Saturday, December 31, 2011


Last New Years I counted down on a beach in Key West. I kissed a boy who took my breath away and jumped into a freezing pool with all of my clothes on. I was 22 and a few years younger.

This year I stood on a 5 story rooftop in Bangladesh. I had a cup of scotch in my hand and looked over a candle-lit city. The family in a roof below me stretched out a blanket and sat in a circle sharing food, eating with their hands.

Bulbul and Neelu ran up just in time for the 30 second count down. We clinked drinks and drank to the new year and to being alive and to the countless times over the past 6 months we thought “Where am I?”

So that’s it for 2011. Nevermore.

I had my head down for most of the year studying in graduate school to finish successfully and to get a good internship. But I surfaced for a few times. In a deep red canyon in the Negev Desert in Jerusalem. On top of a mountaintop in Nepal. Seconds before salsa dancing for the entire school. Getting lost in a 3am romantic blizzard in NY. Singing on a rooftop in Baltimore with some of the greatest new friends. Pulsing and losing myself in a Girl Talk concert. These are the moments I felt awake.

I meditated, I ate sweets, I wrote down my new year resolutions and I sang Auld Lang Syne.

The greatest compliment anyone ever gave me was

“Chelsea, you know how to bring the sanctity to the commonplace and to create your own celebration.”

And that’s all I can hope to do for the rest of my life. I’m here in a country that doesn’t understand my traditions or celebrate my holidays but I’ve learned to observe them to myself.

Isn’t that the answer?

2012: Bring the happiness and holiness to ourselves because we’re the only ones who will be there until the end.

My new little friends

I was walking home from work the other day and I realized I was being followed. 5 little girls were walking at short distance following my pace, giggling and looking away every time I turned back. They caught up to me.

"Hello. What is your name?"

"My name is Chelsea! What is your name?"

"Hello. What is your name?"

"Amar Nam Chelsea."

They followed me all the way home.

"Hello. What is your name?"

I ran into the house and got them all these little toys a friend shipped to me. They are tiny pills and when submerged in water turn into a dinosaur play thing.

I gave one to each girl and explained what to do with them in Bangla.

"Put it in water and wait. Then...magic!"

The next day the girls met me at the office rushing up and exclaiming
"Dinosaur! Rawwr!"

We are now very good friends.

"Hello what is your name?"

This is a video of me walking home from the office. You can see my little friends.

Friday, December 30, 2011


My mom sent me a package! With twizzlers, swedish fish, party decorations, burts bees creams, and hair products!!

I'm still homesick. And scared. And a bit sad.

But tomorrow I'm going to wake up early, throw aside this cold I have, and go for a walk. Then I will work all day, even though it's a weekend, work out, and bring in this new year right.

Just watch me.
Monday, December 26, 2011

Oh, oh then suddenly you know you’re never going home

I’ve been here for 6 months.

I’ve been working hard. Learning about myself. Figuring things out. It’s so simple to live out here. I feel simplified. But it can get very lonely.

I miss my friends and my family. I miss living in a place where I could say “Do you want to grab some dinner? I’ll meet you at the coffee shop. Let’s get dressed up and go dancing!” What I would DO to get dressed up in a little dress and heels and go to a bar.

On the other hand I've been to Nepal, just got back from Bangkok, and am heading to China next week...

And I’m doing something of substance. Thank god. I love my job and I love how I feel about myself and the woman I’m becoming.

But my family had Christmas without me this year. My ex-boyfriend has a new girlfriend. My room is being subletted by a stranger. And most of my friends overseas are now back in America.

I’m afraid when I go back that it’ll be like I’m from somewhere else, just visiting. That I’ve changed faster than the things I’ve left behind.

“Oh, oh then suddenly you know you’re never going home.”

Asalam Walaikum,

Christmas in Bangladesh

Christmas in Bangladesh. A country I was thankful wouldn’t gag me with the Holiday but also a country who wouldn’t notice it. I would have to make my own sanctity.

Christmas Eve Day I set out into town to get into the festive spirit. It was a crisp day and I wore a wool hat. All along the road are used clothes lined out for sale. I looked through the piles skeptically. Most of the clothes you would need to burn before wearing, but I found a big sweater that could be of use.

I wound around the market looking for treasures. Really wanted a pair of warm slippers but couldn’t find any. Wanted to find a silver toe ring, but couldn’t find one. Not even in the silver market. I did however find: hair gel (I’ve decided to start doing my hair here instead of always throwing it back into a bun. Every time I leave my hair out the girls at work fall over themselves to tell me I look good. I get the point.),a pencil holder, a new water jug which I plan to decorate and give to the office (ours used to be pink and is now brown…).

I tried out my Bangla on this outing and I was surprisingly competent! So fun. All around me I heard not-so-soft-whispers “America…girl…america…” Rock star.

I went to the food market and found and purchased: 10 bars of Cadbury chocolate, 3 snickers bars, some ginger tea, sparkling apple cider, and a box of cocoa powder. A Christmas miracle.

For Christmas Eve dinner we had delicious fish curry and roast chicken masala.

I was invited to a Christmas Eve party at my mom’s house and at 7am on my Christmas morning I was skyped in and served an e-Brandy Alexander. It didn’t occur to me to change out of my pajamas because it was the first thing in the morning. But I soon realized that I was on the big screen at a party.

I was sitting up in bed with my headphone, earphone contraption. “Chel you look…kind of like Stephan Hawking.”

“No she kind of looks like Christopher Reeves.”

“Jesus Chel, couldn’t you have put on some clothes?” Said my sister.

It was kind of like showing up to a party naked.

Next time everyone is in their pajamas, I’m going to skype in and be wearing a wedding dress.

I was working Christmas Day but was simultaneously downloading The Holiday on my computer.

My mom and sister woke up and skyped me in for their Christmas morning. I was propped up on a table so that I could see Fiona open her presents. It was so crazy, like being there. I opened up my bottle of apple cider and celebrated.
I was expecting the worst this holiday. Many of my friends who were doing their internship and e-supporting me with their own experience have since returned to the US. It’s been tough losing those time zone comrades.

I really miss my family and “normalcy.” But a part of me felt like I was there for my family because of Skype. Skype: “The Whole World Can Talk For Free.”
For my own Christmas I made some hot chocolate with the cocoa powder and Neelu and I curled up with our heaters and watched The Holiday. Jude Law, you can be my Christmas present any day of the year.

My Christmas almost ended perfectly until Family Drama walked in and shook me around a bit. I’m still pretty dizzy.

It’s all good. Angst does wonders for my skin.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

This holiday was brought to you by Skype.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Day in the Life

I decided to document a day in my life. Carried a pen and a little book around with me and wrote down my actions/thoughts as the day went on.

Morning starts with the bathroom shakedown. Brush my teeth, wash my face etc. all while shaking so the 20+ mosquitoes in my bathroom don’t land on me. I’ve gotten quite skillful at not poking my eye out when I try to put in my contacts.
Making coffee in the morning has to be done equally fast so the water being poured into the machine doesn’t catch a mosquito.

I wrap myself in several layers of clothing, a scarf, and a hat. It’s fifty degrees right now in Gaibandha and we live in buildings built to reduce heat in the sweltering summers.

I eat my breakfast, pack my coffee, and walk to work. The fog was so thick this morning that I spent a good portion of my walk hypothesizing why that was. Is it because it’s getting colder so the warmth of the life below is creating a faster condensation rate? Or are there more cook stoves going that release particulate matter into the air because people want more hot breakfasts during the cold? I almost fell into a pothole and decided to stop thinking.

