27 February 2008

Week 25: Ekushe February, let's trek to Shahid Minar at 3 AM

25th-1st in Dhaka 2/20

Ayon came by in the afternoon with his friend from Dhaka University. He had just bought the flowers for Ekushe February that we would bring to Shahid Minar tonight. A bunch of roses. So excited for this evening.

Took a nap to get some rest, knowing I’d have to stay up to 6 am tomorrow morning for Ekushe February.
Woke up later. Brought my panjabi to a tailor to get it ironed.

Farhan came over first. He was playing a trick on everyone, including me, that he wouldn’t come. But he was going to show up anyway. Well he surprised me, until I heard a dog barking as he told me the bad news over the phone, and I heard the dog barking in my building as well…I opened my front door and saw him standing there on the phone. But we let him complete his joke by being the one to open my front door later when everyone else showed up. They all got a kick out of it.

We had a great evening leading up to heading to Shahid Minar. We played cards games and ludu, went to dinner and had briyani, and watched movies. It was a good evening. Overall, eight people showed up for my Ekushe February event. I was real happy with the turnout. We spread out my new mattresses and pillows and we all sat on the floor enjoying our time. At one point Nipu brought out an ice cream cake he had bought for the occasion. They had me cut it, and we all enjoyed. This was an interesting situation because at my flat I only have three spoons and a couple of bowls. A lot of sharing had to happen. (pics: Farhan/Opu/Ayon playing Ludu, teaching Bilash how to play 9-card, all of us at dinner at a hotel, myself/Ayon/Nipu eating our ice cream cake)

25th-2nd in
Dhaka 2/21

Well technically the evening extended into this day to. We did what I mention above until 3 AM.

At 3 AM we set out for Shahid Minar. I had been looking forward to this event for a long time. I had first heard about the events which happen on this holiday from Naira and Farhanaz last fall at their apartment. They were showing me pictures using Banglapedia, and they showed me videos and photos from this holiday. I was amazed to see the passion and history behind the event, and how the country and its people embraced it. I wanted so much to experience the event. Now, over a year later, and with a much greater knowledge, respect, and love for Bengali as a language, the event meant even more to me, and I saw it as the one event I wanted to do in Bangladesh over everything else.

Let me describe a little bit about what Ekushe February is all about. When Bangladesh was East Pakistan, West Pakistan declared that Urdu would be the official language of the Pakistani nations. This enraged Bangladeshis whose native language was Bengali, yet the only national language would be Urdu, despite the fact that in the two Pakistans, more people spoke Bengali (since Bangladesh had a higher population.)
Although the language movement was a long violent process, the event for which Ekushe February (which means February 21st) occurred on February 21, 1952. On this day, students at Dhaka University organized a procession against the Provincial Assembly against the national language being Urdu. Police threw tear gas against the students, and riots broke out on all the campuses of the university. Later in the day, while protesting five people are killed by police gunfire, including students of Dhaka University. It is from these events that Ekushe February occurs. It was the starting point of the nationalism movement which would result in the country’s independence from Pakistan 19 years later. Bengali became an official national language in 1954.
International Mother Language Day is held on February 21st because of this day’s events in Bangladesh.

Processions to Shahid Minar begin at midnight, starting with the Prime Minister and other governmental leaders of the country, who place the first flowers on the monument. Following that, the general public places flowers on the monument. It is customary that women wear black and white to this event. The flowers contrast this, mostly yellows and oranges. The many songs which have been written over the years about the language struggle are played over speakers in the streets surrounding Shahid Minar. The monument is immediately in front of Dhaka Medical College, and the procession starts from the west, from near Dhaka University. The streets are painted with many colors and designs. One first removes their shoes before stepping on the monument’s grounds, and then carries them with themselves. Once one places a flower on the monument, they proceed east to leave. Long lines are typical. I was told that the true way to experience the event was at night, as that is the start. You can still go during the day, but the white and red of the monument are not as powerful in daylight. (pics: artwork on the wall near Shahid Minar, streets painted for Ekushe February, painted streets and Shahid Minar complex in the background, Shahid Minar with flowers on it for Ekushe February)

So I told my friends we would go during the night. Due to their safety concerns of going at midnight, that we would have to return home at 3 am, we decided to go at 3am, and return home at 6am, thinking it’d be less likely for someone to mug us at 6 am, when it was getting light. Either way, we were 9 people total, so if anyone decided to mess with us, we’d be a powerful force.

