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Phenomenal Woman

We are settling into life, or so it seems, until things get tossed upside down. The kids started school last week in the beginning of October. Two days later, they were on vacation for Eid. We decided a few weeks back that we’d take a quick trip out of town for our first traveling adventure in Bangladesh – to Srimangal, the tea capital of Bangladesh. We stayed at the Nishorgo Eco Cottage just outside of town. This entire trip was made possible by the amazing Mahmud of Trip To Bangladesh. The Lonely Planet calls him the Guardian Angel of Bangladesh and it’s true – he is! On a whim a few weeks ago I contacted him to see if he knew someone who could help transport a crib we bought from Lisa. Well, he does, and on a Saturday afternoon, he had a trusted friend book a flatbed rickshaw and it arrived, safe and sound, up at our place in Bashundhara. Mahmud hired Liton Deb, a native of Srimangal, to be our tour guide, and he did a fabulous job. Our first day there was the last day of Dirga Puja, a Hindu holiday, and we got to experience a parade, where the floats took top notch, and second to that was the spectacle of the YuBurs on display.

Shaking hands with other boys

Float

During our visit we also hiked and walked around the Lawachara National Forest, visited a pottery village, drank seven layer tea, visited a zoo, celebrated Eid with several Muslim families, and then ate a hearty Hindu vegetarian lunch – we did all the things and more. It was a really great time away from the hustle and bustle of Dhaka. More photos can be found at my photography page:

***

This week we are heading back into the thick of things. Today is Saturday and while in the US, it’s the middle of the weekend, today is functionally our Sunday. Because Bangladesh is a Muslim country, the work and school week is from Sunday through Thursday, so tomorrow morning we are back in the thick of things.  Today I have been working on research writing/IRB stuff for the dissertation, which is the first time in a long time I’ve had a chance to sit down and do any of my work. I knew coming here would mean a timing setback but as is the case with most things, who knows exactly what that impact will be until you land? I didn’t anticipate that the kiddos’ schooling would take so long to resolve (but praise jeebus it is resolved) and how long it takes to do things here. It’s just the way it is.

Several times these last few weeks, in response to the question of where I am from and how I got here (“I’m from America and my husband got a job at a university!”), people have asked me what it is I do all day. “Are you just a housewife? What do you do?” Such a loaded, innocent, destructive question. It’s a bunch of misunderstood identities rolled up into a seemingly innocuous question. My first instinct, the one that shouts out with all the Tiger Mom I have in me, wants to answer,

“Hell no, I’m not just a housewife. I am working on my PhD and one day too plan to be a professor at a university somewhere. I am not a housewife at all!” And there’s nothing wrong with being a house wife either! It’s not like I don’t already know and appreciate that, but wow, just a complicated question.

Then there’s the part of me that is struggling with my new role as a “trailing wife.” That phrase is fraught with issues of its own. I am not a trailing wife. I am not just following Josh around blindly, relying on him to survive. I am here of my own accord – when Josh was offered the position, I told him and urged him to take it! Family Adventure We Cannot Pass Up! We went into this committed 100%, the both of us, to having an amazing experience. I won’t lie – it has been hard, to be an expat woman in Bangladesh. I am not allowed to work in Bangladesh because of the visa I entered on, and I can’t even  have a joint bank account with Josh. I am listed as his beneficiary should something tragic befall him. I do have an ATM card, so there’s that;)Assumptions that I am by and large no longer accustomed to in the US I have had to encounter somewhat amusingly and somewhat harshly since. I took the kids to buy a printer, and as I decided the model and the type I wanted, the salesperson kept trying to dumb things down for me and as they packed it up, asked me, quite concerned, whether or not I would be able to install the ink cartridges on my own. I had to laugh – in college my first work study job was maintaining a computer lab and servicing the printers as they needed more ink and laser toner cartridges. I teach college level technology classes. I think I can install a printer on my own! But of course, this person in front of me didn’t know that.

