On Whiteness, in three parts

 

One – What It Means to Be a Black Woman

The whiteness – or in this case, blackness – of Rachel Dolezal was in question last week, after what seemed like an entire season’s worth of Maury Povich exploded into the US media. As the mother of three mixed race children, whose children, despite having half a WASP-y heritage, will never be considered White. Dolezal spoke on the Today Show after this controversy broke, and I am quoting:

She said she truly began identifying as black when she received custody of one of her brothers, Izaiah, who she now considers a son.

“He said, ‘You’re my real mom.’ And he’s in high school, and for that to be something that is plausible, I certainly can’t be seen as white and be Izaiah’s mom,” she said.

No, no, no, no. I can tell you that yes, you can be white, and can be seen as white, and having kids who are of a different racial background as you – AND you can be Chinese or Black or Latino or Bangladeshi and have children who are of a different racial background as you. You do it by dealing with people who are ignorant and don’t think that mixed race families can exist – either by heritage or adoption – and you teach your children about all parts of their heritage and you do it by teaching children about privilege. You do not need the same skin color as your children to be good parents. Josh, as our household White guy, used to get a lot of shit from people when we lived in Chicago about where Josh adopted Matthew from, because they don’t let boys out of China, you know. And when we lived in California, I remember feeling hot rage cascade over me when a woman told us that it was disgusting and not natural that we had a mixed son.

How you deal with being a mixed race parent is that you fight the assholes. You tell them, “No, you’re 100% wrong. My child is beautiful.” You tell them, “This is my son. I am his father.” Masquerading as a Black woman because you think that’s the way to parent a Black child – no, no, no.

Perhaps more infuriating than Dolezal herself is what I saw unfold in the media – this methodological analysis of what it means to be a Black woman. Over and over again, political pundits, news anchors, big talking heads, people on Twitter, Facebook – everywhere – debated about what it meant to be a Black woman. I’m sure some good conversations evolved from these discussions – but I have to say, it’s really weird seeing others who are not Black women having these discussions. Josh and I once had a heated discussion about using the word “minority” to describe a group of underrepresented people. I hate that word, I always have and I can’t imagine my opinion changing in the near future.  I remember saying to him, “I totally 100% understand that it’s an accurate term to use numerically, statistically – but you’ve never been called a fucking minority before.” That’s how I feel about all the discussions that arose because of Dolezal. I get that others have opinions, but as for me, as someone who has never been a Black woman before, I am going to defer. To listen. To understand.

Two – The Whiteness in a Sea of Brown

“Mama,” Lindsey once said to me. “You never told me everyone was going to be brown here!”

Bangladesh is, indeed, a very brown country. 98.5% of the population are Bengali. We literally stand out – skin-wise, ethnicity-wise, family-wise, height-wise – from the crowds of people on the street. When we see White people now I poke Josh and say, “Dude, another white person!” This whiteness in a sea of brown – and I include myself in this and will explain why shortly – is in part why we are stared at when we are out and about. This is why when we are away from Dhaka, in other touristy areas that not a lot of “Bideshis” (foreigners in Bangla) go to, swarms of people surround us to take pictures. It takes some getting used to – developing a tunnel vision that allows you to distract yourself from being stared at.

The whiteness in a sea of brown also includes me. For the most part, I am considered white. I think I confound a lot of people – I speak English with a perfect American accent, it’s my language of choice, and the language we speak to the children in. Nevertheless, here, because foreigners most often have a white face attached, and because foreigners are usually wealthier than most, I find myself being treated as a foreigner/white faced person and am treated accordingly. I live a privileged life here and it is seemingly at the expense of my own personhood. Occasionally, when I answer that I am American, someone will press on. “But madame, you do not look like you are American.” How do you explain, that in the US, you are a full-fledged citizen if you are born anywhere within the US borders (or to US citizens even abroad)? How do you explain that your mother and her two brothers, with their mother, immigrated to the US in the late 1960s? How do you explain that even though you have “Chinese eyes”, you were born in Illinois, and lived all up and down the east coast? The short answer is, you don’t. I’ve seen this from other expats too, the lumping all expats/foreigners in together. I was in a situation once where I was actually referred to as “one of the white women,” and I didn’t say anything. I am surprised I didn’t say anything, because I am pretty good with speaking my mind, but I think I’m still in shock.

Three – From Sea to Shining Sea

My heart is sad. Incredibly sad not only for the lives of the nine in South Carolina, slain by an overtly racist young white male, but sad for my country as a whole. I did not realize how much I would miss social justice and politics until I moved far away from it. I live 8700 miles away from the closest candlelight vigil I would have hoped to attend. I live 8700 miles away from being able to hug friends who are hurting over this, from being able to bring a bottle of (legal!) wine to friends who are legitimately scared about what kind of country and community and land they are raising their Black sons and daughters in. I live so far away and so how I choose to build community, to have these hard discussions about race and racism and power and privilege is inside my computer.

On June 26th, Josh and I celebrate eleven years of marriage. One of the first things that drew me to him was his willingness to stand up for what he believed in. We had a discussion about women taking their husbands’ names after they married. I knew what I believed in at the moment and what I would do (I kept my name), and his words mirrored my own about how he felt about the practice. This is what I continue to love about him, unabashedly. We have had some hard conversations where I call him out on his privilege, as a male and as a White man, and he listens. He probably fidgets and feels uncomfortable and sad and frustrated, but by God, he listens. We don’t always agree eye to eye (see above re: conversation on the word “minority,”) but he gets it, he gets me, and he listens.

We need more people to listen. From the biggest cities (we lived in Chicago and Oakland when we experienced those specific moments of racial wtfuckery) to the small towns, we need people to listen. We are shouting out for help and in sorrow and in pain, and we need people to both shout with us, for us, both in person when candlelight vigils occur, in online spaces where people gather, and in the ballot boxes, where we vote people in who are willing and committed to making a change for the future.

Post-script

Read this by my friend Liza. Made Visible – how to ally (as a verb, not as a noun!).

Also read this by my friend Jen. “not in my name is not the best I can do”

And this by Aaron Barksdale, The Huffington Post. 7 Ways to be a White Ally for Charleston and the Black Community.

rickshaws and rain

dhaka-03Today the heavens downpoured for my entire commute to school via rickshaw. 99% of the time I am fine not having a car or access to a car – it is nice not having to worry about the maintenance, insurance, gas, and here, the employment of a driver. The rickshaw driver I had took a sheet of plastic out and gestured that I should cover myself up to stay dry. If you were to look head on at me, all you would have seen is my head peeking out over the plastic, under the “hood” of the rickshaw itself. Meanwhile, the rickshaw driver himself put a baseball cap on and pedaled away. He was soaking to the bone when we got to school. I suppose a minor relief in the rain is that it happens when it’s hot outside and so the rain feels better (marginally!) than if it rained mostly in the winter when it was cold.

