30 August 2008

Week 51: Chittagong, second city of Bangladesh...save the best for last

51st-1st in Dhaka 8/20

Today was a stressing day. It started with me waiting for Moweena for 4 hours. I couldn’t go out to work as I needed to speak with her that I’ll be out of town for 4 days. But she didn’t show up, and now she’ll show up at some point in the next few days and find me not there, and get annoyed at me.

Talked to my landlord’s wife this morning about my moving out, and that a future Fulbright Tiffany will be moving in. Had to establish if I could leave all my stuff in the room if Tiffany is taking my place and buying my stuff. The landlord’s wife said she won’t get my place, but get the place the floor below next to the landlord’s. I also asked about the deposits and how I’ll get them back. Before leaving, the last thing she said was that she wants my fridge. I explained I promised it to the boys downstairs, and she said “No, you will give it to me” in her nice voice. Again I said it was promised, and then she said “I will talk to them, and then you will give to me” in her not so nice voice. Made me feel very uncomfortable. I just imagine her telling me if I don’t give her the fridge, then she won’t give me my deposit back.

After I finally got out of the house, I went to ride the Safety bus four times. Only two times would come of this. The first two buses got in big jams, and thus I knew I didn’t have time for a fourth before heading to my dinner invitation. So I boarded the third, glad to know I would at least get that one done. However this bus got a flat tire 2/3 of the way through the route, and that was the end of that. Had to scrap the route, and 1.5 hours wasted on it.

Headed to Shegufta’s home from there. I thought it was interesting that I took four modes of transportation to get there. First I took a tempo from where the bus had had a flat tire. I got off the tempo and walked from that point on the tempo’s route to Farmgate. There I got on a local bus to Bangla Motor, where I picked up a rickshaw to take to her home. I then proceeded to get lost and it took about 10 minutes to find her home. Oddly she lives in a really empty street, but it was the lack of businesses (that have addresses on their signs) made me get lost amongst the nothingness.
Dinner was great! But they stuffed me so full. So many delicious things, and her mother kept putting more on my plate. She had 20 items total for us that night. Her father knew a lot about the space programs of the world, a favorite for the retired mechanical engineer, and I enjoyed listening to what he had to say about that and other topics he has picked up in his numerous science magazines.

Random thing. While stuck in traffic tonight, our tempo conductor was chatting with the driver of someone’s SUV (the owner wasn’t inside.) The driver told him to hop in for a spin. So he did. He left us. Never came back.

51st-2nd in Chittagong 8/21

Auvi picked me up early to take me to the train station. Our train to Chittagong left at 7:40am. I was nausea this morning, and the train food options didn’t help. The only sanitary food on the train, according to Auvi, was the many bags of potato chips we ate. I did manage to buy some bananas and peanuts through the train window at a stop mid-route, and that was much more fulfilling.
The train itself was very clean. They had food servers coming down the aisle every few minutes serving sandwiches and chicken burgers (both which Auvi told me not to take), chips, cold drinks, and candy. The views out the window were great. It was neat to leave the city by the train, see its view of the traffic (which the train itself is causing.) Neat to pass by all the cities on the way to Chittagong. Its not a direct route, we first go north to go south because the Meghna River isn’t bridged on the most direct route. We stopped at about 15 stations along the way. At points we can see the hills of nearby India as we passed by the eastern border. The landscape as we got closer to Chittagong was of the hill tracts of Bangladesh, gorgeous. (pics: Dhaka's train station in the early morning, six ticket collectors came through the aisle at once swarming us checking our tickets and were out of the cabin before you realized what had happened (also a good shot of the inside of the train), our train sweeps through the Bangladesh countryside, someone else enjoying the view of the Chittagong Hill Tracts)

