Our first week in Dhaka

So far, we really like it here.  Our social sponsors are awesome, the community is really friendly, there’s lots to do, the food is great, and our apartment has air conditioning!

We did a grand tour of the major grocery stores over the weekend, and I was surprised by all the things you can find here.  The commissary (when stocked, anyways) has bacon, pesto, guacamole, puff pastry, and all kinds of things you’d usually see on the shelves in a U.S. grocery store.  Some of it might be expired, but, hey, then it’s 25-50% off.  At some of the local grocery stores we saw Jif peanut butter, Smuckers jam, freshly baked challah, hard taco shells, and loads of other things.  One of the stores we went to, Lavender, had 11 different kinds of lentils!  And the spice selection is amazing.

There’s a nice bakery called Holey, which has wonderful pastries and coffee.  I had a piece of cake from there and it wasn’t as good as the croissant I’d had the day before, so I’ll be sticking to the pastries. There’s another good coffee shop called North End where we were able to buy some freshly ground beans.

In our apartment, we’ve noticed that sometimes there is no cold water.  I didn’t understand why the clothes that came out of the washing machine that were supposed to be washed at the temperature of “snow flake” (rather than 30, 40, 60, 80, or 100 degrees celsius) were warm.  Well, apparently wherever the washing water is stored isn’t immune to the Dhaka heat.  So, no cold water.  We take showers with the knob mostly on “cold” and the water that comes out of the faucet is always lukewarm.

But in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal.  We have running water!

I don’t think I’ve been industrious enough in washing our fruits and vegetables… we’ve only been eating peel-able fruits raw, and apparently I’m supposed to wash them with detergent before I even peel them.  Oops.  I’d only been rinsing them.  We’re also supposed to wash vegetables, even if we’re going to cook them, with detergent too. Luckily we haven’t gotten sick yet.

Also, I vacuum every day.  EVERY DAY.  I don’t know how so much dust and dirt makes it’s way into our apartment.  Having a dog probably doesn’t help.  Plus, the tile floors are white, and Athena has black hair, so every single hair that she sheds is visible.

Before we left the US we ordered a VPN configured router, and it has been awesome.  It took us a little while to figure out exactly how to link all the computers, phones, and AppleTV to it, but it’s one of the best things we put in our luggage at the last minute.  No regrets there.

Let’s see… yesterday Athena got her first BarkBox in Dhaka!  They ship to DPO addresses (like a PO box with an American address, so we can still receive mail sent at domestic rates), but I was wary of whether or not it would actually work since sometimes we had problems with BarkBox shipments when we lived in Virginia.  And then Nate came home yesterday with Athena’s BarkBox!  Her tail was wagging non-stop.

In other Athena news, a few days ago she went running with Nate, one of his colleagues, and his colleague’s dog.  Usually she hates running, but they went over a mile before Nate dropped Athena off at home!  Apparently she went on strike while they were walking to the meeting point and Nate had to pick her up and carry her.  For some reason, the minute you put the running harness on her she won’t budge.  But as soon as she saw their running buddies, she changed her mind and had a great time.

Things are good here.  We’re all still adjusting in some ways, but we’re looking forward to experiencing more of what life in Bangladesh has to offer!

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How to bring a dog to Bangladesh

The most stressful part of the move was, by far, figuring out how to get Athena to Dhaka.  There weren’t a lot of resources available online, and it was hard to figure out exactly what we were supposed to do.  Even so, we were lucky to have the support of the embassy and this was also a huge help.

We decided to use Qatar Airways, and we’d heard generally good things about flying with pets on Qatar. Plus, the route was the fastest available with only one layover.  (Although, if you have a small dog or cat that usually fits under the seat, note that you can’t carry on your pet with Qatar.  The only animals allowed in cabin are service animals and falcons.  Up to ten falcons, in fact.  How does one person even carry ten falcons?)  Our other option was Turkish Airways, and the internet abounds with horror stories about Turkish and pets.  So, Qatar it was.

Here’s the basic timeline that we followed:

3 months before departure: We got Athena’s health certificate and vaccination record from the vet, which we sent to the embassy, along with her rabies certificate, so we could get her no-objection import certificate from the Bangladeshi government. She also got all the vaccinations she’d need over the next few months. At this point I called Qatar Airways just to make sure we could bring our dog with us and to find out more specifics.  They asked what breed she was (the list of breeds they won’t fly is extensive), told me it would cost $250, and said to call back a few weeks before the flight.

2 months: We got Athena’s no-objection import certificate.  It said she was yellow, but she’s black, and when we asked if this would be a problem we were told not to worry.  (I printed copies of this email to take with us on the plane because I was still worried.)