On one of the expat groups I belong to here, there’s been a heated discussion about what to pay rickshaw drivers – the standard “deshi” fare, and then the foreigner “white person” fare. Putting aside momentarily that I am not white, and yet I am lumped in with the “white” people group because I look more like them than I look like a Bangladeshi (this is a frustrating post for another time), I was reminded again about the privilege we have of living in this heartbreakingly beautiful country, with all of its challenges and successes. The rickshaw driver is a mix of both. He often travels from villages far from Dhaka, pays 1-200 taka to rent his rickshaw, and endures all manners of weather (have you tried to ride a single-gear bicycle, carrying 4-500 pounds worth of people and/or products? In the sweltering heat that envelopes Dhaka most of the year?), all manners of driving (dodging buses that don’t ever stop, CNGs and cars that are beeping constantly, and people who jaywalk, playing Frogger with the oncoming traffic), and all manners of abuse. I have seen rickshaw drivers being threatened and actually hit, very hard, by passengers, people in positions of authority, and other drivers (car, CNG, and rickshaw) as well. I have seen heartbreakingly young (think, 14 or 15 yo boys) driving rickshaws, and the elderly driving rickshaws. It is all incredibly humbling. The average age of a rickshaw driver here is about 15 years less than non-rickshaw drivers – they die earlier because of the extreme toll on their bodies. I would imagine it’s less, somewhat, for those driving motorized or auto rickshaws/CNGs, but all the same, years of pedaling, years of inhaling noxious fumes from the cars around you – that shit takes a toll.

One thing I hadn’t anticipated growing accustomed to was thinking in terms of Bangladeshi taka instead of pulling out my phone and converting the price to US dollars. I think more in terms of taka now. I know how much (roughly) rickshaw rides cost. I know that, as a general rule, I will pay more than Bangladeshis. And really, I am mostly okay with that. When I hop off a rickshaw, both the driver and I will have exchanged a fare that we are both comfortable with. Within our neighborhood, I know how much fares usually go and that’s what I pay. If I have a lot of groceries, I pay more. If I’m in another area and have a rough idea, I negotiate with the rickshaw driver until we come to a fare we can both agree on. I mostly don’t like being taken advantage of or being mistreated because of my skin color, so if a rickshaw or CNG driver asks for more than I am comfortable with, I walk away. And if a rickshaw driver or CNG doesn’t want to drive me somewhere, he says no and rides away. It works for me. I have also picked up some very, excruciatingly basic Bangla and can do this mostly in Bangla now – I have noticed that since doing this, I don’t feel like I’m being fleeced. I’d like to think that the drivers appreciate my efforts. Sometimes in the negotiating process, a rickshaw driver will ask for much lower than I would have expected, so I end up tipping.

All this is not to say that what I’m doing is right, or what other expats are doing is wrong. I struggle with this daily. Public transportation here is virtually nonexistent, and we do not have the desire nor the funds to pay for a car (Dhaka doesn’t need another car in its mix) and driver, so we rickshaw. It is at a cost, though, and one that we are keenly aware of every time we lift our hand to call for a rickshaw.

(reposted from my Facebook profile)
I came home from the grocery store and found a few rickshaw drivers marveling at Will – Suma had brought him outside to run around in the driveway for a bit while waiting for Matthew and Lindsey’s bus to come home. He and I spoke at length, of a family he used to regularly pull a rickshaw for, from Michigan (the guy he worked for had a wife and 4 daughters). He told me of his own family, that he lived down the street from us in a shack with his wife and 4 kids (ages 11, 8, 6, and 4). Three of those kids are daughters, and he says he has a lot of stress and tension over how to afford marrying them (needs to have 1 lakh taka (100,000 taka, or $1286.18 USD) for each of them). He pays 110 taka a day to rent his run down rickshaw. He’d have to pull a rickshaw about 5 times from where we live to Bashundhara gate or to the grocery store to earn back the money he lays out for rickshaw rent.

Shonju (his name) talked to me at length about how the foreigner scene has changed in Gulshan, that he doesn’t find many foreigners who need rickshaw rides in Gulshan, and he doesn’t earn enough money pulling rickshaws for Bangladeshis. So he sticks close by to Bashundhara and just tries to work hard. He says his fondest wish is to own a small plot of land and a home in his home village but he is struggling to pay the rent on the shack he lives in with his family. He said, “I am sad about not having such a good job, not having so much money, but I have my four kids and it’s for them I work.” Shonju’s oldest three children attend a local school that meets for a couple of hours each day.

We talked for a good fifteen minutes before he had to go. In the meanwhile, our conversation back and forth brought six or so other people on the street closer to the entrance of our driveway, to listen to us talk. Terrifically humbling in every way. I always try to remember how privileged we are in our community here, but it’s oh so easy to forget. For months I was angsting over Matthew’s and Lindsey’s schooling. Completely overcome sometimes with jealousy over the resources at the school where I substitute teach, versus what we could afford here in Dhaka. Feels sort of stupid, all of this emotion pent up. What a reality I live in now. Humbling.

***

This morning, I rode to work in a rickshaw while the rain poured underneath me. I hid underneath it, with only my eyes and nose peeking through at the downpour while I covered up with a plastic sheet. My rickshaw driver pedaled without regard, only gesturing me to lift the cover higher so that I could stay as dry as possible. The rain stopped shortly before we arrived at my destination. I paid him. He folded up the plastic sheet and lifted the seat to put it back into the compartment underneath, and rode off, looking for another fare.

Bangladesh is heartbreakingly beautiful.

seecaseyrun-blog-eight-years-young

Eight years young

Two blog entries ago I said I would talk about schooling and how our transition to schooling for the kids has gone, but then I went and lied and talked about my cesarean instead. Sorry!

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The first day of school for the 2014-2015 year!

Matthew and Lindsey are both of school age, and of course, our almost two year old is not. Probably the most challenging thing we have done as parents since moving here is establishing their schooling. Once the possibility of moving to Dhaka came to light, we almost immediately began searching for schooling options. The American school here is a private, elite pre-k through grade 12 institution and far beyond our affordability. More on that later. Other schools surfaced, the Australian school, and a few other international schools. We had to pay for the kiddos’ education while here – many expats who are sent here as a part of a diplomatic job opportunity or other privileged company position have education paid for while they are here so the most expensive schools in the city are the ones that usually end up with the children of those expats. Josh’s employment package didn’t come with such a bonus, so we were searching for schooling options on our own that didn’t break the bank. Things that we realized are hard to do if you’re 8700 miles away (or as it turns out, less than a mile away): picking the right school for your kids.

