Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Tuesday, July 9th

So where to begin. It’s been a few days! I guess I can start with 4th of July, last Thursday. I keep breaking my promise to update more often...I’m sorry! And then I end up with these long posts that cover a week at a time….ah, okay, well anyway, 4th of July. We WANTED to do something, but we really didn’t have too much luck.

In the afternoon, I had a meeting with WaterAid, which is an NGO that we have partnered with on my project up until now. However, we are trying to stop working with them. It seems like we are paying way too much for them to not do very much and they are trying to run the show with this next intervention (even though we pay them…), so we went to discuss their ideas for the intervention and tell them ours.

Oh, wow, was this a ridiculous meeting. It was like we were speaking two different languages (granted, there was some Bangla used on their end to discuss amongst themselves every once in awhile). They explained their intervention enthusiastically, despite some enormously major flaws in design that they couldn’t explain (they were still “working out the details”). Every question we asked they looked at us like it was the dumbest question ever. One of Ariadna’s comments they laughed at (or maybe they were laughing with us?). It was all SO unclear. By the time we got to explaining our intervention, we were pretty exasperated. They did NOT understand it. A major component is having people make a public or private pledge to improve sanitation to see the given effect on whether people actually improve. After explaining everything, we asked if they could at least keep this commitment aspect in mind as they wrote up their intervention proposal and got back to us. They looked at us incredulously: of course we have commitment in our design. And there is a pledge but it is best made at the end after the household has reached full sanitation. What? Oh my god, we didn’t even try. Clearly everything we said had gone right over their heads. Looking back, we laughed at the meeting. But during it, it was very frustrating. While the PI’s (Project Investigators—the two professors that run the project) are keen on working with WaterAid, this meeting really pushed the limit. We can’t afford to work with them and we are just completely on different pages. So we were happy when the meeting notes got sent out and the PI’s officially said we could wrap up the contract with them. Very good news!

So, that was a good two-hour meeting that took up a lot of my afternoon—what with the hour long trip there and hour long trip back. I headed home and Kishan brought home apple pies to try and be festive. Well, they ended up being mini “blueberry” pies. I quote blueberries because not totally convinced what this blue/purple jam stuff in the middle was. But, heated up with some ice cream, it was pretty good! Sadly, that was about all we did for the Fourth of July.  We tried?

The next day was Friday, and we decided we would go track down North End Coffee Roasters, which is a coffee shop that is popular among expats here and run by an American couple. I had to go into work for a meeting in the morning, which also ended in good news. We want to hire one WaterAid worker who we have had a particularly close connection with and who has been very helpful to us—he’s well connected in the field. He is willing to come work for us, so our meetings last week were both win wins (in the end). After work, I attempted to go find a dry cleaners so I could drop the sari off that I had borrowed for the wedding last week. I headed down a long road to find the first dry cleaners suggested to me, but it had shut down, even though the sign was deceivingly still up. So, I had to go two blocks over and head back in the same exact direction I had come from. It was hot and definitely time for lunch so my patience was fading. I walked until I got to where the building should have been based on the address. No sign of it. I kept walking a little ways and then asked a guy outside a food place where a dry cleaners was. He pointed to have me keep going. After a few more blocks I went into a store and asked another guy. He pointed me the other direction. This happened two more times just like this, with me heading back and forth within four blocks, assuming I had missed it or something. Exasperated, I gave up. I grabbed a rickshaw and headed home for some much needed lunch (I finally found a place Sunday…).

After lunch we headed out to find the coffee shop. We knew the general area and it was near the American Embassy, so we took a rickshaw right past there. Interestingly, the American Embassy is very discreet here. And other than one American flag, the large ominous brick building is pretty discreet. Well, the area was pretty crazy and on a busy street and there was no sign of any buildings that may house coffee shops. We crossed the road and walked a ways, but we knew it would be pointless to just wander. We decided to sit ourselves down outside a little tea stall, whip out a laptop and our internet USB stick, and look the place up. Very subtle. Very discreet. I was a little less engaged in the search and bought a couple kids some bananas while I waited for the boys to figure out where we should go.

