BDBangladesh

Bangladesh

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First Days

Our first days of teaching have been crossed off the calendar, now we have sixteen and a half more months to go. Since this is a brand new program, a complete blank slate, the responsibility of creating the meat and bones of the curriculum rested on our tired shoulders. We ... read more

Amy Adoyzie Lam

BangladeshBangladesh

Potential Greatness

“How do you assess future greatness?” Kamal asked us, a dozen teachers sitting around him after another day of student testing. He, the Chairman and CEO of the Asian University for Women, gently slung the rhetorical question into the center of the classroom, it floated slowly to the ground as ... read more

Amy Adoyzie Lam

BangladeshBangladesh

If You Build It

Bangladeshi students began arriving today and I managed to only commit a couple cultural faux pas like showing my feet and a little bit of my shin to an entire family (on purpose… something about mosquito bites.) The students were flanked by family as they trudged up flights of stairs ... read more

Amy Adoyzie Lam

BangladeshBangladesh

Grass Grow

Television rots minds, smothers brain cells with apathy and erodes attention span. But apparently there are still populations of folks who are satisfied with watching shadows stretch across dusty pavement as the sun arcs across the sky. These folks can watch grass grow, or, in the case of this morning, ... read more

Amy Adoyzie Lam

BangladeshBangladesh

It Takes More Than a Village

It felt like we were toddlers, discovering the muscles of our chubby marshmallow legs and wobbling on twos for the first time. A few of us decided to walk to a grocery store, Well-Mart, on our own. We gathered on the first floor, gingerly moving around constant construction and onto ... read more

Amy Adoyzie Lam

BangladeshBangladesh

Thumb is the New Finger

I wasn't aware of how often I relied on the thumbs up gesture to non-verbally say, “Okay, alright!”, “Awesome!” or “Woohoo! Thanks for not running me over with your rickshaw!” It just so happened that I was stricken with the stomach sickies and missed the Bangla language class where Fahrana, ... read more

Amy Adoyzie Lam

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Getting Around

Pedal power

Amy Adoyzie Lam

05 Mar 2009

Bangladesh

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Amy Adoyzie Lam

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Chittagong is a city overrun with bicycle rickshaws and auto-rickshaws (locally known as CNGs). They're cheap and quick ways to get around. They're also ubiquitous and can be found at any corner. Although all rickshaws and CNGs are licensed to operate in the city, you'll still have to bargain for a fare price (ask locals). Due to lax and non-existent traffic laws, you need to be a very aware passenger. A technique that works is to brace yourself against the rickshaw or CNG with one foot. In a rickshaw, you do this by pressing your foot against one of the two bike seat bars and in a CNG press behind the driver's seat. This helps to prevent you from falling out when the vehicles stops short, and it will. Ride safely!

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Festivals & Events

(Animal) blood on the streets

Amy Adoyzie Lam

11 Mar 2009

Bangladesh

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Amy Adoyzie Lam

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It's gory, and piles of flesh and meat abound. It's Eid ul-Adha. Eid is a Muslim festival wherein Muslims gain a deeper understanding of the holy words of the prophet through fasting and sacrifice. There are several parts to Eid, and Eid ul-Adha is focused on sacrifice. During this festival, families who can afford to buy an animal (cow or goat), and slaughter it on the holiday. In urban areas, the animals are slaughtered in the streets and in the courtyards of villages. The faint of heart should stay in during that day, as chunks of freshly cut meat (and all the other body parts) will be splayed in front of most homes. The meat is then divided, distributed to family and the poor, as a way of giving back to the community. Tasty!

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Culture Shock

Covered from head to toe

Amy Adoyzie Lam

11 Mar 2009

Bangladesh

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Amy Adoyzie Lam

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Seeing women covered head-to-toe, with a sliver where their eyes appear, is very startling for a girl from southern California. Initially, It's unnerving to speak with a woman and not know if she's smiling or scowling. I'm sure there are feminists who wear burkas, and it isn't like our Western culture is free from oppression of women -- but that doesn't mean it won't be unsettling at first. Although the majority of women wear saris or salwaar kameez (tunic and loose pants), there are still many (married) women in burkas. As a woman, you ought to adhere to standards of dress and also cover up. I've gotten used to it, but I sure do miss wearing a tank top and a skirt outside!

