26 December 2007

Week 16: The red of Eid-ul-Adha and the yellow of the gaye holud

16th-1st in Dhaka 12/19

Language test at 5:30 this morning. Woke up early by 10 minutes so I wasn’t groggy on the phone. Got the call promptly at 5:30. test lasted 10 minutes or so, about 8-10 questions on random stuff, I answered pretty well I think. Was a bit nervous to be graded like this. Although it does not matters for me. Fulbright will get the results and evaluate them based on only improvement from my pre-test in August. Surely I’m much better, so hopefully I’ll have justified the language portion of the grant.

Downloaded some of our dance’s songs this morning, so I could get them drilled in my brain.

Then headed out for Khulna to visit Nafisa and her family. Lesson learned today: book a ticket early, no matter what. It just makes life easier. I didn’t have to leave too late due to lack of tickets, but it could’ve easily happened.
At Gabtoli station, I thought it would be just like Saidabad station, which I left from last Eid when Shakil and I went to Comilla. I couldn’t find a Khulna bus by roaming the parking lot, and after asking someone where to find them, he said I’d first have to buy a ticket, and pointed me that way.
The ticket counters are separated by bus company. At each of these counters an employee has a computer or some book keeping. They sit in these little booths behind bars. And a big mob of people swarm the front until they can yell where they want to go. Lots of pushing and yelling. Madness. To make it more confusing, each company has 7-8 counters, and they are not contiguous, they are randomly dispersed amongst the other companies. I got pointed from company to company, at each counter I stood and waited and pushed until I could yell, “Khulna.” At which point they would just shake their head and look at the next customer. What I did make out at one point was that all buses leaving today were booked.

Well, feeling defeated that I couldn’t leave today, I went on search for a local bus which I wouldn’t need a ticket for but would expect a lot less comfort and ease of travel. Ended up asking some mechanics where I could look for a bus. One of them was helpful and decided to take me to where he thought I could find one. Well he was right. Down past the station there were some places to buy tickets for local buses (yepp, even local buses) and we were able to manage one. I had to wait 40 minutes until it left. Thanked the mechanic, he did go out of his way, and I really don’t know if I would’ve been successful without him.

Boarded the bus at 3pm, about 1.5 hours after I would’ve liked to leave, but was glad it was actually still daytime, or even this day! Was sitting way in the back of the bus, seats luckily were spaced enough to allow my legs to fit. That could’ve been worse. Was soon surrounded by folks interested in my life story.
Bus ride was my first one alone in Bangladesh. The station was crazy since it’s so close to Eid. And the roads are packed with trucks carrying cows and cows in the road for the upcoming slaughterings. (pics: cows being walked outside of Gabtoli station, cows being walked in between buses and trucks full of more cows near Gabtoli station)

Surprised to see the bus stop for prayer when the azan was heard. Never had that happen before. Half the bus emptied to pray.
We had to cross the Padma River. I’ve done this before, but last time our bus boarded a ferry and we got across that way. But this time we had to disembark our bus, get onto a little launch that took us across the wide wide Padma River. Took 25 minutes to cross. Some of my busmates made sure I didn’t get lost in this whole process, as we would all get on the same bus on the other side. One paid me special attention and didn’t leave my side. It was dark before we even got to the Padma, and I’m not 100% sure I would’ve made it without all their help. On the launch some guy selling oranges and one guy selling hard boiled eggs. (pics: launch in the daylight which crosses the Padma but I crossed at night (please note all the people), many launches at the start of the river crossing passing close to each other)

Got to the other side and our bus wasn’t there yet. We waited for a bit. Finally bus came, we got on, and discovered there were less seats on this bus than there were on the bus we had left on the other side of the river. This caused lots of yelling and bickering and fighting for about half an hour of the bus ride. Blaming each other for whose fault it was. No one yelled at me luckily. I guess it wasn’t MY fault there weren’t enough seats. Ultimately only two guys had to stand. But it was a bit silly that this happened. I’m sure the bus company doesn’t care. As long as the first bus has more seats than the second, that way they can sell more tickets, and leave you to fight later.
The night was slow after this. Driving in the dark. Listened to mp3 player. Finally arrived in Khulna at 11:00. Nafisa and her dad and her cousin met me at the bus stop a few minutes after I got off, and we walked to the house.
Had some dinner while they watched and went to bed. I had my own room, it was nice of them to do that since other people were sharing beds. Bathroom was right next to me. Gave me a mosquito net. Quite cold here. Wore a sweatshirt almost the whole day. It was great to arrive, I was very tired.

