Saturday, January 13, 2007

Fulbright Blog
Place: Dhaka
Date: January 13, 2007

Two nights ago I got a phone call from my Fulbright contact in Dhaka saying that the President had declared a state of emergency and that a curfew was in effect. Today, I went paint shopping. Only in Bangladesh! (The fact that the Chief Advisor, who is also the President, stepped down is actually a very good thing. The political situation seems to have relaxed again now that there is a new Chief Advisor.) Anyway, back to paint shopping...

So I wanted to share with you a bit more about how my apartment "remodel" is going, because it brings up some very interesting cultural differences between the U.S. and Bangladesh. For example, a few days ago I went to go buy a mosquito net. I wanted what the Bangladeshis call an "American style" mosquito net - this is the one that is gathered around a ring and hung from the ceiling. I chuckled quite a bit at the name, because I do not know of a single American that owns a mosquito net. Anyway, the Bangladeshi style net is square, the shape of your bed, and you either hang it from a square box frame, or you tie it to various things hanging off of your walls. I had this style net in Mohammadpur. While it did keep the mosquitoes out, it also kept me out of my room because the strings that tethered the net to the wall were always in danger of decapitating me (which is why I opted for the "American style" net this time around.)

Anyway, they do not have that style ready-made here, so I had to order a custom one. My bedroom is all blue (I will get to that in a moment) so I thought that a white net would brighten the room a bit more. I ordered the net and the man at the store (who speaks English and is REALLY nice) told me it would be ready in three days. The next day, however, I walked by his store and he told me that the net would be delayed by two more days because of the sewing build-up after the Eid holiday.

Now, I have no idea how the mosquitoes get in to my apartment, but the first few nights that I slept here there were swarms of them! (Interestingly, now that I have the net, there is not a mosquito in sight.) The first night I was bitten about 10-15 times on my face and another 10 times or so on my hands. (Since I was bundled from head to toe, these were the only parts of me that were showing.) The next day I put on several different kinds of mosquito repellent, but again, the next morning, tons of bites. Plus, I was plagued through the night by the sound of them buzzing around my ears. The next night I bought three mosquito coils and one of the plug-in mosquito repellants and placed them around my bed. Sadly, the smoke was so heavy that I couldn't breath, so I had to take the coils away. They did seem to lessen the bites a bit, however.

On the fourth day I went back to the mosquito net store looking like I had the plague or a really bad case of chicken pox. I told the store owner that I really needed my mosquito net as soon as possible. He took one (horrified!) look at me at promised that the net would be ready by 8pm that night. I stopped back around 7pm (I had just finished some errands in the area) and he had two men at sewing machines frantically assembling my net. He told me that he would deliver the net to my house by 9:30pm.

Around that time, his brother did show up with the net. Unfortunately, I was not able to locate a drill in my building (more about this later too) so I had to move my bed into the center of the room and hang the net from the ceiling fan. The brother unrolled the net and to my horror, the owner put a lavender trim on my beautiful white mosquito net! (Again, I am haunted by lavender!) "It's purple!" I cried. The brother assured me that it was white, it was just a bluer shade of white than the net and that the color would lighten after I washed it. It certainly looked lavender to me, but it was night, so I agreed to look at it the next day in the light. Sure enough, day came and it was still lavender. I was originally going to take it back to the shop, but the store owner has since been so nice and has helped me find other things that I needed for my apartment, that I would just feel terrible hurting his feelings by returning it. Since my room is blue, I am trying to convince myself that the light reflecting from the walls gives it a bluish hue which just adds dimension to the net... Worst case scenario, I will try bleaching it. (Clorox IS available here!)

As for my blue room... Several weeks ago I purchased a gorgeous hand-embroidered bed coverlet from a store here called Aarong which sells traditionally made, yet modernly designed, Bangladeshi handicrafts. The cover is turquoise blue with dark blue edging and turquoise, dark blue, and orange block prints and embroidery. Initially I was going to paint my walls a pale blue to match, but since the Bangladeshis are so fond of bright colors (and I would probably get a bright color whether I wanted it or not!) I decided to go with the flow and selected the brightest turquoise color they had. Amazingly, this time the paint in the can matched the paint on the card! And it looks FABULOUS if I do say so myself! My bedroom is now literally a sea of tranquility. When it is all finished, I will post a photo, because it definitely the nicest room in the house. (Well, technically, so far it is the only room in the house that has furniture... But still! Quite nice!)

OK, so before I go, I promised to tell you about the drill. In the United States, if you want to put a hook in your ceiling (or wall, or wherever) you would pull out your drill, drill the hole, get out your screwdriver and screw it in. In Bangladesh, however, nobody does anything like this by themselves. They hire somebody to do it. I was hoping to just borrow a drill from the maintenance guys in my building and drill the hole myself, but they do not own a drill! The guy at the mosquito net store had to help me hire "an electrician" to come drill the holes for me. While he was here, I also had him raise my curtain rod up higher on the wall. It cost me about $4. No wonder nobody does it themselves!

Another difference between the U.S. and Bangladesh is that in the U.S. walls are usually made of plaster. We have steel or wood joists between the walls and then plasterboard covering them. Here, however, the walls are made of either cement (for outside walls) or brick (for inside walls). Bricks are very cheap here because they are made from the local clay and are made by hand (labor is really cheap). Lumber, steel, and plaster are not cheap because they must be imported. What this means is that you actually cannot just hammer a nail into your wall. You have to first drill a hole, then put in a plastic receptacle, then you can screw in whatever you like.

Oh, one more interesting anecdote. When the "electrician" moved up my curtain rod, he uncovered a hole that the casing had been hiding. I decided to go to the market to get some plaster to fix up the hole so that I could paint over it. I went to the hardware store and tried to get the guy to understand what I wanted. My Bangla is still not great, and I certainly haven't learned the word for "plaster" yet, so I tried pantomiming someone who is smoothing something on a wall. The poor guy at the hardware store brought me everything from a trowel (in the right neighborhood, but wrong street) to sandpaper (?) to epoxy (?!!) before he figured out what I wanted. A man passed by who spoke some English and I asked him, "If you had a hole in your wall and wanted to fix it, what would you do?" He said he would call someone. I then said, "If you wanted to do it yourself what would you use?" He said, "White cement". I had previously rejected the "white cement" idea because I didn't want to mix cement. But then I thought maybe it wasn't actually cement so I had the guy bring me some. It was plaster! Just like our plaster of paris, you mix it with water until it becomes a paste.

The poor guys in the Bangladeshi market. They have no idea what to make of this woman who wants to repair her own walls...

Tomorrow I paint my yoga room bright orange. (Yes, I have dedicated one of my rooms to yoga and meditation!) I have decided to all-out embrace the "bright colors makes a brighter day" Bangladeshi philosophy...

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