24 July 2008

Week 46: The jackfruit is stuck in my throat!

46th-1st in Dhaka 7/16

Today I got back together with Shegufta to work at BUET. She brought the data she had worked on while I was gone, but the BUET computers wouldn’t show it, so she’ll have to bring it next time we meet. While she worked on another set of data sheets, I worked on tweaking my results to make them more usable for me, something I noticed was a problem when writing the paper. I also finished up some visual basic code.

In the evening I headed across town to Naira’s home. As she typically criticizes me for arriving on American time (which is the time that is specified) instead of South Asian time (late), I planned to arrive about a half hour late. Well due to traffic, this grew to one hour. When I got there, she asked me if I’d adopted Bangladeshi time, I said yes. She was pleased but told me tonight they were working on American time, and that tea had already been going for an hour. They had guests from the US, and food had already been eaten. Oops.
I stayed after the guests left, talking with her and her parents, and later her brother and her cousin (both home from Canada.)

Passing through Farmgate on the way home tonight I bought a new wallet. It’s flimsy, but holds money, and will be good for the rest of my stay. Made nearby in Hazaribagh!

46th-2nd in Dhaka 7/17

Collected data at Shahbag for the AM peak period, and then the midday period. In between I went to Mohammedpur, where a lot of my buses start, to collect dimensions on their aisles and doors, and to count seats. I was met by strange expressions every time I asked a bus operator if I could go on the bus and measure things. The last bus I did this for, I ended up talking in the bus with the bus company’s employees about my work and about the bus system in general.

In the evening I went to see a folk play at Dhaka University. My friend Ishita was in the leading role, and she had invited all of us (her family including Ayon, Farhan, Saquib) to see it. The name of the play was Mohua and was based on a Bengali folk tale. Playing the leading role of Mohua, Ishita did an incredible job. The play itself I only understood about 10% of what was said. It was performed in a village dialect, and I had a hard time separating what they were saying. However the acting, just like the last performance I saw from this troupe, her university’s drama club, was what made the show for me. I was able to understand generally what was going on. The characters expressions were what blew me away. The whole play had an eerie mood to it, and the eyes and faces of the performers were full of intensity and had a possessed look, even scaring me at points. The square stage was in the middle of the room, and the crowd surrounded it on all four sides. The play took place on and around the stage, the whole time with music being played in the background. The audience was very engaged, and the play took place so that the characters used all parts of the stage. Sometimes you were behind the action, sometimes right in front. It was an incredible show. (pics: although blurry the action on the center stage was from all directions and very intense, Ishita on the right acting with her male counterpart in Mohua)

46th-3rd in Dhaka 7/18

Enjoying a day at home. Relaxing, writing in my journal, and posting pictures on facebook. Also starting to do some more serious thinking about my next trip to India in September.

In the evening I headed down to New Market. I stopped by my tailor and dropped off my suit jacket which I thought was not fitting the right way. I also picked up the beach shirts that Ben and I had tailored when he was here. They look great. My buttons were on the wrong way, so after I have him turn them around, it’ll be finished.
I then went to the jewelry area of New Market looking for someone who can turn the pearls I bought when Ben was here into cuff links. After some searching found a stall that said they could do it. Together we drafted a design, and worked out a price. They’ll have it ready in ten days.

Tonight I brought my India guide book to dinner at a restaurant. On the way back I stopped at the store in front of my house for some chatting, like I usually do. Hamid, the shopboy, asked what was in my bag, why I would bring the bag to dinner. I showed him that I’d brought the book. Thus started a half hour session of Hamid, his uncle, and his dad poring over the book’s pictures. The two adults were fighting over what some of the things in the pictures were. They were avidly searching for a picture of the Taj Mahal amongst all the photos, but they couldn’t find one, which was saddening for them. They sounded out the English words, and I explained the ones they didn’t know, for all the photo captions. I promised I’d bring the Bangladesh guidebook tomorrow.
Found out tonight that Hamid can’t speak English. I told him if he’s able to speak a few English sentences to me, I’ll give him the US dollar he’s been nagging me for. He then quickly blurted out “I am” “My name is” but didn’t actually complete those phrases. I then asked him “How old are you?” and he answered “I am fine” then I asked again in Bengali and asked him to say the English word for his name. After 10 seconds he quietly whispered “fourteen.” (pics: Hamid the boy who works at the shop in front of my house and I spend a lot of time talking to; how I almost always first see Hamid, eagerly motioning me to come over to him to talk)

Tonight I went out to eat, looking for a good Indian restaurant. I had the realization that I now picture Indian food as separate from Bengali food, when before I would’ve lumped it together. So now when I want a break from Bangladeshi cuisine, I search out Indian. I’m sure if I’d heard of that before, I’d consider it giving up a hamburger for a cheeseburger. So I had Indian food tonight, and it was such a change of pace, despite it being a Bangladeshi interpretation on Indian food.