6 weeks: We realized Athena’s rabies certificate would expire while we were there, so she got another rabies vaccination.  We also ordered Athena a new travel crate because her current crate wasn’t quite tall enough for her to stand up perfectly straight and still have a few inches of head clearance.  Besides the new crate, we also purchased a doggy travel crate kit, which included metal nuts and bolts, “live animal” stickers for the crate, travel tags, zip ties, and some other things.  Oh, and at this point we realized Athena would need to go on a diet.  The weight limit for a dog plus crate on Qatar is 32 kilograms, which is 70.5 lbs.  She weighed 48 lbs, and the new crate supposed weighed about 25 lbs. We didn’t start starving her, but her amount of food was decreased by about a quarter.

4 weeks: The new crate arrived and it was massive.  Like, I could fit into it if I wanted. Athena doesn’t mind going into crates generally, but she was wary of this one.  We started leaving pieces of cheese and other things in it to encourage her to go in there on her own, that worked well.  I weighed the crate at it came in at a whopping 26 lbs.  At this point Nate also called Qatar to confirm our reservation and to let them know we were bringing a dog.  They told us to call 15 days before departure with crate dimensions and Athena’s weight. The doggy diet continued.

Here is her crate along with the rest of our luggage (2 huge suitcases, 2 hiking backpacks and 2 carry-on roller bags). The crate was almost the same size as the 6 other bags.

Here is her crate along with the rest of our luggage (2 huge suitcases, 2 hiking backpacks and 2 carry-on roller bags). The crate was almost the same size as the 6 other bags.

(Also, we encountered varying levels of competence when calling Qatar to ask about bringing a dog.  Nate’s strategy was to hang up each time until a woman answered, as the women were typically more helpful than the men.  But the one time I called, a man answered and he was helpful.  So experiences vary here for everyone.)

15 days: Nate called Qatar and officially added Athena to our reservation.  He gave them her breed, crate dimensions, our flight confirmation number, and weight, and they told us to bring her to check-in desk with the rest of our luggage when we checked in for the flight, along with a health certificate dated within 10 days of the flight.  He received a confirmation email, which we printed and took with us to the airport.

5 days: We took Athena to the vet for her new health certificate and to get her teeth cleaned.  She weighed in at 42.8 lbs.  Success!!!

The day before: We took Athena to visit her sister-from-a-different-mister, Mika.  They ran around and played and then cuddled together.  We were trying to tire Athena out so she’d hopefully just rest and sleep on the flight.

The day of the flight: Athena got her breakfast, and that was her last meal before the flight, even though we weren’t leaving until 9 pm.  We went for a nice long walk on King St, and then we brought her to our house one last time while we did some last minute yard work.  We were thinking she’d enjoy the time in the yard, but it was so hot she just wanted to go inside.  She was barred from inside since the cleaners had already come, so instead she flopped down in one of her favorite shady places.

Athena by one of the many shady bushes she likes to lie under.

Athena by one of the many shady bushes she likes to lie under.

On the recommendation of my sister, who had previously flown with her dog, we also bought her a can of wet food for after the flight.  We knew she’s probably arrive dehydrated, and since she hadn’t eaten she’d probably be hungry too, so wet food was a good way to solve both those problems.  Plus, after subjecting her to over 20 hours of travel time, we wanted to show her that we do actually still love her.  Poor girl.

Before leaving, we printed several copies of her flight confirmation, new health certificate, rabies certificate, no-objection import certificate and the email stating it was okay that her color was wrong. We left for the airport 4 hours before our flight was scheduled to leave so we’d have plenty of time to check in. We took her into the airport with us, armed with plenty of treats in case she freaked out, and we checked in our luggage and then they put Athena’s crate on the scale and she hopped on in.  The whole package weighed 32.6 kilograms, which was alright with Qatar (hurray!!!).  A woman who appeared to be in charge of pet shipment came out and looked over her documents and checked to make sure the crate was big enough.  I was so glad we’d purchased the bigger crate…. whew! They photocopied all the documentation, but didn’t attach any of it to her crate. Also, we had to pay $350 instead of $250. Oh well.

After that we walked over to a special screening area, where a TSA agent inspected the crate.  Then we loaded her up, zip-tied the door shut, and she went off with a porter to wherever the dogs go to get on planes.

Upon arrival in Dhaka: We were told she’d come out by the baggage carousel, and, sure enough, eventually she did!  Her crate came out with a luggage worker holding on so it didn’t fall off the carousel.  Nate picked up Athena and her crate as soon as he could, and we were both flooded with relief.  Her little dish with water had fallen and her crate door was still zip-tied shut, so we knew they hadn’t taken her out in Doha.  We had taped a baggie with some of her food to the outside of her crate in case they had a chance to feed her, but when we arrived it was still intact.  So basically she’d been without food and water for who knows how long.  She was panting, but alert and calm, and she started wagging her tail as soon as she saw us, so we knew she’d handled the flight alright.  No one checked any of the documents we’d worked so hard to get (better that than scrutinize them though, so I’ll take it), and we basically just picked up her crate and wheeled it away to the car.

