legal system and leave for Canada to get the education she wants and raise her son without the constant worries of an exhusband's insanity. A few months is so long to be away from the people I love, but I just wish it would be easier for me to come back and check up on things.

I was talking to Debrah about how awful it is to see the impact we make on these people and then leave them. We have met so many people in the field and in remote BRAC offices who have expressed great joys in our presence, have truly appreciated the simplest things about us (often, surprisingly, not just the simplicity of my blonde hair). I told Debrah we should just be conscious of the fact that, as people in the development field, we are going to meet and touch people all over the world, each of whom will come from a different life situation. We should just be encouraged and appreciative of the fact that we have already come into contact with so many amazing people, knowing there are so many more to come. Our time here shouldn't be reflecting poorly on the limitations of our global communications systems, but reflecting positively on the apparent goodness of humanity. <3>

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Crashin Weddings: February 15th

Last night was another one for the books. This whole week has been a little rough on my bod (I have been fever-ey and exhausted but super busy), so I slept in as much as I could and went to the American Club. Azim had called me right when I fell asleep the night before and also at 8am to make sure I wanted to spend the day with him. Thing about that is: I was sleeping. And loving it. And when he woke me up I thought he was another one of the men who got my phone number from the flexiload station on road #18. All these things together made me a smidgen bitchy on the phone. I really hadn't slept or worked out all week and wanted to treat my body good, so I made sure I worked out. I ran as hard as I have the whole time Ive been here and then took a nice hot (woop woop!) shower. My shower at home is still pumping colored water. Brown-colored, to be specific.

Debrah and I needed to get our blouses from Pink City Shopping Centre so we could pair them with the saris (formal South Asian dresses) that Bilkis (the lovely woman from the 18th floor at work) was going to give us. The process of getting clothes made for you is ridiculous here. Ready-made garments are not available anywhere, so one day prior, I had to go to the mall, find a blouse to match the sari I was going to wear, and then have it fitted to my body. The pre-existing ready-made blouse that still needed to be sized is what they call "ready-made," but the mall mostly had fabric available for you to choose designs for and have the tailors there create something for you. I really should have gone a few days before then though because the mall was closed for Friday (weekly holiday). Luckily, the lady who owned her store arranged for Debrah and I to pick up our blouses in front of the mall gates the next day from "her guy". Debrah met me at the American Club, we ate a light lunch, and headed out into towards the city. I think my ipod's 80's selection (Thanks Mike!) screwed Debrah for the walk... I repeatedly sang "We built this city!...We built this city on rooockk andddd roolllllllllllll" the whole way to the Pink City. She hated it.

The whole sari operation is a bit difficult. Even after getting the blouses, Debrah and I had a lot of work to do to figure out how to take one huge rectangular piece of fabric and turning it into a classic dress. While at the American Club the day before, we had one of the waitresses show us what was up, video taped the whole shenanigan, and had just that video to figure things out then. Azim wanted us to meet up with him immediately, so we went back to my house (Saleha extended her stay in Sylett one extra day) to figure it all out. A big mess if you ask me. We played the video in slow-mo, pinned and primped, and still it took over an hour for either of us to look acceptable.

We walked to coffee world to meet Azim and Evan (who was wearing a Punjabi, the traditional longsleeved, knee-length shirt for men). From there, we took a CNG to the huge parliament building, did a little sight-seeing, and continued (in super-heels)down a main road to take another CNG to a little winding mini-city within Dhaka. I felt like I was in the movie Aladdin. The roads were alleys between relatively tall buildings and there were people everywhere. Little produce shops lined the streets... and everyone stared at Debrah and I in our traditional dresses. Pretty sure it was the Western look. We stopped at a little restaurant, but since we couldn't really take food from outside the home, we drank tea. They showed us to a "couples room" because there weren't any open tables. It was a small green closet with patio furniture inside. Why did we try to fit five people in it? I'm not sure. Why, when they told me the room was for couples, did I ask if they were left alone so they could make out? God knows. I thought we were in the circle.