We arrived, and headed to where we were staying. Ayon was staying at his cousin’s home, while Auvi had arranged for him and I to stay with his older sister and her husband. These two places were about 30-40 minutes apart by rickshaw.
Auvi’s sister Shubha and her husband Asif have a cute son named Arham, and he called me “Donny Mama” (Donny Uncle) from the start, at the direction of his parents. It was cute, and it quickly made me feel at home. They were extremely welcoming from the start, and Shubha cooked amazing food. The attitude around the dinner table was light, and we had several great laughs across the time we were there. I enjoyed playing games with Arham over the whole weekend. (pics: Auvi relaxing with his nephew Arham, Arham/Spiderman)

Tonight, Auvi and I headed to what he called the Bashundara City of Chittagong. It was 6 floors high, but at least 10 times as small a floor plan for each level. Still, it is pretty nice and the best stores are there. A food court on the top floor had a small variety, and we got some fuchka covered in yogurt and then some ice cream. (pic: Sanmar Ocean City-Chittagong's Bashundara City says Auvi)

I’ve been plowing through Freedom at Midnight. Incredible book. Read it at all my free chances. For the first time understanding the birth of all the nations in the subcontinent, and not just Bangladesh. Incredible history.

51st-3rd in Chittagong 8/22

I keep getting a hard time from people about the US having less gold medals than China in these Olympics. Although I defend my country and say we have more total medals (and that’s how my newspaper back home had always ranked countries) they said only gold medals matter, and thus the US is second for once. Everyone is rejoicing over this.

We set out this morning to the Chittagong Shipyards. I have known about these for years, but read more about them when I got the Fulbright, and really wanted to see them when I came. Today was finally the time. Although much controversy surrounds them in terms of safe working conditions, child labor, and where the profits go to, I’ve been told and read online that it is possible to go inside. You just have to try a few entrances until someone lets you in.
Well we weren’t that lucky. A bunch of us went: Auvi, Asif, Ayon, Ayon’s cousins Hridoy and Protoy, Auvi’s cousin, and even Arham! Two CNGs full of guys interested in boats being taken apart. We’d heard it was easier to go on Friday when things were less busy, and thus more likely for someone to be let in. Well maybe the opposite is true. The guard wouldn’t let us in at any of the three gates we tried, and two said that we could have a chance if the supervisor was there to grant us permission (on a weekday.)
We could only peer through the fences. It was still very impressive. Some of the biggest boats on earth just cut in half, and it’s all by hand labor. The ships just sit on the beach, and in front of them are all the metal taken from their hulls and decks. The streets to the shipyards are filled with things taken from the boats such as life preservers, toilets, cabinets, and sinks.
I really wish we could’ve gone in. It was a big “want” for me in Bangladesh, and I’ll leave without ever gong inside and seeing this wonder up close. (pics: materials collected from the ships at the Chittagong Shipyards, a view of a large ship being taken apart and lots of scrap material from outside the fence)

We headed home, had lunch, and rested most of the rest of the day until we went to Foy’s Lake in the evening. From what I knew, Foy’s Lake sits amongst a few hills just next to Chittagong, and is a very beautiful area. Well apparently over time commercialism stepped in and now there’s an amusement park on the lakeside, as well as bungalow hotels. The natural beauty still exists, under concrete pathways, steps, rides, boats with ads pasted on them, etc. Oh well. Still a nice place to pass time with friends. The tickets were a bit expensive to get in. We went to the lake right away, and took a 20 minute boat ride on a small sized craft run by a loud engine. It putted us around the lake for awhile. (pics: Arham looking out on Foy's Lake, Shubha/Prottoy/Ayon on the boat ride around Foy's Lake)

From there we took a short stroll along the paths. A few of us started climbing up one of the hills to get a better view of the lake. On the other side of the hill you could see all of Chittagong. (pics: Ayon/Arham/myself posing at Foy's Lake's walkpaths, Auvi and others below climbing one of the hills that form the rim of Foy's Lake)

