Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Notes from Bangladesh: typhoon holiday

We got off-season rates at Cox’s Bazar on the Bay of Bengal. It was a wonderful time to be there. Every day we had stretches of sun parenthesized by downpours and impressive winds.

Boats in the Bay of Bengal

Sunken bridge

In the bay

Food ranged from the sublime to the grotesque. The grotesque included the high-carb ‘free’ breakfast at our hotel—flatbreads, Chinese noodles, curried vegetables, dals with beef or mutton, chicken curries, oatmeal, sweet rice puddings, omelettes, boiled eggs, croissants—where families and honeymooners fueled up for the day’s activities.

The sublime included the best grilled fish I’ve ever tasted at a hole-in-the-jungle eco-restaurant that we got to by hiring an electric baby-taxi to drive us up the coast past army teams repairing washed-out roads. The most exotic, and by far the least expensive, was a dining hall where families, labourers, businessmen, and ladies with their friends filled benches at tables on either side of a corridor that allowed waiters to whiz up and down delivering delicious fish curries, bhotas, vegetables, rice, pickles, and much else and where the three of us could eat splendidly and take home doggie bags for an equally splendid evening meal for just over $5.00.

The best grilled fish I’ve ever tasted

On a hotel-arranged tour of beauty spots, little boys with prehensile feet carried Isha up a gully to see a waterfall and across a channel over a decorative bridge.

Carrying Isha up a gully

Next week after a Vancouver visit, I’ll be heading back to drought-ravaged Ottawa, where Danjuma tells me he has plenty of peppers ready to garnish Italian sausage.

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

Notes from Bangladesh: Elephant shakedown

Filed under: business,elephants,Notes from Bangladesh,protection — alison @ 13:05

Patrick is in Bangladesh, taking the philosophical view.

*** *** ***

Picture from the Internet, not taken by Patrick.

Picture from the Internet, not taken by Patrick.

Yesterday I was waiting in a long, slow-moving queue for a government service. The queue was an everyday affair, so small tea stands and coconut carts had set up parallel to the shuffling crowd. After I had been there an hour or so an elephant came along with a mahout and passenger astride. The elephant stopped at a stand, ate some of the discarded coconuts shells, rose on his hind legs, waved his trunk around, and shouted. It was clear there was mayhem on his mind. Every merchant understood the drill. Very quickly and with obvious trepidation, each approached proprietor held out a ten taka note (about ten cents), which the elephant took with his trunk and passed up to the mahout. The apparent alternative was to have the stand’s product consumed, dispersed, or destroyed.

The whole operation was enormously entertaining for the people in the queue, was carried out efficiently, and took very little time. A model for the rest of us.
Kuda habis (take care),

Notes from Bangladesh: Change of season and culinary implications

Filed under: Beli,food,Isha,Notes from Bangladesh,weather — alison @ 10:55

My father is back in Dhaka, the cricket pitches are wet, the goats amuse and the food is good.

*** *** ***

Dear Family and Friends,
It rained this morning in Lalmatia. The sky was dark and it was going to rain when the marketers (Beli and Lippy) set out for the bazaar in a rickshaw. Everyone was laughing. We are now at the beginning of Asharh, the first month of the two month “monsoon season.” Isha and I were watching cricket from the rooftop when the first large droplets began to fall and the boys scattered. Rain was shooting in through open windows when we got back to our flat.
Within an hour, the big boys were carrying pallets of sand onto the field to fill the puddles. The smaller boys were swimming in larger puddles beyond the cricket-playing areas; or they were building canals, dams, and drainage systems to the ditches around the park. The windows in our flat were open again. Isha and I were following a goat around on the cricket pitch, watching it eat the seed-tops off the grass. The marketers were buying vegetables and fish that hadn’t looked so fresh for months. There is nothing subtle or gradual about this change of seasons, and it feels good to everyone.

