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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Returning to DIT-2

Usually the parking lot is packed with cars.  I had no idea there was a fountain.

Usually the parking lot is packed with cars. I had no idea there was a fountain.

Before I left in August on OB medevac, I went to DIT-2 fairly often.  Then the unpleasantness happened, and DIT-2 was outside of the red line and, therefore, out-of-bounds.

Recently, the red line shifted, and now we can go to DIT-2 again.  And that is kind of a big deal because now I can resume buying jewelry with reckless abandon.  Nate is thrilled.

A small sample of the pearls available here

A small sample of the pearls available here

I can’t mention DIT-2 without talking about the last time I went there before flying back to the U.S. It was a Sunday in the beginning of August, around 10 a.m., and it had rained a ton overnight.  Most stores are closed on Sundays, and a large part of the DIT-2 parking lot was roped off, so my driver dropped me off near the curb in an area loaded with enormous puddles.  At this point I was 33 weeks pregnant and my sense of balance was… off.  Anyways, I thought it would be a good idea to leap over one of the puddles, so I aimed carefully and jumped over a puddle probably five feet wide.

Except my foot didn’t hit the spot it was supposed to.  In fact, it landed in an underwater pothole full of six inches of water and I hit the ground in a spectacular fashion.  All I can say is thank god I decided to wear pants that day instead of a skirt.

I fell on my knee and banged it up so badly, it was sore for several months and, now, over six months later, it is still red and scarred.  My handbag and shoes got filled with water and I twisted my other ankle, scrapped my hands, tore my pants and got blood everywhere.

Fun times.

As much as I’m glad we can go back to DIT-2, I think the vendors are even happier.  I have a jewelry vendor that is my favorite, and he was very excited to see me.  Undoubtedly because he knows I’m an easy mark.  Anyhow, here are some photos from my most recent trip to DIT-2.

The DIT-2 Anthropologie of knobs

The DIT-2 Anthropologie of knobs

Compasses and other ship paraphernalia

Compasses and other ship paraphernalia

Sari stamps

Sari stamps

Lots of brass stuff

Lots of brass stuff.  I wonder if that gramophone works.

 

The mosquitoes

There have been shit tons of mosquitoes in our apartment lately.  We never open the windows and we have a screen door, but they still manage to get in somehow.

We have a mosquito racket, which is a lovely device that looks like a tennis racket, but you press a button and the mesh part becomes electric.  So you swipe at a mosquito, there’s a satisfying snapping sound, and the mosquito is dead.  Electrocuted, I suppose.  They get no sympathy from me.

For some reason the mosquitoes seem to prefer our bedroom over all the other rooms.  Luckily we have a net over our bed and M’s sleeper, but sometimes they get under the net.  Those nights are the worst.

Before we go to bed every night, we shake all the bedding, curtains, and drapes, and that usually rouses the nasty buggers.  One of us stands there with the racket, waving it all over the room, while the other anxiously points at the mosquitoes, shrieking “There it is!  Get it!” (I should note that Nate doesn’t shriek.  That’s primarily me.)

But the mosquitoes are so darn fast, they can be almost invisible.  So there’s a lot of frantic racket waving, pointing and yelling.  It’s quite the sight, I’m sure.  You know the night has been a success when the smell of burnt mosquito lingers in the air.

Luckily these aren’t Aedes moquitoes, so they won’t give us dengue.  But they’re still annoying. Thank goodness M hasn’t figured out how to itch mosquito bites yet.

Haha, I just got up to get something from the bedroom, and I killed another mosquito.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m looking forward to the intolerably hot summer months just because it seemed like there weren’t as many mosquitoes then.

Eight months in

Dude, we are one third done with our tour here!  A third!

The other day someone asked me what I thought of living here, and I said that I didn’t love it, and I didn’t hate it, which is pretty accurate at this point.

