Saturday, December 27, 2008

China on the Zoom

So the briefest of updates- I'm currently writing this from Lhasa, Tibet (in an awefully smokey internet cafe full of online gamers). From Shanghai, Mom and I went to Beijing (Great Wall, Tian'namin Square, Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heavan, a cloisonne factory, a silk factory, etc) From Beijing, we took a sleeper train to Xi'an, home of the fammed Terra-Cotta Warriors. We also took a ride on a golfcart around the top of the city wall, went to see how the terra cotta warriors were made and I went to a dumpling dinner and Tang dyanasty dance and music show. And now- we're in Tibet. (which, is actually warmer than Xi'an or Beijing, which is totally contrary to predictions.)

I've taken over 600 photos/ mini videos and I'll be able to start uploading once I get back to the comfort of my mom's apartment in Shanghai.

Since we're now in Lhasa, I'm eager to start exploring. Detailed updates to follow.

Friday, December 19, 2008


I arrived in Shanghai on Tuesday. Since then I've walked around my mom's residential and shopping areas, explored downtown with mom a bit and seen way too much of the inside of a classroom for a teacher on vacation.

Mom drew me a wonderful map of the local shopping areas to keep me occupied while she had to go into work. In one mall/ market shop after shop boasted the most crowded array of knock-off/ factory overruns of ugg boots, designer purses, name brand gloves, winter hats and scarves. The next floor was filled with umpteen booths covered with strings of pearls and stones of every variety. Seriously, if you're a beader/ jewelery maker, move to China.

What really amazed me about walking around is that I didn't particularly feel like I was in China. I blame this on two major factors.

1) Can we say 'appropriated'?
Everything- from the traffic lights and the pedestrian walk/ don't walk signs to the arrows, lines and crosswalk on the road are identical to those in the US. Then the road signage looked like it was pulled out of Europe. And all roads we labeled in both Chinese and the English transliteration.

In addition to appropriating western streets (seriously, you could have just picked up Chinatown and dropped it here), Christmas is everywhere. Storefronts and restaurants are decorated with fake snow imprints of Santa, the streets and shopping centers are hung with garlands, 'Merry Christmas' signs litter the entire place.

It's like some high up muckity muck in the Chinese government decided that when China was going to break free of its communist/ totalitarian mentality (well- I think totalitarianism is probably still well and alive- but that's another story) that he made a nice little checklist. European roadsigns. Check. American traffic lights- check. Commercialized Christian holiday- check.

2) Where are all the Chinese?
Mom keeps promising me that I'll see lots and lots of Chinese people on the weekend- but it hasn't happened yet. The wide pedestrian streets- virtually empty. The restaurants and cafes- empty. The major roads- only moderate traffic. The small roads- empty. Seriously, isn't this supposed to be the most populated country on earth and Shanghai it's major commerce center? Where are all the people?

Mom says that they're just worked too hard during the week to do anything besides go home. I just need to wait for the weekend. Also, okay, it's chilly out, which does reduce the tendency for taking pleasure strolls.

But I'm shocked. Coming from Dhaka where one can be run over with the teeming masses of humanity streaming to and from the factories and getting anywhere means shoving yourself, your bicycle, the rickshaw or car into a mass of people and hoping that they move and the simple fact of finding enough land to simply stand seems to be an issue- In contrast, Shanghai looks to be- ummm- empty.

Yesterday Mom scooted out of work a bit early (with her principals' blessing) and we went downtown. Not only did I get to see the my first building that actually looks like it could have something to do with China (all other buildings are straight up modern) Mom indoctrinated me into her favorite activity in China.

So we went down to a couple of markets and also to a palace that an emperor build for his wife to show her how much he loves her. (based on the structure, I'd say very.) It now houses a number of little boutiques and the most sought after dumpling stand. (Based on my drawing, pointing and mom's Chinese we ascertained that these fabulous dumpling which people line up and wait for hours to eat are pork and only pork. Alas, so we shall never know exactly what is so great to make people queue up for so long.)

But here is Mom's favorite activity: Photo Popping. This is where we, the White Foreigners, pop right into some Chinese person's photo as they stand there posing and waiting for the shutter to click. They start laughing and smiling, which causes us, the White Foreigners to start laughing ans smiling. The more random Chinese people hand their cameras over and come join in the photo with the White Foreigners. For such photos I like to put up a peace sign- which is Asian photo etiquette I learned back in high school. (Observations- When a camera is pulled out in the US, everyone pastes on cheesy grins; in Mali, the ever-smiling people dim their faces into flat inmate mug shots; in Bangladesh- well the people don't change- they stare at you, stare at you and then stare at you some more; and in East Asian countries, a camera cause a elbow-jerk reaction that throws peace signs next to the smiling faces.) This entire Photo Popping experience ends with us, the White Foreigners, being thanked repeatedly (Shea-Shea, Shea-Shea) for popping ourselves into their photos. Do I understand?-No. Is it some of the best self-made entertainment ever? -Most defiantly. :)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Small Pleasures

This week has been one of tremendous emotional highs and lows. At such times, I like to take comfort in little, simple pleasures.

This is a shell lotus candle holder. I acquired it on a trip with my parents last year in the Philippines. I've always enjoyed the flickering dance of a simple, solitary flame. I particularly appreciate the comforting, simple yet majestic glow of this candle holder. I've been spending some time, with a nice warm mug of tea, my journal and this comforting image. I've also been listening to Il Divo and Chet Baker. Just simple, calm moments to help me re-center as I experience the ups and downs of life.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Eid Mubarak!

Today is عيد الأضحى (aka Eid al-Adha). Today, Muslims world wide reenact the Ibrahim's (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael (his first born, from Sarah's handmaid Hagar) [Jewish/ Christian tradition maintains that Abraham took his son Isaac (from his wife Sarah).] Ishmael (or Isaac) was spared and a sheep was offered instead.

