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.