On the way to the wedding, we stopped at two houses, the bride-groom's and the bride's. At the groom's house, the bed was decorated beautifully with flowers and petals that drew "S + P" and hearts. We all wondered if the family would stay anywhere that night. Yeah, they'd stay in the room next door. When we asked Azim what would happen that night, and if the couple would get the house to themselves, he said they wouldn't. Then he said that when he got married he would definitely want the house to himself, and that he and his wife would run around and be crazy with the whole family gone. Really? You are allowed to have sex without major social stigma for the first time, on your wedding night no less, and you're going to run laps through the kitchen? Next stop: bride's house. She was beautiful. There, we just took pictures with her in her room and saw the whole process of getting ready. She had so much makeup on I thought she was wearing a mask. Her hands were painted with henna and gold adornments were everywhere: cuff bracelets, hanging ornaments in her hair, barrettes, ... everything.

Finally, we went to Azim's friend's house, where we ate sweets (a cup of corn syrup with some solidified sugary snack soaking inside. Edible, but crazily sweet). I awkwardly agreed that I must have to go to the bathroom since they offered, and then I saw a HUGE roach on the ground. That sucked, but whatever. Debrah's outfit was malfunctioning so I followed her into the bedroom and helped with pinning. Soonafter, Evan and the crowd of people who had been waiting at this friend's house came in to show us pictures of trips to Everest and places in Asia. They gave me a big bag of tea that looked strikingly like weed, but was definitely tea, as a gift. I don't even think I am going to try to get this in the states. "Oh, returning from Bangkok and Tokyo after months of conservative lifestyle? And you've got a slightly-larger-than-sandwich-bag satchel of dried greenery? Glad to have you back, move along". Can't see it happening.

We walked from the friend's house through the winding town within Dhaka to a community center where the wedding reception was going down. The room was very white, with clothed patio furniture and tons of people inside. Before entering for a meal with the guests, we were greeted by the couple's family. We said our hellos and walked to the table. On our way, kids pointed and whispered. I didn't quite get the language there, but I assume it went a little something like "what the hell is that blonde girl doing here?" The reception wasn't as exciting as the events leading up to it, but it was a nice end to the night with Azim. We met a bunch of his friends, who told us they party with Absolut Vodka, and we all left to smoke (not me). I was trying to establish who I could talk to, asking "You all speak English? All of you?" and they all thought I said "I love you" instead of "All of you". That turned awkward quickly. And we left haha.

The four of us piled into a smaller-than-normal CNG after we couldn't find any cabs or larger CNGs to take us. I was on laps, Azim was on laps, and we were all crammed into the cage barrier like animals. My knees still hurt and we nearly were run over by a number of busses as the engine repeatedly stopped of exhertion while moving uphill on a bridge. That sucked. Ouch. I can't even describe how badly I wanted to get home and just go to bed, and finally, in the midst of being semi-lost, I spotted the flexiload famous for giving my phone number away and we got out and walked the rest of the way. PHEWWWWWWW> long breath. Sick of typing, the day was great, Saleha's back.

Dinner with my boss! February 13th

So tonight was like the sweetest night of my life. Ok, not really, and I am sure I have had that reaction to multiple nights on this trip, but it was pretty fucking awesome. I started the day out literally not thinking I could stay awake all day for the festivities, but I made it. I was supposed to go to Bilkis' house to borrow one of her saris and to go to Pink City to get a blouse made to go underneath (all for the wedding on Friday) before going to Afsana-apa's house for dinner... but I also had to finish editting my reports for Saiqa-apa within an hour and a half of leaving work. I was swamped with shit to do but completely spent for energy. Until I downed a cup of REAL starbucks coffee (this whole time I have been drinking instant, never noticing a difference until I had today's) while finishing my work at the American Club. Kickass. I skipped Bilkis' for the next day and ended up hanging out with Evan and Debrah at the club for a while, finishing all the stuff Saiqa wanted me to and eating cake and other food like it was my job.

