13 March 2008

Week 27: Fed hourly in the village of Bhaberchar

27th-1st in Dhaka 3/5

Today marks 6 months. Technically this is the halfway mark of my Fulbright grant. Yes, it feels like it’s been that long. I’m not the one to say, “Wow, time flies.”

I had a meeting at 10am at BUET with two of the undergrads who will help me, Arjun and Adnan. Arjun said a third, Shegufta, a girl in their class, was coming as well. After they’d all arrived, I went over what I’d been doing recently and how I need their help. Gave them brief introductions into the data collection process. Tried to establish times they could come out with me, and Adnan seemed to be the first to be able, coming tomorrow.

To get to the places I needed to today, I used bus routes that I’m studying. Even if they go past where I need to go, I take the bus to the end, and then backtrack if necessary. Headed up to Baridhara via the Winner bus, collecting data on the route to the end. Backtracked to the American Embassy to pick up my passport with its twenty new pages added into it!

Went to the American Center to pick up a package from my parents. There the security guards from the American Embassy the other day were working. Looks like they take shifts at the three American buildings. They were as chatty as last time.

Had lunch at the Mexican place in Banani. Wanted to get the lunch special, but it wasn’t being offered, because it has chicken in it, and they’re not serving chicken anymore.

Took a new bus today, Dibanishi. It has a neat practical route, hitting some real good spots. They are very organized at their bus stands with real lines and everything! Took it all the way to the end. Then took a bus from there, not doing data collection, to Mirpur 1. Picked up my camera there. The smudges and dirt which were ruining my pictures for about two months are now cleaned off, and I’m ready to start taking good photos again!

Took a bus back down to Pantha Path. There I paid for the bus ticket from Khulna to Dhaka for my parents. Then went to the rental car office and talked about it one more time before putting down an advance. Got all that worked out.

Since I was already there, I went by the furniture area and picked up my last dinner table chair and a desk chair. Now my furniture shopping is complete. Took them both back home by rickshaw.

27th-2nd in Dhaka 3/6

I got to teach the undergraduates today how to do the data collection. Only two out of the three could come. Funny because Adnan, the one who didn’t come, was the only one who originally said he could come today. I took Shegufta and Arjun around, we took two routes. On the first one I taught them my methods and showed them how to record the data. On the second route I let them practice. It was a neat sight seeing the two of them sitting in the front seat of the bus, voice recorders to their mouths, and keeping track of the data. I think they did well, and was proud to have trained two team members. They seemed pretty excited about doing it. Their comments about it indicated that they thought it was a bit difficult. I think it was especially harder for Shegufta since she does not usually ride buses. Not only is she getting use to the routes, stops, and data collection, but just bus riding in general. It takes some getting used to.

Did three other routes by myself today too. So spent a lot of time on the bus today, riding 6 total routes. Met Megan and Aaron for dinner at Bella Italia in Gulshan for pizza and pasta. Was able to time my bus routes correctly to make it. After dinner Megan and I called Abusaleh and Ashraful and scheduled to come to their village on Saturday.

Came home, and ate a second dinner. Really the dinner at Bella Italia was my lunch, hadn’t eaten all day.

27th-3rd in Dhaka 3/7

Today I finished Dune. So great to complete the novel. I enjoyed it more and more as I went along. Definitely in my top 3 of science fiction novels.

Headed out to New Market, and brought my suit jacket along. Wanted to get some things adjusted on it from January. Brought it to my tailor, and he told me he could shorten the arms and the body of the jacket without a problem. Then we went downstairs and I selected my fabric for my next suit. Wanted to get a lighter suit for summer occasions. The guy selling the fabric was real helpful like last time. They brought me juice too! And then he brought the price down a lot, without any bargaining. Perhaps he was just saying that to make me think I got a “deal.” But then, after paying, he decided to give another Tk300 more off! I didn’t even ask. He said I was a returning customer and would give me even more off. I wasn’t expecting it all. I was content paying the first price, but he gave me Tk300 and told me to take it. Made a big impression on me.
I then went upstairs to the tailor’s shop and we prepared the order for this new suit.