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Must Do

The House that Built Micro-Finance

Amy Adoyzie Lam

05 Mar 2009

Bangladesh

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Amy Adoyzie Lam

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If you're in the second-largest city/first-largest commercial city of Bangladesh, you're in Chittagong. And if you're in Chittagong, you're just a couple hours away from Jobra, where micro-financing began in a small hut and earned Muhammad Yunnus a Nobel Peace Prize. When you're in Chittagong, you can ask a local Grameen bank branch (the name of the bank that started it all) to set up a tour at Jobra. Foreigners come through often and they're more than happy to provide more info. You'll get to go to the original hut where women gathered to get their micro-loans to become entrepreneurs and slowly bring about gender equality and development here.

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Etiquette

Just a nibble is enough

Amy Adoyzie Lam

20 Mar 2009

Bangladesh

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Amy Adoyzie Lam

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While the weather in Bangladesh may not be the most hospitable, with its monsoons and oppressively muggy subcontinental seasons, the country's people make up for it by being the most welcoming hosts. When you've made a new Bengali friend and she takes you to her family's home village, you must prepare yourself to meet her entire extended family. You'll sit in their parlors and trays of snacks, like savory samosas or sweet balls of condensed milk confectioneries dripping with sugar, will be presented to you. After the first visit you'll be stuffed, but you still have a dozen houses to visit. Pace yourself and remember that you don't have to eat everything that you see. Just a small nibble will satisfy your host and keep you from exploding.

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Food

How to eat with your hands, South Asian-style

Amy Adoyzie Lam

17 Feb 2009

Bangladesh

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Amy Adoyzie Lam

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Eating with one’s hand (the right hand, not your left because it’s full of cooties) is said to make act of eating a more sensual activity, rather than sticking odd pieces of metal in your mouth. It’s also a practiced skill, especially when you’re dealing with small grains of rice. It took me months to get down the basic technique and I had a "eureka" moment when some students told me to use my thumb! The secret is in the thumb! Technique: Mash rice and other food around until it is somewhat of a lump. Use your fingers to scoop and the thumb shoves the food into your mouth! Yum!

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Packing

Guided by headlamps

Amy Adoyzie Lam

05 Mar 2009

Bangladesh

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Amy Adoyzie Lam

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Energy is a precious resource in the subcontinent and power outages strike throughout the day. You don't realize how reliant you are on electricity until your lights just shut off... for hours... in the evening as you're trying to eat dinner or unwind and enjoy a good book. The headlamp will be your saving grace! Just strap it to your head, click, and voila! This is also a must to pack for traveling in general, especially if you'll be staying in hostels where you will share a room and it's lights out, but you still want to write in your journal or finish reading that old issue of the New Yorker. You can lie in your bunk, with a light emitting from your forehead, and enjoy!

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Religion

What is your "holy book" called?

Amy Adoyzie Lam

20 Mar 2009

Bangladesh

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Amy Adoyzie Lam

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Bangladesh is a majority Muslim country (with a minority of Hindus and even fewer Buddhists and Christians). Islam has permeated most facets of life in Bangladesh as there is no separation of "temple" and state. Five times a day, you'll hear prayer call blared out of speakers from mosques in all directions. Folks will ask you about your holy book and depending on your religion (or lack thereof) it might make for an awkward moment or two. Generally though, Bengali people are very respectful to other religions and ask the same in return. I've not met any non-Muslims who have been accosted because of their religion. This may be due to the kind and welcoming nature of Bengalis, regardless of religion.

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Politics

Prime Minister -> Convict -> Prime Minister

Amy Adoyzie Lam

29 Mar 2009

Bangladesh

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Amy Adoyzie Lam

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As of April 2009, Bangladesh has been running semi-smoothly (there was an army mutiny about a month ago) with its newly elected government. Before the elections in late Dec 2008, Bangladesh had been under a military-backed government. But some citizens continue to feel that government officials are synonymous with corruption. Two former PMs who had been charged with corruption were the main candidates for the prime minister post. The caretaker government was put in place for two years because officials were so corrupt that they needed that time to investigate charges. Has much changed? One of the two former PMs/convicts is the current PM. You decide.

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Music

Uptempo Cher in Hindi

Amy Adoyzie Lam

22 Apr 2009

Bangladesh

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Amy Adoyzie Lam

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Bollywood music is huge in Bangladesh. There's a music video channel dedicated Bollywood videos, and cell phones everywhere blare Bollywood songs. Young people watch the dance videos and memorize the sequence and dance moves, and you'll often see 40-odd people spontaneously dancing in sync to a song. After watching a few of the clips, you'll begin to understand why--it's hypnotic, and before long you'll find yourself nodding along to the beat, and imagining whether you could pull off wearing a skimpy sari with a bikini-sized blouse.

