Keeping on keeping on

I wrote this post about a week ago.  There is an ebb and flow of “things are fine” and “things suck, when are we leaving.”  While I try to stay on the “things are fine” side of life, it’s not always possible. Things are fine now, but I’m still going to press “publish.”  The security situation here has made things difficult, and this is one of the challenging realities of life in Dhaka.  Anyway, here you go.

We have been here for 10 months now.  Time is flying, and I’m thankful for that.

Life in Dhaka hasn’t been easy lately for me.  I am an outdoorsy person, and I feel like here the most outdoor exposure is getting into the car and back out again.  And it really sucks.

When we were initially looking at the bid list before coming here, there were all these places that we ranked low because we wouldn’t be able to go out and do much.  Now, all those places, like Saudi Arabia, seem like they’d be wonderful because, while we’d be living on a large compound, at least we’d be able to walk around the compound.  Here I can’t even walk out the front gate of my apartment building.  There’s a beautiful park a few blocks away with a playground, and M will never get to play there.  Heck, he might never even get to actually set foot on an unguarded road here.

The other day I was daydreaming about what it would be like to be able to walk on the streets here, and I was thinking about taking M and Athena for a walk together.  I started wondering whether it would be best to put him in his Ergo carrier, or to put him in the stroller.  If I put him in the Ergo and someone shoots at me, then he could get shot too.  So maybe the stroller would be best.  But people here drive like maniacs and what if his stroller got hit by a car?  I mentioned all this to Nate, and he said that tactically the Ergo would be best so that we could more easily escape from a dangerous situation.  And you know the really sad part?  I am not worrying about crazy scenarios that could never happen.  These are actual possibilities.

If anyone had ever told me I’d be seriously mulling over things like this I’d have told them they were bat-shit insane.

Things aren’t really that bad, but sometimes the bad overpowers the good.

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Athena’s new bestie

The other day Nate pointed out to me that this blog is called “According to Athena,” and I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you all about Athena’s new friend.

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About a month ago Athena met a new dog in the field that we frequent and now they are best friends.  I mean, cuddling together, lazy wrestling, just wanting to be near each other best friends.  I actually haven’t seen her get along this well with another dog in years.  Not since her soul mate, Lincoln, moved away when we lived in Alexandria.

One day Athena’s friend followed us out of the field and to the car, and our driver asked what her name was.  I said, “I don’t know.  Brown Dog?”  So now we call her Brown Dog.

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The really surprising part is that Brown Dog is also a female.  Athena is an alpha female, and most of the females here pretty much hate her.  Little do they know she’s not exactly giving them any competition, if you know what I mean.

Lately Brown Dog has been in the field almost every day, and when Athena arrives, she prances around looking for her.  I feel like Athena’s life isn’t as fun as it used to be since we can’t take her for walks anymore, so it makes me happy to see Athena having a good time!

Letters from Moldova

Last week marked the 55th anniversary of Peace Corps. Nate and I met as Peace Corps Volunteers in Moldova, where I served from 2005 to 2007. Earlier today I was combing through my inbox trying to find information on what exactly I did during my PC tenure and I stumbled across emails I’d written, giving periodic updates to family and friends back in the U.S.

These emails were a serious blast from the past, and I’ve copied and pasted some of my favorite snippets below.  I edited them for privacy; otherwise they are 100% as-written by my 22 or 23 year-old self.

June 21, 2005

On Saturday I told Valeria (training village host mom) that I wanted to do my laundry and asked her if she could show me how.  She said she would after we both took naps, but then she called her friend Galina that has an automatic washing machine, so we hiked about 1.5 miles to her house, dirty laundry in hand.  We were there for about 3.5 hours and I spoke so much Romanian that I got home and my brain honestly hurt.  They asked me so many questions, and the father tried to open the way for some political discussions, but I didn’t feel that my language or cultural knowledge was quite up to par for that door to be opened.  They’ve invited me over any time i want to do my laundry, which is tempting
since i’ve heard that it takes like 5 hours to wash by hand.