Srimangal, Bangladesh

Srimangal, Bangladesh

Dhaka is a city layered in various levels of privilege. It is complicated and delicate and out and out frustrating and annoying and horrifying and comforting, all wrapped up inexplicably together as one. I will be the first to admit that we are privileged beyond belief here. We are incredibly fortunate. We live in a brand new, fully furnished three bedroom, three bathroom apartment that is larger than anywhere else we have lived. We live right next door to Josh’s work so his commute time is largely dependent upon the speed of the elevators whisking him to and from his office. We do not starve. We are able to take modest vacations. We have an amazing nanny who takes wonderful care of Will when we are not home, and mostly she takes good care of us, the bumbling and sometimes awkward foreigners who happened upon her. We are beyond lucky and we know this. The kids want for nothing*. They attend a good private school in a privileged part of Dhaka. They do not have to work in the streets, as many children do. On my way to work I ride in a rickshaw that passes trucks and trucks of garbage, with children not much older than Matthew, standing atop a garbage heap, picking out plastic bottles and metal cans for reuse or resale elsewhere. They do not have to beg in the middle of Gulshan 2 circle, clogged so tightly with traffic of a thousand cars, CNGs, and rickshaws, with their hands outstretched. They don’t have to stand on the edges of those massive intersections and try to sell sheets of stickers or flowers or plasticware or peanuts or popcorn or towels or maps or books.

So, we landed in Dhaka, and ended up enrolling them at a small international school that ended up being less than a mile away from our house. We could walk there, and rickshaw there quicker. It was a Christian missionary school, which gave us pause because we are the agnostickiest agnostics ever to agnostic, but I figured at the time that we could do anything for a year, that their education in Bangladesh was far greater than what they received inside a classroom, and we definitely would instill our own teaching and learning apart from what they might learn in this school.

That was a big mistake.

The second first day of school!

The second first day of school!

They started in October and by February, Matthew’s teacher had asked if I could come in and help Matthew and observe his class. It was a disaster and a blaring sign that we had made a huge mistake in choosing proximity over quality. The teacher was in way over her head with no discernible classroom management skills. Over the course of the two semesters Matthew was there, we saw his general schoolwork decline and we had no idea how to help him, until I went into his class and saw exactly what chaos he had been trying to learn in. Long story short, we decided to enroll them at another school, the Australian school which is further away from us, but even in the week and a half they’ve been there, it feels like a much better fit.

***

During this past semester, when I have felt the most homesick for Florida**, it was directly in relation to all of the unfathomable decisions we had to make around the kids’ schooling – whether or not we were making the right decision, whether we were totally breaking them. The options for schooling children here is pretty bleak. Locally, there are public Bangladeshi schools available, but their demand far outweighs the ability of the government to provide them a quality education – thus you get kids working to help their families and not going to school. There are expat groups and local organizations who end up doing quite a bit of fundraising to attempt to address this discrepancy – by coordinating donations for meals for students, coordinating minimal schooling (called “slum schools” here – where teachers will volunteer their time and hold classes literally in the sidewalks and off of the streets of Dhaka). There are private Bangladeshi medium schools to which families will pretty much devote every penny to sending their kids, to their own extreme detriment.

What made me most homesick is knowing that my biggest problem in trying to find schools for Matthew and Lindsey in the US was making sure our address was current. Even the most mediocre of schools in the US would be far superior to what local students could expect to get in Dhaka. The idea, then, of spending over $20K USD for every student at the American school here, when you see how many MORE students $20+K could educate in Bangladesh, and it just really makes you feel twitchy about the privilege. For the longest time, I would feel an amazing amount of school envy when I walked in to substitute for the American school. I thought of the little school our kids attended, where the supplies were worn down significantly and the students shouted at the top of their lungs and the teacher took phone calls during class – the greenness of envy washed over me tremendously. Now that they’re in a better place with regards to school, I’m happy that those twinges have gone away, somewhat. They’re at a better place and are making friends. They’ll get used to the commute. They have access to good faculty, peers, and a good educational program. They will be fine.

Never thought I’d be homesick for experiences my friends who have school-aged children are going though: namely, standardized testing. If I were in the US this year, my blog would look a lot differently than it does now. I miss public school. I miss good quality public schools, and at the same time, am immensely grateful of the choices we have. Although it feels they are not ideal, we have choices. That in and of itself is a privilege.

***

Matthew’s involved this semester with the Boy Scouts – more specifically, the Cub Scouts. He asked me at one point when he was at the first school in Dhaka if he could find some friends who were American. I swallowed all of my pride and said, “YES you can have friends who are American!” and signed him up for the Scouts. He’s the only non-American school student there, but he’s trying to ease into friendships in the group. It’s hard. It’s all so hard, isn’t it? Last weekend he won second place in his den for the Pinewood Derby. He was pretty thrilled.

seecaseyrun-blog-eight-years-young

***

This is a longabout way to introduce our new channel on YouTube! I’ve been taking more videos lately with my phone and am going to try to post those more frequently. This video I took at the beginning of the month, before the kids started at their new school. I rode a rickshaw home with Matthew and he and I chatted. Hope you like it! Let me know if you have questions about Dhaka, the kids’ schooling, us here – we are happy to answer! I have other videos in the works (some sitting on my phone, waiting to be edited): an interview with Lindsey, a trip to our grocery store, and other interesting tidbits about our lives in Dhaka.

Click here to subscribe to our channel on YouTube!

*well, that’s not entirely true; they are kids, after all!
**WTFlorida? Homesick for Florida? OMG!

To make a donation to an organization that will help children in Bangladesh obtain an education, consider THRIVE.

the thin line

CESAREAN AWARENESS MONTHThe other day, as I showered, I realized with a start that I couldn’t remember the last time I felt my scar. Almost two years ago, I had a cesarean birth with my youngest son, Will. The first year was about getting him out of the hospital and surviving our lives together as a family of five. This second year has been about counting my blessings and marveling in the little person he’s becoming.

I think about his birth and cesarean deliveries daily – and not for the reasons one might think. The last time I wrote during Cesarean Awareness Month was last April, when I talked at length about Will’s birth. It was still hard then, and it’s hard now, but in many ways, it’s easier – obviously, the more time that has passed between his birth and who he is now, where we are as people (and not just physically where we are as people, but emotionally as well!).

These days reading about cesarean deliveries are hard for academic reasons. My experience with Will has profoundly changed me as a person. It has impacted all aspects of my life – not just the “Oh wow, you’re a mom of three!” thing that happens, but it extends far beyond that. His birth and our overall experience has triggered a cascade of questions that I want to answer – I want to find out about the community (face to face and online) support structures women who undergo cesareans have. I want to find out about how pregnant women make decisions about birth. I want to find out about the experiences of women of color as they undergo pregnancy and birth.