We decided to take a rickshaw to the dinner party (I really wasnt sure if other people would be there or if it would just be me and Afsana-apa and her husband). We were leaving the club planning to take a CNG but then a guy who was friends with Saju, our favourite rickshaw driver who speaks insanely great English, was waiting at the exit. We hopped in his and his friend's ride and booked it down Gulshan, a little late for Afsana-apa's....and who do we run into AGAIN? Saju! We see this guy all over the place! He yells for us from about 100 yards away "Hey guys! HEY! I am coming!" and he weaves his way through the seemingly immobilizing traffic all the way to us. He came over and chatted us up. It was actually pretty funny. He just came back from a few days in Bogra, a northern city about halfway between here and Nilphamari. Evan, Debrah, and I had all eaten there on the way to different TARCS in the north. Saju is the nicest guy. His English is impeccable and he is always offering to drive us places and do things for us. As it turns out, he has a few other Western friends for whom he does his bidding. The guy must bank, compared to other rickshaw drivers at least. He's somehow everywhere always and he knows everyone. That's a good indicator. One time, we were driving in a CNG trying to find our way to the American club or something, and the driver was lost. He kept pulling over and asking people directions.Anyway, he pulled over once to see Saju. When we saw this, we yelled his name and got all excited... the CNG driver was really jealous and didn't want to talk to Saju for very long out of competitive dickheadedness. Saju gave quick directions and followed us in our motorized cart in his bike. And waited for 3 hours outside the club in case we wanted a ride home. In the pouring rain. It was insane! Hes amazing. And ...we saw him on the way to Afsana-apa's.
We got to Afsana-apa's house a few minutes after 8 and I realized I really should have brought something for her. I seriously feel like I fucked up on that one, but I don't think she has any expectations of me. She is always saying things like "I think of you as my little girl. You are so sweet and young and little... like a daughter of mine." It's adorable. And a smidgen belittling. Her house was amazing. The walls were a rich orange color with trinkets and masks everywhere. A few big pieces of art adorned the walls.. a Che poster and some more contemporary looking art surrounded by a mosaic of travel souveniers. Straight ahead of the doorway was a large office/ library where Afsana-apa's husband, Emriates, and his colleagues were conversing. All three were International Relations professors. I came in, took a quick gander at the room, in awe of my surroundings, and jumped into a political discussion of both Bangladeshi politics and American domestic politics. It was amazing. The men really liked Hillary Clinton, a pretty standard choice here it seems. More importantly, they had an amazing grasp of the American political system. "What happens there changes everything for us here" they agreed.

As we moved into the living room, the director of SD at BRAC entered the conversation and a business development director from British Petroleum (BP) arrived (with fucking flowers. Again I feel I have screwed up.) There, a discussion about BP's choice not to invest in Bangladesh because of PR issues conflicting with the state of human rights ensued. I understood what the BP director meant: BP shouldn't publicly endorse the behaviors of the Bangladeshi social system because shareholders will judge. I also understood what the SD director meant: BP's investment was the ultimate social responsibility in that a country with poor human rights was in greatest need of outside assistance. The thing is, BP is a business. It is not interested in BRAC-sized investments. Their social responsibility is limited, and the development of a proposed BP university within Dhaka will far surpass the point of 0 marginal return on investment in social matters.

Afsana-apa thinks I don't eat Bangladeshi food because I have been relatively sick feeling every time I have been to the field with her. Tonight was my chance to prove her wrong (even though shes right. I hate Bangladeshi food), so even though I was full as hell from my American Club business, I filled my plate with food I didn't want to eat. And I scarfed. I removed the fish from the bone like a pro, got nearly every grain of rice off my plate, and vegged out. When she came over and offered everyone seconds (and everyone else declined) I went right ahead and filled up. I felt sick as hell, but her comment "You are truly becoming like a Bangladeshi" made it worth it. I'm no baby...see?

During dinner, we discussed the Bangladeshi vs. Bengali issue with Shahab, one of the professors of international relations. Luckily, my MC202 class essentially taught this concept and I sounded semi-intelligent. The idea is essentially the nomenclature differences between a nation and a state. Today, when people speak of Bengalis, they speak of the people rooted to the land and the culture of the area. When referring to the people as they generally belong to the geographic region that is today the outline of Bangladesh, one should use the word "Bangladeshi". Modern generalizations about the people usually use Bangladeshis, but sometimes rhetoric might call for poetic tone or a cultural exclusivity, at which time one should use Bengali. I wasn't sure if one was PC or not, so this kind of helped out. This professor also invited us to see him lecture on South Asian security issues. I think I might go... so many teachers and professors beg us to go to their classes, but this one was less about us making his class interesting and more about us learning.