I settle into work with my coffee, answer emails, read the news headlines and begin my day. A wave of nausea overcame me and didn’t leave for most of the day. So it goes.

Today I’m working on a paper about evil spirits. I’m reading through 3,700 infant verbal autopsies to find instances where mothers talk about the evil spirits that have killed their children. Thousands of detailed descriptions of the symptoms their children had right before they died. Gruesome examples of Shamans telling the mothers to beat the child to get rid of the evil spirit.

I can’t get through I’ll Follow You Into the Dark by Death Cab without tearing up. Does anyone second that? I’ve disallowed myself to listen to any more sad music while reading these interviews. Only angry music like The Clash. Or Alanis Morisette.

During lunch I mix half a cup of cold water with half a cup of boiling water. This trick is the best thing that ever happened to me. I eat steaming hot vegetables and rice, a piece of fish and some hot Dhal I pour into a bowl and drink like soup.
I found a store that sells tootsie pops in Dhaka and I bought the man out. I keep them in my desk and every day after lunch I eat one. It’s the little things.

At 6pm I go home and meet my Bangla teacher. I use my cellphone to light the pitch black walk. My Bangla teaches me with stories and Bangla dramas. It’s incredibly effective. He always brings in a question to ask me before we start my lesson. “What does ‘beat it’ mean in the Michael Jackson song?” Today he asked me “What does ‘I’m a Barbie Girl in a Barbie World’ mean?”

I ate dinner and made tea and settled into my bed. I read my book interrupted every once in a while by the dance of the power outages.

Good night!
Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Weekend in Gaibandha

I stayed in Gaibandha this weekend alone. It was gorgeous. Friday morning I rolled out of bed, wrapped myself in 2 sweaters a scarf and a hat (it’s in the fifties here!), threw some hot water and grounds in my little camping French press and settled back into bed. I stayed there, mosquito net draped around me, the entire day. Like a little invalid. My aunt sent me some pesto and I found some Rigatoni during my last trip to Dhaka. So for my meals I sautéed garlic and onions and made rigatoni pesto. The rest of the time I drank my stash of whiskey and watched my new favorite show: Mad Men. I picked up my guitar and fiddled with it a few times. But the creativity side of my brain sat lazy and cold.

On Saturday I met Kumkum for a beauty outing. We went into the market to a beauty parlor to beauty it up. Beauty parlors are the same in every part of the world. Ladies gotta get prettied in every culture and that’s pure as poetry. This beauty parlor was a 12x12 room with 8 ladies getting their eyebrows done, hair treatments, facials and henna.

A Bengali drama was playing on a fuzzy TV in the corner. Bengali dramas are like American soap operas with more slow motion, zoom shots, and less sex.

I got my eyebrows threaded and henna on my left arm. Kumkum had her hair treated with a protein pack to help reduce hair fall. Many women have a lot of hair fall in Gaibandha due to the high iron content in the water. I could use a little hair fall.

The ladies gossiped openly and I joined in to talk about how how much I like apples, oranges, bananas, and mangoes! I am wearing pink! You look pretty in your hair!

I’m a keeper.

Asalam Walaikum,
Saturday, December 17, 2011

Last day in Bangkok

I got up early. Because yesterday was a rainy bust and I had only one day left to do all I wanted to do in Thailand. I was a on a mission. First I took the skytrain to a boat. Got on the boat and sailed through Bangkok to the famous Wat Pho temple.

Right on the water was the Wat Pho temple. Cloisters rose high and majestic around a very large stone courtyard. Statues of Buddha sitting and praying were adorned with lotus flowers and sweets. The sun was beating down and I didn’t feel holy. It was beautiful but not resonating. Maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mind, but I think it’s because the temple didn’t have a good story. There’s nothing like a story of sorrow and triumph to make you feel god.

The Reclining Buddha lay in a massive hall. At one time you could only see part of a head, the massive torso, or the stretching legs. We dropped coins into bowls beside the body. The hall was bouncing with the clinks. It was an enveloping sound.

I sat in one of the prayer halls looking up at a golden Buddha. Next to me were other white people deep in meditation. If you have read my other posts, I am on a personal quest to find a compassion in religion, for religion. I’ve meditated in the Kali temples in India, went to the holy sites for Muslim, Christian and Jewish religions in Jerusalem. Trying to understand it all.

The Dali Lama said “There are many different religions and cultures in the world and each has developed to suit its own people. Because of that, I always recommend that it’s best to keep the religion you were born into. In the West, most people are Christians, although there are also some Jews and some Muslims. For them, or for anyone, to change religions is not easy and sometimes it just creates confusion.”

I’ll meditate on that.

For now, I had to get back into the boat, circle around for a bit, realize I was on the wrong boat, get on another boat, head to the skytrain, and RUN to the India visa office to get my passport and some god willing get my Indian Visa.

A line of other US citizens were waiting in the embassy grumbling “India hates us, discrimination, disgrace, discrimination…”

My passport would have an Indian visa but I would have to wait 2 hours.

So I went to get another Thai massage. This one was better. But at one point the woman picked me up over her back and tried to do this cracking thing and my back injury came back in full force. I was hobbling for the rest of the trip. (Now I am better.)

I got my Passport with Indian visa BOOYAKASHA and went home. I was taking Naz out tonight on the town and had to prepare. It was a multi stage night planned to perfectly in typical Chelsea fashion. First we would got to Condoms and Cabbages for drinks. Then to Koi, a chic restaurant for dinner. Followed by drinks at Sax, a famous jazz joint.

In typical Indian fashion we were hours late for the plan. Naz brought his beautiful car and we rushed to Condoms and Cabbages. It was closing but we got the gist.

Condoms and Cabbages was a restaurant created by a public health activist to support sex education and safety. Now an establishment, Cabbages and Condoms is known for its eclectic art pieces. Condom dresses, furniture, Christmas trees decorated the lobby. Instead of mints, you took a condom on your way out. But it was closed, and it was 11pm and we were so hungry.

We made our way to Koi. A valet took our car and we walked into a restaurant out of NY magazine. Models lounged on the furniture and a DJ played steamy beats in the back. We sat down on one of the ridiculously low tables and opened the menu. There food was for ants. Nothing. Maybe a celery stick dressed with a salt crystal. Not enough. I feigned ill, and laughing and now leaning on each other for support we got back into the car.

Naz knew of a place. On the 80th floor of a hotel promised a buffet with an amazing view. We raced there. And it was closed. Naz turned into a turkey leg and the tables turned into cakes. We went downstairs to the café and ordered so much food.

We went up to the 80th floor and looked down at Bangkok, a red city blinking like stars. In four days I did a lot, but only caught a glimpse of this complicated city.
Naz took me home and I collapsed into bed, ready to wake up in the morning and leave.

Naz was truly a kindred spirit. I laughed consistently for 4 days. He called the airport and found my kindle and ipod.

I always rely on the kindness of strangers.

La Bangkok,
Friday, December 16, 2011

The Rain from the Train

I woke up in a daze at 2pm. Where was I? What had I seen the night before? Who am I?

I had a headache from a hangover of sights. I could have stayed in bed for the next year. But I was in Bangkok. And I needed to get out and see stuff. I don’t know, because I have this little voice in my head always going “you’re missing it!”