We rode some of the rides there. I got on the swinging pirate ship, the bumper cars, and the kids roller coaster. Arham loved the roller coaster, especially since it was the only one he was allowed on. He was crying when we rode the other rides without him. (pics: Auvi/Hridoy/Ayon thoroughly enjoying the swinging pirate ship, Prottoy/Hridoy/Auvi await the bumper cars in anticipation)

Auvi and I were up late tonight hanging out around the home, and we felt an earthquake!! I’d never felt one before, and neither had Auvi. I was sitting on the bed and I started to feel it wobble. I didn’t understand what was happening at first, and Auvi didn’t either. He was standing, and the cabinet he was standing next to had been rocking. We looked at each other and he was the fist one to say “earthquake.” It lasted for about 30 seconds. We were both a bit scared, not sure what to do. It wasn’t very strong, just a bit of wobble, but it was our firsts. If we had been sleeping we wouldn’t have felt it.
His sister said in the morning that Chittagong gets lots of earthquakes like this.

51st-4th in Chittagong 8/23

This morning Auvi’s dad arrived from Dhaka to stay at his sister’s home too. He had come for the wedding tomorrow that we’ll be going to in his village.

Auvi, myself, Ayon, and Prottoy headed by CNG with Asif to his factory. He is the executive director of a garments factory. It was my first time getting to see a place like this, despite the many in Dhaka and across Bangladesh. He was a great tour guide showing us each part of the process. The factory makes sweaters, and we saw how they are put through the looms by hundreds of workers, how many more then put the pieces of the sweaters together, then inspect them, wash them, iron them, do quality control, add buttons and tags and details, and then pack them up for shipping. The factory was very clean, and seemed very well run. My favorite part was seeing the small part where the designer makes all his samples to send overseas to gather orders. Once a design is chosen, his group then creates a guide on how to make the clothes for all the loom workers. The worksheets for this were pretty cool, long procedures to follow filled with complex codes. (pics: looms at the garment factory, showing the data sheet that a worker follows to make the sweaters, Asif explains to Ayon/Auvi/Prottoy how a garment is made and put together at his factory, the linking section putting the sleeves and body together, the designer's office, the shipping box proudly announcing where the clothes were made)

We later got a snack at a fried chicken restaurant, and then went to see the World War 2 cemetery. I saw a similar cemetery in Comilla in October, and found out here that there are eight total scattered across India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar from the Burmese front of the war against the Japanese. (pic: World War 2 cemetery in Chittagong)

In the afternoon Auvi and I went over to Ayon’s cousins home, and we all headed out to Patenga Beach. From there you can watch the sunset. Well Auvi and I had arrived too slow, so by the time we all got to the beach, the sun had set. But still the views of the ships out on the water waiting to go to port with all their lights lit was beautiful. The place was packed with people, and this was after we saw many leaving after sunset. There were shops to buy sea-themed gifts. We had fresh cooked crabs from some guy with a pot. (pics: Auvi/Hridoy/Prottoy/Ayon at Patenga Beach at night, boats waiting outside Chittagong port to deliver their goods, the pot of crabs we ate from, craftsman at the beach market)

51st-5th in Chittagong 8/24

We headed out to Auvi’s father’s village in the morning. We were to attend a wedding and see his family’s home. Ayon, Prottoy, Auvi, and I shared a CNG on the way out, and that meant Prottoy had to sit on Ayon’s lap the whole way. A bit squished.
We stayed in the village for about an hour, roaming around the old house, the nearby rice paddies, and just around in general. We got fed some snacks by his father’s brother's family, some juice, biscuits, samosas, and guava. From there it was to the wedding. What resulted there, or rather what didn’t, was far from what I expected. (pics: myself/Auvi/Ayon at Auvi's father's village, Prottoy/Auvi/Ayon on our visit with some of the oldest homes behind them)