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Sports

The sport, not the insect

Amy Adoyzie Lam

29 Mar 2009

Bangladesh

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Amy Adoyzie Lam

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Aside from dodging speeding rickshaws on crowded streets, cricket (the sport) is definitely Bangladesh's most popular pastime. It's not the most exciting sport--there's a lot of standing around and every now and then there's some excitement when the player actually hits the ball and runs back and forth as many times as possible on the rectangular dirt patch--but that's partly because the rules are still insanely convoluted to me.

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TV

Lather up with Hindi soaps

Amy Adoyzie Lam

28 Mar 2009

Bangladesh

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Amy Adoyzie Lam

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The vast majority of non-cable television is made up of two types of programming: Hindi soap operas and religious "talk" shows. The soaps air day and night: The shows with higher production quality are imported from India while the low-budget ones are produced locally in Bangladesh. Both types feature the same story lines of love, loss, and the latest in Deshi fashion. Then there are the shows that feature a man, dressed in all white to show his piety, preaching in a language that I cannot decipher. Included in these channels of religious rhetoric is one that features a camera pointed straight at mecca so you can watch devotees circle the area over and over again. There's not much variety, but at least bootleg DVDs are in abundance!

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Fashion

Hide your curves

Amy Adoyzie Lam

22 Apr 2009

Bangladesh

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Amy Adoyzie Lam

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Ornas are the lightweight scarves that women wear to conceal their breasts (Allah forbid that a man should get a glimpse of our womanly form and have unpure thoughts about us!). Sometimes they’re handwoven with thick vibrant thread, or embroidered with gold sequins and mirror discs, or block-printed with swirly paisleys. Upon arriving in Bangladesh, we (a group of female volunteers) were told that we were responsible for covering up, less we incite men with our various curves. So we decided to wear ornas, and we left our low-ride jeans in the closet.

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Dating

Making friendships

Amy Adoyzie Lam

05 Mar 2009

Bangladesh

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Amy Adoyzie Lam

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If you come to Bangladesh with new expectations in the realm of dating, you will be disappointed. As it is a Muslim nation with strict social rules about how men and women ought to behave around each other, you'll find that dating is an elusive game. (Or at least something I haven't figured out.) Dating is not treated as a casual thing around these parts. In fact, if you are brave enough to break social taboos of dating your partner before marriage, you're expected to stick to that person until you get married (and thereafter). Arranged marriages are still highly regarded in Bangladesh, which means no dating required. There's also the issues with the non-mixing of religions and castes. Good luck; you'll need it.

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Health

Over-the-counter everything

Amy Adoyzie Lam

21 Apr 2009

Bangladesh

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Amy Adoyzie Lam

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Bangladesh has a plethora of generic drugs that are easily available over-the-counter. In fact, it's easier for a civilian to legally buy morphine than it is for a hospital--the institution has to muck through red tape, whereas the person can just walk up to a pharmaceutical stall and buy it. The availability of cheap generic drugs can actually work to your advantage. If you buy malaria pills, buy only enough at home to last you a week, and then buy the rest for mere pennies here!

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Nightlife

You ain't missin' much

Amy Adoyzie Lam

20 Mar 2009

Bangladesh

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Amy Adoyzie Lam

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The vast majority of us go out dancing or hang out in bars because there's alcohol involved, and by default our nightlife revolves about that beverage of acquired taste. One can imagine that there might be dearth of hoppin' parties or ragin' good times in a country where booze is outlawed. Your best bet is to find a government-approved spot that is allowed to sell beer to foreigners and hang out with friends in the privacy of your homes. Unfortunately, there's not a real ex-pat community in Chittagong (save for missionaries, who aren't so much into the drink) and so you might end up feeling like a putz, always drinking with the same group of friends. If you're looking for a party, it's best not to seek it out in a nation of teetotalers.

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Being an American

Being an Asian-American in Bangladesh

Amy Adoyzie Lam

05 Mar 2009

Bangladesh

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Amy Adoyzie Lam

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Bangladesh, as a relatively young country, is receptive to the notion of immigration. They can accept the fact that I can look the way I do (east Asian and all) and still call myself an American. I've never encountered hostility based on my nationality. There seems to be an understanding that I'm lucky, because my parents are immigrants and are part of the fortunate diaspora of refugees who were able to live in the land of opportunity as opposed to their native developing nation. There are stereotypes that we're all rich and absent of morals. But generally people are quick to forget the stereotypes once they get to know you.

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