We left at 3 AM and saw empty streets. No one around. As we got to more major streets, we found some rickshaws, and decided to take them instead of walking the few kilometers to Shahid Minar. The streets around the monument were blocked off. So from a good distance away we still had to walk. Of course these streets would be jammed during the day with lines to go. Faces of the people killed on Ekushe February could be seen painted on the street side. We had to go through two security checks on the way there, one which included a pat-down. (pics: just outside my flat in Jigatola on our way to Shahid Minar, 2 out of our 3 rickshaws he jumped on to quicken our travels, posing in the street on our last leg of walking to Shahid Minar, my friends approaching Shahid Minar)

There were no lines at 3 AM. Absolutely no one. We honestly could’ve done all we wanted in two minutes. Around the monument were several military groups from different branches paying their respects. Some journalists were taking photos and videos. The monument already had flowers form governmental organizations placed around it, and a large pile from the general public in front. Each of us took one of the roses we brought and placed them in front. We took photos in front of Shahid Minar and the flowers. We stood and admired the scene. I kept processing what it meant for Bangladeshis, and all I’ve thought about while learning the language. I felt very honored to be there with my friends. To take part in the ceremony. It really was the center point of my experience here. (pics: Nipu holding our flowers we would place at Shahid Minar, posing after placing flowers in memory of the martyrs, military and journalists in front of monument, closer look at monument with journalists in front, our group sitting on the steps of Shahid Minar, Opu/Farhan posing in front of one of the many quotes painted on the walls near the monument)

Afterwards, since we had expected to have to wait in a line, and there wasn’t one, we just sat outside the monuments’ grounds and watched the few people walking up. I was told lots of people would start arriving between 5 and 6 am. We really came at the right time to avoid a wait. But honestly, I wouldn’t have minded a wait. I would’ve had more time to reflect and think about it all. Plus to see a crowd of people honoring the fight for their language would’ve been a lot more moving. As well, there were only a handful of woman there at that hour, so didn’t get to see a mass of women dressed in black and white. It would’ve been neat to hear a huge crowd singing the songs being played, but at least my friends sang along. If I were to do it again, I’d definitely go at midnight, or at least go back during the day.

I was exhausted coming back. I mean I was exhausted before going. But coming back every part of me hurt. I was in such pain. So tired. Feet ached. Legs ached. Head ached. Back ached. Long walk back, we didn’t take rickshaws until the last little bit.
On the walk home we walked through Dhaka University where there was a musical performance happening in the middle of the night, and to see some artwork which was done by the fine arts students of the university. (pics: paintings on the streets of Dhaka University, artwork made of painted sculpted sand near Dhaka University)

We came home and I passed out. They all left at 9:30, and I went back to sleep until noon. Ultimately only a few hours asleep. So tired. Woke up in pain, exhausted, and sore. Wanted to sit and watch movies all day. Went to grab some pizza to put some food in my stomach, and right after I got a call form Ashrafi. He leaves for the US tomorrow, and it was now or never to pick up his cabinet. I preferred now.

We took a CNG across town to his parent’s home where the cabinet was. It was the farthest east I’d ever been in Dhaka, apart from those times I actually left the city to the east. He had to prepare the cabinet, empty it out and stuff, so he told me to sit and rest. And rest I did! I actually fell asleep, that’s how tired and sore I was.
Getting the cabinet out of his house was a pain. It doesn’t go up and down stairwells well, and I was fearing bringing it up to my apartment. One of the drawers fell and broke taking it from his house.
It took time to find a rickshaw van and a regular rickshaw to take the cabinet and myself across town respectively. It’s a long way. Two minutes after we left I realized I had left my house keys at Ashrafi’s…that would’ve been a hugeeeee mistake. Imagine getting to my house and not being able to go upstairs. Stopped the rickshaw and the rickshaw van and ran all the way back to Ashrafi's to get the keys (were only 200 m away) then ran back.
Arrived at my house after about 1.5 hours on the road. Had to bring it upstairs two floors. This was real tough. We had to grab a random rickshaw driver from the street to help. It took us 20 minutes. My stairs are real thin.

Fell asleep after putting some stuff into the cabinet. Slept for 12 hours.

