Monthly Archives: September 2011

When It Rains, It Pours

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Part of life in Bangladesh means exotic weather. Having never lived in a tropical climate before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a country that has six seasons rather than four. The seasons are: Barsa (June to August) rainy season, Sarat (September to October) autumn, Hemanto (October to November) late autumn, Seet (November to December) winter, Basanto (December to February) spring, Grisma (March to May) summer. Obviously, each season lasts about 2 months before it subtly morphs into a new season.

We have been here since July and have, therefore, enjoyed only the first season, Barsa. This season is the monsoon rain season and it is really a sight to behold when you are graced with one! Before moving here, I tried to find out exactly what monsoons were like. Were they torrential downpours, which lasted minutes or day-long affairs? No one really seemed to be able to answer the question for me, so I just decided to pack a couple of pairs of rubber boots, an umbrella, a rain jacket and call it good!

The first few weeks of living here delivered absolutely no rain. There were plenty of gray skies, but no rain ever seemed to fall. It was hot and muggy, but never a drop of rain. And then it happened; the skies opened up and poured buckets of water down on Dhaka! It rained for days on end and I finally saw what a monsoon rain looks like! Apparently this is not always the norm during monsoon season, but can be quite common. The streets flooded and cars looked more like boats slowly plowing through the water leaving pedestrians in their wake! An umbrella is pretty much useless on such occasions, I might note, and it’s far too hot to don a pair of rubber boots. Basically, you are more or less defenseless should you get caught in the path of a monsoon! It was such a riot to watch people traveling through the small rivers, which were once the streets of this busy city. We toyed with the idea of rolling up our trousers and joining the locals barefoot in the water, but alas, never got up the nerve to brave the filth that floated along the streets (a topic for another day)!

But not to worry, all the rains since early August have been short, refreshing downpours. Your best bet is to wait them out under shelter of a shop or garage until they pass, and then be on your merry way. The plants are vibrantly green and flowers in bloom during this season. It is a lovely sight to behold, though it is still quite hot and extremely humid this month. I find it pretty much impossible to be outside without breaking a sweat, and that’s before I actually start moving! Aside from being so green, the biggest bonus to this hot, sticky season is the lack of mosquitoes!

We are now moving into Sarat, which is autumn. I must admit it hardly seems like autumn since the trees all keep their leaves and stay green year round. However, the skies have been much bluer lately and there have been breezes to cool down the heat of the midday sun. It is still humid out, but rumor has it, one can catch a “slight chill late in the night… I’ll keep my fingers crossed on that one!

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Skola un skolēni

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Skola ir ļoti labi un skolēnii brīnišķīgi. Pati skola tika uzcelta Bashundaras rajonā un uzņēma pirmos skolēnus 2009. gadā. Pats rajons ir pierādījums ātrumam, kā attīstās Daka. Ja skolas pirmsākumos apkārtējie laiki esot bijuši nopludināti, tad tagad apkārt slienas daudzstāvu dzīvojamās mājas, blakus ir modernā Apollo slimnīca, bet aiz stūra valstī lielākā mobilo sakaru operatora Granmeen Phone galvenais birojs. Rajons ir arī pierādījums nekontrolētai attīstībai, jo neviens nav gribējis padomāt par pietiekami ietilpīgu ielu un citas infrastruktūras izbūvi. Būtībā uz rajonu ir izbūvēta viena kārtīga iela un alternatīva ir šauras uz bedrainas ieliņas. Netālu no skolas slienas arī pierādījums politiskās piederības nozīmei Bangladešā. Tas ir milzīgs, Āzijā lielākais iepirkšanās centrs, kas ir pabeigts uz izbūvēts, bet tā arī nav sācis savu darbu. Īpašniekiem ir nesaskaņas ar pašvaldību un, kā es saprotu, abas puses pārstāv dažādas politiskās partijas. Lai tur iepirktos būs vien jāgaida uz nākamajām parlamenta/pašvaldības vēlēlēšanām.

Lai arī mums sākotnēji teica, ka vietējo skolēnu īpatsvars ir 70-80%, tad realitātē tas varētu būt 90%. Mani tas netraucē, jo skolēni ir brīnišķīgi. Pārējie 10 procenti ir Indieši, Pakistānieši, Korejieši un Japāņi. Eiropas izcelsmes baltie zvirbuļi ir vienmēr auditorijā pamanāmi un pamatā tie ir skolotāju bērni. Es pasniedzu Ekonomiku 11. klasei, Biznesu un menedžmentu 12. klasei, bet Sociālās zinības 6. un 7. klasei. Darbs kaulus nelauž un ir interesanti. Man ir arī iedalīta audzināmā grupa – 8 skolēni no 11. klases. Darba diena man sākas ar audzināmās klases reģistrēšanu un ikdienas jautājumu parunāšanu, noskaidrojot kā viņiem iet mācībās, kas jauns, utt. Pagaidām tas neprasa daudz laika, bet drīz vien būs pirmās atzīmes un būs jāsāk runāt ar viņiem par konkrētiem mērķiem mācību vai disciplīnas uzlabošanai.

