Saturday, April 28, 2007

Cricket in a Sari
April 28, 2007

Yesterday I took four research assistants to Ashulia to continue surveying the garment workers for my low-income housing project. Since I don't speak Bangla well enough to administer the survey, I just waited outside while they interviewed the women. As usual, I drew quite a crowd. The children were particularly excited to have a bideshi (foreigner) come to their home. I took several pictures of them and they enjoyed seeing themselves on my camera after I took their photos.

I had many invitations from the garment workers to come inside and eat with them. I visited their homes and ate pickled green mangoes (which are actually very good!) After the women demonstrated that it was OK to come and talk to me, the men came out too and started asking me questions. I wish that my Bangla was better so that I could have engaged them in a more meaningful conversation about their living situation, however I made due with asking them about their families and trying to explain why I am not married yet.

Toward the end of the afternoon one young man came by with a cricket bat. I had seen several kids playing cricket around Dhaka, but I hadn't yet tried it myself, so I asked him if he would teach me how to play. He was very excited to do so and pretty soon I was standing in the courtyard hitting cricket balls. I am actually pretty good too! I hit about 90% of the balls that they threw to me. The boys told me that I could go to the Cricket World Cup!

Now I normally draw a lot of attention in Bangladesh because I am tall and white. A tall, white woman playing cricket in a sari in Bangladesh, however, is analogous to an alien landing on the White House lawn in the U.S., so naturally the entire neighborhood came out to watch the spectacle. It was a great deal of fun, though I will admit to being quite sore today as a result!

Here are a few of the pictures that I took:

Conducting the Survey
Here one of my research assistants is surveying a garment worker in the courtyard in front of her house in Ashulia. (Ashulia is a suburb of Dhaka where many garment factories are located.) You will notice a large open sewage ravine in the ground that was filled with garbage and fetid water. What you will not notice from this photograph is the horrible smell of feces that accompanied the sewage pit. Raw sewage and garbage out in the open are very common in poor neighborhoods.

Garment Workers and Me
Since many of these poor people have never seen cameras before much less used one, it was hard to get a decent picture of me with the workers. This is one of the few that actually turned out.

From the Fishbowl
Most of the neighbors came outside to meet the "bideshi".

Me in action! I think I am going to start an American cricket team. All of the players will be women and we will all wear saris...

Monday, April 23, 2007

Thunderstorms and Marital Status
April 23, 2007

For the past few nights it has been very hot and humid during the day with major thunderstorms at night. Last night the winds were blowing so hard the branches of the coconut trees were pounding on my windows and rain was coming down so thick I could have swam through the air. Lightning lit the sky like fireworks. (Some of the electrical storms here are pretty spectacular!)

This morning when I went to my Bangla class my teacher said that she was happy that it rained last night because it cooled down the air. I remarked that it was quite a storm and she laughed saying that was just a bit of rain, not really a storm. If she doesn't call that a storm, I am a bit anxious about what is in store for me when monsoon season starts in June!

On a separate note, my research assistant left me to take a permanent position. Consequently, I have started to review resumes again. I have noticed some very interesting differences between American and Bangladeshi resumes. First, while American resumes are usually one page long, Bangladeshi resumes are never less than five pages. Second, everybody puts their marital status and their religion on the first page of their resume! (I told one candidate that it was illegal to even ask a candidate that in the US and she looked at me funny and told me that everyone here puts it on their resumes.) Finally, they list where they went to high school and junior high - even if they have Masters degrees.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Day in Pictures
April 20, 2007

Well, you guys have been asking for photos, so I have decided to start posting more in my blog entry. Fortunately, my new camera is very tiny, so I can take it along in my purse with me to take snapshots on the road! (My old camera was too bulky to take around with me.)