I want to learn every single thing and I can’t. So for my dissertation topic, I’m narrowing it way down and even in this process I’ve trimmed more stuff out that I want to talk about some day, in another journal article, for another paper, for another presentation. I’m combining my passion for both photography and birth into my dissertation. I am excited about it and once I pass my prospectus (where I present essentially the first three chapters of my dissertation to my committee for their approval before I begin the research phase of the dissertation), I’ll write a bit more about the topic itself. I have learned so much in writing what I have – and I know I have a lot more to come. But I am pumped, I have a (rough!) plan, and am ready to go.

***

june10My sweet little baby, who was once declared too small, is about to turn two years old. This is unfathomable to me – wasn’t I just in a car, speeding down the road with Josh to go to Gainesville, Florida, to meet with the high risk obstetrician who looked like one of the Doctors from the old Doctor Who? Didn’t I just get wheeled into the NICU, dazed from the pain medication, to see the baby, who was unbelievably tiny? Was it six months or three hours ago that I sat over that gigantic green pump, attached to me to get all the milk out of me and into his belly?

I can’t remember. I can’t remember when it was that I last pumped, or that I last thought about Will as a preemie. Age 2 is where babies catch up with their peers and he’s getting there. He is a chatterbox and is on the cusp of a huge verbal shift – any day now and he’s going to bust out with sentences, it feels like! He started walking at about 20 months, which had me worried (of course it did) but I think he was biding his time until he could do it right – and by right, I mean by proving that once you put his little body down, he would show you he could walk by running right into a crowd of people with no fear at all.

I can’t remember the last time I felt the numbness around my scar on my lower belly. After he was born, I recall the amazement in my fingers as I rubbed the skin around my scar and marvel how I could feel it with my fingers, but a good section around the scar was totally numb. It’s not numb anymore, and I don’t know when that changed. I like that I have that sensation, but a little part of me is wistful that I can’t feel it. Yet another indication Will is growing up. Not my little three pound baby anymore, but my 26 pound daredevil runner.

Two years ago as I lay in bed, awaiting with trepidation the possibility of a complicated pregnancy (check!), a less than ideal birth (check!), and a NICU stay (check!), this future of mine was what I held onto hope for. It’s more than what I could have hoped for. I didn’t foresee a future where I would be entrenched in researching and writing about cesareans but here I am.

“Scar tissue is stronger than regular tissue. Realize the strength, move on.”
– Henry Rollins

And on we move. Next stop: dissertation. Let’s do this.

william - see casey run

There is no PAAS in Bangladesh

You know what PAAS is, if you have spent any March or April in the United States.

I remember dyeing eggs with my cousin as a kid – my aunt would get a kit from Zayre’s – a department store where she worked at the time. We’d boil water, carefully follow the directions and pop a little tablet of color into a cup, then dip egg after hardboiled egg, some of which had stickers on them, some of which had been drawn on with a transparent wax crayon that came with the kit, and in an hour, we’d have brightly colored, questionably toxic (hey, 80s!), hardboiled eggs all ready for Easter.

There is no PAAS in Bangladesh. Yesterday I went on a trip to get stuff for the kiddos’ Easter baskets, and as I tried to figure out what to put in their basket given the lack of any commercialism specific to the holiday helping me along, I had to laugh at myself. We are agnostic in a world of Muslims and Hindus, celebrating the non-religious aspect of a Christian holiday. I feel like if life had a fourth wall, we have definitely broken it.

***

A few jobs and almost nine years ago I worked at a university where I was introduced to the concept of the third culture kid. This is, essentially, the child who is the product of his or her parents’ culture (culture #1), living in and growing up in a different culture (culture #2), and interacting with other expatriate kids and families within that culture (culture #3). I attended a presentation about it at the time, but thought nothing more of it until a few months ago, obviously, when I realized that lo, all these years later, my kids are growing up now as third culture kids. (I actually think that they are even more unique as what I am terming fourth culture kids, kids of mixed heritage and parents who do not share the same culture, but I will write about that another day.

But as for now, the kids are experiencing a heavy dose of life as expatriated Americans. I recall the looks of shock on their faces when we took our first walk together out of the hotel we were staying in when we first moved to Dhaka, and all the faces staring at our admittedly unique family, one which I am sure turns eyes or at the very least, raises eyebrows in certain parts of the US. Their short experience at their now former international school, run under the authority of a Korean Presbyterian church, which in turn hired Bangladeshi teachers, has keenly highlighted some of those cultural differences for us – that’s a post for another day.

It’s hard to know sometimes how to make things right by the kids. There are times when I see how hard things are here and wish we hadn’t moved them across the world. But there are many more times when life here is pretty darned awesome and I know that even with the hiccups we have experienced in the quality of their education and our struggles getting started, the experiences they are having as third culture kids is something that is priceless. It is hard, but so is life, and in the grand scheme of things, it is not as hard as it can be and not as hard as it is for many here in Bangladesh. We are immensely fortunate.

One of the ways I struggle is in the sense of personal boundaries and space. In a world where many generations of families live together, out of family loyalty, tradition or necessity, and in one of the most population-dense cities in the world, there is no personal space. What I struggle with most is how to be respectful of our new home’s habits, practices, and traditions without being That Asshole American Foreigner. Lindsey bears the brunt of a lot of affection from adults, who, while all well meaning, share different notions of personal space that we five have grown up with. We have tried to empower Lindsey with the words and tools she needs to address issues she is uncomfortable with, but she’s only six. A couple of days ago I snapped loudly at someone who grabbed Lindsey’s head and ruffled her hair and pinched her cheeks, to Lindsey’s great displeasure. The woman who was fond of Lindsey was shocked at my reaction, and in retrospect, I was shocked at my own reaction as well. I don’t regret telling her to stop touching my child, but I do regret not having those same tools at my immediate disposal as I’ve been working on and off with Lindsey to use on her own. So, that’s something I need to do – build up my own arsenal of parenting skills as a Chinese American expat with three third (fourth) culture kids in Bangladesh.

Easy peasy, right?

***

eggs! left is a local egg, right is a commercially packaged egg

eggs! left is a local egg, right is a commercially packaged egg


There is no PAAS in Bangladesh. So you do what you gotta do. I bought red cabbage, a beet, and used the turmeric and black tea we have at home and there are four pots of natural food dye cooling right now. Lindsey is beside herself with excitement at the idea of natural egg dyes (who knew?). Those little white eggs will get dyed and the Easter Bunny will hide Kinder Eggs (which you can’t get in the US, as I understand it! But they permeate all stores here seemingly!) and the kids will still get their sugar coma.

