Thursday, September 29, 2011

Escaping Inwardly

I used to dread the trip to Rangpur on the weekends. An hour and a half of unpaved roads, butt clenching close calls with speeding trucks, arm to arm, leg to leg with 11 other people in this Landcruiser. No kidding 11. The back is converted to have seats face inward for maximum person stuffage. Needless to say I tend to get brutally car sick.

Now I have found a way to actively look forward to these trips. The trick is to save all my most delicious thoughts all week for the car ride. Then I turn on my music, look out the windows, hold back the throw up and day dream.

My favorite day dream is to put on some hot dance number and imagine I am in the center of some club breaking down my sweet dance moves. Everyone goes “Who is that girl? Where did she learn to move like that? I want to meet her! How could ANYONE be that cool?!”

I like to imagine I’m lying in bed on a rainy Sunday morning, fingers sleepily tracing the body next to me, feeling like I would be happy to stay in bed forever. Luxuriating in happiness, warmth and love.

If all that fails, I put on an audio book. I’m currently working on Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris. Sometimes I crack up so suddenly that I wake everyone in the car.

The BMRC (Bangladesh IRB) application has become a monty python skit of stupid minute nit picky problems. It deserves its own soundtrack of prat falls.

Did the application but it was the old format so sent back to me changed it to the new format and it’s missing a signature so it was sent back to me but now our guy in Dhaka who is handling all these is in Gaibandha and we have to wait a week to re send it and then we can get the signature and send it in and then wait.

I’m thinking about going to Dhaka to handcuff myself to the office until they read and accept my application.

Asalam Walaikum,
Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Where Have I Learned to Learn?

Johns Hopkins Institutional Review Board has approved my project!!! Now I just have to wait for the Bangladesh review board to approve it…

In more important and relevant news:

I have embraced the ants. Ants on my skin? Little exfoliators. Ants in my hair? Make my hair seem alive. Ants in my teeth? One less trip to the dentist. I have mastered the gentle hand swipe of clearing ants off a surface without killing them.

A friend who is starting her MPH at Hopkins asked me what classes I found the most relevant now that I am in a public health job. I would have to say community trials. Because…this is a community trial and also because my PI taught the class. So it was more than relevant. Also, Water and Sanitation is so prevalent here. Completely useful information. The rest couldn’t be taught in school.

No one could teach me how to sit in a management meeting trying to foresee every single problem that we may encounter in the field. Or how to motivate a coworker to share a passion in a project. No one taught me how to breathe deeply and make a pretty hair tie out of the red tape thrown at me. In that respect, I appreciate that Hopkins had such a long internship period and rushed academic period. This is really where the learning is. The lectures just give you the language to understand it.

Asalam Walaikum,
Monday, September 26, 2011

Jute Bag Adventure

Muzi and I found a shop in the marketplace that sells jute handbags and rugs. They’re really fantastic. Jute is a vegetable fiber harvested, and then laid out in the sun for days until a thick, dried, fiber. It is then spun and threaded into bags and rugs. We went back twice now to get hand bags. (Right: The jute bags I have purchased. Left: A truck carrying Jute)

After the bag adventure I decided we should go try to find a music store. The marketplace was so crowded because we went after work…and so did everyone else. The power was out and we were just a moving, pulsing, sweating mass. We got stuck behind a traffic jam where a rickshaw was trying to carry 3 refrigerators and moving at the speed of an ant. While trapped, we made friends with a man who helped us find the music store. I kept slipping and falling in mud, which would be fine with me if the mud wasn’t a concoction of dung, fumes and garbage. We ran across the street in front of cars, and motorcycles when we saw the music store.

I don’t know what I was expecting. Actually I completely do. I wanted to find a little unique instrument that like a Lifetime movie I could ask a Bengali to teach me how to play and then I could go back to the states and win over the nation known as “the girl that plays that little unique Bengali instrument.” The music store sold Harmoniums and guitars. That was it. Harmonium is too big to bring anywhere and it’s hard to be amazing at an instrument every mother’s sister’s kid’s dog plays (guitar).

But now we were on the other side of town, in the dark, and we had the traffic jam to pass back through. We stopped by a store to have an ever pleasant 7-Up and made friends with a man who lived in the US for 5 years working at an Amoco station. Now he is a very influential market owner. His wife is applying for a position at JiViTA so maybe I’ll meet him again.

Back through the mess of town and we found a rickshaw to drive us home. He was the fastest driver I have ever seen/felt. He whizzed past cars and trucks and darted between traffic, in the dark. Every time I would scream “slow down!!” he laughed. Did I mention he was 100 years old?

I am happy to be alive. Even if I will never be loved by the world for my tiny unique instrument playing skills.

Asalam Walaikum,


Friday, September 23, 2011

Food Stuffs

I was in a food slump. It got so bad I started to spontaneously rhyme. It was scary.

To fix this, Jahangir (our cook) made me an Italian dinner! It is: ramen noodles with egg and chili, beef curry meatballs with chili, and a hot spicy tomato ketchup. And I ate every bite.

