My Bangladesh

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

In Training

September 1, 2003

Its 11:00 P.M. here, meaning its about 1 in the afternoon at home. Okay, here’s my temporary address for everyone who wants it (send me stuff!!) (subliminal message):

Peace Corps
Attn: Adam Kaswiner (me)
House #57
Isakhan Avenue
Uttara Model Town, Dhaka 1230

I’d send postcards, but, well, Bangladesh doesn’t seem to have those. Its kinda like the Lonely Planet Bangladesh tour book I have, with a rickshaw seat on the cover. There isnt a whole lot that people would really want on postcards here, so its probably for the best that I havent found any.

Wendesday we’re going on site visits to stay with current volunteers (we are still just trainees). It should be fun and nice to get away from Shavar, just because things arent all that exciting around here. I am starting to get into somewhat of a routine, with working out, school (that’s what we call it, and esentially what it is), eating, etc. Someone asked me about my water situation. My family boils my water then puts it in a filter we are given by the PC. Good stuff. I don’t know if I have any funny quotes right now. But I have heard some pretty humorous stuff from other people im here with. This girl Sarah who lives next door to me (I think we are the only people who are actually ‘neighbors’, everyone else is pretty spread out, and this has really worked out well, shes really cool). Anyways, the showers here are freezing, b/c its just rain and well water, so yeah, cold. She said something to the extent of, “I think I even sweat in the showers here.” Then someone else had their name & dahl in a big heart on their notebook. We get a lot of dahl. And a lot of rice. And the power is out right now, so im somewhat delaying going to sleep b/c its pretty warm, and the fan helps me go to sleep. I don’t actually use a blanket, just my lunghi, which is like the male skirt thing here. We were given those by the PC too. They give us a lot of stuff. I don’t really wear mine, cus I just wear shorts around the house (my host dad on the other hand, hes always in a lunghi). They are actually pretty comfortable, they are kind of like ‘after-work wear’, unless you are lower class, then you just wear them all the time. So I use mine for a blanket, b/c I need something , and pretty much everything else is too heavy.

A lot of people are getting tired of the food, but I really don’t mind it. Hopefully ill include some pictures in this e-mail, but I cant promise anything. Except that. And that. And that. Okay, that’s enough. We got cell phones too, I think I told you that though. You plural. Ahh, random tangents. Going back to the food thing; I like it. We had beef tonite. It was spicy as all hell, which wasn’t incredlby pleasant, but im beginning to get somewhat used to it. Last night I ate a chilli by mistake and my family was dying laughing b/c of the faces and sounds I was making. You can probably imagine it. Then my host mom tried to give me sugar to neutralize the taste of burning, but she kept pouring it and it just went all over me. Ahh, power. That’s my cue to exit…for now.

September 6, 2003

On a bus returning fom my site visit to Dinajpur right now. We went down, or actually up, seeing as its North of Shavar, on Wendesday morning, and now its Satuday. It was a really good trip, not only b/c it got us away from Shavar, out of the routine which can be pretty bland day in and day out, but also b/c it really gave me some insight into what it will be like when Im off on my own, which is really how most of my time will be spent in my two years hee. It really helped me feel reassured about being here; not that Ive really been doubting anything, but rather, these last few days showed me what my life will be like over the long haul. This bus is incredibly bumpy. Im listening to Simon and Garfunkel greatest hits, a nice mellow mix, in complete contrast to this insanity on the road. I really cant convey the driving techniques here, if there are any. Its somewhat like a constant game of chicken, who will move first. There seems to be no problem driving on either side of the road, but you have right of way on the left side.

So lets see what we did on this little trip. It was me and two girls from my group, and we went to stay with this kid Scott, who has been here for a year now. Hes called a B4, because hes in the fourth Bangladesh group. Im a B6. They bring in a new group every 6 months. The bus ride was about 7hours, including a stop and traffic. Exciting, huh? I slept most of the way, much to the amazement of my companions, who were kept up by the constant honking and traffic induced teror. We met up with Scott, and went out to dinner at some Chinese food restaurant - Chinese food simply means not Bengali food; we were all kind of ithcing for something wihout dahl. Then we kinda just chilled, hung out, good stuff. The next day we kinda took it slow too. I made french toast for everyone in the morning, it was really nice going into someones kitchen where you wouldn’t be observed by three people as you cooked (like I am with my host family). Cooking tends to be very theraputic for me, so this was really nice. We didn’t really do much. Oh wait. We went to an internet café. Just checked some stuff. Slowest computers ever. 4 computers attached to one dial up connection. Wonderful. We kinda walked around this guy’s town a bit, saw what another place was like, what a potential site would be like. Talked about what he does on a daily basis, teaching, etc. His site is SO much nicer than where we are (Shavar). Very few cars = less pollution and less honking ‡ the worst things EVER. But the sceney there was goregous. I knew there would be things worth seeing, it just takes a little time and effort to find them.

