The day our stuff arrived (and what we’ve learned)

A few weeks ago, around 11 am, I was sitting at home, working, and Nate called. He’d checked on the status of our HHE, since it was supposed to be delivered that week. Apparently not only was our HHE in town, but it was also going to be delivered at 3 pm that day.

Later that afternoon, I found myself standing outside under an umbrella in the pouring rain, watching the movers open up our crate, which was inside one of those big shipping containers. After confirming that the number on the shipping container matched that in the records, I had to inspect the customs seal thing to verify that it hadn’t been opened and that the number matched the records. It all felt very The Wire, Season 2.

Then they opened the container, which was less than half full, and there was the huge wooden crate containing all our stuff. I stood there for at least 15 minutes, watching them try to open the crate, which was secured with metal bands that the movers hadn’t brought the equipment to cut through. Eventually they figured it out and pried the crate open, and they started bringing boxes upstairs to our apartment.

Just a few of the boxes

Just a few of the boxes

I’ll spare you the details of the unpacking process, but suffice to say I wish we’d gone through our things more thoroughly before we left the US. We tried, but got tired and decided we’d just handle it in Dhaka.

Not a good idea.

Here there is no place to easily drop off/donate unwanted clothing, and we can’t just put furniture or things we don’t want on the curb, because people don’t do that here. So we have to find somewhere in our apartment to store all these things that we don’t really even want or need anymore.

Also, we should have watched our U.S. movers a little more carefully because, while nothing arrived broken, there are definitely some things that were supposed to go into storage that are here in Dhaka instead. So far we’ve found old journals, family photo albums, my horseback riding gear, and curtains, and we haven’t even finished unpacking yet.

Believe it or not, we were able to make dinner in our kitchen that night

Believe it or not, we were able to make dinner in our kitchen that night

Plastic storage boxes are your friends. Especially the ones that slide under beds. We brought all of our clothes here, even winter jackets, boots, and sweaters, because you never know what could happen. We could be evacuated to a cold climate country in January, or take a trip someplace that has winter (oh, how I miss temperatures below 85) and then we’d need those clothes. But until then, they take up precious space in the tiny closets.

We are so glad we brought our mattress. The mattress provided by the embassy was comfortable, and neither of us were getting backaches or having problems sleeping, but once we put our own mattress on that bed, we realized what we’d been missing. Oh wow.

Our first pack-out was definitely a learning experience, and hopefully next time things will be a little easier. But, hey, at least nothing broke!

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Baking at home in Dhaka

I love to bake, so whenever I move to a new country, it’s always kind of an adventure figuring out what will and won’t be available on the local market. Sometimes I guess correctly, sometimes I don’t.

Before we came to Dhaka, I stocked up on baking powder because I’ve never been able to find baking powder outside of the US. Baking soda, on the other hand, is usually available everywhere, so I thought there was no need to bring that.

My first week in Dhaka, I was perusing the baking aisles and what did I see? Shit tons of baking powder and zero baking soda. Also lots of custard powder, whatever that is.

A sample of the baking goods at Dhali

A sample of the baking goods at Dhali

I did eventually find baking soda at Dhali, but only after I spent $4 to order a tiny box of it on Amazon.

There are lots of things you can find here on the local market that surprised me: Crisco, cake and brownie mix, pre-made frosting, vanilla extract, sprinkles and other decorations, brown sugar, powdered sugar, nuts (including walnuts and pecans), cream cheese, heavy cream, yogurt, peanut butter, and dried fruits, including cranberries. Some of it is expensive (nuts are ridiculously pricey), but mostly the prices are about what I’m used to in the DC area.

The peanut butter selection at Dhali.  It's not bad!

The peanut butter selection at Dhali. It’s not bad!

Since we are with the embassy, we are also able to shop at the commissary, which has some things (when it’s stocked, anyways) you can’t find on the local market, like puff pastry, Pillsbury croissants in a can, cinnamon rolls in a can, chocolate chips and peanut butter chips.

If you are moving to Dhaka and love to bake (or if you’re coming to visit and want to make me even happier), you should bring: unsweetened chocolate, baking chocolate (chocolate chips, dark chocolate, etc), corn syrup, yeast packets or jars of dry active yeast, and nuts.

One thing you will not find anywhere and cannot ship or bring in luggage is cooking spray. If you can’t live without it, I suggest investing in an oil mister thingy. I butter baking dishes with butter wrappers, which works really well, and so far hasn’t been too big of a problem. But I do miss the convenience of a big container of Pam, that’s for sure!

Two months in

I know I say this a lot, but time is flying by.  If the first two months of our tour here have gone by this quickly, I feel like if I blink for too long, we’ll already be packing up to leave.

We’re both busy with work and we’ve settled into our daily routines. I’ve figured out where my favorite places are to buy groceries, produce, pastries, jewelry, and handicrafts.  You know, all the important stuff.