Finally, they figured it out. And we headed in the right direction. It was sort of a ways away, so I was excited when we got there. The coffee shop was on the second floor, so you couldn’t hear the noise of the street once you were inside. The windows had a white tint over them, so you couldn’t see out either (but light still got in). There were tables and couches and a barista bar that looked straight out of Starbucks. They even had a big chalkboard menu with all sorts of drink options. We literally could’ve been right back in the US at a nice coffee shop. I’m not going to lie; it was a really nice escape. We ordered coffee and got comfortable and hung out, read, and did some work.

Friday night, Alamgir, the head of the office, invited a group of us over to his house for dinner. He had the IPA car pick us up and we headed to his apartment. We met his wife and two kids. There were about 5 other people from the office there—Ariadna, Prabhat and Kishan’s boss, Martin, and a couple others. It was a lot of fun getting out and hanging out with a group. There was SO MUCH food, too! His wife made a huge spread. Well, to start, for appetizers we had mango and these spring roll things and little samosas. There were also these sweets I can’t remember what they’re called but I need to look them up! They’re like little cake balls—delicious. For dinner, it was like 20 different dishes: two fish curries, two different chicken curries, beef, rice, two vegetables dishes, fresh vegetables, these green vegetables I’d never seen but were good, potatoes, and the list goes on. Those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Also, we didn’t eat until 10:30pm! That’s when Bangladeshis normally eat—well, at 10pm but still! I can’t even imagine. And they have these heavy rice and curry meals. I guess they do make you sleepy, so it’s convenient if you can just go to sleep afterwards. I don’t know. After eating we got a ride home. And even on a Friday at 11pm we hit traffic. Of course. It took a good hour to get home. It was the four interns in the car and we ended up having a very interesting conversation about Hinduism, Christianity, and Norse Gods/myths. Basically just sharing information with each other. Pretty diverse group in the car.

Saturday we had another low-key day. I feel restless coming out of the weekend and know I will definitely need to plan more to do this weekend! We meant to go check out some mosques, but we never got around to doing it. This weekend! We are also working on going to see the new Superman movie this week. You have to buy your movie tickets (in person) a day or two in advanced here, though. It’s quite the ordeal and not some casual activity. So, we are working on it.

Saturday I woke up and went to the gym. The guys sleep past noon like every weekend and I haven’t been able to sleep, so this has been a good option to kill time. People are VERY loud here at the gym! It’s sort of funny. Like as people are lifting weights or even just doing abs on the mat they are grunting and moaning and sometimes straight up yelling. It’s pretty strange.

After the gym, I went home and Prabhat was making kathi rolls. He was improvising making some peanut sauce for them and ended up using peanut butter, balsamic vinegar, and a few other ingredients. I was skeptical. He cooked up the cubed chicken with tomatoes and onions and the sauce and then got out frozen paratha we keep in the apartment and cooked that up with a layer of egg on it. Then he rolled the chicken in the egg paratha to make the roll. It was SO GOOD. An accidental dish that ended up being beyond delicious (accidental because the peanut sauce didn’t really taste like peanut sauce…but we were both happy with the results). 

For those of you that don’t know what paratha is, it’s delicious. It's the shape of a tortilla and basically just fried layered dough. Think a super thin croissant in tortilla form. They are absolutely delicious and can be found everywhere over here. This and naan are the standard bread options served with food (and roti, which is more like naan than paratha). Anyway, the makeshift kathi roll was delicious and we’re going to make them again soon. I’m trying to pick up some things Prabhat has been cooking, since they are seasoned and made so differently and in a way I would never think of but at the same time all end up being so good. Like the other night he cooked okra, tomatoes, and onions with yogurt and masala seasoning. He ate it with paratha and shared a bite with me and again—so delicious! I don’t know if I winged it like him with those ingredients and flavors whether I would have quite the same success, but we’ll see.