My next blog post will discuss the rain of fire that resulted in our removing the kids from their current school. Woo! I am hitting a stride at delivering little packets of anger all over Dhaka!

A busy 2015

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We rang in the new year not in Dhaka, but in Rangamati, a small village in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. We spent a week traveling non-stop around the new year, exploring, but mostly in transit, it felt like – from Dhaka to Chittagong via train, Chittagong to Rangamati via bus, from Rangamati to Bandarban via bus, from Bandarban to Ruma Bazar via slow, slow boat (seriously slow; since it’s not the monsoon season, the water was low on the river), and back again – from Ruma Bazar to Bandarban via SUV, Bandarban to Chittagong via minivan, and Chittagong to Dhaka via plane. Whew. Once we got back home, school started back for Matthew and Lindsey (phew) and then about a week or so later, school started back again for Josh. Presumably, anyway.

When we left the hill tracts, we really left right in the nick of time. The day after we returned to Dhaka, the political situation deteriorated quite quickly. We returned on January 4th. January 5th was the anniversary of the contested and controversial election that brought the current government into power.

Ever since then, it has been a slowly boiling and ebbing level of political anger that has really impacted millions of Bangladeshis across the country. The government is angry, the opposition parties are angry, the citizens are frustrated. The opposition party has called for the longest blockade in Bangladesh’s history, effectively grinding commerce to a halt. Ports have tons of fresh vegetables, rotting, because they can’t move it where it needs to go. The government has forced internet service providers to block social media apps (like WhatsApp, Viber), and most recently, cut network service around the area of Gulshan where the opposition party has been living (in her office, having been blockaded in for several weeks). This past week has been called hartal by the opposition party as well, with rumors of more (and maybe, indefinite) hartal. Here’s another link to what’s been going on here. Simply put, it’s a mess, and both sides have legitimate beefs.

20150201_180106It’s been weird, sitting on the inside/outside of this situation. Obviously, as you all know, we are not citizens of Bangladesh, we do not and will not vote in the elections here, but this is our home now, so we are impacted, though gratefully, we are impacted less (the city has seen more random acts of violence and protest that have truly been horrific – a school recently, bombed. Trains derailed, buses torched.). Josh is almost in the third week of the semester and has barely been able to teach class (especially this past week, with nonstop hartal all week long!). I substitute teach at an international school in the diplomatic enclave and while school hasn’t shut down, rickshaw drivers are legitimately more skittish about crossing from one neighborhood into the next. When I leave the school after I substitute teach, I am once again reminded that censorship is alive and blatant when my phone leaves the wifi network at the school and is silent until we once again reach a zone where the cell towers are permitted to continue operating and my phone reaches a signal once again. We are fortunate that we live in a relatively separate area (for Dhaka, this is pretty contained and separate from other neighborhoods) and so in my day-to-day, I feel safe. But when I go to a coffee shop to work on my dissertation, our nanny cautions me to be careful of crowds. Every few days we get emails from the embassy in Dhaka to be on the lookout and avoid traveling in the dip zone on rickshaw or CNG after dark.

In the US, Josh and I have both been upset by different actions by the US government, on the state or federal level. We took Matthew to his first political rally when he was about 20 months old, in support of our belief that discriminating against same-sex couples marrying was just wrong. Before we married, we marched in New York, protesting the start of the Iraq war in 2003. I have written letters (and even sent some of them! :) ) to governors and senators expressing my concerns as a constituent. I vote. I donate to political causes. I am loud on social media, smugly so.

Here, I stand by on the sideline. I wish I could do something, but in many ways, this is not my fight and it’s not my place. I wish I could, though, because in the short time we’ve lived here, it’s really grown on me. Living in a new culture is hard by any means, and I wonder if living in Bangladesh is just harder, because of the newness of this country (which has only been in existence not much longer than *I* have been in existence). Maybe the country is still in shake-down mode, trying to get a comfortable fit in a new pair of shoes. I don’t know. All I do know is that its people are suffering. Students are protesting and telling the government that they have had enough. It is a vaguely ironic sort of laugh that I have because I know in the US, there is much discussion and criticism over the common core standards and the testing that comes along with it – that is another blog post entirely on its own – but here, we have countless students who are protesting and putting their lives on the line in order to be able to take a standardized test, so that they can get into the universities they want to attend, to attain the degrees they desperately seek. Obviously, the differences between the US and Bangladesh are much more nuanced than my glib overview, but the dedication here is unlike anything I’ve experienced in the US.

For someone who doesn’t feel like she has much to say about the current political situation in Bangladesh, I sure did spout a whole lot there. The gist: peace, please. Please. I am not a praying kind of person, but if you are, I am sure Bangladesh could use any positive juju you got.

***

Beyond that, things have been busy here, at least for me. I’ve been substituting at a local international school, which has been a nice experience (although working with really small people – holy crap, exhausting!) and I have been working steadily on my dissertation, preparing my prospectus. I’ll write more about what I am doing at another time, but it feels good to get as much done as I have over the last few weeks. More to come, always more to come. More reading, reading, reading…

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Phenomenal Woman

We are settling into life, or so it seems, until things get tossed upside down. The kids started school last week in the beginning of October. Two days later, they were on vacation for Eid. We decided a few weeks back that we’d take a quick trip out of town for our first traveling adventure in Bangladesh – to Srimangal, the tea capital of Bangladesh. We stayed at the Nishorgo Eco Cottage just outside of town. This entire trip was made possible by the amazing Mahmud of Trip To Bangladesh. The Lonely Planet calls him the Guardian Angel of Bangladesh and it’s true – he is! On a whim a few weeks ago I contacted him to see if he knew someone who could help transport a crib we bought from Lisa. Well, he does, and on a Saturday afternoon, he had a trusted friend book a flatbed rickshaw and it arrived, safe and sound, up at our place in Bashundhara. Mahmud hired Liton Deb, a native of Srimangal, to be our tour guide, and he did a fabulous job. Our first day there was the last day of Dirga Puja, a Hindu holiday, and we got to experience a parade, where the floats took top notch, and second to that was the spectacle of the YuBurs on display.

Shaking hands with other boys

Float

During our visit we also hiked and walked around the Lawachara National Forest, visited a pottery village, drank seven layer tea, visited a zoo, celebrated Eid with several Muslim families, and then ate a hearty Hindu vegetarian lunch – we did all the things and more. It was a really great time away from the hustle and bustle of Dhaka. More photos can be found at my photography page:

***

This week we are heading back into the thick of things. Today is Saturday and while in the US, it’s the middle of the weekend, today is functionally our Sunday. Because Bangladesh is a Muslim country, the work and school week is from Sunday through Thursday, so tomorrow morning we are back in the thick of things.  Today I have been working on research writing/IRB stuff for the dissertation, which is the first time in a long time I’ve had a chance to sit down and do any of my work. I knew coming here would mean a timing setback but as is the case with most things, who knows exactly what that impact will be until you land? I didn’t anticipate that the kiddos’ schooling would take so long to resolve (but praise jeebus it is resolved) and how long it takes to do things here. It’s just the way it is.