If something like that were to happen in the US, I’d be more than happy to spit out a series of colorful metaphors about how women are treated and how one should not make assumptions about skills based on gender and sex. I am ALL FOR a public dressing down of asshats – and in the US I would consider someone who said this an asshat. But here, I don’t. I bite my tongue a lot, as you can imagine, because I can’t spew out all of my frustrations at this salesperson. Beyond my identity as a woman, my glaring, public persona is “foreigner” and I am keenly aware that I don’t belong and more than I have ever felt before in my life, I feel exoticized in an uncomfortable way. As a foreigner, I am certainly not going to lecture a salesperson here for those assumptions. But man, it is eating a gigantic slice of humble pie, being here. Beyond the obvious financial disparities, the cultural disparities and most of all, the educational disparities are still quite significant. I’m sitting here, just about halfway done with a doctoral degree, when many of the women around me have finished maybe through grade 8.

In the US I bristle greatly at the seemingly innocuous and yet highly distasteful question , “Where are you from?” I never know what answer to give, as a Chinese American. Does the questioner want to know where I grew up? What high school I graduated from? Where my parents live? Do they care that I was born in Illinois and lived all over the US? Or do they just want to keep asking me to figure out what flavor of Asian I am? In Bangladesh, it is much different. Because the population is much more homogenous than the  US, our family REALLY stands out here. When someone screws up the courage to use their English to ask where I’m from, I say America – and here’s the kicker:

THEY BELIEVE ME.

They nod their heads when I say, “America” and they believe me. If they know a friend or family member who’s been to the US, they’ll mention that or they might ask how far away California is from Atlanta – but they believe me. If they’re interested in my ethnic heritage, they will ask pointedly as well. In Dhaka, I do realize that our family presents as a conundrum. In every day life, one doesn’t see tall White guys among the shorter, darker Bangladeshi men and women – so Josh visibly sticks out. Nor do you see Asian women out and about with White men, and our kids, by virtue of having a striking set of genes in their gene pool, stick out. The questioning doesn’t bother me as much here – probably because everyone already knows that we don’t belong and are foreigners. In the US, the assumption is already that we don’t belong – when we do.

***

I have been, as you can imagine, thinking a lot about how this all works, being a confident US-born-and-bred Chinese American woman living in a country where women play a decidedly different role in society. We are hiring for a nanny position here (see above, dissertation to write!) and this experience has been both weird and humbling and quite uncomfortable at times. I’ll write about that process more later. I don’t know how this all works – but I do know that all of the ideas and beliefs (quite firm, I assure you) that I had about feminism and what being a woman means – alllll of that changed abruptly on September 2 when we landed in Dhaka. I only wish it didn’t take an international move for me to really critically analyze all of this. But it did, and I’m here and my brain is a complicated thinky mess. As it should be.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
– excerpt from Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman”

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Food. FOOD. FUUUUUD

This is the post my friend Emily has been waiting for. The FOOD!

I should preface this with a couple of disclaimers. First, we spent about a week eating out when we first got here since we were in a hotel until our apartment was ready. Second, we don’t have our own cook at home (another day I’ll talk about household help and all of the social issues that topic brings about) so while it took us awhile to find our groove, we are pretty much good with cooking at home (and cooking familiar meals to us and the kids). Lastly, for a variety of reasons, sometimes it is less expensive and hella more tasty (see that, Josh?) to eat out. I’ll elaborate below.