Before I left on OB medevac, I loved it.  I don’t anymore.  I’m hoping I’d be happier if they lift the walking restrictions, but who knows if that is ever going to happen. There are definite benefits to living here and I am in no way miserable, but I am also really looking forward to our next post, wherever it may be.

Athena had a small eye infection, but luckily we had some antibacterial eye ointment that we brought with us.  I’m really hoping she doesn’t get sick here or need any urgent medical care because I don’t know what we’d do.  I think the vet that helped Hootie would be our best bet.

It is currently “winter” in Bangladesh, which means that the temperatures in Dhaka are in the 70’s or 80’s during the day, and sometimes dip down into the 60’s at night.  Most Bangladeshis are wearing sweaters, scarves and jackets, and you’d think it was below freezing.  For the first time since we arrived, I finally feel comfortable outside in light-weight pants and a t-shirt.

The only problem is that now that we actually want to spend time outside, the air quality is terrible.  There’s a nearby tall apartment building, and when that building looks hazy from our house, I try to limit my time outdoors and I don’t take M outside at all. There are some days where you can almost taste the particulate matter in the air, and it sticks to the back of your throat.  It’s disgusting.

Those apartment buildings in the background are my air pollution barometer

Those apartment buildings in the background are my air pollution barometer

This sounds ridiculous, but I have been avoiding getting my hair cut here.  I like to keep my hair short, and I was worried that no one here would be able to cut it just right.  Considering that my general philosophy towards hair is “Who cares?  It will grow back,” this is particularly silly. A few days ago I got my hair cut by Andy at the Nordic Club and he did a great job!  And it was only 2000 taka (about $25), which is probably expensive for here, but it seemed like a bargain to me.

We experienced a small earthquake a few weeks ago; it was centered in northeast India and we felt the tremor here.  We woke up because Athena was freaking out, and within a minute everything started shaking.  M slept through it, and, aside from some crooked pictures on the walls, you wouldn’t even know it happened.  Thank god for seismically safe housing!

Nate and Athena also got stuck in the elevator recently.  That was scary.  I got a call from Nate telling me to go downstairs and tell the guards they were stuck in the elevator, and as I was rushing down the stairs with M in my arms, a guard and our driver Kalam were running up.  They pried the doors open, and Nate and Athena jumped down out of the elevator, which had apparently stopped after going up a few feet.  Nate was hurrying off to a reception, and I almost took M and Athena up alone, and that would have been a real disaster, especially since I usually don’t bring my phone with me when I go to the rooftop.

We are keeping busy and life is always eventful, sometimes in good ways, sometimes bad. Only 16 more months left to go!

Athena afield

Even though we can’t take Athena for walks anymore, there is an enclosed field we are allowed to take her to.

This field is pretty big.  She has a fun time running around, rolling in the dirt, sniffing everything, and trying to eat the garbage.

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From time to time, feral cats wander into the field.  The first time Athena saw one of the cats, she stalked towards it, and then barreled at it at full speed. I watched as the cat saw her coming and stood it’s ground, and all I could think was “oh shit.” Not because I was worried Athena would try to kill the cat, but because of what the cat might do to Athena.

As she came close, the cat hissed and took a swipe at her, and Athena immediately backed off.  She’s “greeted” several other cats, and most of them don’t run when they see her coming, much to her chagrin.  I suppose if you’re going to survive the mean streets of Dhaka as a feral cat, you have to be able to hold off the all the stray dogs, and, since dogs like to chase, it’s better to not run.

Sometimes Nate takes Athena to the field in the evening after work, but apparently there are five or six massive owls that fly around the field when the sun goes down.  He said one of them gave a prey screech and then dive-bombed Athena.  Luckily the owl didn’t make contact.

There is also a stray dog in the field sometimes that Athena has become best friends with.  It’s another female, surprisingly, and they are two peas in a pod.  She’s the first dog that has played tug or chase with Athena since we got here.