I decided to go to one of the famous temples. It was raining outside. But this did not make Bangkok drab. The techni-colored raincoats, boots and umbrellas made the people on the sidewalk from the skytrain look like strewn skittles.
I decided to wait out the rain in a Japanese place with a big window. I ordered lots of sushi and green tea and looked out the window at everyone leaving the subway.

I was feeling really down because I had realized that I had forgotten my kindle and my ipod on the plane. Two things I used more than any other thing in Bangladesh. And there was a sentimental reason. My iPod was given to me by my family 5 years ago for my high school graduation. It is engraved, “We are so proud of you! Love Mommy, Lisa, and Fiona.” My parents are now separated. I couldn’t believe I could be so dumb to leave it on the plane.

The rain wouldn’t let up so I walked under the tarps of a streetside market. Tons of amazing shoes and shirts were laid out on tables. The thai have it going on with fashion. But all the clothes were made for such little people. And it’s not like I’m a giant. I couldn’t find anything that would even remotely fit me.
So I snaked back through Bangkok on the train and got back into bed.

At 9pm I woke up hungry. I couldn’t find my friend Naz so I decided to go out solo.
I went to this used furniture store by day chic restaurant by night called Tuba. I ordered a frozen daiquiri the size of my head and the Thai steak.

The thai food is very spicy. But it’s a different spicyness than the Bengali food. Bengali curries are a deep rich spicy. It reminds me of a belly laugh. The Thai spice is cutting and crisp at the tip of your tongue like a giggle.

So full, I crawled back into bed, for the last time.

I couldn’t sleep.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Red Bangkok

First thing’s first. I had to shave my alpaca body because I was in Thailand now and momma’s wearin’ a tank top dress. Significantly lighter I head to the Indian visa office to get an Indian visa. Thailand is colorful and bouncy. Even the cabs are pink. The people are small but the women all wear strappy, thick, colorful high heels.

At the Indian Visa office I was all business with a touch of James Bond. The line was out the door so I found an older used ticket and presented it to the counter. “My number was called but I didn’t hear it.” WAABAM. I’m in. “Ma’am we don’t allow multiple entry just single.” “Well what if I go to India, Bangladesh and then back to India?” “Yeah I guess that would work for a double entry visa.” WAABAM. “But Ma’am we don’t expedite visas, you’ll have to stay another week to wait for your visa/passport back.”

I was not crushed at this news because I was on some kind of mafia high and was ready to make them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

In the elevator an older, Indian man in a powersuit got on. I asked him if he worked for the Indian Embassy. He said no, he was the country manager for Kingfisher Airlines but he liked me and would walk me to the Indian Embassy and even though it was off hours he would get me in. Turns out he is a Bengali from Kolkata! My Bangla is finally paying off…in Thailand! We exchanged business cards and after some Indian head bobbing all around, he got me into the first gate.

The second gate was a bit tough. I tried to follow in some other officers but got stopped by security. “Oh no no, it’s ok, he told me I could go in.” “Who’s he?” “Oh you know, that guy…shoot forgot his name.” AND IT WORKED.

Third gate. “Do you have an appointment with the consulate?” “Yes.”

Assistants Desk: “You can’t see the consulate this is off hours.” “I know I know but I need this visa extended! My sister is getting married in Dhaka on the 11th and I need to fly home!” “OH yeah, what does your sister do for a living in Dhaka?” “She’s in advertising. Works for Citi Color advertising firm.” “Oh I’ve never heard of it.”

The consulate walks out and I scramble for my papers. “Please sir, sister, married, expedite, please.” “Sure, sure.” He waved me off with a nod, his assistant put a sticker on my application that said expedite and WAABAAM.

I took the train for a victory lap and got off at the famous MBK shopping center. I was expecting it to be full over treasures and cheap bargains fleamarket style. Instead it was a 7 story pristine megamall. I walked around and saw hundreds of old ugly white men with very young beautiful thai girls many shopping bags in hand. But truth is, I’m a poor graduate student so this mall didn’t hold my attention for very long and I head back to the hotel.

At the hotel I met the restaurant owner, Naz. Naz was an Indian expat who most recently worked in West Africa. He came to Bangkok on vacation and never left. I was told by my professors, that if you are in Bangkok, you absolutely need to visit the red light district as it is the most famous in the world. Naz promised he would show me around later that night.

For dinner, I went down the block to a few street food stalls. The Thai ladies were cooking up something delicious but I had no idea what. I tried pointing and grunting but it was getting nowhere. Suddenly a Brazillian stepped up and ordered me what he was getting. I always rely on the kindness of strangers. He was a DJ in Bangkok that lived nearby. We ate dinner together: A papaya salad with pork and tofu pad thai. Freaking scrumptious.

At 11pm I was ready to go out into the red light district. My outfit was channeling: I’m-Not-A-Prude-But-I’m-Not-For-Sale. This was not a dark alley. This was the Disney World of Sex. As bright as Times Square, the red light district wound around and around. Prostitutes, as it was explained to me, were grouped. The Russian Prostitutes hung around the grace hotel, the Kazhakstan prostitutes on another street, and the Arabic prostitutes would not go home with you, no matter the price, unless you are Arabic. Then there are the Kathoey. Male-Female Transgenders. About 1/3 of all prostitutes I saw were Kathoey. You can generally spot them when you find a woman who is prettier than the rest. She is a he is a Kathoey. Many can’t afford the surgery and are transvestites.

Naz and I sat on a little table in the center, drank orange juice and looked around. The place was crawling with old british men with crooked teeth and hunched backs. With Arabic men and their sleezy facial hair. Many had a few girls at once around them. Most had on wedding rings. It was gross.

The girls were so young and beautiful. But they were not innocent. They barked their price at you and shook themselves in your direction. Naz and I were married for the night and were practically invisible.

I did go to a show. I will not write about it in this blog. I am saving all of you your virgin brains. You can email me for info if you must.

We left the red light district and went to the back packers paradise. Whities all on one block high as a kite. I stopped into a street spa and paid to have my feet dipped in a tank of fish that eat the dead skin cells off your feet.

I lowered my feet and the fish swarmed toward me, covering my legs and gently nibbling at my feet. It was horrible. I started yipping loudly and making a huge scene. “Keep your feet in, it gets better!” Naz had insisted. It didn’t. Never again.

I passed a food stall selling lizards, worms, cockroaches and scorpions. I didn’t stop.

The night ended with McDonalds French Fries at 4:30 am.



Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I Arrived in Bangkok

My visa is only good for 30 days at a time. My plan was, until that can be fixed, to skip over the border to India (only 2 hours away), have some tea, and then come back. But getting an Indian visa in Bangladesh is comically hard. So. I’ve decided to go to Bangkok to a) leave the country before my visa expires b) get an Indian visa from Bankok and c) have fun.

The day before I left I took a bus up from Gaibandha to Dhaka and spent the night in a hotel vomiting up my organs.

Luckily, today I am fine and left for Bangkok.

I arrived at 5pm and the sun was already setting. Everything around me is pink, blue and green. It’s like a lollipop world. People’s hair match their cars which match their cellphone and their 6 inch heels.

I’m staying in a “serviced” apartment. Which is basically a hotel that charges less. I had only a few hours of sleep between retching the night before and my eyes were droopy. But I was in a new country and I have to be fabulous. So I went next door from my apartment and got a thai massage. Only ½ hour into being in this country.