After dinner, we all gathered around the round table in between the two sitting areas. We listened to Afsana-apa's husband tell stories about his work in Japan and Texas. The commentary from the BP lady was really funny and relatively ignorant to the concept of multiculturalism. Emrates (his name is tough, might just have to be different every time I write it) first told a story about arriving in Japan planning to ride the train because his counterpart told him the cabs would be too expensive/ gave him an itinerary including train tickets. The cab driver was insistent on driving him, repeatedly offering assistance with his bags. When he finally gave up, he walked Emartes to the train and told him how to get where he was going. THEN he drove next to the train and saw him off the train. As it turned out, the cab driver would be paid either way and it was accepted that it was "his responsibility" to see him to his destination. HA! I thought that was pretty funny. Also, Afsana-apas husband spoke of love hotels and how the news had a section of the show for the critique of XXX films. All the people at the party started talking about Japanese work ethic, eventually making the issue full-circle, saying the intense discipline of the childhood schooling finally erupted in wild nightlife and sexual tension. My perspective is just so different I suppose my involvement in the conversation was inconceivable.
The night was amazing! I love my boss! I ended up calling Mike on Saleha-apas phone (she is gone to Syllet to see her sister) and talking for wayy to long. That's going to bite me in the ass when she gets the bill.... Welp, night time!!! Tomorrows going to be a bitch.

Adventures in Dhaka (What's love got to do, got to do with it?)

Today was amazing. I have been sick all day, achy and feverish, but it has turned out to be an amazing day nonetheless.

At work, I spoke with Afsana-apa about going to the field an extra time to see the workings of the newest MNCH programmes. That pretty much means I will be gone from Dhaka every weekday/workday until I leave. I am so glad for means I will be taking advantage of every minute I have here. Also, today was my interview with Afsana-apa to clarify all the information I am putting in my reports. I have been talking to everyone at lower levels on the organogram ladder, but today was my day to hear her superior evaluations of MNCH. God that woman is amazing. She didn't bullshit me like everyone else. In all my interviews, no one wants to tell me any criticisms of BRAC. Everyone always wants me to be impressed and to realize how great BRAC is. Well; I do. I get it. BRAC is the most amazing organization I have ever studied. The problem is that there is no way it is perfect. I think these people are afraid I will lose sight of the positives if I am thinking too much about the negatives.

Anyway, Afsana-apa's criticism fundamentally contradicted my reasons for BRAC's greatness. I have always found the organizational responsiveness from the head office to the field workers to be a key factor in the ability of the institution to make big plans that implement well. Afsana-apa actually identified this trait as an inefficiency. The lower level workers have become dependednt. They are all well-educated, but, as she said "they have lost the ability to use their own intelligence". This is funny, because while I couldn't understand all those meetings I attended in Bangla, it was pretty obvious to me that Afsana-apa and Habib-bhai were doing some pretty simple problem solving with the workers. The problems needed little but to be talked out. Why didn't these intelligent people just troubleshoot on their own? They have grown to get okays and not to trust their own midlevel decision-making.

She gave me a few examples of implementation issues with the primary health care service provision in the field. The Shasthya Shebika and Shasthya Kormis, health volunteer and health worker, were very difficult to recruit and train because of the poor standardization of education certification. Health workers are required to have education to the tenth grade, but some candidates were certified under false pretenses. Once training came around, it was apparent that the women were not capable of fulfilling their duties with competence. Shasthya Shebikas needn't much more than reading skills, but they often misunderstood the workload they were volunteering for and quit soon into training or implementation. In order to bypass these difficulties, the BRAC workers made a second attempt at employing the field by speaking to villagers and getting better peer-analyses of character.
At work today, Debrah had said she was thinking about watching movies and sitting in her violently purple room. I looked forward to crashing her plans with a sitting-and-doing-nothing partner but it turned out AZIM my fave fun friend from Mymensingh training and research center was coming to Banani! I felt like shit, really wanted a nap, had been given about 16 hours to finish the MNCH section of the BHP annual report, but I was SO pumped to see him. I came home, threw some Western clothes on, and powerwalked to CoffeeWorld/ Pizza Corner to meet him.