Later that day we went to this lake, where we went swimming, which was basically tuned into a show for about 20 Bangladeshis. This became even more of an issue the next day. Yeah, yesterday was the one really worth describing. We went out to this Hindi temple, which is one of the great sites in this country. It was amazing. The detail rivaled stuff in Rome. But the best part, is its just in the middle of nowhere. Anyone who has ever been to Europe always says they wish they could see amazing things, without all the annoyance of other tourists and people selling crap. Well, that was basically this place. There was nothing exccept thatched roofed cottages (TROGDOR!!), palm trees, fields of banana trees, and a few people. No cars, some rickshaws, just amazing. Oh yeah, to get to the temple we had to cross a really small river in this basically handmade boat. So cool. And it didn’t sink. This was really ideal Bangladesh. After seeing the temple, which by the way, is made up of 10,000 tiles, each with a unique engraving, and each side reperesnting a different age in Hindi religion time. So afterwads we went back to that river and went swimming again. There was a nice little current, and the water temp was perfect, a little cool, which was nice b/c it was so hot outside. We swam futily against the current a bit, I just dug my feet into the sand underneath, and leaned against the current, defying gravity by leaning at 45 degree angles wihtout holding onto anything.
Then we hopped on a rickshaw van, basically a rickshaw with a big wooden thing on the back, so a bunch of people or stuff can be put on it. All fou of us rode back, then took the bus back to Danijpu. Then came the highlight of my day. I had been wanting to get a drum, so I could have some creative outlet that didn’t require too much thinking, but I had failed in all attempts so far. But Scott took me to a really cool place where I got a drum (its part of a setup with one more drum, you play this one with the right hand, the other with the left). It was 600 taka, which is 10 dollars, and its all handmade and really cool. Its very different than most drums ive ever seen. Kinda hard to describe, but basically you can make about a billion different sounds on it. Im gonna play it every day.
I think its called a TAMba. Phonetically spelled there. Ill get the other one in time, but one is good for now. So I got my drum, we went back, cooked up some dinner, and watched the Two Towers on my computer. Now Im on my way back to my host family, get back to some more Bengali cuisine. Everyone else seems to be getting tired of it, but I really like it. Its fun to eat, and as long as I get some kind of varriety in the vegetables (shoapji) or meat (mongsho) Im happy. Even with rice and dahl everyday. By the way, if some of my words are missing “r’s, its b/c I have to hit that key really hard, and sometimes I don’t notice when it doesn’t come up. So that’s that.

Im ready to get back to my host fam, and continue to develop my Bangla. This next week should be pretty intense, but Ill be alright. Ive had a lot of nice breaks, with the hartal last week (the strike) and this week the site visit. Also, the night before I left last week, I got to go with 7 other people for dinner at my country directors house in Gulshon, which is a really nice area of Dhaka. He and his wife were volunteers long ago (they are pretty old), and their daughter was a volunteer. A different group goes to their house every week. She made meatloaf, potato wedges, green beans. IT was nice having a taste of food from home, but it was weird using silverware and napkins. And sit down toilets. Etc.


Okay, that was supposed to be the last day, but I just havent had a chance to go to Shavar, where the internet café is, hence I havent sent any e-mail. See, that’s causality. Or something like that. I feel like Im getting eaten alive by bugs right now for some reason. I don’t really have anything too exciting to wite about right now, but I just really don’t feel like studying. Probably should, but my brain is exhausted. Long days of language, training, heat, seeing the same 40 people day in, day out. But its all good, Im just a little drained. This has been a pretty intense week, just getting back into the routine after the site visits. Just got my first Bangladeshi haircut. Def an expeience. About 2 minutes into it the power goes out so I just sit there with all of these guys talking to me and me understanding very little of what they are talking about. My host brother took me, and they actually did a pretty good job. Its kinda weird having my hair cut with a real razor to clean up the back and sides. Never really experienced that before. Wanted to get a shave too, but Shubo (my host brother) didn’t think it was such a good idea, for reasons I wont get into so I don’t uncessarily worry anyone (Grandma, ahem). I should probably study a little bit at least tonite, so I probably wont write much more. I don’t think Ill get to send this till I go to Dhaka on Thursday (hopefully), so Ill write more tomorrow. Today is Tuesday. Or Mongelbar. But now imagine that word in completely different letters that make no sense. Yeah, that’s my life. I actually like the language though. Im doing pretty well, just need to keep practicing. Oh, something kinda cool. Satruday we start “model school”, which is basically a practice three weeks of teaching, using people from the community who want to be taught by white people AKA bideshis (I get that one a lot), meaning foreigner. So that should be interesting. Model school that is. We teach with a partner on a topic of our choice. Im doing foods. I know a little bit about that. So Ill keep you updated on how that goes. Alright, johesto (enough).