The massage was pretty epic. I felt immensely relaxed but I can’t say that it felt all good. In fact, a lot of it hurt. The woman was very good at finding pressure points and squeezing them. She moved my body around in all sorts of directions. I think at one point I was balancing on my head, my feet in a pretzel position next to my ear and my hands nowhere to be felt. But after, after. I felt glorious. I bowed profusely at my new goddess and head out for some exploring and food.

Thailand is strange. There were many shops dedicated to gamers. Large, plush chairs set up with whole families glued to computer screens watching their own avatars. There were some shops called “family” where I think people were playing games with video cameras?

Many many karaoke halls advertised “VIRGINS!” I guess virgins make good singers? The street food looked incredible. I decided on a buffet style BBQ. You get a tray, and pile what you want to cook onto it. There were buckets of meat, fish, noodles, soups anything you can think of. I chose a bunch of indistinguishable meat and some squid and some crazy half crab/half lobster mutants.

It may have been the most adventurous first meal I could have tried because on top of trying all sorts of things I’ve never seen before, I had to know how to cook it too. The waitress helped me get a snail out of its shell and how to eat my shell fish mutant. I had two dishes that were pre cooked and they were incredible. All the things I had to cook were weird and kind of gross.

But the good news is I found a fruit and nut toblerone at the 7/11.



Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Going to Work

I took a video going to work in Gaibandha. The video starts out with me climbing over construction outside the house and getting a rickshaw. The video takes place on a rickshaw so the video is a bit choppy and bumpy but you can still see the "Main Street" of Gaibandha.

Thanksgiving in Rangpur

Thanksgiving morning. I called my mom and sister in Key West to wish them a happy Thanksgiving. I was on the iphone on video phone and said hi to all of my relatives.

“We miss you Chelsea! We love you Chelsea! Come here and taste the turkey.” The phone was dipped down and a piece of turkey brought to the video camera. “Can you smell it?” Fiona, my 13 year old sister, kept showing me our dog. “Fiona, I really don’t care about the dog! Keep showing me the people!!” Ladles were brought up to the camera and the camera was put in all sorts of plates. I had to fight back tears and sound all cheery-like. Nothing worse than someone crying before the cocktails.

A trillion miles away, I started my thanksgiving bright and early. I would make: 3 roast chickens dressed with rosemary, lime juice, and sautéed garlic and onions, Garlic mashed potatoes, stuffing made with bread and lime juice and garlic and onions, Green beans and chinese mushrooms sautéed in soy sauce and lime juice, Roasted pumpkin with nutmeg and cinnamon. I would cook all of this with two gas burners, a microwave and a toaster oven.

You know what’s not so hard? Cooking a Thanksgiving meal with staff. I had two other cooks working with me to prepare the meal. Jahangir cooked other dishes, dhal and rice, goat curry, coconut egg curry. Lovely helped me cut garlic and mash potatoes with the bottom of a cup.

The kitchen smelt amazing. I set up my music, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, to create the perfect air of a casual 50’s thanksgiving. I lit candles on the table and the balcony, and people started to arrive.

Around 25 people showed. Drivers, cooks, children, cleaners, students and senior management staff set down at the long table and ate together.
Everyone brought flowers and mishti (sweets) and we got tipsy off of coca-cola.

I went into the kitchen and Lovely and Rani attacked me with a bag of glitter. Rubbing it into my neck and face they said “Happy Birthday” over and over. Then they took me out to a hallway where they had candles lit all over the floor.

Rani crouched down to me, picked up a candle, and held it under me circling her arm. “Ooooo.” Her voice was deep and scary. She was scaring the evil spirits away from me so I would have a positive year. It was more comforting than eerie. The Muslim prayers rose up from the night and I, for the millionth time this year wondered,

“Where am I?”

I received a lot of presents from everyone. Lovely gave me a clock shaped like a couple dancing, the drivers gave me a copper bowl engraved with “Happy Birthday Chelsea,” Jahangir gave me henna and a baby Barbie doll on a horse that wound up and moved (!!! BEST 23rd BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER), and my roommates bought me a mug and a shirt.

At the end of the night, we gave everyone food to take home, made the guards delicious plates, and cleaned up the kitchen. Shefa and I settled down into cups of tea in the conference room and worked on our important presentation for USAID the following week. It was fun. Work is always more fun than school. We quibbled over bullets and margins. Made proclamations about fonts. And at 2am called it a night.

I am thankful.

Asalam Walaikum,
Saturday, November 26, 2011

What did you do when you were 22?

I had a hard week. There was emotional drama, physical drama, and I was ready to call the whole thing off and run away to Rangpur for the weekend. I got into the back seat of the van and we head up. It was dark and no one in the front could see me back there. The windows were cracked open and the Bangladeshi air rushed into my seat. In such situations there is really only one course of action. I put on my headphones, turned on Beyonce, and rocked out, in silence, all the way to Rangpur.

When I got there, Shefa and Neelu were ready to party. They had bought chips, coke and Sprite and we were ready to dance. We played music videos in the conference room on the projector and danced full out.

At around 11pm Shefa had the idea to go up onto the roof to look at the stars. It was chilly and chillier when we lay down on the concrete floor. But who needs physical comfort when you have the Bangladeshi stars?

“So how was 22?” Shefa asked.

It was the year I started at Hopkins. Johns Hopkins. My dream school and what I had worked hard to reach for 21 years. It was the year I had a hard time dealing with my parent’s divorce and all the rippling it entailed. I met some absolutely amazing people. They will be with me for the rest of my life. And the friends already in my life proved to be larger than life. I dated a zookeeper, I learned how to play the guitar, and I went to Israel.

And now I was turning 23, on the roof, under the stars, in Bangladesh.

As it turned midnight, Neelu, Bulbul and Saijudin came up the stairs with a birthday cake lit with candles. It said “Happy Birthday, Chelsea! Khub Bahlo!” They put“Khub Bahlo” on the cake because it is my favorite phrase here (mainly because it’s one of the few phrases I know how to say) and it means “very good.”

I cried a little bit because I’m a cryer and blew out the candles.

I wished for a year as exciting and filled with love as the last.

Asalam Walaikum,


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Day In and Day Out

My turtle project is still rolling around on some desk in Dhaka. It’s rolling now, because it’s become such a large ball of paperwork tied together with red tape. It’s disgusting.

Howeverwho, I have loaded my time with other projects from Jiva. I’m working on an advocacy campaign which includes: website creation, maintenance and design, creation of the Jiva journal and the news briefs and research summaries that goes into it, and real-time archiving. I am on several working groups, and am writing two papers. Not to mention trying to crank out my master’s thesis so I can stop paying for tuition. (That’s how they get you!)

All in all my life tastes like a ripe papaya spritzed with lime juice. I’ve started doing P90X, continuing my goal to become a beefcake. I’ve started meditating which is right on schedule for my 5 month spiritual crisis (lasts for 3 days and then I get back to watching Arrested Development at night).

I signed up for Ok Cupid (A dating website) in Bangladesh. The responses I am getting could be a book of their own.

Ok Cupid in America: "Yo baby you fine. Hit me up."

Ok Cupid in Bangladesh: "Are you the Aryan princess destined to restore the glory of the Arya to the subcontinent? The Vedas did not foretell of this but by God I see it in you!"

True story.

And I'm just trying, every day, to live my life here, and not just bide time here.