After lunch, we headed back to North End Coffee Roasters just to hang out again. The guys had work, and I just read. I have been reading a LOT here—I’m on my tenth book…I did the majority of that while the guys were away, but still, clearly I’ve had some time on my hands. Kishan ordered a brownie and it was sooo good. Their cinnamon rolls are what they’re known for—we’ll have to get them next time. 

Sunday was back to work. I started the day in a sort of short, cranky mood and it ended up lasting all day. All the honking and yelling on the street sounded louder, the people staring and calling out were more irritating and my attempt to buy fruit at the market after work ended with me paying what I know was WAY too much (relative to what it should be—still so cheap compared to at home). Gah I was just having an I-don’t-want-to-be-here-day. I think it was partly after doing almost nothing all weekend and then I knew I had a full week of work ahead of me with nothing fun planned either. So, when the guys got home we started brainstorming what we could do. We were all admitting that Dhaka isn’t too plentiful with fun activities and options to do after work (or during the day…), which we hear other expats say a lot.

Prabhat and I ended up making a late trip out to Lavender to get some groceries. It was really nice out and not too hot, so the walk was nice. Unfortunately, Lavender was closed when we got there. On our walk back, a little boy started following us wanting money. Prabhat told him to follow us to the market. They talked a little and we found out he was 9. We went to the market by our house and picked up a few things. The little boy picked out powdered milk and biscuits, so we bought those for him and he was thrilled (mostly over the biscuits; I don’t think he meant to point to the milk). Prabhat hadn’t eaten dinner, so we stopped into Dhaba, which is a very good, cheap restaurant near out house. It’s Indian and Thai food, although I’ve just had the Indian. We hung out and talked and he ate, and it was a nice little excursion after my restless, cranky day.

Yesterday, fish was being served in the office, and when I do this, I normally try to figure it out early enough to say I’m going out to eat. Lunch in the office has been good! It’s rice every day and dahl, which I’ve come to really like together, especially when I add squeeze some lime juice on top. Then it’s usually a couple bites of chicken or beef (literally, two bites) and some potatoes and veggies that have usually been cooked with fish so are not my favorite, but I eat them. Today we had this amazing vegetable mix that I guess translates literally to “sweet pumpkin” but Martin was saying he wasn’t sure if it was actually what we would think of as pumpkin, but it could’ve been because it was a squash-like consistency and sweet. Either way, it wasn’t made with fish and was SO good! The other amazing thing she makes every once in awhile is khichuri, which is a rice and lentil dish that also has some other spices in it and is delicious and warm and comforting. It’s traditionally made on rainy days (and for sick people) so it makes sense. The couple days we’ve had it have been rainy ones; it’s one good thing about the rain. I hope she keeps making it!

Well anyway, yesterday was fish so I went out to pick up chicken shawarma. Ugh bad idea; I felt sick the REST of the afternoon. I even felt feverish, so by 4:30 I gave up and headed home. I spent the evening feeling very sick and in bed. Prabhat was nice and made me some rice for dinner. Luckily, today I have felt completely fine, so I blame that chicken shawarma. It’s hard to be completely careful here with the food.

Today was not too eventful. Ramadan will start either tomorrow or the next day (depending on whether we see the moon), so it will be interesting to see what that’s like. All the restaurants have signs up with Iftar deals. Iftar is the meal at the end of the day to break the fast. It’s traditionally all fried food and a LOT of it. We are going to try and head to Old Dhaka one day for Iftar, because the street stalls supposedly have delicious options.

Otherwise, I’m planning a trip to Nepal. I couldn’t at first, because I knew we were going to the field at some point in July and didn’t want to plan over that (again…) but I found out we will be going next week to the field. So next week the field and the weekend after that Nepal and then the week after Nepal I head home. I can’t believe it! I am sure the next couple of weeks will fly by, especially with all of this traveling. I will have to make the most of this weekend in Dhaka, since it may be my last full one.

Well, not much else to report. I will keep you posted on my travel plans and other things going on around here! Weekdays tend to be slow, but as I said we are trying to figure out SOMETHING to do! Hopefully we can get creative and come up with something. We shall see. 

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