Trying not to get hit by a car in Shavar,


Sunday, March 12, 2006

In the begining...

Im lying on my bed right now attempting to write an e-mail on my laptop, hoping that I can transfer it at the local internet cafe, so everyone knows I am actually alive. Yeah, so im alive. Wow, theres a lot to tell. The left hand thing really isnt all that bad, its actually much cleaner, but i can see how when you arent around it and you have other options it does seem pretty horribly gross.

Everything is done with your hands really though.

A typical meal consists of rice (actually, I dont think Ive had a lunch or dinner without rice), some vegetables, a meat/fish/egg, and dahl, which is like a lentil soup, except very thin.

I get absolutely no protein b/c they just dont understand the concept of nutrition here, so my body is like eating itself, plus everything is cooked in heaps of oil. Heaps. Yeah, so you take all of that stuff, put it on your plate, then mix it all together with your hand (make sure its the right one, and right means right side and correct in this case), then you just start shoveling it into you mouth like Ralphy’s brother in A Chistmas Story, hardcoe piggy style. Its actually not that messy, becasue theres no pasta or anything, everything kinda meshes together.

Theres so much to tell really about this crazy place. It is absolute chaos. I live in this area called Shavar, but thats really the downtown area. My area is called Anandupur, it could also be Ganda, but its a little further than that. Everyone in my group (its now down to 40, 3 people quit) is either in Banktown (where our school type buildings are), Ubajilla, or Ganda. Im just kinda stuck in wit h the Ganda group. The family Im living with is really cool.

Even though this country is like 90 percent Muslim I got a Christian family which works out pretty well. they dont have any crazy rules or anything. There is a father, mother, 21 year old married daughter, and 15 year old son. Ive seen boxes bigger than my room, but its got enough room for my yoga mat, and its ‘cozy’. The mosquito net makes me feel like I sleep in a fort every night.

My malaria pills are making me crazy. Not really, but they are supposed to give you “vivid dreams”. My house is pretty small, but it has fans (as most places do), which is really nice b/c it is very hot and humid. But with no A/C at all there really isnt anything to compare it to. I bought a bunch of bengali shirts, not punjabis, but it makes me look a little less western. The people here are kinda wierd. They just stare at you as you walk by, rarely saying anything, and you cant tell if theyre looking at you with awe, wonder, curiosity, hate, fear, or anything else you can possibly think of. Its a little uncomfortable, but seeing as Im like twice the size of the biggest bangladeshi (okay, exagerrating a bit) im not too worried. oh yeah, speaking of their smallness, when i went to try on clothes it was quite an adventure. my host brother-in-law (who is really cool and speaks a decent amount of english) had to help me with the shirts b/c they are so small and its so humid. I went with some girls shopping the next day too, and the same thing. Our heads, shoulders and back are so much bigger, so i litterally have to have people pull my shirts down over me and then off of me. When i was tryng things on i had my head caught in one shirt, and i have this guy trying to tug it off my head and im pulling, and all these bangladeshis surrounding me cracking up. it was quite the spectacle. oh, but the ridiculous part about all this, is the fact that the shirts i was trying on were XXL. Thats double extra large, and they dont come no bigger. and even those are hard to find. peace corps tells us we have to dress nicely, even to go to class, which basically means no t-shirts or shorts, so i got like 6 of these shirts. the price range is ridiuclous here. the most i paid for any shirt was like 140 taka, which is about 2 dollars and 30 cents. and its a pretty nice shirt. oh, speaking of price ranges that brings me to the rickshaws. by the way, there is going to be a lot of stuff i forget, but i need to get this introductory e-mail out b/c theres been so much going on and so much to tell about.