25th-3rd in Dhaka 2/22

Got a call from Asha. Asha is Khalid’s girlfriend. Khalid is Shariful’s friend in Thailand. He had bought a gift for her for Valentine’s Day and had wanted me to deliver it for him, (Shariful also asked me call his girlfriend Mahenaz to tell her he loved her)
So I was supposed to call Asha and get in contact to give her the gift. But her phone wasn’t receiving my calls. Well Khalid finally gave up on the surprise, called Asha, and told her about me surprising her, and simply had her call me so at least she had the gift. We met up at Anam Rangs Plaza, and got a snack at Kozmo Lounge. I got an Oreo milkshake! She then came back to my flat and I got the gift for her. She opened right then and there in front of me. She looked pretty happy to get the Valentine’s gift, even though it was no longer a surprise.

How to drink from a bottle in Bangladesh: don’t let it touch your mouth! This is standard drinking procedure for most liquids. When you drink water from a bottle, tip the bottle to pour the water in your mouth, but don’t let it touch your lips. You can either hold it around the rim so as to put your hand between your mouth and the bottle, or just simply hold it an inch or two above the mouth. Then pour. The same works for Sprite or Coke too, but careful of the fizz.
The reason this drinking style has adapted is because water bottles are commonly kept in the house to keep clean water. Since the water from the tap is not good to drink, you boil it, filter it, then bottle it. Drinking straight from the bottle is much easier than pouring it into a separate glass, unless you’re eating dinner. Since the bottles are kept and reused, and other people will be drinking from it, you drink in the manner described above so as not to add your germs to the bottle.
I mention this because it is such an ingrained habit with bottles. Even when you have your own personal small bottle of water or Coke, I still see this manner being used. Mohan says its just a force of habit. One gets so used to drinking from bottles in that way because of doing it at home, that when you get your own bottle at a restaurant, you still do the same thing.

25th-4th in Dhaka 2/23

Tried calling STA Travel. Wanted to start seeing about prices for me to head home. The ticket home will determine where I end my travels in October. Whether it’s cheaper to fly home from Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, or Singapore, will help me decide which of the three cities I will end my travels. I’d prefer Bangkok maybe, because it’s central to all of southeast Asia.

Called up Tamzid and said I’d be in Uttara later on a bus, and I could stop by if he was there. He said sure.
Today I was practicing my back seat researcher techniques. The back seat researcher is the half of the research team who would be doing the timings on the bus. This includes things like timing when people stand up before the bus comes to a stop, when people board, how long it takes to find seats, etc. It is a bit complex as there are 13 time points I’m desiring and some are hard to grab. I practiced on three different routes. I got better as the day went along, but also thought of a new method in which I could be even more effective. Video would just be too complex, but I could audio record, and speak into my voice recorder when certain things happen, and the voice recorder will keep the time. I’ll try it out tomorrow. I then could come home and quickly upload my recordings to my computer and pull out what I need.
Had lunch over at Tamzid’s. his mom served Chinese food. It was good to catch up with him. He has applied to do his Masters degree at University of Florida on Chemistry, and is waiting to hear back. I hope he gets it.

This evening, I completed by review of MIT, was very impressed. I think I have to apply, the program there just blew me away. Saket confirmed it in his blog and with my chat with him tonight, that MIT is the best place to go for transportation (so says the president of Stanford!!) Next up: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

25th-5th in Dhaka 2/24

Today I took the same buses as yesterday, and was trying out a new system of data recording, using only a voice recorder. Took routes criss crossing the city, to every corner, 4 routes today. But I was having doubts about it all.

After thinking about it more, realized that some of the data I was collecting just really wants going to get me where I want. There was data that would be much more worth my time. Decided that I will be scrapping many of the timings I had initially thought important in order maintain the scope of the project.

For lunch I had Thai food, trying it out again, and it just wasn’t as good as Thailand. Watched the cricket match, Bangladesh vs. South Africa. It actually was happening just down the street, but I wasn’t going to buy a ticket. Bangladesh played well yesterday in day 2 of the test, but here on day 3, they really blew it.

Went all the way out to Jatrabari on last bus ride. Then took a bus back home, stopping at New Market to buy shower sandals, a shower mat, and some knives. Needing to buy all this stuff, but not exactly sure what Mohan will and will not take, need to ask him tonight.

Had dinner at Spicy Broast. They had little chicken signs all over the place, saying in Bengali that to prevent avian flu spreading you have to cook all chicken and eggs fully. There were at least 30 hanging up in this place which is no bigger than a bedroom. They’ve turned a warning sign into a decoration, but hopefully it gets the point across to readers.

So I was told that when Bangladeshis move to a new home, they take everything. Every last item. They leave the apartment just as they found it, and in Bangladesh this is usually bare bones. So I was unsure about what EVERYTHING meant. So I made a list and asked Mohan what he was taking. Just to clarify.