Even though we can’t take her for walks, I think Athena probably gets more exercise in the field than she was getting before.  I’m still keeping my fingers (and toes, and just about everything else I can cross) crossed that they will lift the walking restriction in our neighborhood.  I really miss our family walks.  But at least Athena is still having fun!

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!

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!

Road construction in Dhaka

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There’s a road in our neighborhood that is currently undergoing some serious repairs and construction.  I don’t know if they replaced the water lines that run under it, or what exactly, but they basically ripped up the entire road and installed new pipes and man-holes.

We arrived shortly after they started replacing the man-holes, and they were constructed at a level probably 10 inches higher than the road itself, which seemed ridiculous to me.  There were piles of bricks and sand lining the road.  I thought maybe they were planning on putting in a cobblestone road (because, in my mind, as an American, what else would you possibly do with bricks on a road?), but that would really impractical, overly tedious, and kind of stupid, considering how much traffic this road would normally get, when you could just lay asphalt.  Plus, you’d have to do like five layers of cobblestone streets just to reach the manhole covers.

Unending piles of bricks and sand

Unending piles of bricks and sand

We walk this road every day with Athena because, due to the construction which makes it impassable, there are no cars. So we’ve been able to see how they are progressing in building up the road to the level of the man-holes.

Luckily for everyone, they are not, in fact, laying down a cobblestone street.  Instead, there are men that chop up the bricks by hand, and then the smashed bricks are laid on the road and covered with sand.  Each layer gets well-trodden by pedestrians and rickshaws, and then another layer of bricks and sand goes down on top.  And so forth and so on until the road almost reaches the level of the man-holes, at which point I would imagine they will pave it (but I don’t know because they haven’t progressed that far yet).

Breaking the bricks into pieces the hard way

Breaking the bricks into pieces the hard way

Brick pieces mixed with sand, almost reaching the top!

Brick pieces mixed with sand, almost reaching the top!

Also, we have seen no power tools being used in the construction of this road.  All the work is being done with hammers and wheelbarrows.  Maybe that explains why it’s taking so darn long. Why use electricity or fuel when you have pure manpower?

At home, finally

We moved into our permanent residence, and we love it here.  In our temporary apartment I never really let myself get 100% comfortable because I knew we’d be leaving, but here we can arrange the furniture how we want, re-organize the kitchen, and actually spend some time making this place feel like ours.

Our apartment is really long. Like a “huh, that’s interesting” kind of long.  We are trying to decide how to rearrange it and partition out the space because you could literally have a banquet for 25 people, at least, in the dining room.  Luckily the flooring is these huge square tiles, so I could easily map out the dimensions of the rooms and furniture.  And this is what I’ve been playing around with:

Some people (Nate, most likely) would say I have too much time on my hands

Some people (Nate, most likely) would say I have too much time on my hands

We are going to request some additional furniture, and hopefully things will be set up the way we would like in no time!

My favorite things about this apartment are the living area, which gets loads of natural light, especially in the morning, and the roof-top garden. We are lucky to have houses next to us rather than apartment buildings, so they don’t block out all the sunlight.

We might not have a yard, but this is almost as good!

We might not have a yard, but this is almost as good!

The roof has a nice, high wall (at least five feet tall) and tons of grass.  In our last apartment, the people that lived above us actually lost one of their dogs because he jumped over the roof wall chasing a bird.  So, we were always very careful whenever we took Athena on the roof there, because she could definitely put her paws up on the ledge.  Thankfully, here there is no risk of that happening, and there are these glass areas where she can look out, so she has no desire to see over the wall anyways.

Athena explores new spaces and new species of shrubbery

Athena explores new spaces and new species of shrubbery

We also have loads of storage in the kitchen, which is something I’m very excited about.  This is the first time in my adult life that I’ve had a kitchen to call my own that I don’t feel totally cramped in.  I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but I seriously can’t wait for our HHE to get here.  All our bakeware, kitchen appliances, and weird gadgets/dishes won’t need to be stashed in random places around the house and will finally have a place to go!