so yeah, the rickshaws. they are basically these bikes, except not. they have one wheel in the front, then two in the back, with a big seat for passengers. then the rickshaw driver, if you can call him that, peddles you wherever you want to go.

sometimes i take one to class b/c i have like a half hour walk to get there, along the disgustingly polluted highway. theres another thing. the honking. people here dont seem to understand that most of the time youre not supposed to honk. if you can walk on the highway for a minute, literally, without hearing someone blast their horn in your ear, that is a great, and rare, minute. so i ride these rickshaws around, take them downtown, which is another story. but they can be the most fear inducing spectacle ever. there are no traffic laws at all here. rickshaws go with or against traffic, it doesnt seem to matter. sometimes youll even see cars and buses just blatantly going on the wrong side of the highway. and theres a divider along most of it, so they cant just like jump back on the correct side. unless they have the gadget mobile. and i havent seen that yet. downtown shavar. thats just pure chaos. a lot of people, a lot of starring, a lot of people trying to talk to you or sell you their crap, or i dont know what else. i havent really been to downtown dhaka yet, but i think im gonna go this friday with my brohter-in -law.

my language skills are improving steadily.
its taken me about a week, but ive leaned the alphabet, and i dont even know the whole thing. its fifty letters, and there is no semblence to ours at all. in the way the letters look, sound, and are constructed. its not like spanish or anything like that, sometimes the vowel will come before the consonant its pronouced with, sometimes after, so its really a challenge to read. but its definetly coming along. i can say a decent amount of stuff, and i dont need phonetics anymore, which makes things much easier. i like it here, i like my family, but the peace corps itself has really been my only complaint. let me lay out a typical day before i get on this topic. ive been waking up around 5:30 or 6 for the past week, working out, maybe running, doing some resistance band training, pushups, crunches, etc. so thats good stuff. shower, breakfast (usually an egg, ruti - which is like a flour tortilla kinda, bananas), then head for class. we have a meeting at 8, then first language section till 10, then tea break till 10:30, then language again till 12, then lunch, and at 1 we do “technical training”. technical training is another way of saying wasting adam’s time. XXX im seriously gonna sue the government for countless hours of my life back, because every afternoon we sit there and listen to people babble about absoultely NOTHING. sometimes it will be a medical session, other times teacher training, otherr times community/culture stuff. but seriously, its liike these people are talking just to listen to themselves. im in awe of how long people can talk for without actually saying ANYTHING. we sit there and are given flipchart upon flipchat of useless info. we are finally begining to have some sessions where they tell us some stuff of importance, but thats pretty rare. today i wasnt feeling so hot, so i just went and laid down in another room. im a little sick right now, but nothing too bad. i was pretty sick in dhaka for a day; my stomach just decided it would go berserk for a while while i was in agony. but it didnt last long. they gave us a med kit and stuff, but the pcmo (peace corps medical officer, by the way, they abbreviate everything EVERYTHING, its driving me c razy, im convinced its just a way for them to make us think they are talking about something important when they are really not talking about anything AT ALL!!) is just like dont call me unless you are about to die. he tells us everything we wont have, or if we do, we wont know until ______ or unless ______, its really all pointless. as you can tell the PC bueracracy (spelling ??) is driving me a bit insane. i feel like im taking crazy pills!!! everything else is fine though. my group is good, even though you inevitably start to get sick of people when you see them everyday. domo origato mr roboto. the biggest problem is we only get to hang out when we are doing other crap, and then i live pretty far from a lot of people im better freinds with, cus they live in banktown (right across from the school). on saturday (our weekends here are fri and sat) we played ultimate frisbee in this field of mud. it was insane. running was futile. youd be running down the field to catch the disk and then spontaneously just go flying because you slid in some mudpuddle. im kilroy kilroy kilroy.

there are a lot of bugs. its not as undeveloped as i thought, just really really poor. write me back when you get this. Please, for the love of god !! its damn lonely out here, and its really nice to get e-mails from familiar voices. or something like that. its IN the computer ?? ill probably check my mail a few times a week, but i have to go downtown to do it, so write me good e-mails. long and detailed. like this one. and funny. and good. and with presents attached. and protein bars. okay, i realize some of these things are impossible, but do your best. let me know whats going on in that world. ill wrrite again relatively soon, and it should have a lot less of these introductory details. otherwise, thats all ive got. the end.


“Look it says right here in my high school yearbook, ‘most likely to become famous’”
“Peter thats not a yearbook, thats a time magazine.”
“Oh… no wonder they had the wrong picture and name”