Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Dangers of Bangladesh

I have received many emails from concerned friends and families lately about this whole mess involving a video insulting Islamic people and the subsequent violence that has occurred in various places around the world. I have repeatedly gotten to inform them that I'm not in any danger that I'm aware of. Below is a map of Dhaka. On this map, the red line is my biking route to and from work. I live at the green dot and work at the blue dot. That distance is about 6.5 miles for perspective purposes. The purple dot in the upper right-hand corner is the American Embassy. The orange dots are where I have heard of protests happening or where protests frequently occur. The yellow dots are where protests can happen on occasion but are rare and quickly contained. As you can see, there is only one dot that intersects with my route home and I've only ever heard of something happening there a couple of times in my 4 years here.

The normal protesting times are roughly 10am (agitators are slow to get out of bed) to 3:30 pm while I'm in the office working hard. Rarely are protests still occurring by the time I leave work. Also keep in mind that Dhaka is a city of roughly 16 million people in a country were protests are very frequent due to issues of corruption, injustice, and politics in general. The police here are extremely used to dealing with protests of a very large nature. That said, any protests against the US Embassy here since the violence in Libya have been so small that they haven't even made the news here. Quite literally, the only place I've read about a protest here was on a foreign news website. That article spoke of a couple hundred people protesting and burning American flags but the pictures they included were down where those orange dots are. What I'm trying to point out here is that they were so small and so far away (probably over 8 miles away) from anything relevant that I haven't even bothered to be even slightly concerned about them. The Bangladesh government has outright condemned the video and has blocked youtube as a protest to the situation. At the same time, the government here is not tolerant of extremest positions either. They harass them themselves because they fear being labeled as a terrorist state. Other than that, it is just life as usual here.

One thing this has lead to is that I have had to explain to many of my coworkers and our landlord (came into the office for other business) why the American government did not just take down the article. It is hard to explain how things like hate speech are allowed by our constitution and that even if the government did take it down, someone would challenge that in the courts and it would be overturned. I have explained that the government has publicly condemned the video and asked the company to voluntarily take it down but has no right to force them to do so. They have explained back to me that this is an extremely hurtful thing for someone to have done and they are greatly aggrieved.

In the end, it is actually far more likely that I'll get hit while I ride my bike on the road than face any trouble from one of these protests and that is the real danger of Bangladesh.

Friday, August 31, 2012

What do you do when "Jesus" is trying to take advantage of you?

Living in Bangladesh for most people is very stressful as you can imagine. Things like pollution, power outages, the heat, traffic jams, the noise, and the poor infrastructure can drive people from places like the USA and UK to go crazy sometimes. One of the things that I'm particularly aware of is how this affects us all differently. Several of my coworkers despise the traffic jams of Dhaka and will do everything they can to avoid them. I on the other hand generally am not too bothered by them. Three years of working in a non-AC office on the other hand has meant that something I really struggled with at first doesn't bother me nearly as much now. Each person's needs are different and people's needs change. In light of this, I have done some thinking in the last few weeks and have come to acknowledge that the most challenging thing for me at this point in my life in Bangladesh is dealing with the beggars here.

You see, I believe very much that as a Christian, we are to treat these people as we would Jesus himself. If you don't believe me, read Matthew 25:31-46. The struggle then becomes, what do you do if the person whom you are to see Jesus in, is trying to take advantage of you or is being taken advantage of? If you don't have an idea of what I'm talking about, go watch the movie Slumdog Millionaire. I assure you, the terrible people that maim others and force them into a life of begging really do exist. Others are hurt in accidents due to poor safety standards and are forced to beg out of necessity. Others, are just regular people who come to the big city to try making a living selling cheap things in the middle of traffic or just asking for money plain and simple because they think they are helping Muslims be more holy by relieving them of their required alms for the poor. Being white makes it double the trouble because as a foreigner you attract lots of attention from these people who think you will give them large amounts if they don't leave you alone.

