Monday, July 2, 2007

The Past Week

It is once again time for the abridged and abbreviated “catch up” version of the blog. I won’t even begin to make excuses…

I woke up Tuesday morning to find a giant cockroach on the floor about two feet from my bed, and spent the better part of a half hour trying to flick it toward and out the door. I should’ve taken that as an omen. School began with an oral exam, during which I zoned out and repeated a question back to the teacher three times (instead of providing an answer to the question). Tired and not quite “with it,” I wondered why she kept asking me the same question… oops!

During the class break, everyone was back to complaining about the structure of the classes, etc., and I nearly lost my mind. Once again, I proposed that we provide constructive solutions instead of complaints, and once again they all looked at me like I was crazy. I grabbed the white board marker anyway, and said, “Don’t talk about what you don’t like, tell me what it is you want.” It went pretty well, and I ended up spending part of my afternoon writing up a neat, bulleted three page list for the teachers that included all of the agreed upon suggestions.

I skipped out on lunch, seizing the opportunity to have some quiet time (for the first time so far!). Two and a half weeks of being constantly surrounded by people is too much.

In the late afternoon, we had a lecture on Islam and Hinduism, given by the program director. The information provided was not new, and as a result was rather boring.

Tuesday evening was uneventful.

Wednesday’s class was painful, as we attempted to read through a children’s book. Here’s my theory: Kids know how to talk before they learn to read… so shouldn’t languages be taught the same way?

After class, my day improved rapidly. First, I went to lunch with one of my roommates at a Vietnamese restaurant, which was pretty good. Then we went shopping for clothes… which is to say she went shopping and I people watched… I’m not terribly interested in shopping at home, and am equally uninterested here, especially when my options are simply different colored sacks with M.C. Hammer-style pants. On the way home, however, we stumbled upon a store called Westec’s, which featured a random assortment of western-style clothing. I was OVERJOYED to find a pair of jeans for about $10 USD. I bought them without hesitation, and with full knowledge that wearing jeans would probably raise my core temperature about five degrees. At this point, wearing anything with a zipper fly and a button seems as close to America as I could get.

I went home completely satisfied and remained so for the remainder of the evening, confident that the day couldn’t get any better. And then… as these things tend to go, it did get better. I watched Little Miss Sunshine, one of my all-time favorite movies, with one of my roommates. No matter how many times I see it, I still think it’s hilarious.


Thursday’s class was better, incorporating many of the suggestions we had provided the teachers with in our write-up. After class, I met with my conversation partner, Farina. We went to an Italian place called “Bella Italia,” ate pizza, and talked about things that were of importance/interest to her, including corruption in Bangladesh (more rampant than you and I could even imagine) and women’s roles in society. Farina and her family truly seem both very ethical and comparatively liberal. She said that sometime she would have me over to meet her parents and brother… that will be cool. We got stuck in traffic on the way home (Dhaka traffic makes D.C. traffic seem like a Sunday drive), and consequentially, I missed a scheduled lecture on Bangladesh politics, given by a representative from the U.S. Embassy. Luckily, from my classmates reports, it doesn’t sound like I missed anything, as the man who gave the lecture was ill prepared and stumbled through an hour-long presentation.

Thursday night is the beginning of the weekend, and the members of my group, after three weeks of studying, were ready to have fun. About half of the group paid 2000 taka to get into a hotel party, which had a DJ and… you guessed it, alcohol. They reported having a good time – not getting home ‘til about 5:30 a.m. Who would’ve thought Bangladesh had a party scene?

The rest of us went to dinner at an amazing restaurant called Dhoni. We had the most wonderful Bangladeshi and Indian food – the best food I’ve had since being here. While there, we got a call from Ali Akbar – a painter whom we’d met at Jamal Ahmed’s party last week – and he joined us. Ali Akbar (who has the kind of name that just needs to be said in full) is a Bangladeshi native who went to college in the States and never left. He currently lives and teaches in Dallas. He showed up with a bracelet made of jasmine for each of the six girls there, and later paid for dinner for everyone (the bill came to less than $30 for the seven of us). “You’re in Bangladesh,” he said by way of explanation, “This is what the Bengalis do.” We walked around as a group for awhile before stumbling upon a Hookah bar, where we proceeded to spend a couple of hours. We left when they closed down at midnight, and when we got home I watched the documentary “Wordplay” with a couple roommates. I mostly stayed up out of curiosity as to when the others would return from the party, but by 2:30 a.m. tiredness overcame curiosity.


Friday I slept in until 11 a.m., and was still the first person awake in my apartment. Eventually, a few of us walked to Mango Café, where we had some lunch and attempted to study for Sunday’s exam. The afternoon went by quickly, and at 6:30, we were scheduled to attend a “reception” at the home of an Embassy representative. The other guests were Bengalis on their way to Seattle to spend 5 weeks in a home-stay environment learning about American culture. The whole occasion was completely awkward as the Bengalis seemed incredibly reluctant to talk to us. Hence, we stood around in a circle and talked to each other, and the Bengalis did the same. I’m not sure how to evaluate that, but it doesn’t seem to align with the reason for either group’s existence. Returning to the house, we found that it was spaggetti night… sort of. The pasta was spaghetti, but the sauce was composed not of tomatoes, but of ground beef with tamarind and cardamom. Still, it was pretty good. That night, the entire group gathered in my apartment and we played Bangla charades, which was pretty disastrous (and pretty funny) given our limited vocabularies.