One of the hugest eye openers for us here has been the difference in the cost of living. The median monthly salary is 35000 taka – $451 USD. Those in heavier service trades (i.e., rickshaw drivers) earn way less than that - the equivalent of $55 USD. Thus, prices for pretty much everything is a lot lower – I mentioned earlier that a bottle of Pepsi in the US for a 16oz bottle would cost around $1 USD – that same bottle in Bangladesh costs 28 taka – or $0.36. Things that are imported from abroad cost more, but it’s still within the realm of affordability for those who are wealthier. It is always on our mind when we go out to eat or buy food at the grocery store. I have an app on my phone (hi, privilege!) that I use to calculate how much BDT (taka) to USD things cost before I decide to buy them. At some point, I’m sure, my brain will begin to think of things as they are worth in taka vs. dollars. So this is all sort of clouding my mind every time we eat – how much are things worth in the US – and then as a result, I get irritated and angry at companies like Pepsi – exactly how much money are they earning from everyone – from Bangladeshis, from Americans – and to what end. I know, really exciting mind talk when all you want to do is enjoy a good meal!

And the meals, they have been amazing. It’s a fairly good assumption in the US that cheap, quick food is also not tasty, for the most part. Here, our experience has been the opposite. Food has been inexpensive, slow, and tasty. Service in restaurants here has decidedly a less urgent tone than service in US restaurants. It is not uncommon to go in to a place for lunch at 12:30ish and not leave until 3 or even later. I’ve learned to bring paper and pens for the kids to draw with to pass the time. Because we don’t cook Bengali or Indian food well enough, for us, going out for biriyani is tasty and affordable and worth the wait! We’ve been to restaurants that have a wider variety of foods, including an Italian restaurant that serves decent Italian food – this has helped, I think, the kids with their transition when they can see and taste familiar foods from home.

The food is a lot spicier than what the kids are used to, and fantastic for Josh and me. We went to a place near Gulshan 2 circle that had no English menu and ate the hottest meat kabobs ever – we could not drink enough water or eat enough naan to put the fire out! The kids were less than enthused by that meal, but this is something they’re going to have to get used to. Even some of the local places that sell American meals add their own Bengali or Indian twists to the meals to make them spicier and more interesting to eat – one restaurant in Bashundhara we went to added curry to their beef burgers and WOW, it was delicious! Winning combination in my book!

***

On Wednesday nights, Josh teaches late, so we decided to grab some food from the cafeteria at Josh’s school (which is less than a minute’s walk from our building). Now, I am no stranger to good eats – many of the universities I’ve worked for have had amazing dining facilities. All of the food we have had at the tiny cafeteria at Josh’s school has been amazing and a nice, convenient way to get a good Bengali meal. Here’s what we had for dinner last night: mutton, chicken, and dal on rice.

Mutton, chicken, and lentils. SO. GOOD.

Mutton, chicken, and lentils. SO. GOOD.

We aren’t quite sure what these are called – but in my mind their legit name is “Little Bit of Carby Meat Heaven Wrapped Up In Joy.” They are so tasty. They’ve got diced potatoes and meat, spicy, in a curry-ish sauce. Not entirely sure what’s inside, but they are awesome.

YUM!

YUM!

This was all from the cafeteria. Total cost of this entire meal: 350 taka ($4.50 USD).

We finished up with some mangosteen for dessert. You cut into the rind to expose the soft, juicy, edible pieces inside. It looks like garlic, but tastes nothing like it. Delicious!

Mangosteen

Mangosteen

As is the case with everything we’ve experience so far in Dhaka, when we go out to restaurants to eat, the staff treat us incredibly well – uncomfortably well. If there was no fan or air conditioning on, they’ll turn it on and face it to us, even if there are other Bengali patrons already eating. In every place we’ve gone – the supermarket, restaurants, schools – there seems to be three times as many employees ready to assist than there are patrons ready to shop. Everyone is enthralled with the kids – especially Lindsey and Will. Before we leave Bangladesh, the kids’ egos and heads are going to be gargantuan.

***

When we are home, though, we have been making food mostly similar to what we’ve always cooked at home – an eclectic variety of American and Asian dishes. Mexican food is harder to come by here, so we haven’t done that (I was trying to figure out how we could do 7 layer dip, which has several traditionally Mexican components to the meal, but petered out after 4 layers) yet. We’ve been able to find a good amount of imported American brands of foods like pastas, pasta sauces, ketchup – that type of thing. The one thing that is lacking in variety is sandwich bread. I have only found one kind of non-white bread which was quite tasty, but our markets that are most convenient to us only really have white breads. We noticed today that our market sells turkey, so I am hopeful that in a couple of months I can roast a turkey. Maybe a tiny turkey or a turkey breast, but I am determined to have as authentic a Thanksgiving as I can manage!