46th-4th in Dhaka 7/19

I think I’ve missed the worst of monsoon (knock on wood.) I heard it rained non-stop while I was in Nepal and India, and since I’ve been back, it has only rained randomly, and been mostly decent days. I did ask someone if the monsoon was half over, and after some hesitation to make such a bold statement, they admitted that you could say it was.

Sick today. Spent almost the whole day lying on my bed. I’d get up and be real dizzy. Had the chills, then got very hot. Certainly a fever. Sitting down and standing up required lots of effort.

I spent the day waiting for my new credit card to arrive via DHL. I was following the tracking information online, and knew it should be arriving today. Then I saw it pop up on the tracking that the address was not able to be reached and I should contact DHL. Despite Naira’s assurances that DHL is excellent at getting things to you in Dhaka, my worries that they would not be able to find my place came true. So I called DHL and they gave me the number of the driver. I tried calling the driver several times but he never picked up. So despite being sick and exhausted, I set out for the DHL office closest to me hoping they could help me resolve the problem.
There, they called around, found the driver, and the driver said he could be at the office within a half hour. Relieved, I went and got some lunch while I waited. By the time I got back, the package was there. I opened it up to get my credit card, and immediately walked to the nearby HSBC to withdraw some funds. With that, my crisis of being without my credit card ended.

In the evening I stopped by the store in front of my house to show them the Bangladesh guide book they wanted to see. Only Hamid was there. We went through the book together, and he asked me what each map was of, as in which city. After awhile I told him to try and read it himself. I know he knows the letters. He only could sound out two or three of the names, and the rest I had to give him the answer.

By nighttime, after getting soup for dinner, I felt a lot better.In the evening I stopped by the store in front of my house to show them the Bangladesh guide book they wanted to see. Only Hamid was there. We went through the book together, and he asked me what each map was of, as in which city. After awhile I told him to try and read it himself. I know he knows the letters. He only could sound out two or three of the names, and the rest I had to give him the answer.

By nighttime, after getting soup for dinner, I felt a lot better.

46th-5th in Dhaka 7/20

With my new credit card, I was able to buy my ticket from Singapore to Bangkok in October. Glad that is out of the way. Booked on Tiger Airways. Still have to book my flight from Dhaka to Bangkok in September, but that has to be done in person as Bangladeshi airlines don’t have online purchasing.

Spent the morning reviewing the work Shegufta had done for me, and filling in some gaps in my data. In the evening I went to Shahbag to collect the PM peak period of data. It was very hectic. First my stopwatch broke, so I had to use my cell phone’s stopwatch to do all the timing, and it was bit more awkward. As well, it got dark, so I could barely see what I was doing, no streetlight nearby. And all the buses were very packed, and they seemed to come in groups of ten!

For dinner I met up with Toma at Pizza Hut. Despite the fact that she agreed to my invite, she doesn’t really like pizza she said. Oh well, more for me. I had been doodling on some paper when she arrived, and that led to a competition to see who could draw the better crocodile, elephant, camel, and giraffe…but if you looked at her sheet you would’ve thought we were trying to draw a fish, a cow, another cow, and an ostrich respectively.

46th-6th in Dhaka 7/21

I spent the day going through the data and pulling results from it. One thing I spent time doing was using an online route measuring tool (USA Track and Field’s website which allows you to draw your running routes) to measure the length of the bus routes. I’ll be using this data to find average speeds of the buses throughout their routes. It was a big part of my data that was missing.
I also did some work to analyze the bus routes by fifths. Seeing which part of the route seems to be the busiest. Surprisingly it’s the second and third fifth that seem to have the most crowding. Not sure what this means just yet, but it was interesting to see. Perhaps it’s because buses load up so early on that latter stops don’t even have passengers show up thinking the bus will just be crowded. Thus, the only thing that starts happening are alights at that stop, and the bus quickly decrowds. But that doesn’t make sense, as the feedback loop would show people would show up to the stop then. Maybe Dhaka’s routes are just characteristically like that.