Speaking of my old camera, however, while I had been looking all over Dhaka for a camera store with technicians who were capable of fixing my Sony (my friend Abeer's nephew actually sent his camera to the US to get fixed!), there was actually a technical genius within my circle of friends! I took my camera over to my friend Tuni's house (Tuni is another Fulbrighter) because she has a device that she said would allow me to get my pictures off of my old memory cards (I had 2,500 photos that were stuck on my old cards...) I was complaining about how my camera broke, and as Tuni and I downloaded the pictures, Clay, her husband, started fiddling with my camera. By the time the pictures were downloaded he had fixed it as good as new! I couldn't believe it! I thought the camera was totally done for! (He is a film cameraman, so maybe that explains his technical prowess...)

Anyway, the result of these two joyous camera events (the arrival of my new portable camera and the ability to get my pictures off of my old camera) means more pictures for you! I am including in this blog some of the pictures that I took yesterday. I am also uploading to Flickr some photos of my trips to India (which were previously locked in my camera) and the photos from my Asian trips. I may or may not be adding commentary like I used to (that takes A LOT of time), but at least you will be able to see the photos...

Also, supposedly my new camera can take nice short digital movies, so I will work on figuring out how to get some of those out to you next!

Anyway, here are some pictures:

Shanty Town
There are several small lakes inside of Dhaka. On the edges of these lakes, many poor people have constructed make-shift houses. There is one lake in between Banani and Gulshan-1 which actually has a beautiful little farm next to it. It is like visiting a small village in the heart of Dhaka.

Children Playing in the Shantytown
In this photo, you can see the buildings of Banani in the background. In Dhaka the rich and the poor literally live right next to each other. Their accommodations are significantly different though!

Life in an Abandoned Building
There are many abandoned shells and foundations of buildings all over the city. Sometimes the local poor people will live in them or keep their livestock in them. A tree has taken residence in this structure.

Rickshaw Traffic Jam
On my way from my Bangla class in Banani to my furniture store in Gulshan-1, we ran into a traffic jam! (And this was just a small jam on the side roads, the main streets in Dhaka are always jam-packed with cars!)

Family on a Rickshaw
This family was as entertained to see me on a rickshaw as I was to see them!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I Visit Hamida's House Again
April 18, 2007

I visited Hamida's house last week. Her mother and youngest son were there visiting, and I now have a camera that works so I took a few pictures for you!

Hamida and her family.
Hamida is the one standing; her oldest and youngest sons sit on the floor eating.
(The other woman is a friend.)

Hamida, her two sons, her mother (in the green sari) and some neighbors.

A bunch of neighbors outside of Hamida's house.
Everyone was so excited to have their picture taken. This was originally supposed to be a photo of three people, but many other people wanted to join the photo! On the left side of the photo, you can see some of the shanty houses that some people live in. (Hamida lives in a cement house.)

Hamida and her neighbors.
Hamida's house is on the left (her neighbor is standing in her doorway) and there is a shanty house across the alleyway.

Neighbors and Me
Hamida took this photograph. The kids know that whenever I come I bring them small toys, so they run up to greet me. This picture was taken just as I finished handing out the goodies. In fact, the only way to calm them down after handing out presents seems to be to take a picture of them (since apparently they see that as a treat equal to the presents!)

Pink Party
April 14, 2007

Last night Abeer and I threw a "Pink Party" at my house to celebrate my bright pink drawing room. We had pink food, served pink drinks, and asked all of our guests to wear something pink. We also gave out a "perfectly pink prize" to the pinkest person present (who ended up being my Bangladeshi architect friend Natasha.) All in all the party was a success it started at 7pm and went on until 2am.

Sadly my new camera only lets me take 16 pictures at once and those were all used up on the day I went to Hamida's house, so I don't have any pink party pictures. Fortunately, Abeer brought her camera, so as soon as she makes her photos public, I will post a couple in this blog entry for you!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Heat is On and the Electricity is Off!!