When we got to our apartment we let her have a few sips of water at a time, although she clearly could have drunk several bowls full.  She hadn’t made any messes in her crate, and she was very relieved when she finally had a chance to potty.  Athena was also really excited to get that wet food.

The following days in Dhaka: Now we are dealing with the unexpected (although not surprising) issue of doggy jetlag.  Basically, she wakes up around 3 am, jumps out of bed, and starts wandering around the apartment.  And sometimes she’ll jump back up in bed and just stare at us.

Athena exploring her new roof top.

Athena exploring her new roof top.

Overall, she is adjusting really well to life here.  Lately she’s started trying to drink puddle water, so we will have to start carrying water for her with us on longer walks.  But she doesn’t bat an eye at the rickshaws, motorcycles, stray dogs or crowds of people.

I’m sure there are details that I’ve forgotten, and I’ll update this post as I think of them!

Trip to Tarango and Basha

Our strategy for getting over jetlag is to stay as busy as possible during the day.  And we’re eager to see as much as we can, since there is a lot more to Dhaka than what we are exposed to in the diplomatic enclave.

So when we saw that the CLO (community liaison office at the embassy) had organized a trip scheduled for a few days after we arrived, we jumped on it.

Last weekend we visited Tarango and Basha, two organizations that basically focus on improving the lives of women in Bangladesh by teaching them how to make handicrafts which are then sold as fair-trade goods throughout the world.

I didn’t bring my iphone and made lots of photos with my D90, hoping to finally get some high-quality photos of what we’ve been up to.  And then I realized about 5 minutes ago that I didn’t pack my camera cord.  Oops.  I think it’s in the sea freight shipment, so it’ll be here in about 45 days.

Anyways, at Tarango we met some of the women that benefit from Tarango’s services and visited the work areas.  Then we got to shop! They produce a lot of jute products and things made out of recycled cement bags.  It was tempting to buy all the things, but we haven’t gone to an ATM since we arrived… so our resources are a bit limited at this point.

After an amazing Bangladeshi lunch, we headed over to Basha, where the women produce blankets, pillow covers, table runners, and other beautiful things out of recycled saris. At this point I was so hot and tired, I didn’t really feel like shopping.

The weather the past few days has been truly awful.  It rained overnight so now it’s not quite as bad, but there were a few days where I was really wondering how I can deal with this climate for two years.  But the rainy season is starting, and people say the temperature usually drops, so here’s hoping that’s true!

 

 

First days in Dhaka

We made it! Our little family officially now resides in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

After 24 hours total of travel time, we arrived in Dhaka at 4 am, and all we really cared about was seeing Athena.

There were some electricity problems on the plane while we were still on the ground at Dulles, and Athena was removed from the cargo hold until the electricity was back up and running.  Nate checked with the flight attendants and they said she was taken off the plane, but then the electricity started working and we pushed off, and we had no idea if they’d actually put Athena back on the plane.

In Doha we checked at the transfer desk to see if she had been on our flight, and they said yes.  We asked again at the check-in desk if she was there and they said yes too, so things were looking hopeful.

At the airport in Dhaka, we were told that Athena would come out on the luggage carousel, and seeing her in her huge crate push past the plastic barrier separating the passenger side of the luggage area from the cargo area was one of the happiest moments of my life.  That sounds melodramatic, but it’s true.  I’d never been so worried for so long in my life.

Athena arrived scared and dehydrated, but she’s resilient and recovered quickly.  Although I think she has jet lag.

Anyways, we were settled into our apartment by 6 am, and we promptly took showers and fell asleep.

We’ve started exploring our neighborhood, and there is still a  lot to do and see.  We’re figuring out which streets have stray dogs, which make walking Athena difficult.  That and the heat.  Oh wow.  Nate deals with it better than I do.  I am so grateful for our apartment and its air conditioning and dehumidifiers.  There are 3 dehumidifiers in our apartment, and they all have to be emptied daily because they fill up so quickly.  It’s crazy. It is going to take me a long time to get used to the climate.

There are lots of feelings and emotions swirling around in my brain comparing this life to Peace Corps.  That probably deserves its own blog post.

We’re happy and excited to finally be here, and we have plans to see more of Dhaka over the next couple of days.  Hopefully one of our first stops will be the grocery store!

All our bags were packed

Our pack-out is done.

We’ve handed the keys over to our property manager.

Athena has her health certificate.