16th-2nd in Khulna 12/20

Khulna is the third largest city in Bangladesh. Behind Dhaka and Chittagong with just over a million people. But it seems nothing like that. Any one million plus city in the US, there are only a few, have tons of skyscrapers, beltways, etc. Well Khulna has maybe a few buildings over 10 stories, and the city seems very empty. Feels wonderful compared to Dhaka. Not many cars at all. Mostly rickshaws, buses, and baby taxis. Technically Nafisa’s family’s house is in the northern suburbs. The city is just very dense like most Bangladeshi cities, but doesn’t look its population by US standards. (pics: views of Khulna's dowtown streets)

Woke up and had breakfast downstairs. The house is two floors and was her grandpa’s home before he passed away this summer. Downstairs Nafisa’s uncle lives with his family. Upstairs lives her grandma, her guy cousin and his wife, and some of her girl cousins. So we had breakfast with her uncle, and his daughters and wife. Parota, egg, and veggies.

After went on a walk around the town with her dad. Told me about his childhood growing up in his village in this area, and how Khulna as a city is faring these days.

After that walk, went on another walk with Nafisa’s cousins. They showed me around more of their neighborhood. Talked mostly with Tisha as the rest of them were pretty nervous to talk to me/didn’t understand my accent. Tisha understood me well, and I found it easiest to understand her Bengali. (pics: Nafisa's cousins watching the puppies, Nafisa's cousins strolling the Khulna streets)

Nafisa, her guy cousin, her dad, a friend from her work, and I took a trip to her dad’s village where he grew up, and where Nafisa is trying to build a school for girls. Took rickshaws to the river, then a boat across the river, then walked to the village (about 5 minutes) to see the plot they were thinking about to build the school. Saw her father’s home he grew up in. (pics: goats on the boat of the river we had to cross using similar boat, Nafisa being shown around the site of the new school by a friend of her father, Nafisa and her father meet with his friend and discuss details of the school, another childhood friend of Nafisa's father standing in front of the kitchen of her dad's old house)

Went out with her aunt, Nafisa, Tisha and her sister to New Market. They had to get a few things. I bought a dupata, which is like male orna (scarf-like.) They got some cosmetic stuff done for awhile so I walked around the market by myself. After we bought some fuchka to eat. (pics: the girls at a typical saree store in New Market (these are everywhere), New Market in Khulna at night)

After dinner and the girls went to get their mendi done (which I got to see what it looks like before it’s finished for the first time) we played Ludo, very similar to Parcheesi. Almost did really good, but ended up losing royally. Was very confused about specific rules for awhile since Tisha’s younger sister kept trying to cheat. Made it hard to figure out which were legal moves and which weren’t. Still fun game and could’ve played for a lot longer than just one game. (pic: medni soon after being applied)

16th-3rd in Khulna 12/21

Today is the Islamic holiday Eid-ul-Adha. It is sometimes called “the second Eid”, the first being Eid-ul-Fitr two and a half months ago. It is also affectionately (disgustedly by others) “the bloody Eid” as this is the holiday where a cow or goat is slaughtered in celebration. The slaughtering, called korbani, celebrates the sacrifice of a cow that Ibrahim (Abraham in Judaism or Christianity) performed instead of killing his son Ismael. I’ve been told that the country will smell like blood for a few days. This holiday also marks the beginning of Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca which all Muslims must do in their life once. So many more flights are leaving every day to Saudi Arabia for pilgrims making the journey. They'll stay there and engage in several activities associated with the pilgrimage.
After the cow is slaughtered, 1/3 of the meat is kept for the family, and they are supposed to give the other 2/3 to others.

Nafisa’s family’s cow has been in the yard since I arrived, and her uncle went to buy it a few days ago. I heard most cows are in the range of Tk15,000 to 25,000. They can be bought from huge cow markets which are temporarily set up in open fields for just this occasion. These are huge. Hundreds of cows being sold. In Dhaka city, for a few days now, trucks could be seen everywhere each transporting ten to twenty cows. People can be seen everywhere leading their cow down the street on a rope. Cows are tied to trees. Not much mooing though. At the cow markets, it’s madness. People in all directions. Sometimes the cow starts running and then it gets crazy as they try to calm the cow down. (pic: goats for sale for korbani on the main street of Banani in Dhaka)

