Category Archives: Lezlie in English

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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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!

Take a picture, it lasts longer!

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So part of being a whitey in a country like Bangladesh, is that you always get stared at when out in public! It doesn’t matter where you go, you will turn some heads. Lately I’ve been in some pretty crowded places and if this is anything close to what fame feels like- it ain’t pretty!  Now, it is very common for Bangladeshi people to actually stop what they’re doing to just turn and stare as you walk by, but if you dare to stop for any length of time, you will actually draw a crowd. It’s humorous but can also become quite frustrating when you actually need to move or… pick your nose, for example!

A day out in Dhaka brings many spectators- no matter where you go! If you are on foot, you will draw the most attention because 1) you’re crazy to walk around in such heat when clearly you could afford some mode of transportation and 2) beggars can catch up with you when you’ve got no wheels! People will whip out mobile phones and cameras to take pictures of you and you just have to laugh. It can feel a bit like you’re an animal at the zoo, but I prefer to think of it as if they’re watching me on television! The stares I’ve received are varied. There are: big smiles and waves, greetings in English, inappropriate noises and heckling made by men since you’re not totally covered as proper Muslim women should be, and finally puzzled spectators who seem to be in a state of shock at your presence. You never know what type you’re going to get, but you can always bet that the people WILL stare. I am hoping eventually I will just get used to it. In the meantime, I am trying to just keep a good sense of humor about the whole thing and understand the view from where they’re standing!

I don’t do pets…

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Part of my morning routine has always been stepping outside to check the weather in order to make sure I’m dressed properly. I’m not really sure why I bother carrying on this tradition in Dhaka since every day is the same: hot and humid! This morning I was just about to step out when Janis came in from the balcony and quickly slammed the door behind him. Feeling puzzled, I headed for the door. “Ummm, there’s a mouse out there, so…” was Janis’ brief explanation. I ran around to the sliding glass door where I spotted a small rodent hiding in the corner and clawing against the frame. I thought it was actually kind of cute. We let it be and went to school.

By the time we got home, I figured the rodent would have been on its way back to where it came from- though that was curious enough since we live on the second floor and it seems to have dropped onto the balcony from nowhere (no, I will NOT choose to believe it came from INSIDE the apartment!) Lo and behold, the rodent was right where we’d left it, so we decided we should take some action before it thought about moving in with us. Janis was concocting a plan and I was having a hard time understanding why this little thing should be such a big deal. Janis’ first idea was that he would drop it off the balcony. I quickly scratched that plan as there are always people walking the streets and I could just imagine someone getting hit with a rat. Ew! His second plan was to catch the rat, but we didn’t know what we’d do with it after that. My vote was for catching it in the garbage bin and closing the lid, but Janis returned with a beer box and a wide grin on his face, so beer box it would be! We each donned a broom and Janis held the open beer box. I slowly opened the door and Janis whispered to be careful. I couldn’t understand why he was so uptight since the thing was really rather small. However, when the rodent saw me approaching, it actually reared up on his hind legs and started to jump into the air!

Janis joined me on the balcony and the rat began to jump and squeak while bearing its front teeth like dogs do. Janis swatted at it with his broom and the rat made its way across the balcony in between us.  I was immediately struck with the giggles at how ridiculous we must look fighting such a small intruder with such rigor. We then proceeded to attempt to corral the feisty rat into the box, but it was having none of that! Janis took on a new tactic in which he would wait for the rat to jump and try to catch it on its way down. Once or twice the rat landed ON the box and Janis’ reactions sent me into fits of laughter. He tossed the rat back onto the ground and each time it was angrier that its peace had been disturbed. I poked one last time at the furious rodent and it leapt into the air for the last time. Janis caught the rat in the air, closed up the box and made his way downstairs. Victory was ours…though not without a good battle.

Janis and his new friend were gone for a while and I had to wonder what in the world he decided to do with the nasty little thing. When he finally returned home, he told me he let it loose in the park near the lake. Hm, why do I have a feeling we might be seeing our furry friend some day soon? If rats have got any sort of memory for traumatic events in their life, we might be taken down in the park by an angry mob of Bangladeshi rats on a dark night!

It’s getting crowded in here…

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Good morning!

Life in Dhaka has provided us with many new experiences to share with our friends across the world. Something exciting happens every day and today was no exception. I awoke this morning to find a visitor in our bed staring right at me. Since neither Janis nor I were totally awake I mumbled something strange to the effect of, “Janis, I think I see something and I don’t like it!” He picked up the clock because we’ve been on a crazy schedule with jet lag, assuming we had slept in again. I just pointed to the corner of the bed and he sat up to get a better look. Yes friends, there sitting in the mosquito net was a gigantic cockroach wiggling his antennae to offer his morning greetings. I squealed and then gagged as I considered snuggling with that thing in the night, and quickly made my way out from under the mosquito net while Janis kindly took care of our uninvited guest. I was prepared to ward off mosquitoes while in Bangladesh and even came equipped, but these persistent cockroaches were not on the agenda. They’re large, lively and seem intent on surprising me in random locations around the house.

After considering how that fellow might have joined us under the bug net, we decided to clean beneath the bed. It is a four poster bed with 4 compartments beneath. We cleaned underneath the entire bed finding all manner of “treats” that sufficiently turned our stomachs. When we had finally disinfected the space, we put the bed all back together feeling more at peace about getting a good night’s rest tonight. I fluffed the blanket one last time to get it straight and something came running out. I squealed, naturally, but leaned in to get a closer look at the new culprit. Can you guess what it was?

A teeny, tiny, lightning-fast lizard!

What? My first instinct was to reach down and grab him for further inspection, but I refrained when that nagging feeling hit me that this is the kind of place where you pick up a little lizard and get a little poisoned! It quickly made its way under our bed into one of those newly disinfected compartments! We decided to leave it be for the moment so he could come out on his own time…tough I’d gladly trade a roach for a lizard!

We made our way to the kitchen to move the stove so we could finish cleaning behind it (not a pretty job). Janis asked what was in the drawer that had been tucked away and I showed him a handful of keys – what to, I have no earthly idea- and a hefty load of cockroach poo! Oh joy! He asked about the cupboard below and I had looked only moments earlier, so I told him it was empty. When I opened it to show him proof, out ran another cockroach! The obligatory squeal and a hop in the air.

It’s noon and I’ve seen two cockroaches and a lizard in some very undesirable places. Not a great day to be in apartment A2! The only positive effect of these visits? I’m sure my heart is getting a better workout than it’s had in years!

Assalam aleikum from Dhaka!

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life in DhakaWhen I was trying to decide on a focus for this blog, I struggled to come up with anything meaningful that I felt deserved documentation. There are all kinds of blogs and so I reverted back to the blogs I have actually spent time reading. The truth is, I am not a great fan of blogging! I tend to stumble upon them only when I am searching for information about an area or topic that I need more first-hand information on. Before moving to BD, I scoured the web looking for insight into what life there might actually be like- from an expat’s perspective. I wanted to know what to expect, what to bring along, and perhaps what to beware of. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much for me to read. I also love telling (and, on occasion, exaggerating) stories of interesting and strange things that seem to happen only to me. It could be that I make these happenings more grand than they really are, but I don’t think so! I believe that all of us lead exciting lives and basically how others percieve everyday happenings in the life of anyone but themselves is completely subjective anyhow! My hope is that this blog will survive the whole 2 years that I have signed up to live and work in BD! It would be cool to see how my perspective changes after spending time living and traveling in Asia. So, without further adieu, thus begins my blog experience known as “Love, the Poli”.  (the name is reflective of the fact that my husband will also publish posts on this blog, only his will be in Latvian)