So what does this mean to me? First of all, I get two days off from work (which is really a technicality since I'm using the time to update Atlas Rubicon, our online curriculum database). Also, the cows and goats that have been popping up in the parking garages, and streets of our neighborhood over the last week or so are all now dead. (I very quickly walked by the disemboweling of the cow in the bottom of my stairwell on my way to work this morning.) Step quickly and wear shoes that the blood can wash off. I also passed some men dressed all in white (with amazingly few blood splatters) with large (2 feet long, 3 inch wide?) bloody knives that were looking to see if any more animals needed to be slaughtered.

None of this should be too surprising. I live in a Muslim country and this is an important festival. What I do find a bit surprising was the condescending comment from another expiate here, "I think the people performing the sacrifices are the real animals. They're trying to appease the gods." (Ummm... I'm pretty sure that is GOD, singular.)

If you're going to be an animal rights activist (please, please, please) look at home and your own traditions first.
1) crabs and lobsters are thrown LIVE into a pot of BOILING water.
2) if you by chicken in your local grocery store, the chicken has most likely lived a horrible life that includes being drugged, having it's beak and feet cut off and immobility.
3) Many animals grown for slaughter in factories have restricted movement, are pumped with drugs and are otherwise mistreated
4) Hunting, although an acceptable 'sport' can cause prolonged death, including the animal drowning in its own blood

Okay, so maybe killing cows in the car park isn't ideal- but it's done by a professional with a sharp knife and one swift cut to the neck. (Well, in theory, I've heard that's not quite the case here in Bangladesh, but I'll avoid that at the moment.) But much of the meat is also donated to poor people who rarely get to eat meat.

I have to admit, I feel somewhat self-righteous writing this. I simple plea though- be a bit more reflective about your own culture/ lifestyle before giving blanket condemnations of another tradition. Please.


UPDATE: If you want more pictures and some witty commentary, check out one of my colleagues' blog.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Really? From my mom?

I received the above postcard from my mom, who moved to China a few months ago. I was quite humored, because, to the best of my knowledge, my mom is oblivious to the worlds of anime and online gaming. So- maybe there are drugs in the water in China- population control that are subverting my mom into a Chinese pop culture? Hmmm... Talk to me when I get back from my 3 week visit to China/ Tibet and see if I too have been 'converted'

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Happy People Dancing

My boss Tom (greatest middle school principal on earth) sent out this link. Watch and enjoy the smile. Promise.

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

My solution to terrorism: Teach people to value women

Some acts of violent terrorism are, for better or worse, easier to internalize. They hit home. Others are incomprehensible, but somehow don't cause the same emotional impact. For instance, the genocide in Darfur is horrendous, hideous and appalling. And I experience all those words though the filter of my brain, not my heart. It doesn't hit home for me. The recent attacks in Mumbai/ Bombay are all together different. I find myself in the process of completing a routine act and suddenly the absolute repulsion of the recent Mumbai attacks knocks the wind out of me. My mind trails to the nanny who managed to sneak the small boy from the Chabad center. Amazing woman, God bless her. I think about that boy- Did he see his parents murdered? Tortured? What horrendous images have scalded themselves against the membranes of his eyes, in the recesses of the folds in his brain?

Maybe because the recent terrorist attacks hit close to home for me- the International Jewish Community and the International School Community. (A Couple whose three children attended the International School in Mumbai were killed.) - Maybe because India and Bangladesh used to be one and the same...

With all the violence in the world (and yes, on television, in films) I wonder if we have become desensitized to the extent that we have forgotten, as a community and as individuals, what it means to be outraged. For some acts to cause our guts to turn, our jaws to clinch and our fists to tighten until our knuckles are white and we're oblivious to the pain of our nails digging into the flesh of our palms. -An outrage that motivates us to action and kicks us out of complacency. Why do I feel that we are all standing slack-jawed as the images pass before us on the screen of our choice? And when we turn our heads, we shake the images loose and continue. We might bemoan the world, blame the groups that we perceive as responsible, and sigh about the world. And then we keep walking. Why aren't we screaming?

And I wonder, if we were to scream, what would we say? What words would shape themselves to express our angst, our fear, our outrage. And who would hear us? Really, what good would a little screaming do? Do my scream, my tears, my pounding fists, count for anything? All the problems seem insurmountable, impassable, unmanageable.

Today I read an article in the NY Times. Careful with the link- the image is unpalatable. Kristof is in Pakistan- again close to 'home' for me in Bangladesh- and he's discovered what he dubs "Personal Terrorism". He is aghast and screaming (Thank you Kristof) about acid victims.

Living in Bangladesh, I'm already familiar with the concept of acid victims because of the Acid Survivors Foundation here. The basic concept is that upset husbands, jilted lovers and any one who can access acid (Bangladesh is actually the only country in the region who has tried to limit access.) can throw the acid at a person. Let me say that again. Revenge is taken out by throwing acid on a person. The acid burns through the flesh, the muscles and the bones and causes almost instantaneous blindness as the smoke rises from the living person's body. The victims are primarily women.

My apologies for the graphic speech.

Last year I also worked with a senior as she researched dowry practices in Bangladesh. What I never throughly thought through before last year was the violence that comes with dowry. This is most graphically seen in India where men marry women, accept the dowry (which is usually preposterously large compared to the family's annual income) burn their new brides (usually gasoline + match) and then can start the search for another woman and her dowry.

Now, I think we can really start to talk about terror. The "War on Terror" is focused on guns, bombs and terrorist cells that are, supposedly, coming from elsewhere to attack us at home. What about the terrorist that sleeps in your own bed?

Previously, I purported that when we devalue other humans that we devalue our own lives. How can men (yes, most international terrorist are men.) be expected to value the lives of humans in different countries, with different value structures, and different belief systems if they cannot even value their sisters, wives and mothers? Where is the sanctity of human life?