Met up with Nipu at DPavement, which we’ve been trying to go to for awhile. No success this time, “Private Party“ sign on the door. So we headed down the street to Nando’s and had some delicious peri-peri chicken burgers. Nando’s, famous for their chicken, has taken an interesting approach to the avian flu issue. At each table setting they have left pamphlets with 7 FAQs that you can take with you and read. Very informative, and spreads correct information in a good way. Have to commend them. And the t-shirts they wear at the restaurant are about how they are serious about Avian Flu, with the same logo as the pamphlet. Plus the food is always tasty. (pic: the pamphlet answering the FAQ about avian flu)

27th-4th in Bhaberchar 3/8

Megan and I headed out past Sonargaon today to Bhaberchar where the guys, Abusaleh and Ashraful who we met on our Sonargaon trip, live in their village. Ashraful, however, didn’t meet up with us today, and we spent the day with Abusaleh. We had a lot of traffic heading out of Dhaka, so showed up to his place an hour late.

We were fed many times throughout the day. I count five. Of those, only one was a full meal, the rest were sweets and snacks. So full by the time we left. (pics: the full meal, Megan eating meal #4 of 5)

Abusaleh showed us around the village, his old school, his current school, the college his sister goes to, the primary school some of his family works at. He pointed out the homes of each of his aunts, uncles, and other extended family members. (pics: Megan/Abusaleh admiring the Shahid Minar at his sister's college, Megan talking with Abusaleh's sisters friends in their college, getting fed meal #2 of 5 at the primary school, Abusaleh asked us to pose with a poster some girls at his school were drawing)

The neatest school stop off was the primary school. After sitting and talking to teachers for a bit, they showed us each of the classrooms with about 30 students each. When we walked all the kids stood up, saluted us, and said, “Salam walekum.” The teachers introduced us to the top boy and girl in each class and made the kids ask us questions. Some were too shy to say a word. But the second we left each classroom we heard it explode in chatter and laughter. I noticed the top kids in the classes sat in the front. Megan explained to me after that in most schools in Bangladesh she has been to, the kids sit in order of their rank in the class, girls on one side of the room, boys on the other, So the kids with the lowest marks sit in the back row, and the kids in the front row have the best marks. The number one boy and girl in each class sit in the inner side of the front rows, directly in front of the teacher. (pics: browsing through the first level English book the students study from, the boys' side of grade 4 classroom, teachers have the top girl in the class ask us questions, students being told to ask us questions...nothing tougher than our name and where we come from)

At one point we meandered through a rice paddy to get to one part of the village. First time walking through one, despite it probably covers more land area than any other crop (or all other things perhaps. (pics: Abusaleh standing in the rice paddy, Megan/myself standing in the rice paddy)

Later one of the teachers took us back to her home and then to her husband’s home. It was then back to Abusaleh’s after that. His older sister and mother talked to us a lot. They enjoyed being hosts to us. As well, Abusaleh’s youngest sister, only 1.5 years old, was there and was constantly the center of attention. (pic: Abusaleh and his younger sister)

Tried a few swings on the field in front of Abusaleh’s home at cricket. Got to play 3 overs, batting twice, missing a lot! Oh well. Neat to play on a real pitch. They definitely were gently tossing them to me, and I still missed.

Abusaleh commandeered my camera the entire day. Thus almost every picture was taken by him, except for the few times I managed to get it back to take a shot of him doing something. He did this last time in Sonargaon. I also must note that I was asked several times if I'll be getting these printed out and giving them to him. (pics: some of Abusaleh's pictures he snapped: baby sister and younger brother, baby sister, father with his cows, myself/Megan with Abusaleh's three sisters (baby sister, in red, and in pink) mother (in white/yellow) and others at the household)

I also must note that Abusaleh's mother changed her clothing a minimum five times during the day. She also changed her baby daughter's clothes that many times too. I don't know if she was just trying to show us her entire wardrobe or just likes to wash clothes to keep busy. She didn't announce her new clothing at all. Just each time we saw her, she was wearing something different.

The bus ride back was a bit bad as I got stuck standing the whole ride back. I don’t mind standing for less than an hour, but after that it gets exhausting.