Several times these last few weeks, in response to the question of where I am from and how I got here (“I’m from America and my husband got a job at a university!”), people have asked me what it is I do all day. “Are you just a housewife? What do you do?” Such a loaded, innocent, destructive question. It’s a bunch of misunderstood identities rolled up into a seemingly innocuous question. My first instinct, the one that shouts out with all the Tiger Mom I have in me, wants to answer,

“Hell no, I’m not just a housewife. I am working on my PhD and one day too plan to be a professor at a university somewhere. I am not a housewife at all!” And there’s nothing wrong with being a house wife either! It’s not like I don’t already know and appreciate that, but wow, just a complicated question.

Then there’s the part of me that is struggling with my new role as a “trailing wife.” That phrase is fraught with issues of its own. I am not a trailing wife. I am not just following Josh around blindly, relying on him to survive. I am here of my own accord – when Josh was offered the position, I told him and urged him to take it! Family Adventure We Cannot Pass Up! We went into this committed 100%, the both of us, to having an amazing experience. I won’t lie – it has been hard, to be an expat woman in Bangladesh. I am not allowed to work in Bangladesh because of the visa I entered on, and I can’t even  have a joint bank account with Josh. I am listed as his beneficiary should something tragic befall him. I do have an ATM card, so there’s that 😉 Assumptions that I am by and large no longer accustomed to in the US I have had to encounter somewhat amusingly and somewhat harshly since. I took the kids to buy a printer, and as I decided the model and the type I wanted, the salesperson kept trying to dumb things down for me and as they packed it up, asked me, quite concerned, whether or not I would be able to install the ink cartridges on my own. I had to laugh – in college my first work study job was maintaining a computer lab and servicing the printers as they needed more ink and laser toner cartridges. I teach college level technology classes. I think I can install a printer on my own! But of course, this person in front of me didn’t know that.

If something like that were to happen in the US, I’d be more than happy to spit out a series of colorful metaphors about how women are treated and how one should not make assumptions about skills based on gender and sex. I am ALL FOR a public dressing down of asshats – and in the US I would consider someone who said this an asshat. But here, I don’t. I bite my tongue a lot, as you can imagine, because I can’t spew out all of my frustrations at this salesperson. Beyond my identity as a woman, my glaring, public persona is “foreigner” and I am keenly aware that I don’t belong and more than I have ever felt before in my life, I feel exoticized in an uncomfortable way. As a foreigner, I am certainly not going to lecture a salesperson here for those assumptions. But man, it is eating a gigantic slice of humble pie, being here. Beyond the obvious financial disparities, the cultural disparities and most of all, the educational disparities are still quite significant. I’m sitting here, just about halfway done with a doctoral degree, when many of the women around me have finished maybe through grade 8.

In the US I bristle greatly at the seemingly innocuous and yet highly distasteful question , “Where are you from?” I never know what answer to give, as a Chinese American. Does the questioner want to know where I grew up? What high school I graduated from? Where my parents live? Do they care that I was born in Illinois and lived all over the US? Or do they just want to keep asking me to figure out what flavor of Asian I am? In Bangladesh, it is much different. Because the population is much more homogenous than the  US, our family REALLY stands out here. When someone screws up the courage to use their English to ask where I’m from, I say America – and here’s the kicker:

THEY BELIEVE ME.

They nod their heads when I say, “America” and they believe me. If they know a friend or family member who’s been to the US, they’ll mention that or they might ask how far away California is from Atlanta – but they believe me. If they’re interested in my ethnic heritage, they will ask pointedly as well. In Dhaka, I do realize that our family presents as a conundrum. In every day life, one doesn’t see tall White guys among the shorter, darker Bangladeshi men and women – so Josh visibly sticks out. Nor do you see Asian women out and about with White men, and our kids, by virtue of having a striking set of genes in their gene pool, stick out. The questioning doesn’t bother me as much here – probably because everyone already knows that we don’t belong and are foreigners. In the US, the assumption is already that we don’t belong – when we do.

***

I have been, as you can imagine, thinking a lot about how this all works, being a confident US-born-and-bred Chinese American woman living in a country where women play a decidedly different role in society. We are hiring for a nanny position here (see above, dissertation to write!) and this experience has been both weird and humbling and quite uncomfortable at times. I’ll write about that process more later. I don’t know how this all works – but I do know that all of the ideas and beliefs (quite firm, I assure you) that I had about feminism and what being a woman means – alllll of that changed abruptly on September 2 when we landed in Dhaka. I only wish it didn’t take an international move for me to really critically analyze all of this. But it did, and I’m here and my brain is a complicated thinky mess. As it should be.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
– excerpt from Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman”

Food. FOOD. FUUUUUD

This is the post my friend Emily has been waiting for. The FOOD!

I should preface this with a couple of disclaimers. First, we spent about a week eating out when we first got here since we were in a hotel until our apartment was ready. Second, we don’t have our own cook at home (another day I’ll talk about household help and all of the social issues that topic brings about) so while it took us awhile to find our groove, we are pretty much good with cooking at home (and cooking familiar meals to us and the kids). Lastly, for a variety of reasons, sometimes it is less expensive and hella more tasty (see that, Josh?) to eat out. I’ll elaborate below.

One of the hugest eye openers for us here has been the difference in the cost of living. The median monthly salary is 35000 taka – $451 USD. Those in heavier service trades (i.e., rickshaw drivers) earn way less than that – the equivalent of $55 USD. Thus, prices for pretty much everything is a lot lower – I mentioned earlier that a bottle of Pepsi in the US for a 16oz bottle would cost around $1 USD – that same bottle in Bangladesh costs 28 taka – or $0.36. Things that are imported from abroad cost more, but it’s still within the realm of affordability for those who are wealthier. It is always on our mind when we go out to eat or buy food at the grocery store. I have an app on my phone (hi, privilege!) that I use to calculate how much BDT (taka) to USD things cost before I decide to buy them. At some point, I’m sure, my brain will begin to think of things as they are worth in taka vs. dollars. So this is all sort of clouding my mind every time we eat – how much are things worth in the US – and then as a result, I get irritated and angry at companies like Pepsi – exactly how much money are they earning from everyone – from Bangladeshis, from Americans – and to what end. I know, really exciting mind talk when all you want to do is enjoy a good meal!