It is painfully obviously that women are indeed the weaker sex in many places throughout South Asia and the world. Their weakness is not because of actually physical inability or inherent mental inferiority. The societies in which they live subjugate women- not usually the upper classes- but yes the lower stratum that are the majority of society. Bride burners and Acid throwers are usually not prosecuted by law nor admonished by society. Somehow, these individual terror attacks have become normalized.

I think that by the time a young man or woman picks up a bomb, a gun or grenade and is intent on creating death and pandamodium, we've lost our chance. It's too late. We can track terrorist organizations and cells and renegades for centuries. As long as the communities that produce terrorist are untouched, the cycle will remain. But what if we could push for woman's rights? The right to live without fear? To fight against rape, international trafficking of women and children into sex slavery, against dowery, against bride burning, against honor killings, against female genital mutilation, against acid attacks- if we could slowly put pressure and cause the most vulnerable members of so many societies- women- to be valued- maybe if the young men coming from those communities could see all people in their societies as human and deserving of basic human rights. Maybe, just maybe, we could reduce the number of people who could envision themselves as terrorist.

Currently the there is the International Violence Against Woman's Act that is waiting to be passed through congress. This is a way to act, a way to scream, a way to pound your fists. This could be a start to providing protection for women globally and possibly changing the mentality of terrorism as acceptable ways to show power and strength. Unfortunately, the bill currently lacks enough votes to pass.

So, what are you going to do?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Turtle's follow up thoughts

Here is another example how lack of value of the lives of other humans directly lowers the value of your own life. The terrorists who committed the siege on Mumbai were lead to believe that they would come back alive. If the people who trained and armed them didn't value the lives of their indescriminently chosen victims, how foolhardy were the terrorists to believe that their own lives held value?

It reminds me of a conversation I had with a student several years ago. Throughout his questions and my responses, I wanted him to see that once you start dividing and classifying humans (in this case, black/ white and christian/ not christian) and then you place different values on humans who can be labeled with different classifications, you've lost. Maybe today you'll be in charge and deciding that your group has value and granting yourselves privileges and prestige- but the system of division, categorization and then judging and valuing humans based on their grouping is a monster. The idea the one human can be of more or less inherent value based on grouping is a mentality that devalues human life in general. As history shows, the people who hold power and make the rules, inevitably change. And those who thought that they were making gains for their own lives, their own people, can just as easily fall victim to their own inhumanity.


My uncle lead me to an interesting article in the Economist that links petty lawlessness with increase in other crimes. It's termed "The broken windows effect" I think we can see the same idea playing out on the world stage in terms of increased terrorism.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A turtle's response to terrorism

I feel like such a turtle. I’m just so overwhelmed by today. One glace at the BBC front page is enough to send me reeling. The three top stories are presented 1) the attacks on civilians (mainly tourists) in India with a slideshow of images 2) Thai protestors who have shut down the Bangkok airport are “braced for battle” (and I know of various people trapped in Bangkok as that is one of the primary hubs for getting out of or into Dhaka) and 3) Suicide bombing at an Iraqi mosque.

I’ve been reading updates from Mumbai and one of the terrorist targets that is still currently under siege by the Indian military as they try to regain control of the building is home to the Chabad House. Many Jews, myself included, go to Chabad Houses for kosher food, conversation, to meet other travelers, and enjoy Shabbat meals and services together. In fact, I’ve been to the Chabad Houses in Kathmandu, Bangkok and Koh Samui. And if I had been in Mumbai, I would have gone to the Chabad House there too. Since I live in Bangladesh, going to India isn’t such a far-fetched idea.

For all the associations we have with the world of terror being centered in the Middle East, I was surprised to learn that save for the treacherous war-zone that is Iraq, I’m living next to (indeed surrounded by) the country that suffers from the highest number of deaths by terrorism. Yes, it even outnumbers Afghanistan. (Okay, population density also needs to be taken into account here.)

I’ve found all this so overwhelming that I got in touch with my inner turtle. Instead of completing the umpteen works tasks I had allocated to myself for this afternoon, I went home, covered myself with a blanket, shut my eyes and did my best to block out the world. The only problem is that the world, as noncompliant as it is, was still around when I woke up from my nap. Terrorists are still rampaging in Mumbai, there is still a horrid war in Iraq, pirates in Somalia, genocide in Darfur and countless other examples- big and small- of human beings who refuse to be humane. (I know the pirates are a bit of an outlier in that list- but hey- they’re pirates. I couldn’t resist.)

Alan, who hosted our thanksgiving dinner recently moved here from Afghanistan where he was working on a nation-building project. (And yes, some of his colleagues there were killed and he could have been too. He said the daily question was “Is what I’m doing worth losing my life?”) I think his reaction to the current large-scale terrorist attacks in Mumbai sum up so much what many people feel. He repeated time and time again- “I’m just tired of it all.”

Terrorism is not new- not to the 21st century and not to humankind. The question is, how can we who value human life live in a world where human life is not valued? And it doesn’t take a gun, a grenade or a bomb to show that human life doesn’t hold value. Here in Bangladesh I see men tear down large buildings by hammering away on the very walls on which they are precariously balanced. They wear cheep flip-flops or no shoes at all and a lungi (traditional man-skirt). There are so many people here, that they are considered expendable.

In one of the many books I’ve read on Judaism/ Israel, the authors contend that when we accept terrorism (particularly in this case, suicide bombings) against our allies or our enemies, that these tactics will eventually spread to be used against us. (Look at the current use of suicide bombings by Arabs against Arabs in Arab states.) The bottom line is once the world does not universally condemn an act that devalues life- whether that life be of a friend or a foe- the act becomes acceptable. In short- if the people (whomever they may be) who trained and armed the young men/ boys who are carrying out the attacks on Mumbai think that they are furthering their own cause they are wrong. (Unless, of course, their sole cause is indiscriminate mayhem and destruction- then they’re spot on.) This mentality- that devaluing the life of others can bring more value to one’s own life/ causes- is simply incorrect. When we devalue human life for a specific group, regardless of the excuse (poverty, race, religion, communism, capitalism, etc), we devalue our own lives and those of the people we love. Those who teach hatred, embody it, perpetuate it, are doing nothing but escalating hatred and dehumanizing the world. Hatred, war, terror- these are illogical acts- they might be taught with “facts” ie, People X stole our land, People Y oppress us, People Z killed our loved ones, etc- but all logic falls away as the animalist/ emotional side reigns and people can then talk calmly about how they will die/ kill to further their own cause. A stark and scary example is a recent article in the BBC, “Just married and determined to die”. The goal worldwide needs to be the de-escalation of violence, not the escalation with justification. (Just to reference my sources, the ideas that war is illogical and de-escalation is key- came from a recent conversation I had with Karim H., one of the Egyptian diplomats here.)