Flight confirmations for all three of us have been printed.

That’s right, we are finally ready to leave!!!

I was dreading our pack-out.  You hear horror stories about passports getting packed in HHE, or trash (like, out of the trashcan) going into storage.  Packers going through your house like Tasmanian devils, breaking and stealing your stuff along the way.  For us, it turned out that the movers showing up and packing/moving everything was the easiest part.  Prepping for them to come sucked big time, but the crew of four that packed and moved us out of our house was courteous, careful, and competent. Although we haven’t yet received any of the stuff they packed, so who’s to say they didn’t steal something or break anything.  But from our impressions that day, they seemed pretty good.

I had the house professionally cleaned yesterday, which was easily the best $215 I’ve ever spent.  Angie’s List, for the win! After that, we did a few more painting touch-ups and yard work, and we officially handed over the keys to the property management company.  It should be on the market soon, and hopefully we’ll have renters in no time.

Athena went to the vet yesterday to have her teeth cleaned and to get her final health certificate.  We had to decrease her food so that she would weigh less than 45 pounds, and she weighed in at 42.8.  I feel terrible for making her lose more weight than necessary, but at least now we don’t need to worry about her flying on Qatar Airways with its ridiculous 32 kg weight maximum.  Her crate weighs a whopping 26 lbs and is so big I could fit in it.  But she’s tall and leggy, and she needed a taller crate than the travel crate we already own.  So that’s all squared away and good to go!

My last day of work is tomorrow, and then we’re off.  It’s pretty crazy how quickly time has flown.

Now we just need to deal with a hotel room so full of stuff, it looks like we’re squatting.  Hurray for the digital luggage scale!

Almost ready-to-rent

The worst part of moving to Dhaka has easily been getting our house ready to rent.

Seriously, what a pain in the ass.

I used Angie’s List to find most of the contractors, and almost all of them were pretty good.  Here’s a list of everything we did to our property:

  • Repaint entire interior
  • Repaint exterior door frame and foundation
  • Power-wash, sand, repaint deck
  • Power-wash all walkways and driveway
  • Reinstall toilet
  • Replace toilet seat
  • Snake bathtub drain
  • Repair leaky faucets outside and in bathroom sink
  • Redo water connections for shower
  • Replace washing machine tubing
  • Cap dishwasher output valve and remove connection
  • Repair drywall in master bedroom
  • Caulk bathtub
  • Caulk kitchen sink
  • Remedy leaking problem in bathroom and bedroom windows
  • Caulk exterior bedroom windows
  • Replace deck railing
  • Replace deck stairs
  • Weed garden beds
  • Replace mulch in garden beds
  • Fumigate interior and exterior
  • Steam-clean carpets (still to be done)

The items in bold we did ourselves, and it probably doesn’t look like a lot.  But I power-washed, sanded and repainted the deck all by myself.  It was mind-numbingly terrible and only confirmed that I really hate painting.  The worst part about all of it was that I skipped FACT training so I could spend a few more days in the office and then finish the deck.  So every time I talked to Nate he’d tell me what a great time he was having, when I was not exactly having fun working on the deck.

The deck, partially painted.

The deck, partially painted.

The painting company I used for most of the interior work was less-than-stellar.  They were supposed to come on a Monday several weeks ago to paint the entire interior.  Monday came and went; they never showed up. Finally they came on Friday, the same day as my mother-in-law’s retirement party, and the day before our going away party.  They worked from 8 am until 6:15 pm, and left absolute destruction in their wake.  We got to the retirement party late and stressed out, and then had to go home to clean all the floors, which were a mess. On Sunday the painters showed up at 8 am, when we were still asleep.  They scrapped most of the paint off the floor, in addition to the floor finish in several areas.  They also primed a wall in the kitchen that needed primer before being painted, which the original painted neglected to do.  A few days later the company owner came back (again) when I sent him an email telling him he needed to fix the floors where they’d ruined the finish.  At this point, I got a pretty surly.  But after threatening him with a bad Angie’s List review, he started responding a lot more quickly and was more courteous.

Ultimately, the painting that needed to get done got done, with Nate and I painting the trim, doors, basement, and doing ceiling touch-ups. In fact, I think Nate is at home now painting what’s left of the basement.

One of the most noticeable changes was the new toilet seat. I never had to hear the toilet seat slam down after that.  And I did it myself!

The one thing we just don’t have time to do is steam-clean the carpets.  Our property manager said he has a company who does it inexpensively, so we’ll just have them do that after we’ve moved everything out.

It’s too bad that our house and yard look the nicest they’ve looked since we moved in and we’re not even going to be living here anymore.  But, hey, if it means our home will attract potential renters more quickly and easily, then I’ll take it!