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Hartal

Today is Sunday, September 21, and we have been here for almost three weeks. Josh started teaching last week, and we got the kids just about enrolled at the local private, international school we found nearby. Last week, once I got all the paperwork gathered, we spent an entire morning at the school, while Matthew took a reading and math comprehension/placement exam, and Lindsey took an oral test to ascertain her ability to handle kindergarten work (verdict: yes, she can). I attended class at FSU via Google Hangout, and we have food in the refrigerator. For awhile, every single day was spent going out to a store of some sort, buying little things to make this apartment a home, like shelves for the kiddos toys, can openers – that type of thing that you don’t really think about in your house until you don’t have it and are thinking about pawing open cans of tuna with your bare hands.

Another interesting and unexpected thing we weren’t expecting – apparently we are going to be receiving light housekeeping services for our apartment once a week. Last Sunday, a swarm of women and a couple of men came through, swept everything, mopped, and washed our balconies and bathrooms. I was not expecting that!

Simple storage unit.

Simple storage unit – Lindsey’s room

So, the title of this entry is “Hartal” and we’ve gotten our first taste of politics in Bangladesh. Here is a wikipedia link – in essence, it’s a strike called by one of the political parties of the government. Thursday and Sunday, hartals were called, and this morning we learned that another hartal by another political party was called for Monday. In US terms – it would be if the Republican Party decided to hold a countrywide strike because they didn’t like an action or legislation introduced by the Democrats, or vice versa. So far, what it’s meant for us is sticking close to home – we haven’t really left at all, to avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But this will soon change because the school we’re enrolling the kids in continues to hold school in times of hartal. Plus, it’s not that far away so I think we’ll be good walking or rickshawing it.

Slowly but surely it’s becoming home. I am amazed by what we are able to procure here, but the effort to do so is magnified. The other day I had on my list three places to go to: a textiles store (to get sheets), a bookstore (to get a book promised to Matthew), and to a store that is the closest to Walmart that you can find in Dhaka, Unimart. I petered out after two. The heat, combined with a baby strapped to my chest, plus rickshaw drivers who weren’t quite sure what I was saying meant I cut the trip short to get home and rest. I just couldn’t do it anymore!

Will is fascinated by rain and the balconies that show him all the rain.

Will is fascinated by rain and the balconies that show him all the rain.

As we settle in, the more anxious I find myself in search of a daily routine. We had hoped to start the kids in school this week, but right now we are in between bank accounts, and can’t start the kids until we can drop off a big check (or as they say, cheque) in taka. On Thursday, during the hartal, representatives from a local bank came to Josh’s department and signed all the foreigners up for bank accounts. For our account, they didn’t do joint accounts, but I was named as the primary beneficiary in case anything should happen to Josh. HA! Luckily, they are issuing me a separate bank card so I don’t have to off him to get any money! So anyway, the kids haven’t started yet, and we’re almost at the end of the first term (split into quarters here). We should be ready to go next week, but in the mean time, we need to find things for the kids to do before they go insane – or before they drive -me- insane.

The other transitional thing that’s been challenging to navigate is the different roles Josh and I now play. For the first part of our marriage, I worked full time while Josh went to grad school and cared for Matthew at home. When we were in grad school things evened out for us – both of us were full time students, had assistantships and taught. Now, he’s working full time, I’ve got part time assistantships, but am nowhere near done with my degree yet. Plus, we’ve had so much more face time with the kids than we normally would this time of year (or even over the summer), so right now everything is in flux. I am sure that once the kids get settled in school and I find my groove with Will (we’re still throwing around the idea of hiring someone to come help me with kid and house duties so I can focus more completely on my school work and research) and our new routine, I’ll feel better about our transition.