And here in Bangladesh, I’ve already lit my shabbos candles. I am required to be joyful on this joyous day. Sometimes, it is increasingly difficult to find joy in the world. Yes, my personal life is wonderful and I have much for which to be joyful and thankful. However, how can I treasure such joy in such a world? Does this require me to turn a blind eye to the reality of human existence? Yet, even in- especially in- difficult times, joy for living must be found- life must be celebrated. As Alan continued as he lamented the terror of the world, “Don’t these people have anything to live for?” Maybe if everyone could perform the simple, yet sometimes difficult task, of finding joy in the world- no matter how small, this subtle change of perception could make a global difference. Maybe.

In the mean time, I’m going to contemplate the beauty of my Shabbat candles.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

As the Hair Grows

Halloween in Dhaka. One wouldn't think it, but it's BIG. Halloween here is a multi-ethnic, multi-national, multi-religious week-long celebration culminating in the school's Halloween Carnival. It's a huge event, everyone comes, completely decked out. There are fundraiser booths and tons of activities. (This year I'm supervising both the South Asian Club's Henna Booth and the 7th grade guess-the-number-of-candies-in-the-jar booth) Last year; however, I had a more dramatic presence at the carnival. I was one of various teachers and administrators (about 10% of the faculty) who volunteered to shave our heads if ample funds were raised. And I was the only woman.

To put this in context: Here in Dhaka, it was only recently that women could cut their hair shoulder-length. Of course, I live and work in an expat bubble, but I still have to walk on the streets. Also, a public shaving is quite dramatic. The students I taught (especially the 11 year-olds) were quite shocked at the idea. (In fact, the girls starting petting my hair as a pre-mourning activity.) I spent a bit of time explaining that the primary reason I was shaving my head was to donate my hair to Beautiful Lengths. My colleagues told me that I was crazy- brave, but crazy. (And afterwards they couldn't get over the apparently beautiful shape of my head. They're still talking about it. Who knew?) One colleague said my hair was my best feature. (When I told my dad this, he responded that my heart and my willingness to give were my best features. Points for Dad.) For my critics who stared at me in disbelief, I simply said, "It grows." And so it does. Below is documentation of a year in the life of my hair- From pre-cut to present.

Of the experience, I would call it empowering. It became a didactic message- one of giving, self-sacrifice and breaking gender norms. I hope that my students, especially my teen and pre-teen girls, saw that a woman's strength and personality is more than her hair, or any other adornment. And, probably to the dismay of a couple of parents, I hear I've been inspirational; a trend-setter if you will. One of the high school girls is going to shave her head tomorrow at the carnival and donate her hair. As a teacher, one never does quite know the impact that we make on the students at our school. I'd like to think that mine is a powerful and positive one.

Friday, October 24, 2008


I am supposed to be finalizing my grades. While digging through the piles, I came upon the reflections I had my students write after an "off-topic" discussion we had about the nature of war. (This was spurred by the "pearl of the day"- a quotation that is part of the daily bulletin that is read out loud to the students daily) It was one of those "teachable moments" that make me love my job. And reading my students reflections, I'm so glad we had that discussion. (This was with my 7th grade class- so 12 year olds, give or take.)

So, I got them all thinking about the nature of war, peace, the global economy (they asked)- and they did wonderful, thoughtful reflections. So were do I go from here?

I'm planning a special day before winter break class. We'll watch the youtube clip above, listen to Sarah Kay's poem. (I know I've already posted it before, but I'm seriously addicted)

I'm also planning on showing clips of Joyeux Noël (I'm downloading it from itunes as I type). Not only is it in French (so totally relevant) one of my student's grandfather's was actually in the trenches that day and was there for the Christmas Truce. And of course, continue discussing and ask the students talk to their parents and write a reflection.

***Ah**** I love my job.

Now back to the grading... *sigh*

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


For our end of term break I went on a fabulous cruise with Guide Tours through the Sundarbans. It is a fascinating ecosystem in the brackish waters and silty, ever-changing land that is the delta of 5 major rivers, including the Ganges. The Sundarbans is the largest mangrove forest in the world. (and of course, being in Bangladesh, is endangered... but the Bangladeshi government is trying to protect it... and seems to be doing better with its section of the forest than the Indian government) It's also an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The water acts as an amazing mirror- as you'll see in the photos. But actually, the water seems to be diluted land- and is filled with rich silt (and all those ashes/ bodies being dumped in the Ganges and other rives in India, Nepal and Burma/ Myanmar.. mm. swimming with the dead... actually, not that bad) and is swirls of brownness. the land is dehydrated water- squishy, liquidy silty stuff that surprisingly holds together with the help of fascinating trees that slowly change the water silt into arable land for other plants- no small trick since the water and land is constantly receiving salt from the Bay of Bengal.

I had a lovely 4 day cruise- of relaxation, exploration and more relaxation. It was amazing to see this luscious , beautiful and diverse land. It was amazing to get our of dirty Dhaka, and see the land that is Bangladesh. People are forbidden to live in this nature reserve (I mean who would want to live in slit that is constantly moving and be tiger food?- but a good many people try anyway because land (even the kind that sporadically disappears) is a commodity here in Bangladesh.