Korbani, happened at 9:30. I watched. My heart was racing. I asked Nafisa’s uncle, aunt, father, and cousin beforehand if I could take pictures; I wanted to ensure it wouldn’t be offensive to the religious occasion. They said it’d be okay. Of course her uncle was more thank okay with it, asking me to take his photo next to the cow. Before slaughtering her uncle gave the man (who was one or many of the following: a religious man of some sort, a leader, or one skilled and trained in such practices) seven names. These names are recited before the slaughtering.
They tied the cow up, and got it on its side. Then several men held it down, while one man took a knife to its throat. The spilled blood was afterward washed into the drains on the street. After, they took the skin off and then removed the legs. Last was to piece up the body. At one point they brought the pieces of meat inside the gate from the street, and went to work cutting it up into cooking sized pieces. (I'm sparing many of the bloody details here.) (pics: tying the cow up for korbani; Nafisa's uncle in blue, cousin in light blue, and religious man assigned to slaughter the cow and recite the names in green, before the slaughtering)

Took two morning trips: one with Nafisa’s uncle on his motorcycle to get some 7up then later with her guy cousin to get some 7up. And this was the my first time ever on a motorcycle. After lunch we headed around to visit people. As I’m told, this is what Eid is all about. Going to as many folk’s houses as possible, eating at each one, and talking for a bit. First house was another of her cousins. Had some food and 7up. (see a pattern here? For some reason I got served 7up five times today.)
Later went back to the house and played Ludo. I won, and it angered Tisha’s sister who is competitive. She proceeded to dislike me (lightheartedly?) the rest of the trip.
Later Nafisa, Tisha, her sister, and I took rickshaws to Tisha’s Grandpa’s home. Met her aunt’s brother and his family. He had spent some time working in Germany. His sons were playing with balloons…yes I played too. Got served some more food and sweets and 7up. (pics: Tisha/Nafisa, Tisha with her cousins)

After headed to a nearby park where a fair was happening. It was now dark out, and the place was a bit sketchy. The girls asked me to stick close. Saw some ferris wheels that were being hand spun by workers pushing each cart as it passed by. Looked very dangerous, but if it was light out, I would’ve ridden. You could hear the wooden 4-car ferries wheels creak as they spun. Maybe 20 feet tall at most. Other small carnival-like rides too. We didn’t ride anything. The rest of the family arrived later, and we were going to head to a bridge for a stroll.
Took baby taxis to the bridge, eight of us: Nafisa, all her cousins, and myself. I didn’t know how big the bridge would be. But It was bigger than I thought. It was built only four years ago, and it is quite a marvel. Not much traffic on this specific day and time, but had 2 lanes for vehicles and 2 more separated lanes for rickshaws and walking. Took tons of pictures. Was excited to see some large scale infrastructure. Very impressed by bridge. Took the same baby taxis back. (pics: bridge from below, bridge from above, Nafisa and cousins on bridge, myself/Nafisa)

At night, around 9pm, went out to our final house of the day: Nafisa, her uncle, aunt, Tisha, her sister, and myself. Had dinner there, and 7up. So full by this point. Had eaten so much.

16th-4th in Dhaka 12/22

Her dad, Nafisa, and I went with her two guy cousins (another came from Dhaka last night) and her uncle to the bus stop early in the morning. We were taking Green Line, an AC bus company. This was the nicest bus I’d ever been on in Bangladesh. Such a difference from the bus I came on. The bus was only 1/3 full! Never seen an empty seat on a bus here. They gave complimentary water. They gave out little chocolates. They stopped only at nice rest stops. They didn’t drive crazy (well the roads were less full today so it wasn’t as necessary.) The seats were comfy. There were only a few cockroaches. The bus took the ferry over the Padma. Such luxuries! (pics: Padma river launch, the wide Padma River)

On this trip I read the book about New Jersey my parents sent me for the holidays. Also lately been reading Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.

Got to Gabtoli station and got down from the bus. Said my goodbyes and took a people mover (a pickup truck with a cage with benches in its bed…seats 10 comfortably, and maybe 20 uncomfortably) to get back to Mohakali. No buses running from Mohakali back home, as it’s Eid, and many buses don’t run on holidays. So took a rickshaw back. And since it’s a holiday, the rickshaw can use the main roads, so got home decently quick on it. (pic: people mover)

Tried to find a place to get my panjabi cleaned and ironed, but no places were open because of Eid.
Went to dance practice. Naira’s brother, Akbar, came home during practice from Canada from school. Everyone was very happy to see him. We are making sure all the details are right on our songs.
I don’t want anyone to get the impression that practice is some strict solid affair. It’s all pretty relaxed though. Smooth and easy going. Still not all of us have been at one practice at the same time. Even now with just 2 days to go! Really enjoy being at practice though. It’s made every evening fun. I don’t find it very hard to dance to the songs or keep the beat. It might come from playing bass for 7 years. Or more specifically, from having to rummage to find the beat in some of Travis’ songs, which many times are devoid of any rhythm.