Then I decided to get creative. Today I dug into the bowels of the marketplace. And look what I found! Total came to around $25 which is a lot but that's because it's all imported.
From left to right: Mango Bars-Delicous healthy bengali snack, I got a box!, Oatmeal!, Wrapped in paper are little cakes the store owner and his handsome son kept giving me because they were thrilled I kept buying expensive items, Thai garlic chili sauce, kraft canned cheese (I'm going to use to attempt to make macaroni and cheese), honey, Mango juice, Mayonnaise, Orbitz (!), Caramels, Grape cordial, peanut butter.

The grape CORDIAL is not juice. Thought it was. Took a swig of this syrup and now am feeling loopy.

Asalam Walaikum,
Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ode to the Food

There are nights I dream of macaroni and cheese. Please oh please can I just have some cheese?

Or maybe a burger so juicy and round. Has anyone found a burger around?

How about some twizzlers chewy and sweet? Do you have a twizzler I can eat?

I would cry for just one pasta dish. I would trade a kiss for this, I wish!

A morsel of chocolate or snifter of wine. A small glass of red wine would be divine.

My mouth will water and my stomach will plead until I can feed on this food that I need.

I guess I’ll go eat some more curry.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


All ends of my body have been hugging my porcelain throne these past few days. I’m used to it. My toilet bowl and I are involved. I’m thinking of moving my desk in there to really nest.

I went into the field and saw a funeral procession. A body lay on a bed, toes up, wrapped in a white sheet. Men carried the body above their heads solemnly. No one shed a tear or made a noise. Call me old fashioned but I feel like there should be some outward grieving at a funeral. I plan to hire some wailers, some women who really know how to gnash their teeth, tear their hair out and make a soup of their makeup at my funeral.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The (hopefully not "a") Earthquake

Late last night, at around 7pm, I was in a chair tripping off heat and mosquitoes, minding my own business. When suddenly a mammoth tractor size monster started rumbling outside making my room shake. The fan that was spinning above me looked like it could dip down and cut off my face.

That’s when I noticed. There was no tractor monster. The building started to sway from side to side like a jenga set with a loose brick. I was on the 4th floor of this 5 story building. And as luck would have it, Bulbul decided to go home the day earlier and Muzi and I sent the cook home so he could take care of his sick wife. So it was just me and Muzi, and the sky was falling.

I immediately jumped into public health mode. I have such an unchecked hero complex. I ran to a doorway. “Muzi, are you ok?!” I said with the calm of a thousand Hindi cows. “Muzi go into a doorway.” “A what?!” “Come down here and share my doorway!” And Muzi and I stood in my doorway inwardly shaking at a counter rhythm to the building. When the swaying/shaking stopped my brain thought “news, facebook, call moms.”

Nothing on the news yet so I called my parents. They teased me about being a bad scientist and not leaving the building, warned me of aftershocks, hyperbolized about tsunamis and then both went on a news hunt. After about 10 minutes Muzi and I did feel an aftershock and ran downstairs to stand in the pouring rain. The guards laughed at us—which is nothing new, and gave us umbrellas. All the phones were tied up but when we got reach of some Bangladeshi’s they claimed it was the strongest earthquake in 50 years!

The earthquake actually hit Sikkim, India, near the Nepal border and so far has killed 48 people. It was a 6.9 on the Richter scale.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

I'm Staying

So I was kind of sickish. And the past few days have been delightfully raining and grey. So I decided to take a break under my covers and not leave for 2 days. Hence lack of posting. But I’m not so sure if you would have cared about how soft the blanket was and how powerful the AC was and how the rain calmed my stomach. But it was/did.

Thanks for all the blog requests! It brings me comfort knowing so many people are reading! Thanks guys.

After the last entry I was feeling kind of lost. It’s one thing to be in a country and know your end date. To know your time period and to make the most of it. Once that end date was taken away, I got scared and went into a small slump.

I finally decided to talk to Dr. L. He told me that my project was flexible and I could make it 3 months instead of 5 which would make me leave at the same time scheduled previously. He also said, in his opinion, the longer I am here the better. It’s a unique opportunity that I may not have again.

So I told him I don’t want to cut my project, and I am going to stay until this thing ends. Be it March or April, I’m going to see it through. Officially.

Because really what’s my rush? I don’t have any more school, a job, a child, a boyfriend or even a freaking pet. Why am I rushing home? When will I be in this situation again?

Jiva is a very large scale trial and I am learning so much from it. In addition I am learning how to play the guitar, harmonica, speak Spanish, speak Bengali and am aiming to become a solid muscle. It’s all a bit baller.

Here are some small things I love about Bangladesh:

The way the pineapple tastes after it comes out of the cold refrigerator

When I shower I put my hair up in a bun and let the water trickle down my neck cooling me off for hours

At 4pm in the office a woman comes in and asks “madame, tea and biscuits?”

All of the open doors and porches that let in the breezes and rain and the occasional shrill crow.

If you freeze your water for a few minutes how it shocks your whole body which is not used to anything this cold here

The Rangpur rooftop sunsets

I’m lucky.

Asalam Walaikum,