 

Esmu atpakaļ

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Es esmu atpakaļ. Esmu atgriezies pierakstu un publikāciju apritē. Mani nebija nolaupījuši rikšu braucēji vai arī nopludinājuši Bangladešas lieti. Es vienkārši sāku strādāt. Jauna skola, jauna mācību viela, jauni kolēģi nozīmē maz laika jebkam citam. Ja vēl pieskaita Dakas sastrēgumos pavadīto laiku un naktsmieru, tad pāri paliek 4 minūtes un 30 sekundes, kuras veltīt bloga vai dienasgrāmatas papildināšanai. Tas nav pietiekami, ja grib uzrakstīt kaut ko vairāk par īsiem uzsaukumiem un komentāriem. Šodien man ir vairāk laika, jo ir sācies brīvlaiks!!! Bangladešā drīz svinēs Eid ul-Fitr, jeb kā šeit vienkārši saka Eid (Izrunā kā „Īd”). Tie ir Islama pasaules ziemassvētki, bet pats interesantākais ir tas, ka katru gadu datums, kad tiek svinēti Eid svētki ir savādāks. Datumu nosaka pēc mēness cikla, kad mēness sākt augt. Šogad Eid būs 31. augustā vai arī 1. septembrī. Jā, jūs uzmīnējāt, precīzu datumu bieži vien nezina līdz pat pēdējam brīdim. Kādēļ? Kalendārā noteiktie mēness cikls nav  pietiekams pierādījums tik nozīmīgu svētku dienas noteikšanai. Imamam (musulmaņu priesterim) ir jāuzkāpj minaretā un pašam par to jāpārliecinās. Dzirdēju no kolēģiem, ka mākoņainā laikā valsts galvenais Imams sēžas lidmašīnā un dodas novērot mēnesi virs mākoņiem. Eid ir noslēgums Ramadan, jeb gavēņa mēnesim un tā ir pirmā diena, kad ticīgie var ēst arī pēc saullēkta. Labu apetīti visiem musulmaņiem.

Eid Mubarak!

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Eid is a tricky enough occasion for the non-Muslim because it’s all based on the phases of the moon, so if you don’t read or speak in Bangla, it’s hard to know when the holiday will actually begin! When we asked locals, the usual response was, “Maybe tomorrow.” We finally found a Bangladeshi newspaper in English at a small cafe which bore the headline: “Eid Likely to Begin Tomorrow”. Can you imagine? We laughed till our sides ached because this is the quintessential response to the question! Basically as far as I understand, Eid-ul-Fiter began Tuesday… but that might just completely untrue! The only thing I have to go on is the fact that every single shop in Dhaka was closed tighter than a drum and the streets were completely deserted.

Why is the beginning of Eid so important, you ask? Well, Janis and I were invited by our maid, Piarie, to visit her family over the Eid holidays. Our communication with Piarie is fair, at best, so we weren’t exactly sure what we had agreed to when she asked us last week if we’d come for a visit. We didn’t know which day that actually meant. To be honest, we weren’t even sure if a visit is what we had actually agreed to! As we understood, Eid is a time when family and friends can drop in unannounced, and the expectation is that they will be fed. Bangladeshi people LOVE their food, but they also cannot be bothered to stick to any kind of schedule or time frame, so… you can see where this becomes a challenge to the average westerner!

We called Piarie on Monday to try to clarify the plans and she told us that she would be at our house at 1:00 on Tuesday afternoon to pick us up. Seems simple enough- except we didn’t know if that meant we should arrange for our own rickshaw since Piarie has no car! We decided to go with the flow and do…nothing! Around noon, there was a knock at the door and it was Piarie. Since we were not expecting her for another hour, we still had to change clothes for the celebration. Muslims believe that on Eid you should wake up, take a shower, put on new clothes and begin the day with a prayer. Shower? Check. New clothes? Nope. Prayer? I don’t even think we can enter the mosque! At any rate, we rushed downstairs to find Piarie standing beside an old beat-up taxi with a huge smile on her face. We apologized many times and told her we understood she would come at 1:00. She said, “Yes, this is what I told you, but I thought madame might be hungry! This is a better time.” (Madame is me, by the way— and I HATE it! At least it’s not as bad as Janis who is “Boss”!)