The tough parts are trying to figure out who is legitimately in need of funds which is pretty much impossible to tell and being kindhearted towards those who aren't legitimately in need. I so desperately want to be a kindhearted and generous person, but it is really hard to figure out how to appropriately be that person here. Why does it seem that "Jesus" wants to take advantage of me? That's a question I struggle with every day.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Uncertainty and Messiness

One of the things people always ask you when you are doing something that has an end date is, "What's next?" Before we got married, Esther and I had a great way around this question as we would just reply that we were focusing on getting married first then thinking about it. Now we are married and it is a much harder question to answer. The truth is that we don't know. We are starting to look into the process of what visa requirements there are for the US and the UK. I think we both prefer one of those two directions at this point as we feel like a time of recovery and reflection would do us well after 5 years each here in Bangladesh. We've even joked that we should do manual labor jobs rather than professional career jobs for  a year. I was talking to a friend going through a similar process the other day and he said that they are hoping to go back home and figure out what parts of themselves they've been neglecting and what parts of themselves they just need to toss out after being here awhile. I suspect we'll do much the same. The uncertainty stinks though. I hate uncertainty but one thing I hold to, and believe we'll hold to, is that we'll go wherever God calls us next. That is comforting to have in my back pocket.

In other less heady news, we've painted another room in our house and really only have one small wall we really feel needs painting left to go. We have internet in our house and I even managed to set up the wireless router without a hitch. Many of our decorations are up but not all at this point. I managed to have a shelf made for the kitchen (getting stuff made properly is a lot of work) only to find that the walls themselves are crooked so I'll have to do some adjusting on that! We are down to just one room that is an absolute mess. We basically took some time out and said, let's get this house livable! The one room was the sacrificial lamb as we just couldn't do it because of issues like, not having a bookshelf for our books or a closet for our painting supplies/luggage. I'm still waiting for one or two things to get hung up, then I'll take photos and we'll post them for all to see how we have decorated (and by we I mean Esther because I am terrible at that kind of thing and she is amazing). Esther is finishing up her first week of teaching this week after opening their new school building last weekend. That has been pretty stressful for her as she wasn't able to do her planning ahead of time because of building prep stuff. We have a 4 day weekend this weekend though and that should help her catch up. As a special treat I'm taking her here this weekend. They've got an offer for Bengali people and foreigners with work permits (us!) that on weekends when they are not as busy you can come for two nights with meals and a Thai massage included into full access to the facilities for a very reasonable price. Add in that this is just across the road from the development we live in (meaning that you don't have to wait for hours in traffic to get there) and this becomes a fantastic deal that several of our friends have told us great things about. Esther says she is taking all western clothes and we look forward to just hanging out and eating fabulous meals.

After leaving the hotel I'll be going and watching the opening weekend of Premier League Soccer with the guys and we'll be hanging out with friends on another night. Needless to say, I'm really looking forward to this weekend!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Married Life

I totally had a great idea for a blog post tonight. I was going to talk about dust and mud. I realized today that in Dhaka city, you have one or the other constantly present. When it is dry, there is tons of dust from all the vehicle pollution and the construction that is constantly going on. When it rains even the slightest bit (it was a sprinkling this afternoon on my way home) and it turns all the ever present dust into mud, mud, and more mud. They sweep the streets every morning with brooms but don't wash them like they do in the US. I was going to talk about lots of muddy streets. But my lovely wife reminded me of something, she said that people were probably far more interested in hearing about how married life is going. Which ironically is a good lead in to talking about married life.

The key thing thus far is constantly reminding myself that life isn't about me. I can't just make all my decisions off the cuff anymore. I find myself constantly having to say something like, "That sounds like a wonderful idea, but let me run it by Esther first..." I also have to be willing to concede that while I am enthralled with the whole mud vs. dust paradigm, sometimes she is right and people care more about juicy gossip about what we are up to. The long and short of it is that we have painted two rooms and are finishing up the decorations in that second room. Delaying this process was a trip 6 hours south to visit with some friends of mine and enjoy the village. Unfortunately, this coincided with Esther getting sick with what I'm fairly confident is a the flu since I then also came down with something resembling the flu. Work is busy but I've managed not to get completely bogged down with it yet. MCC was kind enough to offer me the use of a motorcycle to travel to and from work so that I could spend more time with Esther in the evenings but I've already gotten fed up with it and switched back to my bike. It really only saved 20 minutes and that was if it started immediately. The final straw was when I was still somewhat sickish the other morning and it took 25 minutes to start it. By the time I finally got it kick started, I was only continuing to try because I told myself that meant I could take it back and never touch the stupid thing again. It has been good motivation to get my butt back in gear.