Asalam Walaikum,


Monday, November 21, 2011

The Secret

I have discovered the secret to living in Bangladesh. Have Rani come over to your house on a Saturday afternoon. You will lie down on a soft towel and she will make a homemade concoction of deliciousness in a bowl. Then, for an hour, she will massage your back with the sweetest oils and the softest hands. For $2.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


The Most wonderful friends, Clarke Saylor and Meagan Petri sent me a package filled with love. Capri Suns, Cheez Its, quick read, glow bracelets, a puzzle (which I wanted so bad and couldn't find in Bangladesh!) and dinosaur capsules (yes Meagan I'll show the village children and make them think I have magic powers). Then they heard I lost my music and kindle and loaded up music, movies, audiobooks, comics and Photoshop onto a hard drive. This is unbelievable guys. You are unbelievable.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Nepal: Last Day

Last day waking up to the mountains. From now on it would be a steady climb down back to Pohkara. My guide asked me if I wanted to take the 2 scheduled days to go down the mountain or to cut it down to one. I voted for one day and raced down the mountain. We ran through the jungle, jumping across brooks and across rickety bamboo bridges. I felt like Fern Gully.

But the sun was beating and I started to feel woozy. The stone steps flew past my face as I ran down the mountain feeling like I was in a dream. The steps became deeper and my legs started to wobble. An old woman was in the path ahead of me and saw me struggle. She went into the house and got me a walking stick.

My guide told me that she was heading in the same direction as we were and I begged her to join us. Her face was deeply creased but her smile was big. She stopped at all women in the streets selling oranges to buy some and share with us. She peeled my orange for me giving me the insides as we walked. I found out she was 72 and could fly down the mountain faster than me. She was visiting her daughter and grandson in Kathmandu and told me that I had to come stay with her. I refused but bought her lunch and a few candy bars.

I had to say goodbye to her when I got in the car to Pohkra. But damn, what an impression.

I hobbled around Pohkra trying to find presents for my family. I decided to treat myself at a romantic candle lit café. I ordered a glass of red wine, a steak the size of my head, a side of hummus, and a big thick slice of black cake. It was a meal to end all meals.

Last day in Kathmandu I ran around getting last minute presents. I was cold, wet, smelled unfortunate and my hair and caked together in a really attractive knot. On the flight back to Dhaka (which was delayed 7 hours), I made friends with a woman who told me she could talk to horses, a man who may be my future employer, and got lost in a sea of white gowns—men coming back from Mecca for their hajj.

Now I am comfortably back at home, in Bangladesh, swarmed with work and clean dry clothes. Thanks for tuning in for my vacation! Next up: China!



Wednesday, November 16, 2011

3,200 meters: Poonhill Day 5

Donkeys were plopping down the mountainside all night, the bells on their necks clanging and ringing. I would have been grumpy if it wasn’t so damn magical.

I woke up at 4:30 in the morning and threw on every knit wear, pair of underwear and scarf I owned. My arms stuck out from my fleece-engorged body like some North Face obsessive homeless person. And in one hour hiked from 2,860 meters to 3,210 meters at 5 am in the frosty morning. It was a cruel climb, one that bit at your lungs and hung there. Not to mention I was sleep deprived and a bit altitude sick. Rosalyn and I fell to the back of the pack stopping and feeling nauseous. The only thing keeping us going was the time pressure of getting up the mountain to see the sunrise.

The question that kept running in my head was “Should I stop to look at the view on the way up and possibly miss the grand finale or should I keep my head down keeping on keeping on and catch the brilliant sunrise but miss all the beauty on the way up?”

Luckily my legs were fast enough and eyes slow enough to catch both and Rosalyn and I summated Poon Hill at 3,210 meters just in time to see the sunrise. The three of us pressed together and watched the sun creep in on the snow capped mountains. I felt like Heidi. We drank tea and breathed and stayed up there for 2 hours just drinking and breathing. I don’t believe in a God. But those mountains made me worship.

We wound slowly down to the mountain’s base, ate breakfast and prepared for our day’s trek. We went mainly through jungles where the threat

of seeing a leopard was the most exotic and sexy thing I could think about. “Could one beeee in there?” I would say pointing to each and every cave. I was more annoying than Dora the Explorer. I never did see a leopard. Guess that means I’ll have to go back to Nepal. Shucks.

I think if my eyes’ rods and cones could capture and store images, and then we could sell those eyes, my eyes would be invaluable for all the looking and seeing I do in such beautiful places.

The journey got longer when we discovered the jump shot. Directions: Stand in front of large canyon or mountain and jump into the air while someone is taking your picture. The more arm/leg flailing the better. I’m sure Paul loved our group.

We turned a corner and there was a ginormous bull. GINORMOUS. With horns, deep scowl and deadly eyes. We screamed and jumped into a bush (probably where there were things more dangerous to worry about) and I shakily took a photo.

We ended the day at Tadapani 2,630 meters. It was my last day with the group, tomorrow I’d be trekking alone. The girls and I cracked open a bottle of Jack Daniels I had gotten at duty free and each took a nip in declaration of our time together. (We didn’t want to overdo it because apparently drinking at a high altitude is a terrible idea.)

The girls on this trek were amazing and we vowed to meet in another lifetime/our next adventure.



Sunday, November 13, 2011

2,860 meters: Ghorepani Day 4

My first morning waking up on the trek and even though it was cold, I woke up early, crawled out of my mountains of blankets and stood outside to see the sun swoop over the mountain. I ate the strangest breakfast of toast, an egg, popcorn and a few boiled potatoes and bundled up for another day. My guide told me this was the most intense day as it was all up the mountain.

Most of the time we were not trekking on dirt paths but rather large stone steps built by the Nepali people for ease of getting their mules up and down with their supplies. The steps were steep and forever winding upward. It was easily the most intense work out of my life. My lungs burned and my fingers swelled to the size of sausages. Luckily I’ve always had pretty damn strong legs that almost felt disembodied, carrying me up even when my lungs felt like they were going to give out.

The first time I saw a snow peak over the brown mountains I squeeled so loud my voice bounced down the side of the mountain. We began chasing the peak, watching it grow.

We stopped only for a herd of sheep to pass.

At 5pm, we made it to our lodge.

Now we could see a full view of the snowy Himalayas. The lodge was packed with trekkers. A large fire stove in the center warmed people and wet socks. The girls and I settled into a table and ordered tea and chocolate cake. CHOCOLATE CAKE. I sat eating chocolate cake and drinking ginger tea looking at the Himalayas.

Are you beyond jealous right now?

It was absolutely freezing (30 degrees Fahrenheit) and I forced myself into a little slimy dark shell of a shower because there promised to be hot water. There was, and I was happy, until I got cold, and then I was not happy.

I ate the best chicken soup of my life for dinner. Read a little of my book (Infinite Jest does not promise to be a good trekking book when your brain is heavy and tired but I keep at it), and fell asleep at 8pm.

I was so proud of myself for today. It was so hard and I made it up a mountain people train to do. I had no idea I should be training for this trek, so I didn’t. But I made it up just the same.



Saturday, November 12, 2011

1,430 Meters: Hile Day 3

Again we got up at 5am. Ate breakfast in the shivery dark and piled into a car. We drove 2 hours to Nayapul (Alt. 1,070 meters), where we would finally start our trek. The car dipped between other cars dancing with the cliff edge. We drove in circles higher up the mountain. My training in public health filled me with statistics about Nepal’s car accident fatalities but there was nothing I could do. I relaxed and let go. Living in this continent has made me a lot less nervous because otherwise I would have no teeth or knuckles from gritting and squeezing.