August 26, 2005

We met the president of the region a couple of days ago, and he gladly showed us the picture of himself with Stalin… it’s always fun to see those relics from the Soviet era.  In Budapest they’ve taken all the statues, etc from the Soviet era and they put them in a park
outside the city so that they can move forward without being reminded daily of the USSR, but here in Moldova things are a little different. They still have all the Soviet statues all over Chisinau, and sometimes you feel like you’ve died and gone to Russia.  But I guess that’s one of the things that just makes life here that much more interesting.

September 13, 2005

On Saturday I went to Balti (the “capitol of the north”), and I must have eaten something funky because on Sunday I felt awful all day and I had a fever… Valentina (host mom) got back from Chisinau, where she’s been for a Peace Corps host family conference, and she was 100% convinced that I was sick because I’d been exposed to wind on the bus ride to or from Balti.  I told her I thought it might have been something I ate, and she told me very adamantly that eating bad food can’t cause a fever– it was definitely the wind.  Right.  Later, after I told her that there was no wind on the rutiera and she gave me the 3rd degree about what else I’d done, she reneged and decided that I must have eaten too many grapes.  That is why I’m NEVER EVER going to a hospital here.

October 4, 2005

A couple of weeks ago I decided I needed to start an after-school activity, so at my school we now have Frisbee Club!  There were probably over 40 kids at the first meeting, and I found out that they boys were there because they thought they’d be learning how to play “futbol american.”  They were a little upset when they found out that neither that week nor the next week nor ever would I be teaching American football, so there were only girls at our 2nd meeting, but I still had about 20 kids and they had fun.  I’m still a little perplexed about where the idea of American football came from, but I explained that I don’t have a football, I don’t understand how the game works, and I don’t really even like football all that much (sorry, Dad).

December 11, 2005

Back in November I went to a weekend seminar in Soroca (northwest Moldova, very pretty) that was organized by Moldovans and for Moldovans about organizational development and institutional consolidation.  Since the whole thing was in Romanian, and I was the only American, I didn’t really grasp the institutional consolidation part, but it was still useful.  Before I left, my vice director told me to make sure that I bring lots of warm clothes because she’d been at the hotel where they were having the seminar the day before, and she said it was very cold.  So, I packed my long underwear and my polarfleece, figuring that they’d turn on the heat, but I should pack on the safe side just in case.  Turns out, the hotel doesn’t have heat, hot water, or anything at all that gives off warmth.  More interestingly, this is because Soroca doesn’t even have gas, which means that ALL heating is done by sobas (wood/coal fires that heat up walls and usually provide enough heat for maybe 3 rooms).  Soroca is supposed to be one of the nicest cities in Moldova, partially because it gets a lot of tourists and it’s were all the really rich gypsies live.  And you’d think that they wouldn’t want to hold a seminar someplace that is uncomfortably cold.  It’s a little vexing how things in Moldova works at times, but I’ve almost gotten used to it.  Anyhow, it’s really a pretty city, since it’s right on the Nistru river and you can practically reach out and pet the Ukraine.  I woke up early and went for a walk, and there was still frost on the ground, the sun was rising over Ukraine, the were old men out fishing… it was really nice, and I got warm 🙂

January 21, 2006

For the Orthodox Christmas (jan. 7) I went to visit my Pre-Service Training host family.  It’s always nice to go back there, since I feel like I’m part of the family and they’re always SOOO happy to see me.  We all woke up bright and early on the 7th and headed over to their friend Galina’s house.  (As a side note, Galina’s 19 yr old daughter got married in November and she’s going to have a baby in the spring, and she’s in her first year of medical school.  Here they start medical school straight out of high school, and skip the traditional university… a little crazy, I think)  We were at Galina’s until maybe 1 pm, and then we went to my host dad’s mom’s, and then to my host mom’s mom’s house.  At every house you go to, they lay out a table with TONS of food, and you’re being rude if you don’t eat.  After stopping at home for maybe an hour, which is just enough time to feed the animals, we went to someone else’s house and ate more.  Then I (naively) assumed we were walking home, since it was 11:30 pm, but we went to yet another house, where they expected us to eat even more.  I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much in one day in my whole life… but it was a fun day, and it was nice to see people that I haven’t seen since PST.