And the meals, they have been amazing. It’s a fairly good assumption in the US that cheap, quick food is also not tasty, for the most part. Here, our experience has been the opposite. Food has been inexpensive, slow, and tasty. Service in restaurants here has decidedly a less urgent tone than service in US restaurants. It is not uncommon to go in to a place for lunch at 12:30ish and not leave until 3 or even later. I’ve learned to bring paper and pens for the kids to draw with to pass the time. Because we don’t cook Bengali or Indian food well enough, for us, going out for biriyani is tasty and affordable and worth the wait! We’ve been to restaurants that have a wider variety of foods, including an Italian restaurant that serves decent Italian food – this has helped, I think, the kids with their transition when they can see and taste familiar foods from home.

The food is a lot spicier than what the kids are used to, and fantastic for Josh and me. We went to a place near Gulshan 2 circle that had no English menu and ate the hottest meat kabobs ever – we could not drink enough water or eat enough naan to put the fire out! The kids were less than enthused by that meal, but this is something they’re going to have to get used to. Even some of the local places that sell American meals add their own Bengali or Indian twists to the meals to make them spicier and more interesting to eat – one restaurant in Bashundhara we went to added curry to their beef burgers and WOW, it was delicious! Winning combination in my book!

***

On Wednesday nights, Josh teaches late, so we decided to grab some food from the cafeteria at Josh’s school (which is less than a minute’s walk from our building). Now, I am no stranger to good eats – many of the universities I’ve worked for have had amazing dining facilities. All of the food we have had at the tiny cafeteria at Josh’s school has been amazing and a nice, convenient way to get a good Bengali meal. Here’s what we had for dinner last night: mutton, chicken, and dal on rice.

Mutton, chicken, and lentils. SO. GOOD.

Mutton, chicken, and lentils. SO. GOOD.

We aren’t quite sure what these are called – but in my mind their legit name is “Little Bit of Carby Meat Heaven Wrapped Up In Joy.” They are so tasty. They’ve got diced potatoes and meat, spicy, in a curry-ish sauce. Not entirely sure what’s inside, but they are awesome.

YUM!

YUM!

This was all from the cafeteria. Total cost of this entire meal: 350 taka ($4.50 USD).

We finished up with some mangosteen for dessert. You cut into the rind to expose the soft, juicy, edible pieces inside. It looks like garlic, but tastes nothing like it. Delicious!

Mangosteen

Mangosteen

As is the case with everything we’ve experience so far in Dhaka, when we go out to restaurants to eat, the staff treat us incredibly well – uncomfortably well. If there was no fan or air conditioning on, they’ll turn it on and face it to us, even if there are other Bengali patrons already eating. In every place we’ve gone – the supermarket, restaurants, schools – there seems to be three times as many employees ready to assist than there are patrons ready to shop. Everyone is enthralled with the kids – especially Lindsey and Will. Before we leave Bangladesh, the kids’ egos and heads are going to be gargantuan.

***

When we are home, though, we have been making food mostly similar to what we’ve always cooked at home – an eclectic variety of American and Asian dishes. Mexican food is harder to come by here, so we haven’t done that (I was trying to figure out how we could do 7 layer dip, which has several traditionally Mexican components to the meal, but petered out after 4 layers) yet. We’ve been able to find a good amount of imported American brands of foods like pastas, pasta sauces, ketchup – that type of thing. The one thing that is lacking in variety is sandwich bread. I have only found one kind of non-white bread which was quite tasty, but our markets that are most convenient to us only really have white breads. We noticed today that our market sells turkey, so I am hopeful that in a couple of months I can roast a turkey. Maybe a tiny turkey or a turkey breast, but I am determined to have as authentic a Thanksgiving as I can manage!

Hartal

Today is Sunday, September 21, and we have been here for almost three weeks. Josh started teaching last week, and we got the kids just about enrolled at the local private, international school we found nearby. Last week, once I got all the paperwork gathered, we spent an entire morning at the school, while Matthew took a reading and math comprehension/placement exam, and Lindsey took an oral test to ascertain her ability to handle kindergarten work (verdict: yes, she can). I attended class at FSU via Google Hangout, and we have food in the refrigerator. For awhile, every single day was spent going out to a store of some sort, buying little things to make this apartment a home, like shelves for the kiddos toys, can openers – that type of thing that you don’t really think about in your house until you don’t have it and are thinking about pawing open cans of tuna with your bare hands.

Another interesting and unexpected thing we weren’t expecting – apparently we are going to be receiving light housekeeping services for our apartment once a week. Last Sunday, a swarm of women and a couple of men came through, swept everything, mopped, and washed our balconies and bathrooms. I was not expecting that!

Simple storage unit.

Simple storage unit – Lindsey’s room

So, the title of this entry is “Hartal” and we’ve gotten our first taste of politics in Bangladesh. Here is a wikipedia link – in essence, it’s a strike called by one of the political parties of the government. Thursday and Sunday, hartals were called, and this morning we learned that another hartal by another political party was called for Monday. In US terms – it would be if the Republican Party decided to hold a countrywide strike because they didn’t like an action or legislation introduced by the Democrats, or vice versa. So far, what it’s meant for us is sticking close to home – we haven’t really left at all, to avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But this will soon change because the school we’re enrolling the kids in continues to hold school in times of hartal. Plus, it’s not that far away so I think we’ll be good walking or rickshawing it.

Slowly but surely it’s becoming home. I am amazed by what we are able to procure here, but the effort to do so is magnified. The other day I had on my list three places to go to: a textiles store (to get sheets), a bookstore (to get a book promised to Matthew), and to a store that is the closest to Walmart that you can find in Dhaka, Unimart. I petered out after two. The heat, combined with a baby strapped to my chest, plus rickshaw drivers who weren’t quite sure what I was saying meant I cut the trip short to get home and rest. I just couldn’t do it anymore!

Will is fascinated by rain and the balconies that show him all the rain.

Will is fascinated by rain and the balconies that show him all the rain.

As we settle in, the more anxious I find myself in search of a daily routine. We had hoped to start the kids in school this week, but right now we are in between bank accounts, and can’t start the kids until we can drop off a big check (or as they say, cheque) in taka. On Thursday, during the hartal, representatives from a local bank came to Josh’s department and signed all the foreigners up for bank accounts. For our account, they didn’t do joint accounts, but I was named as the primary beneficiary in case anything should happen to Josh. HA! Luckily, they are issuing me a separate bank card so I don’t have to off him to get any money! So anyway, the kids haven’t started yet, and we’re almost at the end of the first term (split into quarters here). We should be ready to go next week, but in the mean time, we need to find things for the kids to do before they go insane – or before they drive -me- insane.