Azim brought his bearded friend Jahid (not to be confused with jihad) who is an English Literature major in some university in Dhaka. We were trying to go to dinner somewhere or eat pizza at pizza corner, but they didn't want to have anything. There isn't much to do in Dhaka, so we all sat and drank tea and coffee at Coffee World, some of us had a bit of pizza, and we caught up with everyone. [Note: Azim had a cold and didn't want to take anything chilled because it would make his sickness worse. In America, I take as many cold fluids as I can to flush out sickness...weird cultural difference I guess] Azim told me everyone misses me at the TARC and it made me really want to go back to Mymensingh before I leave. Shaharia, Salma, Mooshet, Atik, and Azim were the first people I became friends with in Bangladesh. It also helps that I associate them with the best week I have had here...the week I first got to see the workings of BRAC with the people.

After tea and coffee, we walked for a long way to go to the park across the street from the American Club, basically a pathway around a small lake. The night was so dark and the faint reflection of a sliver of the moon and the faraway streetlights made the ripples on the lake shimmer a little. This gave just enough light for us to see the uneven path we were walking on. The conversation was structured to be so traditional and pure... I don't really know how else to describe it. It all began when Azim's friend told us about his "heartwrenching debacle." He is in love with a girl, but he cannot tell her he loves her because she is so conservative that doing so will ruin his chances . But how can he ever be with her if he never tells her? While we walked away the crisp summery evening, he spoke of things like "love is pain" and sang some Hindi songs while we walked. (People sing all the time here. They always ask me to, and always they're certain I have a beautiful voice... but I really don't... and they really do.)

Then he got sentimental again and said he knew a beautiful American song. "Do you know of George Michael?" he asked. Yes. I am certainly familiar with the better half of Wham!... and then he began... "oceaaans apaaart.. day after day..." and sang all of "wherever you go" by georgey. It was surreal. Here I am, the other side of the world, walking in some random park with Bengali foliage and an arched bridge with a random bearded Bangladeshi man and my study abroad friends...while one sings retro pop love ballads. I was conscious of the foreign atmosphere, enjoying myself very much. I don't think I will ever forget that hour in the park.
I have read novels that take place in traditional settings, and in those stories people go for walks in parks and speak beautiful words like these, but never have I conversed realistically, especially with grown men, about the philosophy of love. I would only talk about such things while giggling in my pajamas at my girlfriends houses, and generally those talks were superficial and gossipy. Last night I talked about rationality versus romance and the personal pursuit of emotion versus the ability for fate to find you. I am sure my cultural traditions of dating before marriage contradicted their fundamentals of arrangement. Because of this, the love-talk was really a culturally based philosophical comparison. They talked as if working for a relationship is like fighting fate. If it works, then fate has wanted it to; if it doesn't, then it wasn't meant to be. This is so different from the "fight for it" kind of romance I have been socialized to desire.

After the park, Evan and Nick had to leave to eat dinner with their host family, the Costas (love them). I wanted to walk Debrah home and go get ice cream or something so we could gossip about how weird the night was, but in my offer to Debrah, Azim and Jahid agreed they'd like to join. So the three of us went to Gelato for a nightcap. Azim and Jahid wanted coffee, and since they both pay for everything all the time I offered to buy. It was a weird refusal that turned into my picking out drinks for the guys if I was to pay. All the shop had were lattes and macchiatos, so I bought two lattes for the guys and two gelatos for Debrah and me. Well, Azim and Jahid turned out to be a little less than hardcore about their lattes, each adding like a cup of sugar. I kept telling Azim to dip his cookie in his latte and he kept refusing, same with Jahid. Randomly like 20 minutes later, Azim said "I will do it! I will dip my biscuit!" and dramatically threw this mini cookie into his coffee, laughing HYSTERICALLY. Azim, dip, don't drop. Anyway, I suppose I see why he refused and saw the proposition to be some radical custom. Debrah and I laughed hysterically. In this conversation, everyone was a little slap-happy from exhaustion... but it turned weird. A lot of talk about Debrah and my beauty and some awkward silences made it pretty strange. Also, when we all randomly were talking about linguistics, Azim made a pretty un-PC impression of the Chinese language, saying that most East Asian languages sounded like "chingchong...". I mean, he talked about the Dutch language too, and hadn't been socialized the way we have to respect those kinds of differences, but I must say I respect Debrah's tolerance of that kind of behavior. She must have had to dig deep not to say anything.