27th-5th in Dhaka 3/9

Moweena was feeling sick this morning. She was exhausted and hot from cooking and asked me to turn on the fan in my bedroom just so she could sit below it.

Discovered today that the data processing takes a lot longer than I expected. Minimum one hour per bus to listen to my voice recordings and get the data to the computer. I thought it’d take long, but it just didn’t sit in my mind how long that actually was. Might need to collect 4 days a week and process 2. I spent today getting the database ready for all of that, making it easier for me. Was in the BUET lab all day working on this.

I had heard about a play that Ishita was performing in tonight from her cousins Ayon and Jayita. She called me about it midday and told me to come this evening. They were performing their interpretation of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None”. I told her I’d come. It was being performed at the National Playhouse, a rickshaw ride away from BUET.

The play was being put on by Ishita’s school, North South University. Specifically their drama and cine club. They’ve been practicing for months. The students themselves (four of them in the club) took on the incredible task of translating the play into Bengali to put it on.

I got there early, coming straight from BUET. Sat around, and at least got to talk to her beforehand. Ayon, his sister, Onita and her new husband came later, and I sat with them at the back of the theater. I understood a lot more tonight than I did last time at NSU Cultural Club’s night. Probably because it was not songs, but dialogue, so you can follow it better. Also there I likely have improved in listening in the last three months. There were two acts, so during the intermission Ayon updated me on things I might’ve missed. I think the acting was good because even when I couldn’t understand what they were saying, their acting helped me. Ishita was great to watch, she brought her character out wonderfully.

27th-6th in Dhaka 3/10

I worked 12 hours today over a 14 hour period! I realized the pressing need to get the voice data uploaded. I saw how long it took yesterday and made a push today to do as much as I could. I finished uploading six routes into the database. It takes time because I have to go through each voice file and record the time that each boarding happens. It’s like reliving each bus route. Almost gives me a headache listening to honking and bus driving all day through headphones.

I did the first three routes at home, and then finally decided to get a change of scenery and headed to BUET. Had lunch at Rifles Square on the 6th floor bowling alley. I knew they had a gyro, but I have to say I was disappointed. But they’re garlic cheese bread wasn’t too bad.

At BUET I was in the lab for a few hours except for a few minute snack break. Lab closed at 9pm, and I could’ve stayed their longer. I was in a groove and could’ve worked at least another hour. But came home, bought some groceries from the streets, and had dinner at home.

27th-7th in Dhaka 3/11

One thing you get to experience on the bus, when riding it all the time, is the continuous bus hawkers and beggars. The newest items I’ve seen being sold on buses are small quick use Bengali-English dictionaries and teeth cleaning scrubs which can be carried on one’s person. At some point I’m going to tally up how much I would be paying if I gave money to each bus beggar and bought one item from each bus hawker.

Riding the buses so much means I’m starting to see repeats in hawkers, and I’ve seen their song and dance for their products several times. Hear the same jokes again and again!

I spent the morning doing some data processing, than decided to head out to do some bus routes. Did three today on Trans Silva, which is a fairly long route. I tried out a new method today that I think could quicken the data processing. I am doing the data pre-processing on the bus, right after I collect it, instead of waiting days later to do it at a computer. The pre-processing only needs paper and the voice file, which I have with me on the bus. I plug headphones into the voice recorder and do the pre-processing while I’m stuck in traffic (which is a lot of course in Dhaka.)

Weighed myself today for the first time in a long while. Got it done on the side of the street, which costs Tk1. A man sits there with a scale and you just walk up, step on the scale, get your weight, then give him a Tk1 coin. The fancier weight peddlers’ machines also can measure height, and have flashy lights, these might cost up to Tk4.

Been meaning to see how skinny I’ve gotten here for awhile. I had lost 13 pounds in the first few months, but hadn’t weighed myself since. Well the newest weight: 23 pounds below my arrival weight! Yes, that is a lot.

Granted, when I arrived I was the heaviest I’d been in my life at 168 pounds, and dropping to 145 puts me just below some of my college rowing weights, and exactly where I was when I left South Africa at the end of sophomore year. And it’s still heavier than when I cut to 138 to make the flyweight division at the Canadian Henley Regatta.

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