Patience, patience.

Kid updates:

Matthew did great on the reading portion of his placement exam – 95% correct. Not surprising, considering that he spends much of his day, when he is not torturing his sister, with his nose in a book. He really does love to read. He didn’t do as well with the math portion of the placement exam, mostly because the math wasn’t anything that he’d learned previously. So we will have to work with him on this when he starts school.

Lindsey did great on her oral exam. She says she was asked the alphabet, what vowels are, and was very matter of fact that she knew them already. OK then.

Will, after taking a long break with teething after having cut 7 in short order, has resumed his teeth growing. Molars. UGH. They’ve been bothering him, poor muffin. He’s also moaning “Mama!” a lot now, and adores his bro and sis. Still.:)

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Making a home

Oh, so much has happened since I last posted six days ago. On Tuesday, after nearly a week of hotel living – restless hotel living, I might add: living out of suitcases and not feeling terribly settled one way or the other* – we received word that our apartments were ready and the university would be there at around 11 to pick us up. Cue panicked repacking – at least this time, it was panicked “toss everything into suitcases, weight be damned”! Josh took the kids down to breakfast and came up with a little to-go box for me, which was “greatly accepted” (Matthew’s latest favorite phrase).

Our apartment is gigantic. We lived in a small three bedroom, two bathroom apartment in Tallahassee, and were bursting from the seams. This is a three bedroom, four bathroom (one is a separate squat toilet bathroom/shower) huge apartment. The kitchen is way less than we are accustomed to in the States, but it’ll do just fine. We just discovered that there’s a convection oven in the microwave, so all is right with the world. We have fire and water – really, what else do we need?

caseycasey.net - Dhaka, Bangladesh

The view from our balcony.

We live in northern Dhaka, in the Bashundhara section of the city. This is a few kilometers north of where we were housed in the diplomatic enclave of Gulshan. The pace is less hectic – compared to Gulshan, anyway – still pretty hectic compared to Tallahassee! We’ve been spending this week getting to know the area and getting stuff for our apartment – like cutting boards, knives, water filtration systems – stuff like that.

This is probably the hardest thing we’ve ever done – now that we’re in our home, anyway. Last week in the hotel it felt like we were on vacation – and in some ways we were! But now, the work of building a home began. On Wednesday evening, after a long and hard day of going to the market and trying to navigate first our way there and back in a foreign language, trying to negotiate with market owners (knowing full well that even at the “foreigner, more expensive” rate, you’re still getting a pretty good deal vs. what you could find in the US at a Walmart), eating out because you don’t know where the best supermarkets are in town – it just all wears down and you start second guessing everything. On our walk home with towels and hangers in hand (all we could manage to do in the market before we all decided enough was enough and headed back up to Bashundhara), we pass by the Jamuna Future Park mall – the largest mall of its kind in South Asia. We pass by the university Josh works for, and then turn into the plot where our brand new building is – nine floors of amazing, brand new residences for faculty at the university**. We also pass by stray dogs who are so tired and weak that they just lie in the mud and dirt and sleep, every rib bone visible. We also pass by abject poverty, amidst all the posh residences, with huts made of aluminum siding. It is so much to take in.

Also, there are cows and goats, just hanging out. This is right outside our building.

Cows. Moo.

Cows. Moo.

In Tallahassee, we sometimes would get awkward looks and glances and stares and racist conversations – we are a mixed-race family, and that type of thing is just not common in Northern Florida. Here in Dhaka, we REALLY stand out. Josh is 6’0″ tall and I’m 5’5″ – we are easily among the tallest people in any crowd we’re in. We turn heads constantly. Some people literally stop what they are doing and watch us, curious. Today, a security guard at the school right next to Josh’s actually took his cell phone out and took pictures of Josh wearing Will (that’s another thing – we don’t have a stroller, when we go out, Josh wears Will in a mei tai – I don’t think we’ve seen any parent wearing their kid at all here, much less a dad snuggling a baby!), sitting next to Lindsey in a rickshaw taking us to a market. So much staring and gawking and staring (did I mention staring?). It’s hard to know what to make of it – I mean, no one is treating us poorly because of this (except for trying to make us pay more for rickshaw rides), but it is unnerving. I suppose we will get used to this in time.