I'm inspired- I'm going to try to use my 3 day weekends to get to some other corners of Bangladesh.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Glitter Ball Returns

Tomorrow night (my birthday) I will perform at the outrageous sparkling Glitter Party- a charity costume ball that is the event of the year. Everything is super secret (what costumes we'll wear, our theme, our skit.) And is just a great time for our inner kid to come out and play- but armed with the benefit (financial resources, freedom) of being an adult.

Here's the skit I was apart of last year. We reenacted Steve Irwin's death- Truly tasteless at an Aussie hosted event- but incredibly well received and goes with the evening. (The Aussie High Commissioner loved it.) I was the koala.

Last year's group was comprised of mostly teachers, our elementary school principal and the superintendent. This year I changed groups- mostly parents and some other childless ex-pats- and hopefully we'll win the grand prize! (Of course, which will be donated to charity). Ahh... Partying with a cause. I love it.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Elections are coming... are you ready??

VOTE!!! (unless you disagree with me, then don't vote) no really, VOTE!!!

I voted!! Have you?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What I did last summer

As long before promised (I did not forget!) a clip of my derrière on Israeli television. (I would have preferred a face shot, but hey, I was just there to work.)

For the past two summers I have had the privilege to work with an organization in Israel called Livnot U'Lehibanot And, not only did my rear-end make Israeli TV (did you find me? I'm happy to say that they filmed that before I ripped a giant hole precisely in the derrière of those pants) the year before I made it into print media (with all my clothing intact, no less)

Of course, this really isn't about me making Israeli news (as cool as that may be) it's about me doing my very small part to make a difference. It's about tzedakah (which means righteousness or justice in Hebrew and is a perfect thought for this time of year- Rosh Hashanah/ Jewish New Year's) and giving what one is able to give. I just went through the photos- which will hopefully upload in this century- and I have such a sense of pride and accomplishment- not a personal pride or personal accomplishment- but the pride of how well our group- Livnot 203- worked together with the Livnot staff and how much we accomplished- and how much joy we had while doing it. There is truly a beauty that comes from physical labor and creating with your hands- and doing so in a group for the benefit of others- well, let's just say I feel honored to have become a part of Livnot and the wonderful work that they do- that WE do.

And I really do hope to continue to be able to go back and continue to do good works- And I will shamelessly ask you all to contribute! (Since the organization runs solely on donations, and the American dollar is down in relationship to the Israeli shekel- every bit counts and every bit helps- especially right now!)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

I'm a mosquito buffet

Last night I officially transformed from a mosquito snack bar to a full on, all options included, reduced price mosquito buffet. All of my defenses- all 5 of them- proved totally ineffective against some kind of terrifyingly resilient mosquito invader. These mosquitos somehow entered my home- despite that I only opened the door once and very quickly after nightfall and have mosquito netting over all of my wall-unit air-conditioners (defense #1). These nasty bugs didn't seem to mind that I have "the good knight" magic poison mushroom plug-ins that are suppose to create a nice mosquito-free zone. (defense #2) I had started my night pleasantly enough, falling into my bed and ignoring the mosquito netting (which I despise and try to avoid using since it prevents good airflow and is a pain to get in and out of.) Usually defense #1 and #2 are ample. But nasty burning itchy raised and irritated bumps on my face and neck jolted me out of my slumber. I had no choice but to wake up, turn on the light and start whapping all my bedding and surrounding areas/ air with my electrified racket which, when it comes into contact with a mosquito, provides a devilishly satisfyingly electrocution complete with sparks and the smell of roasting mosquito. (defense #3). After, verifying that my bed was mosquito free, I let down the mosquito netting (defense #4) and sprayed more toxic chemicals around the room (defense #5) and crawled back into bed. Unfortunately, a mosquito - or more- survived- triumphing against all efforts to exterminate it and provide myself with a restful night. It attacked repeatedly, causing puffy irritated bumps to raise out of my body in itchy protest to the involuntary blood donation. And when the dreaded mosquito pushed its needle nose straight into a vein or artery, the chemicals it put inside my body flowed along the cannel caused a raised dot and line- an exclamation mark of pain; a temporary tattoo of protest. I'd wake up in the night with evidence from recent attacks on my fingers, abdomen and back. I'd feel a light tickle on my check and give myself a sneaky but hardy smack in hopes of preventing further extraction of my blood and then start waving my electrified racket like a mad-women, only searching for a little reprieve from the mosquito war, the never-ending battles between woman and bug.

And now I plot further defense strategies for inevitable future attacks from an innumerable army- I could wear mosquito repellant to bed (defense #6). Ah ha! the beauty of calm daytime planning verses the crazed midnight defense conducted while under constant attack from a seemingly invisible army of invaders and blood thieves.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Yes, I have a personal driver

I am very happy to say that last Tuesday, after picking out CVs and interviewing 6 potential drivers (or, if you're feeling snobish, chauffeurs), my car-share buddy, K. and I hired a driver. His name is Mr. Azad. I am, and I'm sure Mr Azad is too, very glad that one more person in Bangladesh now has a job. (and a pretty decent one at that.)

When I talk to people (friends, family and the random I meet you on my travels) the fact that seems to most shock people is the fact that I have a driver. The idea that a woman (Morshida)

comes to my house 5 days a week to make me breakfast and pack my lunch, do my grocery and misc shopping, clean the entire place and do my laundry- in addition to some cooking (She made falafel today, which was just so wonderful)- seems to be wow, but not too big of a stretch of the imagination. But that I don't actually drive myself places, but sit nice and calmly in the back and just state my destination, with great door-to door service- well. That part of the story gets noticed.

Now, although I say "calmly" that is only with great effort, due to the large number of people shoving deformed limbs and starving babies up against the glass of the windows.

Not everyone has a driver here in Dhaka, but most expatriates do. And I have two solid reasons for why I hire a driver.