All in all, the night was great. Completely surreal. More to come I am sure... Azim invited us to a wedding on FRIDAY! Gotta get a sari (Bangladeshi dress) now and learn how to wear it by Friday!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

January 22nd Nilphamari/ Job Assignment

The past few days have been interesting but boring. I was reassigned last week from microfinance to MNCH--Maternal, Neonatal, and Child Healthcare. Immediately, my new boss wanted me to accompany her to Nilphamari, a northern district in Bangladesh. Sunday morning I woke up to be ready by 10 (and of course, because this is Bangladesh, I didn't get picked up until 1130) and drove about 8 hours to stay at my boss' brothers house. Turns out hes a member of the (currently unrecognized) Parliament. [Since writing this I also have come to find out he is a movie star. a big one.] I had a lukewarm shower (celebrate!) and a nice bed. It was sweet.

I spent the past few days watching my boss evaluate everyone from the Shasthya Shebika (the lowest level employee at BRAC, trained in the simplest of health care provision, name meaning "health volunteer") to the district manager (the highest level field worker). She has been speaking in Bangla the whole time, but I can still get the gist of the international organogram by watching her.

The food was pretty intolerable. Having a rough time. I gag at every swallow...hope my membership at the American Club will be complete when I get back so I can eat at the restaurant inside! I think I am going to sit and wait for someone to let me in if I have to. Last night, Habib-bhai ordered me boiled potatoes with nothing but a little salt. It actually tasted like boiled potatoes from my mom's stew and I lOVED it. I just really need substantive protein that is not peanut butter (ate a jar this week).

My job here is to evaluate MNCH and write the annual reports for the program. I need to go to the field to get a solid understanding of how interpersonal communication is really implemented for the socialization of some of our programs (so I can explain it) and I have been gathering data at every field office. I am excited to replicate the resources available to me in my studies thus far and to create a document that will be more helpful for people of my field. Luckily, my job will be a lot easier because of the way field workers are expected to record progress. Insanely meticulous. In the process of all of this research, I have been able to interact with health workers and volunteers in the provision of their services. Their care is so basic as hygiene and nutrition, so I have been knowledgeable enough to help. That isn't my job, and I know its only a few people I help when I am here, and it's not like I need that 'Chosen One' validation of my work with BRAC, but god it feels good to work with these kids! Their innocence, paired with the simplest of needs (like body heat. I just held a few kids for a few minutes after drinking a cup of tea and they wouldnt even let go. I didnt want to let go either, but more out of maternal instinct than need), makes it so hard not to spend this time giving hugs, vaccinations, and cleaning kids up. I just have to remember that this policy work could potentially shape the future infrastructure of programs just like this one in such a way that more kids will see these services in the long run. But I want to just cuddle. wonkwonk.

Oh, and this whole trip has been spent with 19 hour workdays. Turns out Rahman-Bhai hooked me up with the only Bangladeshi worker who exceeds the 8hour day, and she does it by 11. I like it though. better than just sitting and twiddling my thumbs alone in the northern districts of Bangladesh! Afsana-apa, my boss, is so nice and funny. She has a masters in public health (from Harvard, no less) and an MD. Damn, shes awesome. When we were driving home, we talked forever. Neither of us could sleep through the potholes/ditches that were scattered about the northern roads, though she eventually dozed off while the car was still relatively violent. Pretty funny to watch a limp body get whipped around the land rover as it bottomed out...and all the while the person sleeps sound. HA! Im sure I looked just like that when I fell asleep.