The other thing is how others simply adore Lindsey. Lots of pats on the head, innocent pinches to her cheek and ruffles to her hair. All this I know is meant in good faith and appreciation, but it is unnerving as her American-born parent, thinking of all the ways to instill in her as a young girl ways that one must respect her body —–

It is all just so very overwhelming. So much to think and to reconsider. We’ve been here less than two weeks and already I’ve felt so schooled.

***

Things are getting much better, though, especially now that we found a market in our neighborhood. It is amazing how much better I felt just being able to cook a meal at home! I made spaghetti in our tiny kitchen:

tiny!

Slowly, it’s becoming more like home. We should have the kids’ schooling settled next week (thank goodness, these children have had too much together time this summer). I need to get work done with my prospectus, and well, all that yarn I brought with me has to get knit up, right?

In the meanwhile, we’ve been exploring our neighborhood. Like I mentioned earlier, we live near a gigantic mall, most of which is empty. Each store seems to have more employees than customers. One thing that has amused both me and Josh since we arrived is the blatant copying – Doreos for Oreos, for instance (I think the Doreos taste better). Here’s one restaurant at the mall:

Subpoint... eat fresh?

Subpoint… eat fresh?

Despite its similarity in logo with Subway, I saw no signs of sandwiches.

At our local grocery store, the chips:

chips

chips

Some familiar names, some not, some in Arabic, some in Bangla.

Tonight for dinner, I made hamburgers (forgot to look for cheese). I found these rolls in the market. This is something I think we’ll miss – we just came from spending 2ish weeks mainlining San Francisco sourdough, to come here and have mediocre bread. It’s what we give up for paratha and naan.

French bread?

French bread?

OK, that’s probably quite enough. To prepare for this upcoming week, now!

(last picture alert)

We have plenty of places to lie down and read a book, yet Matthew lies on the floor in front of the refrigerator. Sheesh.

*yes, yes, #firstworldproblem

**I’m living on campus again?!

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Christine - This is the hardest time. Slowly, slowly, it will become the new normal. You’re doing an amazing job.

Next stop: Dhaka

Here is a quick recap of the summer of 2014 in Tallahassee:

  1. Josh wrote about a billionty five thousand words to finish his dissertation, and graduated in May;
  2. He accepted a faculty position at a university in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which is almost 8700 miles away from Tallahassee;
  3. I taught a class and did about 25 photo sessions before leaving Tallahassee; and
  4. We packed up our lives into a single storage unit consisting of mostly books; 12 suitcases of a variety of sizes of everything else. We sold or donated everything we had.

So we’ve been a little busy this past summer! We left Tallahassee on Saturday, August 16 – amidst teary goodbyes to grandparents and friends. Then we spent two weeks in the San Francisco East Bay, soaking in the glorious cool air and pleasant weather, fine food, meeting up with friends and family, before leaving for Dhaka bright and early – at 1am! – on Labor Day, September 1st. We flew via Singapore Air and I have to say, it was a fantastic experience. All of the staff were super helpful, and no one gave a damn about my nursing Will on the flight. We flew to Dhaka from San Francisco via Hong Kong (brief in-airport layover) and Singapore (where we got off the plane and ate crab legs and reveled in all things Chinese).

Anyway, so here we are in Dhaka! We’re staying at a hotel temporarily while our apartment is being finished and finalized. We’ve been working on fighting jet lag and exploring our new city. It is intense. Dhaka is a huge city – according to Wikipedia, a bit over 7 MILLION people live here, in one of the most densely populated cities in the world. The first thing I noticed when we left the airport was the cacophony of horns in the midst – and by the time we were done with all things airport, it was already around 11:30 or so! Still so busy.