16th-5th in Dhaka 12/23

Sujit helped me iron my panjabi. Did it on my bed since we didn’t have an ironing board.

Went to dance practice around 4. Not everyone was there as usual. Lesson learned: people are going to be late, but ultimately we’re going learn our stuff anyway. When we finally had enough of us there, we started a bit of practice.
We had a big crowd tonight. Many family members are now in from out of town. They were watching. Lots of friends as well. So we were getting some woops and cheers for our best moves. Neat to have an audience. Feeling increasingly confident about our moves.
Was waiting on Megan to arrive so we could head to Nashad and Numayer’s gaye holud.
She was running a bit late, its hard to put a saree on by yourself apparently. But I also told her there was no rush, so it was mostly my fault if we arrived to the holud late. I changed into my panjabi just to be ready. While I was still waiting, we did full run through rehearsal, with all people at practice! We had the final CD of the songs completed with the correct breaks and order. So we tried it out. It was fun. We did it really well. The stage will be put up tonight, so later tonight or tomorrow we might try the whole thing on the actual stage. And the wedding is in the front yard of the house, so it makes all things a bit easier for organizing. (pics: practicing "Move Your Body", practicing "Kajra Re", practicing "Dan Dia", practicing "Jhoom Barabar Jhoom")

Megan finally was able to come by. Headed straight to where the gaye holud was being held. I was excited because I was seeing everyone there after a long time, and Cynthia Rouf, a fellow NC State Park Scholar, and Nashad’s cousin. Walked in, met up with Risal and Tamzid right away. Also met Cynthia’s mom while talking to Nashad’s mother.
Risal and Tamzid took us upstairs to say hello to Numayer and Nashad who were waiting for the holud to start with them. Upstairs Cynthia was there too. Very cool to see her. She’s the first person I knew in the states that I’ve seen in Bangladesh. Honestly we’ve never actually talked in person much, if at all, but since coming her, we’ve talked over email.
Everyone headed downstairs, and Megan and I quickly realized that this was the wedding procession. So we held back on the stairs until it was done, we knew we shouldn’t be part of that. Once they’d gotten on stage, the place quieted down.
Nashad’s dad came by to Megan and me later, and told us we should go on stage soon to put the turmeric on Numayer and Nashad’s face and feed them the food. Hung out with Cynthia and Risal while we waited. Met Risal’s sister for first time. And Cynthia’s younger brother. Finally got our chance and went on stage and did the mentioned activities. Had dinner. Sat next to Cynthia’s mom, who talked to us. Took pictures of Cynthia and Risal on stage with Nashad and Numayer. Spent some time also talking to Cynthia’s dad. Finally found Tamzid and Siraj near the end and snapped some photos.
Overall fun night. Great to see Nashad and Numayer getting married (although the official marriage happened a month ago.) (pics: myself/Numayer/Nashad/Megan on holud stage, Risal/Cynthia at holud, Megan/myself/Cynthia, Nashad and Tamzid's father/myself/Siraj/Tamzid)

Took a rickshaw home with Megan. Stopped by Naira’s to pick up my keys and clothes. Saw the stage built. Tashfique and Taufique were figuring out how to make use of the full stage for all the dances.

16th-6th in Dhaka 12/24

Went over to Naira’s around 11. Spent the day helping out for the wedding and hanging out with Tashfique, Taufique, and Akbar. Helped move some stuff out to the tent in the front yard. This tent is 3 stories tall, and covers every part of the yard. It’s all yellow. Lights are hanging everywhere. Flowers. Lanterns. The bride’s stage is gorgeous. Lots of chairs. Food tables are ready for food. It’s quite incredible how the house has been turned into a place for a gaye holud. Workers are putting the whole thing up, walking on bamboo supports 3 stories up. (pics: Nehrir underneath the bamboo holud structure with guy working above, worker hanging the yellow fabric on the bamboo, hanging the lanterns at the entrance, stage and decorations being set up, completed holud structure and decorations)

When the gaye holud was coming nearer we got dressed in our matching panjabis and dupatas and waited around for the groom’s family to arrive. When they did, we were standing in two parallel lines for them to walk between and to take their seats. They are all carrying tons of stuff for the bride’s family. Us dancers brought all of this upstairs.