April 5, 2007

Even though the hot season technically does not start until April 14th, the temperatures here are already searing. My air conditioning helps keep me comfortable, but unfortunately the power has been going off much more frequently lately! When I first moved in, it went out once every three to four days. Now it goes off several times every day. The power was out for all put a few hours yesterday making it almost impossible to get any work done.

I have been going to the pool at the American Club almost every day to cool off. I am definitely back into two-shower-a-day territory now!!

I Visit the Parliament Building
March 25, 2007

At the end of the BUET conference a few of the organizers invited me to go on a tour of the Parliament Building the next day. I was actually quite excited about this, because regular citizens are not normally allowed inside – BUET had apparently obtained special permission for the out-of-town guests and some of the students.

The Parliament Building was built by Louis Kahn and is a matter of great pride for the Bangladeshis. From the outside, the building looks like a massive concrete mass, but from the inside it is surprisingly light and airy. I was actually amazed by how much of the inside was lit by natural light coming in through small windows. The light was indirect sunlight too, reflected off of concrete walls outside. While this meant that there were very few views of the exterior, it also meant that the heat gain in the building was not as high.

Here is a picture that one of the students took of us at the building.
(Can you spot me in my sari?)

I Attend a Seminar on Architecture for Low-Income Housing
March 24, 2007

This weekend I attended a seminar called “Architecture for the Economically Disadvantaged” at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). It was a great conference and I met a lot of really intelligent, interesting people from Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. I did notice several interesting differences between Bangladeshi conferences and American conferences though. The first difference is that the conference (and accompanying exhibition) was formally opened with a ceremony by the head of the Department of Architecture and the Chancellor of the University.

Another difference was that there were frequent tea breaks throughout the day. Every 1.5 to 2 hours we took a break for tea and biscuits. I quite enjoyed this tradition as it was a nice way to break up an otherwise packed itinerary. Plus, it allowed the parties present to meet each other and discuss the papers during the break.

The third difference was that the conference was not in their native language, Bangla; it was in English! I was grateful for this difference because it enabled me to understand the papers, but I thought it interesting that English is the primary medium for education (most universities and colleges here are English-medium) and professional conferences. Because the presenters were not presenting in their native language, however, most of them just read written speeches (even though the presenters were fluent in English.) I found this unfortunate, because although the information in all of the speeches was very interesting and important, the flat delivery of the material made it difficult to follow at times.

The fourth difference was that at the end of each session (each session had four speakers and lasted 1 hour and 45 minutes) a “Critique” would take the podium and give a five minute critique of the papers. Then a “Rapporteur” would get up and give a five minute summary of what we just heard. Sometimes the Critique would have something interesting to say, but on other occasions it was just a monotone summary of the papers. The speech of the Rapporteur, however, was always a monotone summary of the papers which I (and most of the others in the room) found to be both boring and unnecessary since we had all just sat through the presentations and therefore knew everything that was just said. I can see the benefit of having someone take notes on the proceedings, but I think it would be more beneficial to share the notes in written rather than oral form.

The final difference was the boxed lunch that they served. As in the U.S., we were handed boxes and drinks at lunch time. Inside the box, however, was rice! (The box was lined with a plastic film). They also gave us shrimp, vegetables, and beef individually wrapped in little bags.

One other amusing thing that happened was that when the conference was opened by the Chair of the Department of Architecture, about ten reporters (TV and newspaper) immediately rushed to the front of the room to take pictures of the Chair and Chancellor. They stood between the audience and the panelists blocking our view, furiously snapping photographs. Then, after about fifteen minutes of that they turned around and started taking pictures and video of “the audience” – meaning me! (I was the only white person in the room…) It was really crazy. I was just a conference attendee! I sat there trying very hard to pay attention to the speaker and to look serious, but when the third TV camera came by for an extreme close-up shot I literally had to bite my lip to keep from laughing out loud! It was quite an experience! The one good thing about being “popular” though was that it was very easy for me to meet people and I had some great discussions with several of the presenters. In fact, I became quite close with some of them and I hope that we will continue our acquaintance.