We arrived, and already there were about 200 people there, about one quarter standing outside. The whole wedding was split between men and women to maintain purdah. The groom had his own stage on the men’s side, the woman had her stage on the woman’s side, and a giant wall was between them. We sat down immediately to eat, and that lasted about 15 minutes. We then stood inside for about 3 minutes, and outside for five. Then we left. In total, we were at the wedding for about 25 minutes maximum. I asked Auvi, why we had come all this way, just to eat and leave. He explained that the majority of the people who come to the wedding do just that. They are there to be treated by the hosts to a free meal, and never intend to stay for any part of the wedding. I asked if anyone stays to see the actual marriage between the bride and groom, and he said a handful. (pics: myself/Auvi outside the wedding, the groom sits on his stage)

We went back to Auvi’s place in the late afternoon, and were given snacks by his sister. This would be the first of five snacks that Auvi and I would enjoy this afternoon/evening. See below.
Before the line of homes we visited, we first headed to Battali Hills Park, which has an overlook over the city and out to the ocean. We arrived just after sunset, and thus only stayed for a bit. But the walk up the hill was neat as it was a gorgeous wooded park inside the hectic city. Dhaka’s parks do not have this feeling. The view from the top was spectacular. One forgets what views of Bangladesh are like as the whole country is mainly flat. (pics: Ayon and Prottoy climbing up Battali Hill, view of Chittagong out to the Bay of Bengal from the top of Battali Hill)

Then started the evening of visiting and eating. In succession we visited three homes of Ayon’s family. As Auvi is a new member of the family, marrying in, he wanted to visit them all as he was in town. At each we were given a cold drink and a variety of snacks. it is expected of us to eat a fair share of these snacks, or else you disappoint your host. By the third home, we were stuffed. It was admittedly hard to finish off our last bit of sweets. Then for Auvi and I we had to go over to see his mom’s sister. There we were given our final snacks for the night, and luckily they were understating on why we didn’t take very much. (pics: Ayon/Prottoy/Amiyo at one of their relatives homes, Auvi/Ayon's cousin Bilu/Shreya/Prottoy's mother/Poulomi/Bilu's wife/Auhona/Prottoy on our visit to their home)

At home, despite all our snacking on sweets and salty tings, we still had a small dinner his sister had prepared for us. The rice and dal were actually quite refreshing after eating so many sweet things for the last few hours.

51st-6th in Dhaka 8/25

We woke up early to catch the train back to Dhaka. It left at 7am. Five of us were going: Auvi, Ayon, and I and in addition Ayon’s cousin and his son Hridoy. Hridoy is starting university in Dhaka, so this was his trip to college.

The train was faster than the one we took to Chittagong. This particular one was considered express, and only stopped at a handful of stations. We got back in just 6 hours as compared to the 8 it took going out. It also had higher quality food, including better potato chips. Auvi approved of it being good, as opposed to the food on the way out. On the train I spent a lot of time drawing in Auvi’s notebook. I drew tons of maps, mostly of the US. I also drew my family tree as well as Ayon’s family tree. (pics: myself drawing maps and family trees/Chittagong Hill Tracts as seen from the Dhaka-Chittagong train)

Upon getting back, I headed home, and rushed around the afternoon getting ready for Altaf’s wedding reception tonight.
I had wanted to wear my new French cuffed shirt and cuff links tonight, but my tailor still wasn’t done with my stuff. I picked up my cuff links at the jeweler though, and I’m happy with them.
While out, I stopped to weigh myself at a streetside scale. I hopped on in anticipation: 143 lbs. I’ve lost a bit more from the last times I was weighing myself. In total now, about 25 pounds since arriving in Bangladesh.
Also bought a toothbrush from the street. Despite always being shown these on the bus and the street, I had yet to buy one from there. I can now say I’ve done that.
I also went to FedEx near my home and confirmed prices with them, the procedure for shipping, and got a box that I’ll start packing things into to bring back to them. For the box I want to use, I can’t take it from their office, so I have to pack my things in one box, bring it to their office, and repack it in another box.