We stopped at a tea stall, had our eighth cup for the morning, and the porters looped thick ropes around our bags, tying them expertly together. They made a head brace out of hemp to support the load and leaned into it. Unreal amount of weight. Before our guilt was too consuming we were explained that these men depended on our trips for their livelihood. They WANTED to carry our bags up the mountain…

Today would be a 5 hour trek ending in an overall altitude of 1,430 meters at Hile. Our walk started through Nepali villages. It was similar to Bangladesh except I swear the lifted air of repression was palpable. The smiles were bigger and the clothes were smaller.

The babies in Nepal are cuter than any babies I have seen anywhere. My new plan is to adopt one.

We passed so many waterfalls. The mountainside was green and divided into large steps for irrigation. Women and men bent over large areas of dried Millet beating them with sticks to remove the seeds.

It was a good group. Us three girls talked about our lives and difference and similarities in culture and Paul generally stayed quiet and led the pack.

No cars could go up the mountain so all loads were carried by Mules, Horses and Men.

Lunch was taken at a tea house on the side of the mountain and had an array of carb dishes we could choose from: veg noodles, momos, pizza, spaghetti, etc etc. Not to mention snickers. The girls and I craved chocolate so much on this trip that we tended to have a chocolate bar a day here.

We reached our hotel at 5pm. It was a series of rooms, insulated by unfinished pine boards, 3 small beds to a room. The shower was freezing and dark and damp and the toilet was a squat toilet in a shed. But the view.

Our little rooms looked out onto a mountain so green and clear.

It made our aching bodies relax at the sight. We ate dinner and drank tea and the girls

freaked me out for not packing a sleeping bag. The temperature was dropping at a scary rate. I asked for 4 blankets, piled on sweaters, hat and gloves and went to bed at 8pm.



Friday, November 11, 2011

1,700 Meters: Pohkra Day 2

With my backpack loaded onto my back, I made my way through the dark light streets of Thamel, Kathmandu at 5:30 am. Shop owners were starting up their breakfast fires, a smell I’m really going to miss and crave back in the states. At the Trek Nepal Office, I met our group. There were four of us: Rosalyn, a 33 year old scientist from Ireland, Robyn, a 24 year old traveler from South Africa and Paul, a 52 year old economist from Belgium. We also met our guide, Brahmo, and our porters. Porters are staff hired to help carry your bags up the mountains. Don’t get me started on the guilt on my back felt from the load on their back. But they were definitely needed.

Today there would be no trekking. We got into a bus and made our way to Pohkra, a city nestled between mountains. The bus ride was 8 hours. We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant and I ordered the traditional Nepalsese meal: Dhal Bhat which is almost identical to the meals I have grown to love in Bangladesh. I started to eat the meal with my hands as I am accustomed and realized all the tourists were looking at me. Keep in mind I had on a full Salwar Kamise from Bangladesh scarf and all. I felt like a total I’m-a-local-see-look-I’m-eating-with-my-hands and soon stopped.

In Pohkra we unloaded into this quaint and dirty little hotel right off the main strip. Rosalind and Robyn and I bonded as quickly and tightly as anyone about to embark on days of extreme physical intensity. We took this as our “last night” and walked down little shops for our last minute necessities. The girls thought I was crazy for going on a 5 day intense hike with just sneakers. They made me buy hiking shoes. THANK GOD.

It was pouring rain outside and we popped into a cozy restaurant lit with circle fires. Corey (the Canadian) had to leave for Madagascar that day but the South African, Denmarkian, and Norweigian joined us in Pohkra for dinner. We drank hot totties until we were hot and tottered back to our hotel in the rain. Tomorrow we would wake for our trek at 5am.



Thursday, November 10, 2011

1,400 Meters: Kathmandu Day 1

It started in Kathmandu. I got off the plane at 3pm and was in a city that was teeming and pulsing with life. I could have been in Dhaka. But Dhaka high up in the mountains with a view that will take your breath away. Central Kathmandu, Thamel, is a mecca for expats of every flavor. You could feel the city’s release. Expats left their countries and NGOs to meet up in the city to share and sin. It was thrilling and intoxicating.

I head straight for my hotel. I had made reservations there a week ago but they had no record of it. I was so bummed, I had researched so much. Created excel sheets and price charts—this was the best hotel. Kathmandu was packed so the only hotel with an empty room I could find me was a gritty one in the center of the city. Up some dingy steps and I found my single bed. I didn’t care, I was just so excited to be here. I head immediately out to find supplies for my trek. I ate dinner in this place my guide told me about. Literally down an alley, Himali kitchen, was a local Nepali restaurant. It was brilliant. I was the only white person and felt so smug about it. I stuffed myself silly with momos. I think I prefer eating meals alone; more time to savor.

As I was leaving the restaurant I met four absolutely beautiful men from South Africa, Denmark, Norway and Canada respectively. I think they were the Adonis breed of their countries. I walked into their circle and asked where they got the marijuana they were smoking. (just a conversation starter, I don’t smoke.) They told me about the green heaven on the treks and invited me to join them for drinks and dinner. I like being alone, I really do. But I couldn’t deny their beauty. We ate together, then went to a bar. The Canadian (who currently works in Madagascar) and I split off and we drank and talked until 5am when I needed to leave to catch the bus for my trek.



Friday, November 4, 2011

An Update in Three Parts

Part I:


A staff member’s daughter died from drowning today. She was two years old. Can you fucking imagine? 2 years old. And my project is still wrapped up in a red tape nightmare. Tragic irony. I need to get away. I need a break.

Part II:


Heading to Nepal today. Can’t wait. It’s a break I really need. Between the gravity of death and the more petty boy relationship problems I just want to see a mountain and have it suck the perspective back into me.

I got to the airport 3 hours early. As I was going through immigration I was stopped. The man looked up. “Ma’am, you have expired your visa, please come with me.” Visions of left forgotten in a Bangladesh jail flooded. I was taken to the immigration police. I was told that I had expired my visa by 66 days. Bloody hell. Even though my visa was good for a year, it turns out it was a year “30 days at a time.” MEANING I have to leave Bangladesh every 30 days. I missed my plane and called my Jiva contact in Dhaka. “Please Saidul I’m at the airport and I need help. Please come get me.”

Saidiul came immediately and we drove the 2 hours (10 miles with Dhaka traffic) to the country immigration office. I’m on the phone with a travel agent trying to rebook my ticket to Kathmandu. But all the flights are booked because this is a big national holiday and everyone is trying to leave the country to vacation. We make it the office, cut past all sorts of people and have a guard open the back door for us. I don’t know, maybe they thought I was someone important and not some grungy little blue collar through and through?

We go straight up the Deputy Visa director. She is yelling at us with a mouth full of Dhal, “she is free to go if she pays us $550 in cash. But the banks close in 10 minutes for the holiday so run.” I run to an ATM, and, being the grad student I am do not have that much in my account. I have to borrow some from our driver. But no time to “oi” because now we’re running back to the office. Signing documents, hands filthy with money, collecting signatures and panting.

6 HOURS LATER, I have my passport signed and stamped. I have my exit visa. I am free to leave the country within 7 days and then return. Now we race over to the Bangladesh Airline headquarters to see if we can get me a ticket out of the country. Make it just in time. With a few tears and a pledge that it is my (13 year old) sister’s wedding in Nepal on Sunday and I got a ticket to Kathmandu Saturday, the day before I leave on my trek.