The pictures speak for themselves. Some shrimp was curried for lunch and two of the fish were fried. Most of the fish will be prepared and frozen for use over the next week or two. The second tiniest fish will be individually cleaned with the heads reserved for a bhota (a paste for kneading into your rice), one of the three or four or five dishes served up at every meal.
Water lily stems

The water lily is at the top of a rolled up two or three metre stalk, which is the part we eat. There are at least three types of, including sweet potato leaves, greens in the big white bag; several varieties of cucumbers for cooking or eating fresh; tendrils that hang down from lattices supporting gourds, cooked as a vegetable; and an impressive pile of what is sold in Canada as ‘bitter melon.’ There is a bag of achi (roasted and coarsely ground red rice) and a bag of attah (the wheat flour used for making roti, fresh flat bread, for breakfast). And there are guavas, three varieties of mangoes, and a large clutch of lychees. There was going to be a jack fruit, but the load was too heavy for an additional fruit about half the size of Isha. That will have to come tomorrow.
Seasonal best wishes!

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

Moving Day: from Ottawa and Jamalpur to Dhaka

Filed under: Beli,Isha,Notes from Bangladesh,Patrick,sewing — alison @ 10:01

A letter from my father in Bangladesh; possibly the first of many as he settles into a new, bi-continental lifestyle.

*** *** ***
Dear All,

I arrived in Dhaka on August 22nd. Beli and thirteen month old Isha arrived at my guest house two days later. Most of the following week was getting to know Isha and vice versa, and looking for a flat. Both endeavours were successful. Isha is a total delight and seems to think I’m okay. We celebrated Eid ul-Fitr together on the 31st with Beli cooking in the guest house kitchen, then B&I returned to Jamulpur (eight hours by bus) to prepare for the shift to Dhaka. Beli has just called to say they are returning tomorrow. The household goods have already arrived. (See below.) If it sounds like we are in the process of forming a family unit, that’s what it feels like, too.

The flat is brand new, 1450 square feet, 7th floor, tile floors throughout, three bathrooms and a servant’s bathroom and will be serviced by an elevator as soon as the electricity is fully installed. For now, it is like a mini Grouse Grind (Vancouver torture climb, for those not in the know), eight or ten times a day.

At 11:30 Sunday night, Beli’s brother-in-law, Abul Khair, phoned from the border of Lalmatia. Would I take a rickshaw to where he was waiting with the truck and lead them to my flat?

I found Abul Khair, the truck, and driver and we bumped our way back to the flat. Labourers arrived shortly after — contracted through tough negotiations earlier in the evening. The labourers carried the contents of the truck up seven flights of stairs, mostly on their heads. Chairs, tables, beds, china, pots and pans, fridge, and a huge steel box containing curtains, table mats, and a great deal of stuff yet to be uncovered — the contents of the house I had left nearly three years ago. When the truck was empty, Khair and I found a couple of mattresses and slept.

The next day was like opening a summer camp left mostly unattended for two or three years. After depositing the goods in her village eight hours north of Dhaka, Beli traveled her own small odyssey through a marriage, the birth of a baby, and divorce. The goods didn’t follow her through most of this but they did weather three monsoons. Everything in the steel box is pristine. A mahogany table, a glass-topped rattan table that I use as a desk, a bed, two comfortable rattan chairs, and six dining table chairs are very much fit for service. China doesn’t deteriorate and cook-ware has been in use since Beli returned to Jamalpur ten months ago.

Yesterday, the electrician from the guest house installed fans and lights, repaired the surge-protector for the fridge, then helped me buy and install a new ‘chula’ (two-burner cooker) and gas canister. Khair, who had had a hand in the packing and knew where most things were, did most of the unpacking — taking a break every once in a while to make the flat clean and tidy. This morning while I went out to buy take-out breakfast, Khair sorted out the curtains, which we put up after breakfast.

My office projects from the front of the flat, with four large windows on three sides allowing a nearly constant breeze and light and the reflection of cumulus clouds on my glass-topped desk. This afternoon a technician will install wireless throughout the house. Tomorrow I will probably go out and buy a printer; then CEP, South Asia branch, will be fully operational.