The other transitional thing that’s been challenging to navigate is the different roles Josh and I now play. For the first part of our marriage, I worked full time while Josh went to grad school and cared for Matthew at home. When we were in grad school things evened out for us – both of us were full time students, had assistantships and taught. Now, he’s working full time, I’ve got part time assistantships, but am nowhere near done with my degree yet. Plus, we’ve had so much more face time with the kids than we normally would this time of year (or even over the summer), so right now everything is in flux. I am sure that once the kids get settled in school and I find my groove with Will (we’re still throwing around the idea of hiring someone to come help me with kid and house duties so I can focus more completely on my school work and research) and our new routine, I’ll feel better about our transition.

Patience, patience.

Kid updates:

Matthew did great on the reading portion of his placement exam – 95% correct. Not surprising, considering that he spends much of his day, when he is not torturing his sister, with his nose in a book. He really does love to read. He didn’t do as well with the math portion of the placement exam, mostly because the math wasn’t anything that he’d learned previously. So we will have to work with him on this when he starts school.

Lindsey did great on her oral exam. She says she was asked the alphabet, what vowels are, and was very matter of fact that she knew them already. OK then.

Will, after taking a long break with teething after having cut 7 in short order, has resumed his teeth growing. Molars. UGH. They’ve been bothering him, poor muffin. He’s also moaning “Mama!” a lot now, and adores his bro and sis. Still. :)

Making a home

Oh, so much has happened since I last posted six days ago. On Tuesday, after nearly a week of hotel living – restless hotel living, I might add: living out of suitcases and not feeling terribly settled one way or the other* – we received word that our apartments were ready and the university would be there at around 11 to pick us up. Cue panicked repacking – at least this time, it was panicked “toss everything into suitcases, weight be damned”! Josh took the kids down to breakfast and came up with a little to-go box for me, which was “greatly accepted” (Matthew’s latest favorite phrase).

Our apartment is gigantic. We lived in a small three bedroom, two bathroom apartment in Tallahassee, and were bursting from the seams. This is a three bedroom, four bathroom (one is a separate squat toilet bathroom/shower) huge apartment. The kitchen is way less than we are accustomed to in the States, but it’ll do just fine. We just discovered that there’s a convection oven in the microwave, so all is right with the world. We have fire and water – really, what else do we need?

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The view from our balcony.

We live in northern Dhaka, in the Bashundhara section of the city. This is a few kilometers north of where we were housed in the diplomatic enclave of Gulshan. The pace is less hectic – compared to Gulshan, anyway – still pretty hectic compared to Tallahassee! We’ve been spending this week getting to know the area and getting stuff for our apartment – like cutting boards, knives, water filtration systems – stuff like that.

This is probably the hardest thing we’ve ever done – now that we’re in our home, anyway. Last week in the hotel it felt like we were on vacation – and in some ways we were! But now, the work of building a home began. On Wednesday evening, after a long and hard day of going to the market and trying to navigate first our way there and back in a foreign language, trying to negotiate with market owners (knowing full well that even at the “foreigner, more expensive” rate, you’re still getting a pretty good deal vs. what you could find in the US at a Walmart), eating out because you don’t know where the best supermarkets are in town – it just all wears down and you start second guessing everything. On our walk home with towels and hangers in hand (all we could manage to do in the market before we all decided enough was enough and headed back up to Bashundhara), we pass by the Jamuna Future Park mall – the largest mall of its kind in South Asia. We pass by the university Josh works for, and then turn into the plot where our brand new building is – nine floors of amazing, brand new residences for faculty at the university**. We also pass by stray dogs who are so tired and weak that they just lie in the mud and dirt and sleep, every rib bone visible. We also pass by abject poverty, amidst all the posh residences, with huts made of aluminum siding. It is so much to take in.

Also, there are cows and goats, just hanging out. This is right outside our building.

Cows. Moo.

Cows. Moo.

In Tallahassee, we sometimes would get awkward looks and glances and stares and racist conversations – we are a mixed-race family, and that type of thing is just not common in Northern Florida. Here in Dhaka, we REALLY stand out. Josh is 6’0″ tall and I’m 5’5″ – we are easily among the tallest people in any crowd we’re in. We turn heads constantly. Some people literally stop what they are doing and watch us, curious. Today, a security guard at the school right next to Josh’s actually took his cell phone out and took pictures of Josh wearing Will (that’s another thing – we don’t have a stroller, when we go out, Josh wears Will in a mei tai – I don’t think we’ve seen any parent wearing their kid at all here, much less a dad snuggling a baby!), sitting next to Lindsey in a rickshaw taking us to a market. So much staring and gawking and staring (did I mention staring?). It’s hard to know what to make of it – I mean, no one is treating us poorly because of this (except for trying to make us pay more for rickshaw rides), but it is unnerving. I suppose we will get used to this in time.

The other thing is how others simply adore Lindsey. Lots of pats on the head, innocent pinches to her cheek and ruffles to her hair. All this I know is meant in good faith and appreciation, but it is unnerving as her American-born parent, thinking of all the ways to instill in her as a young girl ways that one must respect her body —–

It is all just so very overwhelming. So much to think and to reconsider. We’ve been here less than two weeks and already I’ve felt so schooled.

***

Things are getting much better, though, especially now that we found a market in our neighborhood. It is amazing how much better I felt just being able to cook a meal at home! I made spaghetti in our tiny kitchen:

tiny!

Slowly, it’s becoming more like home. We should have the kids’ schooling settled next week (thank goodness, these children have had too much together time this summer). I need to get work done with my prospectus, and well, all that yarn I brought with me has to get knit up, right?

In the meanwhile, we’ve been exploring our neighborhood. Like I mentioned earlier, we live near a gigantic mall, most of which is empty. Each store seems to have more employees than customers. One thing that has amused both me and Josh since we arrived is the blatant copying – Doreos for Oreos, for instance (I think the Doreos taste better). Here’s one restaurant at the mall:

Subpoint... eat fresh?

Subpoint… eat fresh?

Despite its similarity in logo with Subway, I saw no signs of sandwiches.

At our local grocery store, the chips:

chips

chips

Some familiar names, some not, some in Arabic, some in Bangla.

Tonight for dinner, I made hamburgers (forgot to look for cheese). I found these rolls in the market. This is something I think we’ll miss – we just came from spending 2ish weeks mainlining San Francisco sourdough, to come here and have mediocre bread. It’s what we give up for paratha and naan.

French bread?

French bread?

OK, that’s probably quite enough. To prepare for this upcoming week, now!

(last picture alert)

We have plenty of places to lie down and read a book, yet Matthew lies on the floor in front of the refrigerator. Sheesh.

*yes, yes, #firstworldproblem

**I’m living on campus again?!