The traffic is a beast. I have complained wholeheartedly about traffic in Tallahassee, and this in comparison is NOTHING like Tallahassee. There are unwritten and unspoken rules, but it is amazing how it flows, despite all the beeping. Everyone beeps their horn, whether it’s a rickshaw rider or a car. The kids have LOVED riding in rickshaws, and I have had a serious case of “let it go”, where things like carseats and what not get thrown by the wayside.

You have to be a serious badass to drive in this city. It just WORKS. Granted, I am only on day 3, but Josh and I both remarked on how we hadn’t seen any accidents. Here’s a video I took this past morning of our ride to a market:

Rickshaws can also pretty damned beautiful.

dhaka-02

And they certainly are workhorses. Can you imagine the calves on these bikers?

dhaka-03

We have also been eating our way through Dhaka. Our hotel offers a free breakfast in the mornings. The Bengali breakfast consists of a vegetable curry dish with a ton of paratha bread and eggs.

dhaka-04

The biggest thing that has floored me is the cost of living differences between living in the US and living in Dhaka, and how much as a result everything costs. The above breakfast for four cost us the equivalent of less than $10USD. A bottle of Pepsi (individual bottle, about 20 oz of soda in it) would cost about $1.50USD (or 28 Taka). Rickshaw rides are anywhere from 40-80 taka (depending on our level of comfort with haggling from the foreigner rate). Our first full day we paid exactly what the drivers told us (100 Taka), and after some advice from expat friends, we’ve been learning how to haggle.

This all will take a lot of getting used to. Today (local time, Sunday 2:05PM) is the start of a work week (the work week here is from Sunday-Thursday with weekends on Friday and Saturday. I find myself, when asked about a price, constantly comparing it to how much things cost in the US, and thinking about why there is such a price difference – Matthew asked if we were rich. After having seen young children, not that much younger than Lindsey, wandering around the busy city streets begging for money or trying to sell us strips of stickers, and then paying the equivalent of $5 USD for a full meal for all of us – it’s hard pressed not to think that we are rich. We have been here four days now, and the experience has certainly been eye opening and humbling so far. It has definitely made me think more critically at the people at the top of this food chain and exactly how deeply lined with gold the pockets of the CEOs of these major companies must be.

***

A few other things I’ve noticed so far:

  • The money here is all paper – Coins exist but apparently are pretty rare and not widely circulated. My wallet has two Singaporean dollars and no US coins. Just paper money, which varies in size and color.
  • Stores in Dhaka (maybe all of Bangladesh?) are prohibited by law from using plastic or paper bags. We went to a supermarket to buy things like water, shampoo, and soap, and were given a muslin type bag for our goods. Other places have given us reusable bags like you can buy at a grocery store in the States, and a few places have given us net-type bags that they can quickly tear a few handles into.
  • I find I confuse people as much in Bangladesh as I did in the United States. I have been asked by quite a few Bangladeshis so far where we are from or where I am from. I respond that I’m from America or the US. A brief assessment flashes past their eyes. However, I haven’t been interrogated by any Bangladeshis so far about exactly what I really am, where I’m really from, or anything else like that. It feels much different too – the “Where are you from?” question, coming from Bangladeshis vs. from Americans. Here, I am very visibly not from around here – I speak English and not a word of Bangla (need to remedy this soon), I am often (at least now I am!) with a tall white guy and two kids of Asian and Caucasian descent. I am sure we confuse people!
  • Food is spiced MUCH heavier here than in the US. It tastes amazing, but it is going to take some getting used to. The kids have had mixed enjoyment of the tangier and spicier foods. It’ll come in time, I’m sure.
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Lindsey - This is totally fascinating. Good job, Casey! Also, I like the random rocks in the middle of the road.