Giddy, starving and exhausted, we get back in the car for the 3 hour (11 mile) journey back.

Part III

Becky invited me to go to the American club with her to unwind and offered up her guest room for the night. The American club was dizzying. I was swept up by soft white hands, handed a glass of red wine, a plate of eggplant parmesan and placed in a soft chair on a rooftop deck overlooking a pool. I lost track of the Dhaka honking, and the heat and dust and death and stress of it all and let the wine make my head heavy. The scintillating conversation and parmesan cheese carried me away and I didn’t feel one bit guilty about it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Where Do the Children Play?

I was leaving a restaurant in Dhaka and three little children started to follow me. Around 2, 4, and 6 years old respectively. The eldest kind of supported the youngest with her arm. Oh they were cute with big eyes and little tiny bodies. “Please ma’am please. Money please.” They developed a limp the farther they followed me. I gave one of the littlest girls a rose I had been carrying around with me. 5 steps later she threw it on the ground. “Please ma’am please some change.”

I had refused a beggar knocking his head against my taxi for money because he was limbless. I could refuse these big eyes. I started to cross the street and the little children followed me. Suddenly a huge truck comes careening down the dark street. I picked up one girl by the shirt and threw her in front of me and pushed the other two really hard with my remaining arm and leg. They were barely missed. I am still shaking.

They followed me for one more block, then turned around and head back into the dark street.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sighs from a girl in Gaibandha

There should be an expatriot A

Location: South Asia

Interested in: expat health worker, tall, tan, and speaks English with an accent.

Not interested in: backpackers, Christian aid workers, anyone over 30.

Current expat American living in rural Bangladesh seeks male to join in eating curry, going on long dusty walks and being excruciatingly sober. Must like cow dung.
Sunday, October 30, 2011


Today I fell off my motorcycle. I am fine.

I was following a member of my team and she turned quickly to the left off the main road. I was just about to follow and I saw another motorcycle creep up on my left, a rickshaw head straightt toward me and a bus to my right. I panicked, turned too hard, and fell off my motorcycle.

I tried to fall as far from my bike as possible and luckily the bike did not fall on me. Nor did anyone run over me or crash into me. I have scraped and road burn on my feet and they are a bit swollen. My knee is scraped up and also a bit swollen.

But I am fine. I was wearing a helmet and driving slowly and I am fine.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


The beautiful beautiful package my mom sent me!! Tea, Chips, Dip, Slim Jims, Wheat Thins, Chocolate Biscotti, 4 magazines, jelly beans, two bags of starbucks coffee, skittles, ginger cookies, propel and altoids!!!!!!! I almost cried when I opened it.

The package my Aunt Lenore sent me! Granola bars, cliff bars, pasta, gnocci, boxes of licorice, graham crackers, pesto, tomato sauce, nutella and macaroni and cheese!!!


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

You'll Want to Join My Team When the Frogs Start Coming Down

If you can’t beat them, join them. Or some saying that more appropriately fits my situation.

I’m spinning my position. My project hasn’t started but that doesn’t mean I have to sit around pulling my hair out waiting for it. I like my curls. I’ve decided to fill my time by continuing my goal to become a completely sustainable person come the apocalypse. I have:

Started to learn CSS and am making a new jiva website.

Wrote a song on the guitar and am writing the lyrics now.

Learning how to stitch pretty patterns in clothing

Teaching myself Spanish

For the song on the guitar I am going to make pile (see picture) to attach to my ankle for percussion. After work I went to the market to search. After crossing over some railway tracks I

saw a man crouched behind his blanket display of razors, mirrors, watches and little bells used to attach to cows necks! I picked up the little bells and started shaking them next to my ear. I tried combinations of bells again picking them up to my ear. It was getting dark and a crowd was forming around me. Men would reach over and pick up the bells I put down, bringing them up to their ear to shake, and then setting them down with a bewildered “I don’t get it” face.

The shop owner did get that I wanted what we had to sell and drove a hard price. We bargained a bit and he wrapped up my bells in plastic. Now dark, I ran over the train tracks, grabbed a rickshaw and head home to sew my bells onto a piece of fabric.

At dinner I got a fish bone stuck in my throat. It was scary and hurt a lot. The Bengalis at the table gave me rice to swallow whole to force the bone down.

Asalam Walaikum,


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Waiting in Bangladesh

It has been three months since I arrived in Bangladesh and the IRB still hasn’t approved my project. I’m trying to be strong. I realize that this is the reality of research. I realize that my situation is comfortable and I’m learning a lot regardless. But it’s hard.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Chinese Embassy

I went to the Chinese embassy in Dhaka to get my visa to go to Beijing in January to be in Muzi’s wedding. The embassy doors were closed and a long line of Bengali people wait in the heat and flies until a guard called on a single person at a time to enter. It was very emerald city. An hour later I got in and the surly Chinese person looked at my documents and said “the website has the wrong application. Fill out this application.” And shoved my papers back at me. Then another hour later of waiting and I made it to the front of the line. This time another chinese man told me that my visa would only be good for 3 months. Not 3 months in the country, but 3 months starting today, when I would get my visa. Meaning it would expire before I go to China. So I have to go back.

As I left the embassy I saw a tall handsome guy with a New Zealand accent. He had long hair tied back into a bun, large headphones propped around his neck, and a Big Lebowski t-shirt. “Nice shirt,” I said, coyly flipping my orna over my shoulder.

“Thanks, but it’s not helping me get this visa,” he said.

Tee hee. Teee hee. TEEE HEEE. TEEE HEEEEEE. I think I batted my eyes so hard eyelashes fell off.

I’m so desperate for flirting in this Muslim country that I find myself winking at my stuffed turtle.

The girls and I have gotten into a delicious routine together. Breakfast together, coffee inhaling, leave for the office at 8:50. Work until 6:30, go home. We gather in Muzi’s room and do P90X. The world’s best workout video. Then dinner together, talking with tea and back upstairs to watch something mind numbing like sex and the city. I think I’m falling in love.

Asalam Walaikum,


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dhaka Part II

The next few days in Dhaka passed deliriously with plates of good food, naps and shopping.

At one point, I was in the back seat of a car. My driver rushed around to open the door for me. I walked into the hotel with shopping bags lining my arms and a doorman took them for me to my room. I shooed him away with a limp hand, lit up, and called Bethany at the club for an afternoon spritzer. Or something like that.

The shopping was amazing. I felt like a villager visiting the big city for supplies. Which I guess is true…We went to 2 grocery stores. I stocked up on soups, pasta, pickles, tuna, Gatorade packets, olive oil and even some Parmesan cheese! Oh and boxes and boxes of herbal tea. (If you’ve ever been to my house and have seen my tea collection you’ll feel me.)

I went to two shops that sold handmade Bengali crafts. Beautiful pieces, pillows, and hand stitched tapestries with scenes from the village for such little money. Where I’ll be shopping for me friends/family presents for sure. For now, I purchased a few items to make me happy. A pillow, candle, face cream, pretty skirt, and of course, a stuffed turtle.

I was an addict at the movie store. The movies are all perfect quality and less than $1 each. I loaded up. Bought the entire PLANET EARTH CDS for only $3!!!! And a ton of wild life National Geo shows. PLUS tons of movies and I’m starting Psych (the tv show) upon recommendation.