Saturday we went to a Hindu temple, where one of our teachers, Shanta, performed the Hindu rituals and invited us to join her if we wanted. I participated in a couple of rituals… one of which was lighting some incense to make an offering to the goddess of wind (smoke/wind you get the idea). Anyway, I was holding the incense in my hand and moving them toward the flames when Shanta grabbed my wrist and jerked it back. “Noreen! Right hand!” she exclaimed. I’m still used to being able to use both of my hands no matter what I am doing, so I had been completely unaware of the fact that I was essentially offering a sacrifice with my “toilet hand” (as the left hand is considered to be reserved for toilet duty in much of South Asia). I was definitely embarrassed, but Shanta wasn’t upset, realizing I was completely unconscious of my actions and what they implied.

After leaving the temple, we stopped by the National Language Martyrs Memorial near Dhaka University. In essence, what happened at this location in 1952 was similar to the student protests in Tiananmen Square, but rather than demonstrating for free speech, students were demonstrating to have Bangla, rather than just Urdu, remain a national language, as was being denied by West Pakistan after the partition of India in 1947 (during which time Bangladesh was called East Pakistan). We weren’t given any explanation during the visit, so I only know what I had previously read about the occasion.

The trip home took over an hour. Traffic was terrible, and the driver of our van was worse. I felt incredibly carsick, and couldn’t wait to get out… By the time we got home, I felt horrible (as did most of the people in my van) and chose to lie down for awhile. I ended up napping for a few hours, then got up to study for a couple of hours. After some idle chatter with the roommates, I went to bed.


I bombed the Sunday morning test (40 out of 100) despite the fact that I had studied for at least 5 hours over the weekend. Oh well.

After class, I went back to Dhoni with one of my roommates, and we had an excellent lunch. We tried to find an NGO to volunteer with while we are here, but our directory must be pretty outdated, because we tried three different places and none of them were still located where the directory listed them. By the time we returned, it was time for our afternoon lecture.

The lecture was given by Shamshur Chowdry, recently retired Ambassador to the United States, more widely known for his prominent role during the Liberation War. He told an amazing story of his involvement before the war, his assignment by Zia to be the one who continually re-read the Declaration of Independence over a radio broadcast after Zia had initially read it. Chowdry had the original Declaration of Independence in his pocket when he was wounded and captured by the Pakistani army only a couple of weeks later. (The document did not survive the war.) He told of his 8 months as a POW, of the various ways he was tortured, of the option he was given (and refused) to sign a statement incriminating two individuals of conspiracy in exchange for his freedom, and of his subsequent transfer to solitary confinement awaiting the death penalty. He survived only because India invaded and the Pakistanis granted independence. It was definitely an amazing talk, and I’m glad we had the opportunity to hear a firsthand account of the war from Chowdry.

A quick dinner, some homework, and a couple of phone calls brought the evening to a close. Ryan & Kyle – Sorry I didn’t get to talk to you, but it sounded like you were having a lot of fun playing outside. I love you both very much!!!


I’m writing this while it is still Monday, but can already tell you that my day was uninteresting. I went to class, grabbed a quick lunch, then came home to an empty apartment and wrote this blog entry. Everyone else is on a field trip to the Liberation War Museum, and since I already went, I got permission to skip it today. I’ve got a bit of homework to do before reading “A Golden Age,” which is a novel about the Bangladesh Liberation War.

If you made it to the end of this incredibly long post, I congratulate you. I’ll post some pictures later tonight, once my computer battery gets a bit of charge.


terris213 said...

Love your posts, no matter the type or the length, keep 'em coming. Sorry to hear about the 40/100, but your are doing great, Miss Over-achiever!
So, a hookah, uh? Please tell me you had a NEW, CLEAN mouthpiece!!! the thought of anything else is repulsive. At least you can say you are not wasting your youth. (hee hee!)
take care, rest and study hard!
severn more weeks...

Anonymous said...

Hi Noreen, this is zach costello just saw your blog and thought i would say hi so.....hi.

Sara said...

Hey Reenie-Beenie!!

Nice to see a post! Its been a while. :) Just kidding. Sorry to hear about the test. Next time. Sounds like you are having a good time. Hope things are well!
Talk to you soon!

Love Winchie

Anonymous said...

Congratulate me...
Great - jeans AND "Little Miss Sunshine" - perfect day.

For some reason I thought you were coming back sooner than you are...I miss you!

Keep these coming, you are a natural blogger my friend and I LOVE hearing about the experiences you are having. I had a total deja vu moment when you recounted your use of the whiteboard. You have the right way of getting everyone to where they should be. :)

Sara said...


Happy 4th of July!!!


Wendy said...

I LOVE Little Miss Sunshine too! It is soooo funny.

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