I will be returning to Ottawa towards the end of September, and then back to Dhaka for a month or so in January. Note that I now have room for guests (not luxury) in both cities and time to spend with them.

PICTURES: Each picture showcases a different dress. Each sewed by Alison. There are seven in all, and they all went to Jamalpur for the baby parade.





Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Family and Friends (Eid al-Adha)

Filed under: Notes from Bangladesh — alison @ 07:47

A letter from my father in Bangladesh; perhaps his last, as his work there ends next week.

*** *** ***
Dear Family and Friends,

Friends and Family who do not like to look at pictures of freshly sacrificed bulls and goats bleeding their life out into gutters (You know who you are!), should not [scroll to the images at the end of this post]. The Eid al-Adha festival commemorates God’s gift of a ram in place of Ishmael, whom God had commanded Abraham to sacrifice. In Judaism and Christianity, the child in this story is Ishmael’s brother Isaac. (Wikipedia)

The sacrificial animals began to arrive two days ago. The cattle spent yesterday on display on the street. At my last count yesterday evening there were six bulls and five goats in the parking garage. This probably means that every flat with a head of household remaining in the city had an animal to sacrifice. Not counting the foreigner.

This morning around eight o’clock, the male householders went to mosque and by nine oclock they were all on their way back home. Servants and guards had trussed the animals during mosque. The men assembled in front of their houses near the trussed animals. Hujurs (Arabic teachers) circulated, checking what looked like order books. Then the killing began. The labourers would line up an animal and hold it steady, then a Hujur would step in and with eight or ten strokes slice through the neck. Then the chief cutters begn the work of deconstruction, sending buckets of meat and bones into the garage as they were filled.

An hour or so later we heard a stampede, as hundreds of poor people with thick plastic bags swarmed into the garage. There must have been a signal that our flats were ready to distribute the one third of the meat that goes to the poor. (Another third goes to relatives, and a third is reserved for the master and his family.) Our guards lined the poor people up, then began letting them out out, each receiving a chunk of meat as they passed through the gate. Smaller swarms have been moving up and down the street all afternoon, but now seem to be heading home. There is little evidence of the carnage, except that the street has been washed. We can expect that about one third of the cattle slaughtered during the year will have been slaughtered today.

Sort of like Christmas and Halloween. Now everybody’s eating.

Affectionately, P.

Friday, December 7th, 2007

Sidr / Onward (pictures)

Filed under: Notes from Bangladesh — alison @ 12:17

These are the pictures Patrick took on the tour into the countryside he mentioned in the last letter I posted here.

*** *** ***
Dear Family and Friends,

A few pictures from a quick trip through some of the Sidr-affected areas. Not much to say. None of these are untypical. If you see a picture of a damaged school, multiply this by thousands. Houses flattened — multiply by tens of thousands. The boat in the forest was a considerable distance from the sea. There were clothes high in the trees, illustrating why some people survived by hanging on in the tops of trees. Whole business strips destroyed, washed into ponds and canals. I enjoyed seeing the man taking tea and waiting for normalcy to return to the bits of his home he had managed to retrieve to build a perimeter to live in. Beli’s sister and family have been patching their house back together. They will be able to make major repairs using some contributions we brought from family. There is a picture of Beli in the gate of an ancient and beautiful mosque — built in a day, according to legend. A mammoth tree fell across a wall of the mosque, but no damage at all to the mosque itself.

Good and bad developments. The good: The school-based teacher development strategy I have been proposing and promoting has taken hold with the bureaucracy and we are moving ahead with implementation. The bad: They want to do it right away and I more or less have to be involved, meaning that the two-month winter holiday I have been looking forward to has been reduced to one month.

The ‘cold’ season is kicking in with fresh vegetables being hawked on every street and market. It’s a good season for eating. Beli has started two hours a day with a tutor and is reading everything in sight. People are starting to think about their new clothes for the upcoming Eid and life is feeling festive. Even as two former prime ministers are in jail and at least a third of the last parliament is either in jail or facing prosecution.


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