Tonight I had jackfruit for the first time. This is the national fruit of Bangladesh, and I’ve only heard bad reviews about it from foreigners, with only Megan giving it a decent review. It does have the sad fact that when it’s thrown away, it starts to smell like rotten onions. Some even feel it smells like rotten onions when it’s fresh. Anyway, jackfruits are huge. They grow off of trees that don’t look like they can hold even one jackfruit, but it holds scores! They are everywhere! People really enjoy them, and I’m always seeing someone carrying one around under their arm.
Tonight I got to eat it. A man who I always see in front of the store in front of my house was standing on the street, and we started talking. He then invited me in to have some jackfruit. I agreed, and was nervous for my first taste of what others before me have hated. He handed me a bowl full of these yellow polyps, about an inch and a half in length and an inch wide, which were the innards of the jackfruit. Inside each polyp was a seed. You just pop it into your mouth and spit out the seed. The consistency and texture were that of bubble gum. I honestly felt like I had shoved half a packet of Big League Chew into my mouth. I ate about five before I couldn’t eat anymore. They were fairly sweet, and the taste was good, but not something I had planned to gouge on the first time. (pics: a jackfruit tree with ripe jackfruits at BUET, jackfruit tree covered in jackfruits, the enormous jackfruits being sold on the street)

Right after I felt something stuck in my throat. Perhaps for the same reason we are told not to swallow gum, the jackfruit was stuck in my throat. I couldn’t cough it up, I couldn’t swallow it down. I kept coughing. It tickled and stayed in my throat despite some water I drank and a cookie I ate. It seemed only time finally got it down, about three hours.

I picked up my backpack from the dry cleaner today. It had gotten covered in mold from the humidity in my room. They did a great job, perfectly clean, like new!

46th-7th in Dhaka 7/22

Today was a day in Gulshan, with lots of errands to run and work to get done, and even see a few people. I had three data collections, one in Gulshan-1 and two in front of Mohakhali Center. These were curbside collections, so it’s constant observing of buses going past and stopping, and counting the people. Not too exhausting, and fun as well. Saw some of the ticket sellers who recognize me and they’re always fun to talk to.

In the morning, after the first data collection, I stopped by the Vietnamese embassy to get my visa for my trip there in October with my friend Amy from high school on our Southeast Asia trip. This embassy didn’t allow us inside, despite it seeming to be just an apartment in an apartment building. A man out front in a guardhouse took the papers, went upstairs. Came back down, told me to wait. Up again, down again, told me to wait, Went up again, came down, told me to pay Tk3700. I thought it was Tk1900, according to the sheet hanging right next to his head, but he just said Tk3700 again, and told me he can’t tell me why it’s more. I sighed and handed him all the money I’d brought. I’ve learned now to always bring about twice as much money to embassies, as the listed visa prices never seem to be just that.
Finally got a receipt for my payment and told my visa will be ready in 6 days.

I then went to Best Air to buy an airline ticket from Dhaka to Bangkok, my final flight out of Bangladesh (sad!) The office, I’d been there before, is in Gulshan-2. Last time they told me I couldn’t book flights for September just yet because the schedule wasn’t set. Well today I asked to book, and the woman told me the schedule still hasn’t been set, I have to wait until August. I was shocked, I could not believe with two months to go, the schedule was not set. Sitting there in mini-shock, her coworker turned to me and asked when I was flying, overhearing the conversation that the flight was not on the schedule yet. I told him September 28, and he looked it up, and he said it can be booked. I looked at her, and she blankly looked at me back and shyly smiled.
They then took about 30 minutes to get my ticket ready. I was the only one customer the entire time, for four employees. Beautiful office. But could not figure out what could take so long. They did want at some point my ticket out of Bangkok, so needing a copy, I went behind the counter to print one off of gmail. Office has no customer/worker boundaries. They then enjoyed reading my itinerary home. Since only one guy was actually doing the ticket stuff, the other three just browsed my personal materials. The one working was also trying to get me more baggage allowance as theirs is much lower than what I will have with me (EVERYTHING.)
Finally I got the ticket. I paid by credit card. And I was set.

At both the embassy today, and the airline office, I was asked, “Why are you doing this so early?” This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked this in Bangladesh. First, I’m not the type to leave things to the last minute. But also, I find that travel arrangements here are many times made very quickly. I feel most trips I’ve been to out of the city have been planed just a week before, and everything comes together just fine. I’ve known many people to buy plane tickets the day before going somewhere. And I’ve known many people to be getting their visa for a country the week before leaving, and pick it up the day before.

Second data collection was just after lunch, and after that I met up with Jessica, a girl who came here from Emory and works at ICDDR,B. We had kept trying to meet up after she had initially emailed me before even coming to Bangladesh. We got some food at a nearby hotel, and she brought her other friend Jessica too, they both go to Emory. I then trailed them as they went shopping for fabric, as I had nothing else to do.

I did the evening data collection, and then headed to Nafisa’s aunt’s home. I had dinner with Ishfaq, Ishraq, and her aunt and uncle. Hadn’t been by for awhile as I don’t live on that side of town anymore. And first time I’ve had dinner there for even longer.

Also, I found out that Emily Gifford, my friend from NC State who visited me in Bangladesh, has a blog. She is keeping track of her time in medical school. I posted the link to the sidebar.

1 comment:

Tiffany said...

so if the play is done by a university drama club, does that mean it's still called 'jatra'?