I end up walking through the remnants of a political demonstration today, or perhaps a riot. Dhaka College students, near New Market, had taken to the streets in protest of actions by the government. I saw remnants of what looked to be a burned car, and there was broken glass all over the streets. The street itself was closed to vehicles, and I didn’t know why until I reached Dhaka college. All the buses and cars were being rerouted down Elephant Road, what a mess! A lot of the New Market stores had closed up shop, locked their doors in worry. The police presence was incredible, all in their riot gear. But still pedestrians were just walking by on their daily duties. Some groups of people still seemed to be in protesting mode, gathering in large groups to yell about something, but the police weren’t minding them too much. I did avoid the crowd just in case. The police, by the time I left, were less interested in what had happened and more interested in the hawkers selling hand towels, children’s masks, and guavas.
When I got home I saw I had received an email notice from the US Embassy to avoid this area, ooops.

Tonight was Altaf’s wedding reception. I was very excited as it was the first time I would meet his older brother Anwar (who is the reason I met so many people in Bangladesh) and his wife, Jayita’s older sister, Sanjana. The reception was at the Officer’s Club on Baily Road. I was wearing a suit, and because it was so hot, I decided to take an AC taxi to the wedding. Expensive, but as I only take buses, I’m felt I can splurge this one time (it is about 10 more times expensive to take that taxi than a bus.)
Upon walking in I immediately got to meet Sanjana, and no less than 2 minutes later Anwar came by to introduce himself. Finally met them. I talked to Sanjana a little bit as she was not as busy as Anwar. As the groom’s brother, he was running around saying hello to everyone and making sure they were happy. We chatted a little bit before I left, and I arranged to see him and his wife before they leave to go back to the US. (pics: myself/Ayon at Altaf's wedding, Ayon/Annita/Hridoy and other cousins at the wedding, the reception hall)

I went up on stage to take a photo with Altaf and his wife like everyone else. Congratualted him, and we had as long a chat as a wedding reception allows a groom to have…a few seconds.

51st-7th in Dhaka 8/26

Today I grabbed a photo of the recycling place that I had talked about last week. It is here where they will collect your trash and give you money for it. (pic: recycling center or the place they will pay you for your reusable trash)

I spent some time today packing up my cabinet’s drawers. Emptying out everything, and putting it into the box, to bring to FedEx next week. Choosing what to take and what not is tough. I’m trying to create a pile of junk, but also don’t want to miss out on things that meant a lot to me here.

Selling my furniture has been easier but at the same time more stressful than I imagined. Although I have buyers for everything pretty much, everyday I feel I’m getting hounded by people insisting I sell them something, as opposed to the people I’ve already promised it too. Everyone feels they deserve it more, and are stubborn when I tell them “no,” and they get a bit angry. And others feel I should give it to them for free using the foolproof argument “you very rich American, I so poor Bangladeshi.”

Headed out to ride the buses. I did the #1 bus from Gulistan to Mirpur-12, and then the Safety bus between Mirpur-12 and Azimpur twice. Jams were bad, but not hair pulling. I almost dosed off on the second route. I had lunch up in Mirpur at a place I’d been looking at for awhile, and it was less than impressive.

Been trying to capture photos of all the “_FC” restaurants in Dhaka and around Bangladesh. To my knowledge there is AFC, BFC, CFC, DFC, FFC, GFC, HFC, KFC, MFC, and TFC. I’ll try to post a collage of them if I can get them all.

At night I had to meet the DHL van in front of Dhanmondi 8/A, because they didn’t want to find my home. I also feel this was easier, and was glad to do it.

1 comment:

bsk said...

Anwar had recommended "Freedom at Midnight" to me. It was a good way to get a sense of recent history for the region. Well, most of the region. The book spends little time talking about Bangladesh. An interesting little tidbit ... Ghandi was studying Bangla during near the end of his life.