We took an eventful cab ride to Piarie’s neighborhood. The taxi turned into oncoming traffic down a one-way street to get to her block, and that was just about as much excitement as I needed for one day! We got out when we came to a road block of some Bangladeshi guys playing a game  that looked something like Novuss. They had put a large wooden table up in the middle of the street and had no intention of moving! We climbed out of the taxi and and walked the rest of the way. When we reached Piarie’s house, we were greeted warmly with “Eid Mubarak” by her sisters, husband, father, parents-in-law, nephews, niece and even the landlord! I had read that Eid-ul-Fiter is a happy celebration, and it seemed to be true.

We went inside and everyone quickly scrambled to put snacks and drinks on a cart which was rolled into a room for us. They kept asking us to sit down and eat, though no one would sit and eat with us. This was naturally a bit of an uncomfortable feeling since where we come from, everyone sits and enjoys the food together! We picked at the snacks and kept offering to help since everyone was so busy outside the room. We were told that since we were the guests, we were to sit and eat. Piarie’s sister told us that they had all been eating sweets in the morning as per Eid tradition. “We wake up for bathing and go to prayers at 10:00. After we are eating many sweets at friends’ houses!” I supposed that was fair, but we still felt completely out of place. We were left with our snacks and a classic Bangladeshi film playing on the television. From time to time a niece or nephew would stick their head in the room just to peek and then run away.

After what felt like an eternity of “snacking,” we were invited into the dining table for lunch. Piarie and her sisters had prepared roasted chicken, rice, beef curry, fruit salad, and veggie salad – JUST FOR US! We finally protested and made Piarie sit with us to eat. She laughed and agreed at last. The lunch was amazing, as all Bangladeshi food is, and I was almost moved to tears when Piarie pulled out a bottle of juice. “I bought this one for you, madame, because I know this is the one you like!” The juice, itself, is not so special, but it costs more than the others at the shop and Piarie is not a wealthy woman. I was overcome with gratitude and compassion. It was truly humbling to share with a family who has so little.

We were invited to sit and talk with Piarie and her husband, Sadiq. We looked at photographs of friends, family and their son who had just gotten married a year and a half ago. Piarie beamed with pride. The air grew still and hot and we were all disappointed at our lack of means to communicate effectively. Just when I started feeling drowsy, Piarie’s sister rolled in the dessert cart! They had made Seviyan, which is a dish made of Vermicelli and sweetened milk. Oh my, I was in heaven! They had also prepared Seviyan with rice instead of Vermicelli and had bought a chocolate cake from the Danish Bakery. Piarie was so delighted to see how fond I was of the Seviyan, that she left and came back offering me yet another Seviyan with coconut and cinnamon from the kitchen. When we could literally hold no more in our bellies, we sat back and enjoyed some more of Piarie’s stories about her life in Dhaka. We got to hear about the time she had a rickshaw accident that chipped her tooth, the time she had her earring ripped out of her ear by a thief, and she even shared the fact that her husband does NOTHING around the house and doesn’t earn enough money. Talk about an awkward situation! We have quickly learned that Bangladeshi people are fairly open with their private lives and don’t mind sharing the most intimate details with those who are willing to listen!

It had been over three hours of dining and strained conversations, so we told Piarie that we probably ought to head home. She called the taxi and you won’t be surprised to hear that he would be there in “maybe 30 minutes or so…” Piarie offered to cook us more food and we begged her to relax instead. Just then the landlord knocked on the door and insisted we come up to celebrate Eid with his family. What? My belly was about to burst and I knew we’d be offered more sweets upstairs, but this was the tradition, so up the stairs we went! We sat with the landlord who was also the builder of the house. His wife offered drinks and fruit while we sat and chatted with her husband. He and Janis talked politics while I fought the urge to curl up and take a nap! There were many long lulls of silence until Janis, bless his heart, could come up with something more to talk about. Those of you who know me, know that I’ve certainly got the gift of gab. However, Bangladesh is definitely a man’s world- so I am learning to sit back and let Janis muddle through the conversation topics with large language barriers, as I heave sighs of relief that it’s not me in those shoes! 😉

We ended up getting a taxi about an hour later (30 minutes Bangladeshi time!) and upon reflection, we agreed it was one of the best days spent in Dhaka so far. The biggest gift of traveling around the world is getting to see the true colors of a place and its people. So, as the Bangladeshi people say…Eid Mubarak!