Then it was time for Nehrir to come down and take her place on the stage. I helped hold the awning over her head as we walked to the stage.
Then after some minutes of “what happens next” we started the dance performance.
The girl who was doing the fire spinning did that first, and then those of us in the first song joined her on stage to do the first song. Well she left the stage during the first song because something happened, still unconfirmed what, but it wasn’t made clear/or she wasn’t able to come back to the stage. So there was this awkward 30 seconds where us guys were on the stage waiting for her and the music is playing but our choreography is done. So that was a bit weird.
Besides that the dance went amazingly well. Everyone remembered the steps. We had some hard times getting everyone on stage before the next song started, but we made the DJ start the necessary song over. As I was told by many before we did this, “you are supposed to mess up that’s the best part” or “It’s a wedding don’t worry.” So it was fun. I felt we really did do a good job. We got the clapping on “Move Your Body” together for the first time ever. That was pretty cool. And “Dan Dia” went very well. The biggest success was “Mere Angne Mein.” We had the crowd roaring in laughter at all of us guys in sarees, and doing the funny things the song talks about. I wore my head lamp since I was jiski bibi ghori (ghori = fair/light-skinned.) And in that part of the song, he says she’s so fair she can be a lamp at night. So when that part of the lyrics was sung, I turned the head lamp on. An uproar of applause. Was also great when Muddassar jumped into Raja’s arms to end the song. Whole thing was pretty great. Nehrir also did a dance with us, in all her wedding garb. Wasn’t expecting that. She came onstage for “Dil Mein Baji Guitar.” Getting her on/off stage was an issue with all her wedding stuff on. But she handled it very well. Afterwards, heard from people that they really liked the “Mere Angne Mein” dance. (pics: us dancers and friends before the performance, Raja's foot pink from the pink stage carpet after performing)

Overall great success! Was such a relief to be done. Much later, I was sad, because it was a lot of fun, and didn’t want it to end. The girl I gave my camera to only got used to taking videos by my third dance, so only have snippets of my first two dances. Oh well. Someone out there took the whole thing and I’ll get that soon. So for now, as a preview, I’m just posting Dil Mein Baji Guitar so you can see one full dance.

Then the band started up. And I felt the guys playing looked familiar. Then I realized who they were. Most of them were from the band The Watson Brothers, my favorite band here. I was so psyched. And they played my two favorite songs by them. Bands here are just not as exclusive as they are in the states. Everyone knows someone who is in a band it seems. And the bands seem to do any gig. I was totally engrossed when they played my favorite song “Rong.” After they did their stuff, I told them how happy I was to watch them for my first time. Told them I sent their music to friends. And how Danny brought their music to his Asian Music class and his professor will be using it in future years as an example of modern rock. They agreed that was pretty cool.

During the wedding talked to many people that I knew there. Ate some delicious food, But amongst all my walking around and talking, and the excitement of the performance, I never got the chance to put turmeric on Nehrir’s face. I felt bad for that. She’d been very nice to me the whole dance practice process. (pics: members of The Watson Brothers perform, people at the holud, three siblings Naira/Nehrir/Akbar at holud, myself/Naira)

Spent the night at the house since it was late after the wedding and didn’t want to take a rickshaw home.

16th-7th in Dhaka 12/25

Came home. And started packing my stuff up. I am moving to Dhanmondi finally! Had one suitcase packed from yesterday, but still a lot to go. Also had some clothes drying on the line, but realized with Sujit I can just come back for them. Packing didn’t take long at all. Hadn’t accumulated too much stuff either, as it all fit in perfectly. By 11 am I was ready to leave. Had some lunch, and then went with Sujit to find a taxi to take me to Dhanmondi. The tradeoff of having Saifullah waiting there for me was that he wasn’t able to pick me up, because his family has his car. So the taxi was fine. Driver gave me his cell phone number if I ever need a taxi again.

Arrived, and Saifullah and his friend helped get all my stuff upstairs to the second floor flat. Put my stuff down and we hung around. The rest of the day consisted of lunch, napping, chatting, and friends of Saifullah and myself visiting (Sunny from Bandarban trip and Farhan)

Here’s the housing situation. I’m going to stay with Saifullah’s friend in this place for however long it takes to get my own place. It’s not that I don’t want a flatmate, but an actual roommate is something I wasn’t intending for a long time. I want to have at least my own room, and that’s not possible in the place I shifted to for the time being. I don’t mind it for a bit. And the place is plenty comfy. But my own place would be cool. I’m looking forward to organizing and decorating it myself.
Anyway, we’re going talk to the landlord soon to see if another place in the building is open for me to move into. We’ll look nearby too. I like the area though. So don’t want to go too far.

In the evening we went to Dhanmondi Lake and had some tea. It’s this kind of stuff that made me want to live here so much. Met up with Huda and Popel from the Bandarban trip there too. Had dinner with Saifullah, Popel and Popel’s wife at their house.