We got a car on July 1, which has simultaneously made things a lot easier and been a huge pain in the butt.  It turns out when you buy a old SUV and drive it in pothole-riddled Dhaka, things break a lot.  I don’t know why that caught us by surprise, but there you go.  We’ve already had to replace a tire and we need to get the engine looked at.  And there was the time the car died in the DIT-2 parking lot.  Not in a parking space, but blocking traffic in the middle of the parking lot, around noon, on a hot day.  That wasn’t fun.

Really it hasn’t been that bad, I guess it just seems like it sometimes.  The ability to move around freely and go where we want outweighs the occasional car trouble.

The embassy was closed for four days for Eid festivities, and it was really nice to have a four-day weekend when you don’t celebrate the holiday that causes the time off.  We didn’t do any extravagant cooking, we had no guests, and almost everything in Dhaka was closed, so there was really nothing to do.  Most people leave Dhaka during Eid (expats go on vacation and lots of Bangladeshis go to their villages), so we were able to drive in minimal traffic and generally do nothing.  Plus it rained like crazy the entire four days, so that in itself was a great excuse to stay inside and watch Netflix all day.

Empty streets: an Eid miracle

Empty streets: an Eid miracle

Athena has made friends with lots of street dogs, and at this point she has established areas where she knows all the dogs and she doesn’t hesitate to go running up to them. We’ve given some of them names, like “black and brown dog” and “howly lady,” and some of them we refer to by the road that they live on. I’m trying to not let myself get too attached to any of her friends, and anytime I see one of them lying on the road I worry they’re not getting up.  But our neighborhood is probably one of the better neighborhoods to be a street dog.  Actually, the only dogs I’ve seen being abused are those that are out with their “dog walkers.”

Athena and her buddies

Athena and her buddies

Oh, our HHE is here!  That deserves it’s own blog post, but we’ve been busy trying to put things away, and wondering why we ever found it necessary to own so much stuff.  Our kitchen has massive cabinets that sadly do not contain enough shelves, so finding storage has been a challenge.  But, hey, at least all the kitchen stuff is actually in the kitchen, instead of being scattered in storage nooks and crannies in the study, dining room and living room! Our mentality has basically been that if we were able to find someplace for something in our house in Alexandria, we can certainly find space for it our much-larger apartment in Dhaka.

One of the most exciting things about our HHE arriving was the random consumables.  The pumpkin butter and huge chocolate bars from Trader Joe’s, real maple syrup from Wisconsin, and all of our spices have definitely made life a little better.  Given that we didn’t use even half of our HHE weight, I wish we’d stocked up more on consumables before we left, but now we know for next time.

If you live near a Trader Joe’s, please wander the aisles, savor all the goodies you could potentially buy, and know how lucky you are!

The Iftar experience

So much yummy food!

So much yummy food!

During Ramadan, Muslims break their fast at sunset with a meal called Iftar.

There are lots of Iftar parties, restaurants offer special Iftar menus, and it’s generally a time when you eat a lot of food, which is understandable if you’ve been fasting all day.

But for most Americans, who go about their day eating as they normally would, and then go to an Iftar, this when they start to pack on the pounds if they’re not careful (myself included).

The fast is traditionally broken with dates,* and the other food that is served varies depending on where you are, but there seems to usually be a good amount of fried food.

Cheese-filled pastries, potato and meat fritters, fried eggplant, Bangladeshi hush puppies, and more!

Cheese-filled pastries, potato and meat fritters, fried eggplant, Bangladeshi hush puppies, and more!

Nate and I were invited to an Iftar at the home of a Bangladeshi friend, and we’ve also been to some restaurant Iftars.  As you might expect, the home-cooked Iftar was hands-down the best.

Our friend and her family made fried meat and potato fritters, fried eggplant, fried pastries filled with cheese, fried lentil fritters, and fried semonlina fritters that tasted like Bangladeshi hush puppies.  She also made Vietnamese spring rolls, which were just amazing.  They served homemade limeade, made from the limes grown on their rooftop, and freshly made lassi, a sweet yogurt drink.

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I ate more than my fill, only to discover that this was just the Iftar meal, and dinner was still to come. So then I ate some really tasty chicken and rice.  I had flashbacks to hram in Moldova, which is a several-day celebration in each village, town and city in Moldova celebrating the name day for that locality’s patron saint.  You’d go from one party to the next, where you were expected to basically do nothing but eat.

A few nights ago we went to an Iftar party at Heritage, an Indian restaurant.  We were served Iftar plates, full of dates, fruit and fried food, and then there was a buffet dinner.  The halim, a spicy lentil stew with chunks of meat which is traditionally served for Iftar,  was tasty and not too greasy.

Iftar plate at Heritage; jilapi is in the top corner

Iftar plate at Heritage; jilapi is in the top corner

A traditional Iftar dessert (following in the “fried food” theme) is jilapi, which is basically like if you made a funnel cake and it didn’t expand while it was being fried, and then you soaked it in sugar syrup.  It’s crunchy, sweet, and you can’t tell when you bite into it if it’s grease or syrup that’s dripping down your chin.