1) Bangladesh is a heavily populated country (half the population of the USA, in a space the size of Iowa. - and oh yeah, it floods.) And there are simply not enough jobs to go around. If I hire someone, that's one more person who can have the wonderful blessing of self esteem of being able to feed his (all drivers are male) family and earn an honest wage. I feel really good about that.

2) To drive in Bangladesh (and stay somewhat sane) you either have to be a professional driver and/ or completely devalue human life. Driving here is more like playing a video game, as you (and everyone else on the road- rickshaws, cyclists, CNGs (which are for all intents and purposes, a motorized rickshaw that looks like a green cage on wheels) cars, SUVs and crazy battered buses often with drugged up drivers) are jocking for that little space that just opened up. Just a little bit so you can advance before the next guy- and all this is done with just as much concern for human life that a 7 year old feels when s/he looses one "life" on a video game. And of course, we can't neglect the "magic hand" effect. Add to the mix a slew of pedestrians that think putting their hand out is an effect way to stop a rickshaw, CNG, car, SUV or bus coming at them at full speed as they casually meander across the road. Truly, magic if I've ever seen it. Seeing as I'm not willing to stress myself out or reduce human life to video game status, I'm very happy employing a professional who has driven in these conditions for 20+ years.

So, One more man from the mass of humanity in Bangladesh is happily employed and I will arrive safely and sanely at all my desired destinations.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

My mom really is a gypsy

Okay, I know I'm totally slacking on my one photo a week goal. Technical difficulties. However, for those of you who are wondering about the title of my blog a have a recent vignette for you.

About four weeks ago, while I was traveling in Israel, my mom emailed me saying that she was thinking about teaching in an International school. In two days, she had emailed me saying she had accepted a job in Shanghai. In three weeks she packed up everything, got all her paperwork in order and jumped on a plane to China. Now she has just completed her first week in China.

This is 'normal' for my mom. Really, up in moving to Bangladesh, with a year's notice to friends and family that I was looking to teach internationally and then a nice 7 months to get used to the idea of me being in Bangladesh is just plain slow and dull compared to mom's rapid fire life change plans.

Hence, I'm only the gypsy queen's daughter- not quite the original. But, hey, I'm okay with that.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Unloved Matzah

I might seem to be an odd time of year to be hunting for matzah- the dry, cracker-like unleavened bread that Jews eat during Passover. (which is generally in the springtime) But I had a list of items to buy this summer- the basic cannot be found in Bangladesh list. It read something like this:

* Matzah for Passover
* Havdalah candles (for the end of Shabbat separation ceremony)
* Chanukiah/ Menorah and candles for Chanukah (I got travel size- perfect for me!)
* Jewish literature
* funky tights and other accessories for Glitterball (more information in October)
* lots of really good chocolate
* lots of really good chocolate
* more chocolate

Sadly, I left Israel without Matzah (really, if it´s not Passover, it´s not in high demand. Surprising, I´m sure, but true.) However, when in Berlin with my Dad, I wandered into a toy store (I love toy stores) to find a Jewish literature and ritual items corner in the back- with one box of Matzah! So I happily bough the Matzah and put it into my fancy-spancy-folds-up-really-small-to-fit-in-your-purse shopping bag.

However, this was at the beginning of the day- which meant I was destined to carry the Matzah all day. At around 3pm I left the fancy bag with the matzah at a park bench, only to realize I was a bag short about 20 minutes later. Dad and I rushed back to the park bench to find my fancy bag gone and an open box ofmatzah, with a tiny corner of one matzah missing, under the park bench. Bag stolen, Matzah abandoned, open and unusable.

So, I guess this Passover I´m going to be eating lots of potatoes again. At least I have the makings for Matzah-ball soup.

Poor, unwanted matzah.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

am I "other"?

I´ve spent the last couple of days walking around Berlin. I´ve gone to both the Jüdisches Museum Berlin and The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

I left both the Jewish Museum and the Memorial feeling absolutely "other-ed".

The Memorial has one timeline of the persecution of Jews and the rise of Hitler and then has a series of rooms full of personal items, personal stories, and photographs. I imagine that the curator was trying to bring home that the absolutely inconceivable number of 6,000,000 is composed of real life individuals, who did normal things like eat dinner (dinner plates shown) and brush their hair (hair brush shown) and care about their children (photographs of children shown). I felt like the memorial was trying to convince its visitors that indeed, the Jews murdered were indeed people, to whom the visitors could relate. I feel that this is a worthy and understandable exercise, however, I personally do not need to be convinced that the murdered Jews were indeed human beings, each with his or her own personal story.

The section of the Jewish Museum dedicated to the Holocaust had the same theme- a smattering a personal effects to convince the audience of the humanness of the people murdered- the humanness of the Jews.

The rest of the museum was composed of amazing detail documenting the Jewish communities in the current land of Germany since the 900´s C.E. It told of contributions to society, the ever-oscillating attitudes toward the Jews, Jewish traditions and religious laws. There was even a "write your name in Hebrew" computer station. For someone who knows little to nothing about Judaism and Jews, this museum does a wonderful job in providing an awareness of our traditions, and pays tribute to many of the contributions individual Jews have made over the centuries. For me, however, it was slightly disturbing. I´m coming straight from Israel where I stayed with more some more observant friends and spent time in very observant communities in Jerusalem and Tsfat. And here I was, just a few days later, walking in a museum where "artifacts" from daily life were behind glass, with cleanly typed explanatory labels. From the meat, daily, parve stickers, pots and dishes needed for a kosher kitchen, to the prayer shawls, tzit-tzit and shabbat candle sticks. There were explanations that to me are so routine- it was like someone going through a friends house and making it into a museum. Imagine it, your kitchen dishes on display and explained, to be gawked at by museum goers, commented on, misunderstood, judged or the novelty of which to be contemplated. The clothes that your friends wear, taken from their closet, put on mannequins, and labeled. The candlesticks, the menorah/ channukiah from your own home, displayed and explained. Then, since who you are and what you do is so different, so confusing, in addition to the printed explanations to your life, your family´s history, add an audio guide tour.