All in all, I think a good friend of ours summed up marriage pretty well. She ran into Esther and her first comment was about how exciting it was that she was married like most people do at this stage. Her response was to say to Esther, "It's a lot of work isn't it!" That I think would be the best way I've heard it put thus far. We haven't been at each others throats but we have constantly had to learn to talk things through and agree to disagree at times. I think I could even go out on a limb and say that the biggest challenge thus far is expectations. You talk a lot about those in marriage prep but no amount of talking really prepares you in the end. Sometimes you just have to live life out and that is what we are doing.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Final thoughts about the end of my bachelorhood.

Many people have been asking lately how I'm feeling about getting married. I've had many thoughts on these matters and as is typical for me, it seems I may be odd. People keep asking me in particular if I'm nervous but I don't feel that way. Should I be nervous? I guess I take the view that, as with all community based functions, things with the wedding day are going to be insane and something isn't going to go the way we had anticipated but at the end of the day, I get to marry the woman I love. Barring that not happening, what do I have to be nervous about then? I'll do my best and try to make the experience as perfect as it can be for everyone but forget you if you think I'm going to let worries over details ruin my wedding.

No, nervousness has not been my feeling lately. My feeling has been more borderline on melancholy because I feel bad that Esther is not with me and I am not in Ireland helping her out. It kind of just kills the joy in life. Luckily or unluckily, things have been crazy at work while she has been away and preparing to leave for vacation for 3 weeks was a bit of a grind. It has been a good distraction but I've noticed that when I come home at the end of the day the melancholy mood is made that much worse by tiredness.

When it comes down to it, I'm mostly at this point just excited that I'll get to see Esther again tomorrow morning. I'm excited that I'll be able to help out. I'm excited that I'll see my family and friends. I feel a bit bad that they've all paid so much money to come to the wedding and I've not talked to them much over the last 6 months or so. Hopefully the time around the wedding can make up for that a bit.

Other general thoughts I've had:
  • I moved my stuff over to Esther's apartment the other day and I was reminded of how much junk we accumulate and how I need to throw stuff out.
  • Having a moment to settle a little bit of my stuff into what is our apartment was a great feeling!
  • I said goodbye (for the most part) to bachelor food. I've eaten some strange meals.
  • The idea of doing something for the last time as a bachelor is just a strange concept.
  •  Esther and I are going to have to feed a lot of Bengali people when we get back.
  • I hate feeling useless. Not knowing Irish culture well enough to provide sound suggestions for the wedding has been very frustrating.
  • Esther and I are very blessed to have friends from so many places who are able to come to our wedding!
  • I'm looking forward to Irish food which is a sure sign for most my friends that I'm crazy.
  • Writing my speech for the reception requires a lot of thought, I normally wing it on such things!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Bike Rides

As I'm sure I have stated many times on this blog. I love riding my bicycle. I get to see things at whatever pace I want. Over the weekend, I got invited to friend's farewell party. It stretched far into the night. Eventually the host offered the use of his car and driver to get us all home. One of the people going lives just three doors down from me. I wasn't going to accept on behalf of my beloved bike until I realized just how late it was. Time forced me to relent and take the offered ride. I let my beloved bike stay over in the parking lot of my friends apartment building for two days and then decided I should go back for it last night. One mistake I made first though is that I stepped on the scales. I realized that I've been putting on a bit of weight lately. Genius me decides that walking there and biking back would be a good idea. I wasn't quite sure how long it would be but I was guessing somewhere around 5 miles since it is 6 miles to Esther's house. The fact that I was guessing 5 miles should have been a good clue of just how silly I am sometimes. So I threw a chicken roast in the oven on a low temperature (figured it would take me two hours and I'd be hungry when I got back) and started walking. I started doing the math in my head while I walked and realized that walking would take me at least 1.5 hours at a brisk pace. I decided to jog a bit of the journey to reduce this time somewhat. Nothing too crazy, just two stretches at a reasonably easy pace that was about twice as fast as my walking. In the end that paid off as I reached my destination, 5.2 miles later after an hour and ten minutes of walking. I was covered in sweat but felt like I had accomplished something as I walked into the parking lot. I talked to the guard who told me where he had put my bike and I went to retrieve it. When I found my bike, I pulled it around to the front gate and then realized that the back tire was flat. I looked outside and saw that it was dark which meant that there would be no fixing it as all the guys who do these things on the side of the road go home as soon as it gets dark. The last time this happened to me on the road, I ended up walking home 3 miles or so in the dark. I was furious in this moment. I felt a very strong temptation to just throw my bike in that moment. I hated the stupid thing.