January 26, 2006

I thought you might want an update, even though I just sent out an email, since the situation here is really kind of laughable.  Well, not really since it’s been so cold, but it’s definitely crazy.  It’s been around -26 degrees Celsius, which is -15 degrees Fahrenheit… school has been cancelled this whole week by the Ministry of Education because it’s been so cold.  Most schools are well-heated, but the kids freeze on the walk to school at 8 a.m.  Moldovans seem to be worried mostly about their kidneys getting cold… I don’t know about that, so I usually just nod.  The pipes have frozen at my house, so we have no running water.  The water in the pipes that run to the radiators has also frozen, which means no heat.  I’m glad I have my Peace Corps heater, because otherwise I would freeze.  So basically I just spend all day wearing LOTS of polar fleece, a hat, and lying in my down sleeping bag, with it pulled up to my chin.  When I leave my room, I bundle up like I’m going outside… The count-down to summer has definitely begun.

March 2, 2006

Last week, I was lying in bed reading and my host mom burst into my room, telling me that Olgutsa is in a concert at school, and if I leave now I’ll get there in time.  I can only handle so much time spent reading in bed before I really start to wish I had something
else to do, so I wasn’t going to miss out on the opportunity.  I threw on my boots and tromped through the muddy short-cut to school, and found the concert in the third grade class room.  I was wondering what the occasion of the concert was, and it turned out that they’d selected a completely random day of the year and named it “Bread Day.” They said poems about bread, sang some songs about bread, and then there was a little song-and-dance routine completely unrelated to bread.  There were also 2 old ladies dressed up in the traditional garb with LOTS of bread products.  They explained all the different shapes of the bread, the different kinds of bread, and their religious/cultural meaning.  It was actually kind of interesting, and we concluded the event by dancing the hora (not so sure on the spelling of that) around the classroom.  Then once the kids left the teachers broke out the house wine and dug into the bread products.  By the time I went home, I’d eaten enough bread to last for a month, and i still had a plastic bag full of bread baked into the form of little birds.  It’s the little surprises like “Bread Day” that make me smile, shake my head, and appreciate Moldova for how hard they really do try.

May 4, 2006

Easter here was on April 23rd, and it is quite the celebration because it is the end of Lent.  Here everyone does Lent, except it’s called “post” and if you do post, you can’t eat any meat or other animal products.  My host parents were both doing post, which meant the rest of us were too, and by the end all of us were pretty hungry for meat.  The week before Easter is spent cleaning the house, and just about everything else, and starting to prepare the food.  Then on Easter Eve everyone goes to the church starting around 10 pm, lays out their bread and eggs, and stays outside (and awake) all night.  The priest comes out at sunrise, does a little church service, blesses all the food, and everyone packs up and goes home.  I’d heard that it was an interesting site to see, so I woke up at 5 a.m. and walked over to the church….. it was incredible.  There were hundreds and hundreds of people and they were all holding candles and there were candles in the food and everything was lit up.  I got there right as the priest came out, and one of my students gave me a candle and invited me stand with her family (mine was asleep and didn’t wake up) and it was one of the coolest things i’d ever seen.  the priest came along with the holy water, and he splashed everyone.  it was fun since you could tell he was having a good time with it, since he’s splash people and then he’d act like he was going to splash the next group of people, but instead he’d turn around and nail people he’d already splashed.  After the festivities i went home and slept some more, and then I went for a walk later in the morning.  At my last language IST, my teacher talked about how on Easter (and up to a month after it) people great each other with “Christ has risen” and then you say “Indeed, Christ has risen” back instead of the traditional “good day.”  To me, this seemed a little overly-religious, and I don’t consider myself to be a very religious person in the first place, plus, i’m not Moldovan, so I thought maybe I’d be exempt from this one.  Nope.  I’d say “good day” to someone and they’d say “christ has risen” back, and i started to feel like a moron.  so about 10 minutes into my walk I started greeting everyone with “Christ has risen” and then they’d reply like they were supposed to.