I just felt so "other-ed", separated from humankind. I just felt like here we are, in 2008, still trying to convince the world that we are human, just like them. That although our traditions are different, that some members of our community further distinguish themselves with clothing or hair styles, that yes we are human and yes, for our proportionally very small part of the the human population, members of our community have made amazing contributions to the world.

Yes, I do think that exposure to other people and their traditions is the key to creating a more peaceful world. Yes, I believe that both the Jewish Museum and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe are important places for building understanding and making sure future generations never forget. Despite the good intentions and the positive benefits, I just left both feeling as if I was not quite part of the human race... that I somehow belonged to the category of other... something to be studied and the observations of which to be labled, categorized and displayed.

Monday, July 28, 2008

I've fallen into the Facebook blackhole

Over the past couple of years people I've met have posed the simple question, "Are you on facebook?" and I've responded, "no".

Maybe my resistance to sites like facebook and myspace seems rather odd for someone who sends mass emails full of personal thoughts and has recently started a blog. I like to console myself with the fact that my name isn't on my blog and that I know exactly where the emails are being sent. I guess it's my own somewhat illogical balance of personal and anonymous in a "google and you shall find" kind of world. Also, as a teacher, I know that in my small community I'm a public figure. Many kids would come back to school and tell me where they spotted me or other teachers. My first year teaching, I went to High Holiday Services at a Synagogue near the school and the next day at work umpteen students (who were also Jewish) were just so excited to know that I was too. After that when I gave feedback questioners to the students, I got some comments such as 'I like my teacher because she's Jewish.' I just wasn't ready for the melding of what I considered personal (religion) with my professional life.

My aversion to social networking sites increased when, during my third year teaching in the US, it was announced that a teacher in the district had been fired due to the contents of her myspace page. She was a first year teacher fresh out of college and her myspace page was what I imagine many college myspace pages to be- silly jokes, pictures taken in a drunken state, references to drugs and alcohol that just seem so cool when your 20- but some of her students and their parents found that page and she was out of a job. With a nameless blog that student don't know of and a mass email, I've felt pretty safe in my oneline endeavors.

However, as I travel around and meet people and have some really awesome conversations with them, I keep on getting bombarded with the unassuming, let's keep up with each other question, "Do you have facebook?"

And as of the last 5 days the answer has been "yes". I've finally submitted to this aspect of pop-culture, even though I am still quite weary of it. And in those past 5 days my in-box has been inundated with friend-requests and wall-writing notifications- the number of people with whom I had lost contact that I've heard from since Facebook is incredible- people from my master's program, summer camp, high school, Birthright trip, college, etc.

So, Facebook is an amazing tool and I'm now one of it's many members- albeit maybe a more dubious one.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

2nd Tractor attack in Jerusalem

My basic Israel itinerary is one week in each city in the following order: Jerusalem, Tzfat (Sefad), Tel Aviv. However, I've been charged with the mission of hand-carrying posters of the Coexisence Exhibit from the Museum on the Seam back to Dhaka. (In case your wondering why I'm being a personal schlepper instead of just shipping it, please remember that Bangladesh-along with various other nations- doesn't recognize that Israel exists, even as it celebrates its 60th year. I personally think this denial is quiet dangerous for Israel, but that's a theme I won't expand at the moment.)

So, when a friend, B. called me in Tel Aviv late last night and asked me if I wanted to take a day-trip to Jerusalem with him today, I pounced on the opportunity to pick up the posters and check off my list my one major "job" for the trip. So around 8am, we hoped on a bus to Jerusalem.

B. has gone to apartment hunt and study for finals and I went to the Museum on the Seam. As I walked from the bus stop to the Museum I saw a multitude of police and emergency vehicles with sirens blaring heading quickly in the direction from which I had just come. As my mother taught me, I said a quick prayer for the success of their efforts and the safety of all people involved in the accident/ emergency- whatever that maybe- and walked into the museum.

After seeing the current exhibit at the museum and picking up the posters I hopped into a cab and headed for an internet cafe. First of all, the cab driver, Ori, was the absolute nicest cab driver I've ever met and a really good teacher of Hebrew. When many (all for a while) of the roads we needed to follow were closed I recalled the sirens and asked what happened. Ori told me that there was another tractor attack today near the hotel where Obama was suppose to stay upon arrival tomorrow. The information was delivered very factually, without any demonstrative change in emotion. The delivery seemed to make the conversation almost normal and commonplace.

Needless to say, I wasn't in the area of the tractor attack. I'm still waiting to hear from my friends, but I'm pretty sure they were away from the attack as well.

Obviously there are so many thoughts running through my head- however, since my recent peeps into the gripping depth of Jew-hatred in Bangladesh and consequence reading, my brain seems to be constantly returning to this subject. For the moment, I'll let the thoughts run through my head. I don't want to write anything here until I have the exact facts/ references that support them. For the meantime, know that I am well.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Eretz Israel

I've spent the last two weeks In Jerusalem and Tzfat (Sefed) and tomorrow I'm hopping on a Taglit/ Birthright bus to Tel Aviv. I've been very busy having fabulous experiences- including mini-miracles (yes, Tobias, the lifting of my burdens at the Abby is just such a mini miracle), talking, volunteering and wondering around and have very limited computer access- but I promise that there will be blog entries! (Including a clip of my deriere on Israeli television- I'm just waiting to get the version with English subtitles)

To leave you all with one totally random and meaningless observation- I have the best (worst) farmer's tan- my forearms are a completely differnt color (bright red) than the rest of me (glaringly white)- but how I got that fabulously sexy look is linked to my butt on television- and you'll all just have to wait in suspense.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The difference a Goat makes

So, I live in Bangladesh. When I was discussing my decision to move here, my dad asked me poignantly, "Do they export anything besides poor people?" It might be considered a crass comment, but, sadly, it's spot on.