It’s interesting going to restaurants right before Iftar because the restaurant will be packed, and there will be loads of food and drinks at every table, but no one is touching anything. When I sit down at a restaurant, I always reach for something to drink and it’s hard to see it in front of me, but to not drink it. I can’t even imagine how those that have been fasting all day must feel.

Iftar dinner buffet at Heritage

Iftar dinner buffet at Heritage

Tarka’s Iftar is really good, but the Iftar at Lucknow is the best.  Their saag paneer is just so darn tasty.

We tried Nando’s Iftar platter, and it was way overpriced, cold, and blah.  I think it will be a while before I go back to Nando’s because that experience was scarring.

There were lots of restaurants with Iftar specials that we wanted to try, but we just didn’t have time (or pants that would fit if we kept eating out every night). Luckily, there’s always next year!

Dogwalking during Ramadan

This is our first time living in a predominantly Muslim country, and we’ve learned a lot about life during Ramadan.  Every day, the fast is broken with a meal called Iftar, which begins as soon as the sun sets.  By late afternoon, it seems that everything basically revolves around where you’re having Iftar and how you’re getting there.  Some people leave work early, and traffic is a complete gridlock as everyone is on the roads to get to Iftar.

Once it’s about 6:45 pm, though, the streets are empty.  No cars, few rickshaws, and a handful of pedestrians.  It’s a Dhaka miracle.

And that’s when we take Athena for her evening walk.  It’s a wonderful, quiet time, and I’m going to miss it after Eid.

If you head out for a walk 20 to 30 minutes before Iftar, be prepared for cars barreling down the street, with little regard for pedestrians, as people hurry to get to Iftar on-time.  There aren’t many cars on the roads, but the ones that are out have no time to waste and drive even more crazily than usual.

The solitude of Iftar lasts for about 20 to 30 minutes, and then there are vehicles and people on the streets again.  Also on the streets, you will find discarded food, which makes this time of the evening Athena’s favorite time for a walk.  She goes into scavenger-mode and will not lift her nose from the ground.  Apparently the other night Nate pulled a huge meatball out of her mouth.

We avoid going for walks after about 8:45 pm because there are loads of people on the streets leaving the mosques near our apartment, and this includes mobs of trouble-making boys.  They ask us for money and try to hassle Athena, and she gets (understandably) really uncomfortable and anxious.  A few nights ago the three of us were out walking, and I had Athena’s leash. Nate was walking behind us to make sure the boys didn’t bother Athena and me, and they threw rocks at him. Little shits.

So no more late night potty breaks for Athena, but she’d rather snuggle and sleep anyways, so I don’t think she cares.

Ramadan lasts until July 17, and we will savor the quiet walks until Ramadan starts again on June 7, 2016!

Shopping in Dhaka: DIT-2

One of my favorite places to shop in Dhaka is DIT-2.  It’s a two-story strip mall that doesn’t really look like anything special, and the parking lot is a mess when it rains.  But it’s pretty great.

DIT-2 parking lot/lake

DIT-2 parking lot/lake

You can buy all kinds of interesting antiques, jewelry and pearls, and sports equipment, there’s a good grocery store, and if all that shopping makes you hungry (or you dragged your husband along and he’d rather eat than shop), you can even get a hamburger and fries or donuts.

I’m not an antiques person but they have some really interesting stuff: lots of neat wooden furniture, wooden sari stamps, random stuff from early 1900’s British ships, figurines, etc.  If you go earlier in the day (before noon, basically) some of the shop owners are more willing to bargain and they’ll give you a discount for being their first customer.

There are tons of pearl and jewelry stores, were you can buy already made necklaces, or you can tell them what you want and they’ll make it for you.  The pearls here are beautiful and crazy-cheap.  The main problem with pearl shopping in DIT-2 is that there are so many pearl shops, it’s hard to know which ones are the best.  So I guess that means I need to just check each one out!

I really like the grocery store on the first floor, Dhali.  They have an incredible range of products; last time I was there I saw Newman’s Own salsa, queso and bean dip!  And Tostitos!  There’s a guy that sells cheese outside the Dhali entrance and his paneer is amazing.  We get the semi-salty, and it’s really good in salads with tomatoes and cucumbers, served with bread and butter, or on sandwiches (both hot or cold since it melts really nicely).

There’s a burger stand, Naga Burger, that sells fast-food style burgers and fries with spicy sauces. I haven’t eaten there yet, but Nate says it’s really good.  If you’re not looking for the burger stand, you won’t see it because it’s pretty nondescript.  They use high quality beef and cook the burgers to order, so it takes some time.  But that means you can walk across the parking lot to Glazed, the donut place, while you wait!  The donuts are 135 taka (about $1.75), and I was surprised by how good they were.

It’s an easy place to spend several hours, and if you come to visit, we’ll definitely stop by!