Then I found it. My haven heaven. North End Roasters in the Industrial part of Dhaka. Their sign points down at you from 4 stories up. You climb some dirty little stairs with dirty little men smoking dirty little cigarettes. And then. AND THEN. You are in a coffee shop straight out of the Park Slope.

Blonde mothers gather on a couch with their children bouncing on their lap. They’re in a “play group.” A man tests his trillion dollar espresso machine and teaches the Bengali staff to take the temperature before serving the cappuccinos. The couple, from America, decided to open the café after missing coffee in Dhaka. The woman is a pastry chef and the husband is a barista from America. I ate a cinnamon bun that treated me better than a man. I bought an Ethiopian washed bag of coffee and a bag of decaf and lounged in working for three hours.

(above, eating a cinnamon bun in North End Roasters)

I ate sushi.

I had a fried pomfret with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. The simplicity of cooking I craved. Not weighed down with spices that would have me pooping for the next hour. Just simple food. It tasted like nothing with a side of air. I think my tongue has turned Bengali.

I said goodbye to Dr. L. When he left 2 months ago I felt my throat clench. “Take me with you! Don’t leave in this country where no one knows my name or why I’ve came!” This time I was all “ok bye, nice trip, don’t get too cold and wet in Baltimore.”

I think I’m settling in.

Asalam Walaikum,


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Long and Winding Road

I never update enough when Dr. L visits. Too many things happen in too short of a time. Guy is a whirlwind of ridiculous serendipity. Not sure if he creates it or we’re all more aware of it when he’s around.

A group of us planned to go to Dhaka for some meetings and good times. It takes 10 hours by car to get there so we decided to take a plane. Dr. L had meeting until the last possible minute. The plane left at 5pm, the airport was 45 minutes away and we left at 4:30. Not allowing for enough time to get to the airport let alone go through security.

Bishu, our driver, got in the driver’s seat and stepped on the ignition. He didn’t lift it once. We sped through towns and highways weaving in between semis and rickshaws. Nehlee and I held on to each other for dear life, sheltering our eyes from the road ahead in each other’s curls. We got there and ran in to see the airplane on the tar mat ready to go. Dr. L put on his serious business jacket and ran out to stop the plane. It couldn’t be stopped no matter how important the jacket. We watched as the propellers turned and it flew away.

Ok no problem, let’s take the car. So we pile into the car, in the dark, making our way to Dhaka. At around 9pm, the car’s battery starts beeping. “No problem,” Dr. L said. But it was a problem. Slowly the car inched forward and the girls in the back inched toward the edge of patience. Dr. L surprised us all by pulling into a palace disguised as a hotel. 5 star suite hidden in Bogra. We’ll stay here for the night while the car is fixed.

We walk into the hotel with palatial ceilings and staff members oozing with bows and willingness to answer whims. We went into the restaurant and ordered ($12 a can) Heinekens. Oh my bloody goodness. Heineken!! AHHH. Never has a crappy beer tasted so good. We also ordered chicken masala, plates of naan, fried fish, shrimp oh my gosh everything. And retired plumpy and happy to our handsome rooms for the night.

In the morning the car was fixed and we continued our bumpy journey. We stopped for lunch at Bella Italia. A restaurant run by a Bangladeshi who studied in Rome, on the side of a road, in the middle of nowhere. Pinocchio and Michelangelo dominated the walls and it smelled like, I swear, a Brooklyn pizza parlor. We ordered two pies: an eggplant vegetable pie and an anchovy pie. I had two napkins: one to wipe my mouth and one to wipe my tears.

We finally got to the hotel, did a few hours of work, and head out to a Szechuan restaurant to have hot pot. Hot pot, is a ying yang of good and evil. White soup on the one side and a boilng red soup on the other. We cooked greens, fish,

mutton, mushrooms, and dumplings in the boiling pot. My face was red from the steam and spice.

Happiness, for me, comes on a plate.

Asalam Walaikum,


Friday, October 14, 2011


Dr L is visiting and 3 more women are coming to join Muzi and I in Bangladesh! It’s like a public health sorority party estrogen bath happy good times. We eat, and talk, and work out together, and eat and talk and all work passionately all day. The three of them are extremely beautiful and smart.

Today Megan and I went into the field to witness a mother verbal autopsy interview. It was so interesting. The woman had extremely high blood pressure, renal failure and was swollen with water for about a month. Finally she went to the doctor who referred her immediately to a hospital in Rangpur. She took a bus the hour and a half drive and died the next day in the hospital of heart failure.

I’m glad we’re here doing what we’re doing but it is so daunting. And all I keep thinking is, maternal mortality is rare. 46 children die EVERY day in this country from drowning. 46. I really hope these little turtles work.

Poor baby couldn't stop crying during one of it's checkups:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


We lost a staff member today. She spent 10 years of service with Jiva working to provide better maternal and infant care. She died at a hospital during childbirth from loss of blood during a c-section. There are no government Ob-Gyns in Gaibandha. The irony is devastating.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


At the end of today’s meeting, Dr. S stood up and asked the only woman senior officer, Kum, to wrap up the meeting because “the meeting had not heard from a woman.”

I stood up and clapped.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Cabin Fever

I’m getting eaten by mosquitoes and the ants don’t want to play. My kindle is broken, my friends have nothing to say. I’m sick of TV I’m sick of computer games. Every day around here is exactly the same. My eyes will bleed if I read another paper, doing more work is no safer. My lungs hurt from harmonica, my arm hurts from crosswords. Staying in Gaibandha is for the birds.

My patience is climbing and I’m sick of rhyming.

Please give me an idea of what to do because I do not have a clue.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Turtle Training Session

Today I held a training session. I made and printed out packets, made a schedule neatly organized into time segments and had all of my notes. Last night I couldn’t sleep. I’m not a teacher. How am I going to stand in front of these men and women, who are all over 30, and have them listen to this big haired 22 year old just out of grad school? That’s bad enough, now add the huge communication barrier. Is all they’re going to hear “waa waa waa waa turtle”?

I woke up in the morning dizzy from lack of sleep. Laid out all the packets, cleared off the white boards for fresh notes, tied my curls back into a serious bun, and waited for my team. I arranged for us to have tea and biscuits at 11am, lunch at 1pm and more tea and biscuits brought to us at 3pm. I brought my miniature French press with me to the meeting. I made everyone some precious American coffee as gesture of peace and bribery. They all sipped the bitter delicious drink and I’m sure all their lips puckered at the difference from their sweet and milky cha tea.

But let me tell you. Once I started, I started. It began by me slowly pacing and asking questions to the audience. Then it accelerated. Soon I was a cup of coffee short from jumping on the table having them ripping out pages from their textbook and having them call me Captain. I was on fire. At one point I was on the floor acting out what it would be like for a little child to drown in a bucket.

A little kid came in and we demonstrated what the turtle is like on him. He liked it so much he kept trying to steal it back when we took it off!

And the best part was they were really learning! They were answering all of my questions correctly! So rewarding. At one point, I swear to you, I almost started crying. I was so happy that I was good at this and this was really happening. Fuck yes I can do this! I AM doing this!

At the end of the meeting at around 3pm, I held a session wrap up and quizzed everyone from the meeting on topics we went over. They got almost everything right.

As soon as the Bangladesh IRB has approved this project, we got this.

Asalam Walaikum,