And to close this entry, I’ll just say the fight-seen tally is at 12, but I forgot in the last few weeks to include where they were. I just know the magic number. I do remember one coming back from Tangail one night where a few kids were really slugging it out on the streets.

19 December 2007

Week 15: You can wave your Victory Day flag from Bandarban to Dhaka, it's all Bangladesh!

15th-1st in Dhaka 12/12

Dance practice, showed up, but no one else did. So after talking to Naira’s sister for a bit, came home and went to play badminton.

I’ve been posting to skyscrapercity.com for Dhaka. Really like this new forum, people give positive comments for everything you post. I’ve been taking photos of buildings under construction, and posted them up. It’s a neat forum, helps me keep up with current large projects here. (pics: Nafi Tower in Gulshan 1 going up, Doreen Tower in Gulshan 2 which has topped off but no siding)

Got a lot done with the concert today. Got contacts from Diya for Radio Foorti, one of the biggest radio stations here, and amadergaan.com, a big website concert promoter. It’ll be great to have both of these on board. Arranged that Diya will cover our concert for The Daily Star. And got the band lineup together, and arranged how much time each will play.

15th-2nd in Dhaka 12/13

Flags are everywhere. Victory Day is approaching! At every major intersection several men are selling large flags, small flags, and every size in between. Headbands you can wear, and flags to hang from your car antenna. They are all hand made. Victory Day is Dec 16th, and it’s the day Bangladesh won the war Liberation War in 1971 with the help of India over West Pakistan. I bought a large flag a week ago and a headband as well. Flags are flying everywhere, from homes, from cars, buses, rickshaws and shops. Very patriotic. Victory Day is the most popular holiday to fly flags, and it also happens to a lesser extent on Independence Day, March 26.(pics: look for the small flag at the front of his rickshaw, flag seller walking Gulshan Avenue, on a car's radio antenna, two flag sellers on either of side of Gulshan Avenue)

Met up with Saifullah and other folks going on the trip at Fridays Fast Food for lunch and a briefing on what’s up with the trip this weekend.

Dance practice. We practiced two songs tonight a little. Found out how big the stage was. We’ll be putting 4-10 people per song on a stage which is 8’ x 12’

Got picked up by Rana to head off to the bus to Bandarban. Headed to the bus station. Bus came a bit late. Another foreigner on the trip, her name was Claudia, a mathematician from Switzerland visiting a friend of hers here. She’s here for 6 weeks and is traveling without her friend on the trip. We were assigned to sit with each other on the bus. Before attempting to doze off on the bus, we chatted for a bit. Was an AC bus, first I’d been on in Bangladesh.

15th-3rd in Bandarban 12/14

Arrive at rest stop at 4 am in the middle of nowhere. And it was packed!!! Tons of buses, and everyone was eating meals. So much commotion for such an hour. What was crazy, was that all the buses left at the same time! We were one of the last of about 30 buses to leave, and I swear, the complex was empty after. There must be scheduled meal times at this rest stop that buses know about, because there was no reason for it to be a mad rush at 4 am, and not a single bus arriving after. Were there for 20 minutes but I wasn’t really hungry. Instead stood and watched buses zoom by on the narrow 2 lane highway, and talked to the guy who was directing the buses in and out of the parking lot.

The highway from Dhaka to Chittagong is the busiest in the country. All exports and imports go through Chittagong’s port, and a lot of this is produced and used respectively in Dhaka and to the north. But, the highway is still only a 2 lane highway, no bigger than a rural road in the US. Buses zig and zag down this road, passing each other, entering each other’s lanes, trying to arrive as fast as they can. Rickshaws are also on the shoulders. And other smaller vehicles still use the road. Plus the road passes through many small towns. Overall, its very dangerous and scary, and I’m surprised that I never see a single collision. Check out a minute clip below or here and count how many times your heart skips a beat. I'm at 4.

Dozed off and woke up when we got to Chittagong. Saifullah pointed out to me that you could see the famous Chittagong ship deconstruction yards from the highway between some of the trees. Couldn’t see any of it though. We crossed the Karnaphuli River on a bridge which is only one lane. And the lane is also used by a train. Totally cool! What a good idea for a low volume bridge. (pics: one lane bridge for motor vehicles and train rails down the middle, at the end of the bridge where the rail tracks and the road go their separate ways)

The hill tracts are the only place in Bangladesh to have mountains and hills. They are along the southeastern part of Bangladesh, on the border of Myanmar. Very beautiful and green. Bandarban is one of the main cities here. The hill tracts are where many tribes live, who don’t speak Bangla as their primary language. The religion of most tribes is Buddhism. (pics: views of the Bandarban Hill Tracts)