Simply put, Bangladesh has half the population of the United States (approx. 150 million people) all crammed into a space the size of Iowa. Now, most of that land (I've read estimates for 80-90% of it) flood during monsoon season. And some of that land simply doesn't come back after the flooding subsides and thus, is permanently claimed by the water. Many people are still trying to recuperate from last year's horrible cyclone Sidr, and we're already into the next monsoon/ cyclone season.

If you want a really depressing read, check out this article from the Belfast Telegraph my friend send me. A scary quotation from the article:
The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – whose predictions have consistently turned out to be underestimates – said that Bangladesh is on course to lose 17 per cent of its land and 30 per cent of its food production by 2050. For America, this would be equivalent to California and New York State drowning, and the entire mid-West turning salty and barren.
The bottom line: Bangladesh is disappearing- and fast. It's a huge humanitarian crisis happening right now.

Poverty, even in my really wealthy neighborhood, is ever-present. One on my co-workers, Lulu, recently wrote a entry detailing the reality on her blog.

All the talk and images of poverty can be daunting- and overwhelmingly depressing. But while I was reading the New York Times I found a rather uplifting story about a girl and a goat and a college degree. It doesn't happen to be about Bangladesh, but a general story about how such a little act to help (in this case, the donation of a goat) can make such a big difference (a poor rural girl, Beatrice, in Uganda getting to go to school and eventually graduating from Connecticut College in the USA.) There is also a children's book about Beatrice and her goat (search amazon) that talks about giving.

Here's a link to Global Giving,the grassroots organization mentioned in the article and also for Oxfam Unwrapped which I really like. I've given some nice sheep, and honey and trees through them. (I wanted to give an alligator, but since it was as wedding gift for a couple who requested donations to charities, I didn't think something with scales and claws and big snapping jaws full of sharp teeth really said, "congratulations on your marriage". Sheep (soft, cute) honey (sweet) and trees (grow old together) seemed such the better choice. Oh... but the alligator was tempting...

TOPPER (doggy) survives deadly plant attack!


I called my Dad and asked for an update on Topper, his dog that decided to munch on the sego palm. Apparently, without any vet intervention, Topper pulled through!

Dad, of course, has theories- remember he read about all these pups who died after eating sego palms.

1) Topper is a much larger dog than the dogs he read about
2) Taking dogs to the vet and putting them on IV's etc probably put the dog into shock after already being in a bad condition

So, that's the farmer's son's theories.

Bottom line: Daddy still has two doggies!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Beautiful but Deadly- Plants (not a woman)

I just got a call from my Dad- he said that he had found one of his dogs, Topper, foaming at the mouth and vomiting. At first he thought rabies, especially because he had found a dead (killed by the dogs) raccoon in the backyard. The dogs' other favorite hobby is chewing up plants (well- more specifically- chewing up anything to be found in the backyard- plants, raccoons, toys, piping- )

This time, they had managed to reach through the fence and grab a plant that was two feet away- a Sega (alternatively Sago) Palm (a misnomer)- and Topper may be paying the ultimate price for his chewing habit- Sega Palms cause liver malfunction and death in dogs (and humans) when ingested. We'll see if Topper makes it through the night (Dad found umpteen websites detailing heroic efforts to save poisoned dogs- which just made their death take longer and cost more. -Dad, having grown up on a farm, is not of the spend thousands to prolong your pet's death type. He's has a good healthy separation between pets and humans)

Just for good measure- if you have chew happy pets or children- check out the wikipedia list of Poisonous Plants:

Friday, June 27, 2008

Inspired by Youtube

One of my really good college friends sent this to me and I feel compelled to continue watching and watching it- I even transcribed it into my journal.

And while I'm on the great sharing-ness of, Here's a video link from Shawn's project I've meet Shawn and invited him to come speak at our school here in Dhaka. (I believe that the video he made while at the school is called "paying it forward") He has some incredible footage and pictures of Bangladesh and is working full-time for his Uncultured Project. It's he's effort to get one step closer to ending poverty and he also works with many of the NGOs here in Bangladesh.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Visit to Nepal Made Easy

Please everyone take note: Nepal is an awesome spot for a vacation. Here is a step by step guide

Step 1: bring an extra passport size photo and 30 USD for visa upon arrival

Step 2: Having previously made arrangements via email, walk outside to find the free shuttle from the airport to the lovely Kathmandu Guesthouse

Step 3: Have Sharan- tour guide extraordinaire- take you to UNESCO cultural heritage sites, including Monkey Temple- and take gobs and gobs and gobs of photos

Step 4: Take time to explore the shops and the local crafts- elaborate woodwork shapes boxes, stools, tables, wall hangings, etc. Pashminas galore, felted bags and slippers, handmade paper products, knitted sweaters, jackets, ponchos, you name it- all at wonderful prices, if you're willing to bargain for it.

Step 5: Go to the mountain town of Nagarkot and stay at The Hotel at the End of the Universe- best price with breakfast and dinner included- Have Yanneke (wife) and Oasis (husband) arrange your transport for 2000 Nepali Rupees each way (donation to their NGO orphanage/ school)

Step 6: See the sunrise of Mt Everest, trek in the mountains

Step 7: Take shuttle back to airport. Remember to keep enough rupees out for your exit fee.

Step 8: Send your fabulous pictures to all your family and friends. (and they will be jealous of your great adventure)

Step 9: Repeat

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sunday, April 27, 2008

neglected but not forgotten

Okay, I admit: I'm guilt of long-term neglect. Yes, my poor blog has
been temporarily abandoned. I have two goals: 1) to carry my camera
with me on a regular basis and 2) to post an occasional photo with a
caption. I keep on thinking I'm going to write really big blogs with
great insights. But I think I shoot for something a little more doable
and more digestible by the readers: An occasional random photo of
Bangladesh (or other place I travel to) and small commentary. Let's
see if I can make my goal.

And thanks for keep on checking.