Stove, YES. Door locks, YES. Light bulbs, YES (AND the light bulb fixtures he said). Bathroom pot and brush, NO. Well at least he is leaving me the stuff covered in feces. Every item he purchased he will make sure he takes. Nothing gets left behind. As he described, if a single taka was spent, it MUST go.

Researched UIUC tonight. Saw that although it’s a great CE university, its interests don’t match up with mine, so I don’t think I’ll be applying. Especially when the other stuff isn’t good either in my opinion: weather, town, sports teams, and no rowing team (that I can see.)

25th-6th in Dhaka 2/25

This morning Mohan explained to Moweena how he won’t be using her services in his new home, but how she should continue to work for me.

Today needed to get a handle on my parent’s trip. Our tour company is not confirming the trip because they are lacking guests. So today I went to see them in person as well as find a backup company. Went to the Sheraton Hotel as our tour group has an office there. While there I saw the South African cricket team returning from the day’s match, which meant the test match was over, they had won. Dang. Talked to my tour company, said they’ll cancel only 10 days before, but will wait for more people.
Took a bus to Banani and went searching for another tour company. Their office was not there anymore. My tour book is really old! Finally found a third company, who really didn’t seem that great. I used them just to ask where the second company was. Got directed there. Found their office. They are running the tour, already with 17 people. I booked. Sounded great. And the dates are better than the first tour group.

Had lunch at Boomer’s CafĂ©, a philly cheese steak! It was good, but obviously far far far from Philly-level tastiness.

Went to New Market in the evening and bought buckets for showering, garbage cans, shower pail, pots for cooking, spoons, cups and bowls. Tried bargaining some prices, but didn’t get far, as this place was mostly wholesale goods, and already really cheap.

When I got home. I asked Moweena what else she needed for cooking. And she showed me all of Mohan’s stuff she needed when he left, so I’ll go back tomorrow and get all that.

Tonight I researched Purdue University. Liked it. Will add it to the list of ones to consider in the next round. 5 down, 6 to go.

25th-7th in Dhaka 2/26

On the way to BUET I dropped off the cloth that I got from Lauren for window drapes at the tailor, who will turn the four sheets into drapes at Tk 30 each.

At BUET worked on my database of the buses. Created new elements and linked them together to what I think could be a good data management system, with good entry systems. I hope it works how I like. It’s my first time really structuring my own database. Had to make a lot of choices on the way.

Met up with Toma at the Boi Mela, the big book fair which is held each February. In honor of the Bengali language, and the struggle to speak it during the language movement, this book fair is held the entire month of February. It sells only Bengali books, and books about Bangladesh in English. Its huge. Over 350+ stalls selling books, all major and minor publishers of Bangladesh. My mother would be proud.
The Boi Mela, is held on the grounds of Bangla Academy (which was founded to develop the Bengali language through literature, research, and publication.)

The place was big, and it was packed. The streets outside the Bangla Academy were blocked off, and vendors roamed the streets selling small things and snacks. But inside it was only books. And lots of them. Kids books, sci-fi books, history books, academic books, comic books, and everything in between. It was fun just to move with the crowd in the aisles. Toma wasn’t buying anything but I decided I should.
After some browsing, I bought three children’s books, a Tom & Jerry comic book, and an easy to read fact book on geography and one on transportation. It’ll be fun to read these, get practice in my Bengali reading and comprehension. Buying children's books was intense as little kids kept taking the books I was looking at. I was the oldest guy there buying those kinds of books (which is actually a bit surprising since the literacy rate of Bangladesh is not high, and I feel it could be likely that an adult could have the same reading level as me.)
After, on the street, I also bought a Bengali map of Bangladesh to hang in my flat. (pics: many book stalls at the Boi Mela, Toma browsing a stall's selection of Bengali literature, a selection of children's books that I was browsing through, myself and my purchases which are equivalent to epic novels to me.)

Went to New Market. Had to buy more things for the living alone. Bought some more kitchen supplies, a countertop stove, and some more containers.


Daniel said...

So since everyone keeps everything what are you going to do with your stuff when you leave? Personally I think you should open a little shop and just be a salesman for a day.

Donny said...

it's gonna be tough dude. i'm going to try and sell it online, but don't how successful that will be. it's likely i'll just donate it all to people who need it more.
but the store idea sounds pretty cool. a fun opportunity to be street side entertainment, just pitch myself on a corner. i'd sure gather a crowd, but would they be there to buy???