I took a few deep breaths, walked in a circle as I thought about the situation then set my bike back where it had been, walked to the nearest bus stand and got a bus home. As I sat on the bus on the way home, I couldn't help but think about how this was just how my day had gone. Crappy thing after crappy thing happened. Nothing major, nothing life altering, but always crappy. Once I got past this, I began to think about how I had a delicious roast waiting for me at home and I felt very good after a long walk. Those thoughts are leaving me to ponder repeating yesterday's feat today only leaving early enough that I can get my tire fixed which probably just goes to show that my mind isn't all there.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Super Shopper

Last night I did some shopping for various kitchen and food needs. I started off by going to the local grocery store. As I was perusing I noticed some mustard on the shelf. I hadn't intended to buy mustard but remembered that I wanted to make a few things soon that would require it. I started looking at the selection which was literally a choice between two different containers of about the same size of the same brand. I soon discovered that the only real differences were that one was set to expire sooner and one was in a glass jar while the other was in a plastic squeeze bottle. Based on this, I chose the glass jar (jar is reusable!) because despite the fact that it was set to expire faster it was slightly cheaper. I got all the way through the store and checked out. On my way out of the store I glanced over the receipt and realized that they charged me an extra 18 taka (22 cents) for my mustard. I took it back and pointed this out to them. Just like the would in America they went and got the manager. He looked it all over before going to do a price check. He then returns to me and says, this was my mistake, the price should actually be what the system says it is. I point out that it quite clearly on the sticker says that it was 18 taka less. He just looks at me and says that the actual price is more. I then look at them and say, "here's your mustard, give me my money back." The cashier is obviously not excited about this and everyone else (yes there was a crowd of employees growing for this transaction) is chatting away about this exchange of events. They eventually after 20 minutes of transaction did give me my money back and me being less than excited by this whole process (in America if you admit that you made a mistake at a retail place you would probably just discount the item right?!) demanded that they return the tax money I paid them too. They mumbled about this a bit to themselves before doing some calculations and then giving it back to me. I walked out a bit annoyed with them over all of this as my culture would totally handle something like this completely different. Then on my way home I remembered suddenly that the local shop that sells natural, locally produced spices also sells mustard. I dropped by there and found it for 100 taka ($1.23) less than I would have paid in the store. I got more mustard (albeit runny mustard) in a glass bottle for way less from a salesman who was very nice. I felt like a complete idiot for not remembering this sooner and walked out of the store feeling like a champion for having saved so much money!

That set me up for next shopping adventure. I went to the bazaar looking for a stainless steel container to make yogurt in. The first couple of shops that I went to had nothing but thought maybe some shops further along might have what I was looking for. They were correct and I found just the right container for a reasonable price. I bought it and in the joy of my impending fresh homemade yogurt I started to head home. On my way home I saw a stand. The stand had the most delicious looking mangoes. I was drawn to it. I walked over and asked how much. He told me it was 100 taka/kg. Delicious looking mangoes for $1.23/2.2lbs! I was not to be drawn in quite that fast though. I saw the mango where he had been giving taste tests from and knowing that this is what it was for I asked for one. He whipped out his knife and started to cut me a slice when I heard the guys standing a few feet away having a conversation about me. They were talking about how I was like a Bengali. I got a chuckle out of this as I got my sample which turned out to be just as sweet as it looked. I got myself my kg of mangoes and went home to make my yogurt merrily reflecting on the exchanges of the evening.

I won out on a mustard price issue and received a much more awesome product. I got a stainless steel container for my yogurt making after not being at all sure that I would be able to find one. I got my first mangoes of the season. Most importantly, the crowd of people was comparing me to them rather than talking about how different I was. They always talk about how different you are or what strange thing you are doing. It is nice to feel included sometimes.