Too bad it’s hard to get to for foreigners. Checkpoints are along the way to Bandarban when you get close. It’s because the hill tracts, which is where Bandarban is, have been known for outbursts of violence and attacks on visiting groups in recent times. I had to have prior permission from the government to enter here. I had to check in at the border of the district. Signed a log and they checked my passport and my permission papers. It was a very intimidating procedure. At some checkpoints, a police officer came on the bus and checked it for things. They are very serious about not allowing more problems to happen here. Especially to foreigners. That’s why the government does what it can to keep foreigners out. If something happens to the foreigner, it’s on the back of the government, and it’s a burden they’d rather not hold, so best to keep foreigners out as much as possible.

Arrived, and had breakfast. Would be the same breakfast every day. Some perota, potato and veggies, and an omelet. Beautiful view from the whole resort. It’s the guide tours resort. Nice place, well kept. Several cabins, some made of woven materials, and on stilts, so the floors are bouncy. I was in the dorm with the other bachelors. About 8 of us in there, no bouncy floor though. (pics: dining hall, dorm bedroom)

A few of us, before lunch, hiked down to the Sangu River, the main river in Bandarban. It could be seen from our resort. We hiked the 40 minutes down to the river down some pretty steep hillsides. Got real sweaty. Walked through some groves of palm trees. Past some households made of organic material. Reached the river. Some activity. Some boats. Terraced plantings on the riverside. Played a bit in the water. Hiked back up and got ridiculously sweaty. (pics: myself on the short hike, the steep climb with three of my friends coming down, Sangu River, Tanveer playing in boat)

Went to Tiger Hill in the afternoon, a high point close to our resort. Form there you can see in many directions. Meandered around. Took photos. Had some snacks. (pics: on top of Tiger Hill Huda/myself/Imran, @Tiger Hill Imran/Hasan/Badruddoza/Huda, snack seller selling a typical array of Bangladeshi snacks)

Later to a very touristy spot which surrounded a lake. Had a zoo and many food vendors. Plus two very rickety rope/plank bridges. I didn't appreciate those very much. I knew my dad wouldn't either. Also ate sugar cane for the first time. Very difficult for me for some reason. Supposed to peel off the outside with your back teeth and my teeth hurt for a few days because of this. I didn't get very far with it. The place also had a small zoo with a bear, monkeys, and deer. (pics: trying to chow down on sugar cane, on the rope/plank bridge with Imran and Hasan)

Showered at some point in the icy cold shower.

15th-4th in Bandarban 12/15

Woke up to fog in the river valley. (pic: fog in valley)

Got in trucks and headed to a mountaintop over 25 km away. This place had an army outpost. On the way there, crossed some pretty rickety bridges. Some villages along this road, which pretty much snaked along the top of the mountains. Pretty bad conditions on the road. Very bumpy. One guy threw up. (pics: snaking along the mountains in our vehicles, Ashrafi and girlfriend holding on for the rickety ride, roaming around at the army outpost, Imran/myself, sign saying your cell phones actually get reception here, everyone taking advantage of the cell phone reception they found...not much in the hill tracts)

Second stop was the top of one the most easternmost mountains in Bangladesh. Also the highest mountain accessible by road. Some structures on top, and well decorated area. A helipad. We took photos. Found the most beautiful bathroom in the world. It was three urinals on the side of the mountain, but facing outwards, so you can see the mountains as you pee. (pics: myself using the most beautiful toilet in the world and enjoying the view, Imran doing the same, Saifullah and me on top of the mountain, Saifullah and his daughter walking at the top of Bangladesh)

Stopped at one more mountain before seeing our fourth stop which was a waterfall. But since this is the dry season, wasn’t much water at all. very dry. But still very slippery. Almost took a big fall. Others did. Meandered through the river bed. Some village women were washing clothes in the river, and taking baths with their sarees on. (pics: posing in the river with Ashrafi/Parvej/myself/Badruddoza/Imran, view down the river, women washing clothes in the river, the waterfall but without the water since its the dry season)

After lunch and nap everyone went to see a Buddhist temple. Apparently one of the biggest in Bangladesh, and one of the most beautiful as well. We got there too late, sun was setting, so we couldn’t stay long; in fact had to convince them, the Buddhist monks there, to even let us see it. They let us walk around it for 5 minutes. No pictures allowed to be taken of the shrine inside. Had some models on the way out that depicted the history of Buddha. Wish I could’ve spent more time there and seen more.(pics: top of Buddhist temple, view one direction, view the other direction, one of the models depicting the Buddha's history)

Came back for dinner. Was BBQ chicken!! Yumm and French fries too. Good job on the chicken. After dinner, one guy on the trip, Popel, played guitar for everyone, and they sang some Bangladeshi rock/folk songs, but I didn’t know any.