January 15th: Back in Dhaka

Today sucks. The sights and sounds of the city pretty much have meant nothing to me. I actually currently am completely spiteful of the smog and the traffic and my inability to identify with anyone in the crowds. I was able to access internet for the first time. I got on the computers in the MSU intern cubicle area and went right to facebook, naturally. My friend Amelia had messaged me something about another good friend of mine being missed. I thought it was a famous "Allison doesn't answer her phone or keep in contact with anyone" sarcastic joke. It wasn't. One of my best friends from home, Rylan Cotter, has been murdered. God. I have looked online for information and all the newspapers gave were some cliche statements about a "sweet girl" who didn't miss school or do bad things and was going places. She was going places, and she was sweet, but she was so much more than your typical nice friend. She was so real and funny and sarcastic and politically passionate. She will definitely be missed.

Especially in light of this situation, it is a new goal of mine not to dwell on America and home. My passion has been to make the world a better place for people who can't do so themselves. I will learn so much grom BRAC and I hope to bring that elsewhere, but I can't make any progress if I let myself get sucked into self awareness.

That's about it. A pretty introverted day. Except:
ate at a pizza hut
bought 2 traditional outfits
Rachel's due date is the 17th AHHH cant wait
Saleha-apa is turning into a cenile old woman

January 9th Mymensingh Craziness

Today was insane. It is late now and I must wake up early tomorrow but I don't ever want to forget the cultural imagery of my day so I will write. Today was our first day in the field observing BRAC operations first hand, opening my eyes both to BRAC logistical procedures and to the cultural perspective the Bangladeshi people have of Westerners. In the evening, we had an impulsive game of volleyball and comradery. I was exhausted at dinner and really in the mood to tell all the innocently-talkative TARC residents to leave me alone, but somehow instead I said "Volleyball? You play?" And we did. A whole crowd followed out to the enclosure, where a bunch of community leaders (only men... maybe I screwed up there. whatever.) got served. Literally. HAHA. After a rousing game, there was a Bangladeshi performance and an American shitshow of awful dancing on the part of Evan Kelly and I. Yikes.

The field visit was absolutely incredible. I have seen so much literature on BRAC microfinance, but today I got to put face to personal success story. I took many notes on the technical subjects of development science, but from a personal point, the trip was way more moving. My whole academic career has been dedicated to waht I saw today: a real potential substitute for welfare and, more importantly, a way out of economic and social devastation. At the end of the village organization meeting, Shaharia (our BRAC training organizer) translated an expression from a borrower that pretty much validated my indecisive choice to leave my friends and family for three months for the third world..."We know we are poor, we are. But we work every day with our loans and we are developing to something great" The statement isn't particularily anything I didn't know about development, but to hear a statement like that from someone receiving assistance really defined her perspective. She could measure qualitatively the differences economic development was bringing her, and she was noticing an increase in quality of life. A lot of times people make assumptions about economic development and quality of life, but in her case the capitalistic theory rang true.

Meanwhile, the kids really got to me today too. At the first field visit, they loved our digital cameras and smiled and touched my hair and repeatedly told me I am beautiful. It is touching to see them so excited about Westerners, but I wonder if the association with race/nationality/ social status/ money is healthy. I worry the social roles here are too strong for real mobilization. I am on the fence. At the second visit to agricultural extensions, were we saw a farmer who had developed a nursery, a mob of children chased us around a beautiful countryside. This time I was less professional about my research and made faces and ran along with them. At the end I was even invited up to the rooftop of one of the girls, Reema's, houses to see the whole village. Breathtaking at only two stories.

Exhausted, we returned to the TARC for coffee--but awkwardly a servant man stood by our table so we had to force some cordial behavior. Too welcoming for my comfort I suppose. [since writing this I have come to realize that there is no such thing as too much service. and everyone stares...he was doing his job. im an asshole] A croud ensued and now like 20 people were staring. SO MUCH GOD DAMNED STARING. I took this opportunity to grab one of the little boys volleyballs and run with it, and so begins the night recap from the beginning of this entry.

After showering I went to the dining area to find about 100 people singing and dancing in a mini show. I ended up dancing and singing on stage in a huge exciting night of opening up to a group with such a different concept of talent that no matter my real skillz, I would only be judged as American. Comedically empowering. I was in quite the euphoria at this thought, but now I am exhausted and MUST sleep.