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.





Saturday, January 3rd, 2009


Filed under: business,consuming,economy,sewing,unwanted knowledge — alison @ 19:44

I went on a little stroll today to buy sewing notions. The fabric store I hit first was out of what I needed, so I headed up the Plaza St-Hubert. One of the three dressmaker supply stores on the strip had disappeared; another was closed (for the week?) and the third was open but also out of what I needed. So, onwards and upwards to the fabric stores above Jean Talon, where I found what I needed and more.

I love the Plaza. It’s four blocks of stores with glass-roofed sidewalks, known throughout Montreal as a centre for wedding dresses, white shoes, and MOBs. There are both a Salvation Army store and a Renaissance. You can get furniture overruns; $20 shoes and $300 shoes; slutty underwear and medical foundation garments; luggage; clothes for men and women, kids and grownups, skinnies and fatties; electronics; housewares and kitchen equipment; handmade items from India and Africa; sewing machines. You can mail a letter, get your legs waxed, sign up for driving lessons and send money overseas. You can duck through an alley and go to a peep show before you start work in the morning. North of the Plaza are the remains of the old needletrade sector, with fabric stores and jobbers supplying and buying from manufacturers. There’s a Vietnamese restaurant and a Roi du Smoked Meat, but it isn’t really a place for strolling and munching aimlessly; it’s for people who have a purpose.

When I first moved to the neighbourhood I found the street a bit sad, a bit soulless. In the past few years though it’s picked up, a busy place for working people. But today I noticed something had changed.

On the way down I counted:
– Between De Castelnau and Jean-Talon: two empty store fronts, one going out of business sale.
– Between Jean-Talon and Bélanger: two empty store fronts, two going out of business sales.
– Between Bélanger and St-Zotique: four empty store fronts.
– Between St-Zotique and Beaubien: one empty store front.
– Also about five signs advertising commercial space available for rent over the storefronts.

I think this is the worst I’ve ever seen on this street.


Thursday, August 12th, 2004

Classic question and creative solution

Filed under: business,sewing — alison @ 23:45

I belong to various sewing lists and there’s a question that comes up regularly on them (as it tends to in life generally). It came up again today, in the following form:

To: “Fashion for the Plus size Woman” [______]
Subject: [fullfashion] Question regarding sewing for a friend

Hi all,

I have a question regarding sewing for friends and I was hoping you all might have some insight. I just completed a costume for a friend (the weird coat I was asking about a few months ago) and I’m not sure how to handle costs. I’m a sewing novice but I offered to make the costume to help my friend out. Now, the project is done, and he told me to total up my costs and “add in something for labor.” I was only expecting him to pay for materials, but it turned out to be a very time consuming project, so I appreciate that he’s willing to pay for my time. However, I have no idea what a reasonable amount is.

To complicate matters, we work together and see each other 8 hours a day, so I don’t want to strain our friendship/working relationship by haggling over money.

So, how do you handle the costs when sewing for friends?


This is usually a very slow list but for this question there was a flurry of eager answers. Lots of reminiscing about having been taken advantage of when younger and less experienced and suggestions to write this off as an expensive lesson. I had been going to suggest that Laura heave the ball back into her friend’s court and simply ask him to pay her what he thought she was worth. If he really had no clue, he would give her $25 and she would know he had no clue. And she could keep her mouth shut and save everyone’s pride that way.

But I didn’t, because someone beat me to the punch with a far better answer that I just had to share with the world:

To: “Fashion for the Plus size Woman” [_______]
Subject: [fullfashion] Re: Question regarding sewing for a friend

Hi Laura —

This really is the kettle of fish you think it is….

My 2 cents are this…

List materials:

Then list your hours times hourly wage (feel free to not cheat the hours) and put in anything from min. wage to your hourly wage at our real job to the $50.00+ an hour, the custom creation job hours are worth. Then we do a series of discounts: 10% for being a learning example; 25% for not having a deadline; 5% for bringing me coffee etc. until you “price it down” to what you’d like to be paid in labor. (I’m sure in your heart of hearts there is a dollar amount you’d like to be paid for labor.)

This method while sounding silly lets people that don’t ahve a clue (and even some that do) how much a “non-friend” could have/would have charged them. This method has saved me friendships (in my opinion) though I will tell you that I typically go down to something really tiny for labor as I had offered to do it for free, and then many people will kick in more, but again you can’t expect it.

Heather in wisconsin

Much better than pretending to everyone that your time, skills and labour have no (or minimal) worth. It even factors in the value of friendship.

[originally transmitted by e-mail August 12, 2004]

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