Wore a lungi for the first time today. This is the national dress for men, as a saree would be for women. It’s a big piece of fabric in the shape of a cylinder, so no ends. You tie it basically by pulling it tight against you, twisting the top until its snug, then tuck the ends of the twisted fabric into the waist…and it holds up. Very comfortable. No underwear below. Very popular for men to wear this around the house. I’m definitely going to buy one. It’s useful for also changing your clothes among other people. (pics: sporting a lungi for the first time, posing with Badruddoza)

15th-5th in Dhaka 12/16

Today was the bus ride home. Had breakfast and we headed out. Sat next to Claudia on the bus again. Talked a bit about her time in the US, and what she thought were some weird things that Americans did. I also asked her many questions about Switzerland.

As today is victory day (Happy Victory Day!) there were two parades we saw from the bus in the streets in some of the small towns we went through. (pics: Victory Day parade, same)

If I haven’t talked about the flag yet, I’m linking it here to describe it, but I have yet to find why the circle is where it is. What is the meaning, if you know…please comment!! The flag is everywhere today! Buildings, cars, kids, stores, homes, rickshaws, CNGs, buses…all had flags out. It’s very patriotic. Cool to think just 36 years ago, on this land, a war was won to give this country its freedom.

Saw a quick glimpse of the ship deconstruction yards between the trees. Incredible sight even for just a second. Saw a half dismantled ship just docked on the sand. Wow! Want to find a way to see this up close.

Saifullah told me I won’t be able to move into tomorrow because my future roommate won’t be at home. That he’d gone home to his village. I was surprised, we had made plans. So wasn’t sure when I’d be moving now. Didn’t find this information out until today. Wonder how I would’ve found out if I hadn’t asked Saifullah about him helping me move. Oh well.

Came home. Hung out with Megan at Margherita Pizza and scarfed down a cheese pizza. Went back to her house and met Tony, the professor whose house she’s living in while he’s away. He’s back for 2 weeks or so. He’s a professor at NCSU, but also is the organizer of my language program. He had just gotten back from Calcutta, so was a bit tired and was off to bed soon after I arrived. Megan and I looked at my fantasy football team, and she asked me many questions about it. Showed her why it’s so addicting to me.

15th-6th in Dhaka 12/17

Woke up and saw parents had called. Called Sandee on skype and told her I had been asleep. Set up a time to talk tomorrow.

Had lunch with Tony, teachers, and Erin. Went to Déjà Vu Café, I feel like I’d been there before…haha.

Good food. Salad bar which was very ornate, but really had tomatoes and cucumbers prepared in four different ways, some sliced baby corn, some random peppers and onions, and 6 dressings. And egg and crouton. Got some seafood soup which was good. Some roast beef for lunch. And a crepe for desert. Tony treated.

Dance practice was fun/productive. We got a lot done, now have 4 songs I know.

15th-7th in Dhaka 12/18

Spent time reading this morning and afternoon. Going through the STP slowly. Very complete document. Really covers so many aspects of the city’s past, present, and future transportation issues. Never knew how much went into this. I guess I’ve thought of all of this before, but to see it done so thoroughly is impressive.

Fixed with Nafisa more details about the concert, and talked about my visit to her place in Khulna tomorrow.

Bought my first lungi. Should be very comfortable to sit around in at home. Also some underwear, and not knowing what size to buy since the measurement system was different from what I know, asked the guy in the bazaar what he wore. He proceeded to laugh at me. Anyway, bargained the price of the underwear down to 70% original cost, but when I got home, found it to be too small. After dropped in to cofi 11 for some coffee and ice cream and brownie and hung out there until dance practice.

Dance practice was great. Practiced all 4 songs I was in several times, and felt like we were doing them pretty well. Found out how we specifically are incorporating the firespinning into one of our dances. It’s all going be pretty exciting. Watched the girls do their dance, and watched the two guy/girl dances I’m not in. It’s all going be a great show!

Hung out with Faisal, Megan, and Kira after. Kira was in the same language program with Megan this summer. She was visiting from Kolkata for a few days where she is studying her 3rd year of Bengali. Went to cofi 11, my 2nd time today, and we had dinner.

Language test at 5:30am tomorrow morning on the phone…thus gone to bed early. Its for the Fulbright’s language grant, so they can evaluate if their invested money was well spent on me.