Sunday, September 16, 2012

I'm from America : Demonstrations in Dhaka

photo per BD24news
We've seen our second demonstration in Dhaka this week. The first was on Friday at the main mosque after prayer time. The local police did a great job keeping the crowd controlled. "If you stay on that side of the line, it stays peaceful, but if you cross the line it's no longer peaceful." The crowd was large (10,000 ?), but fortunately stayed quite far from the diplomatic enclave. Today there was another small, but rapidly started, demonstration of about 150-200 students. It was very near the embassy, but the police (again great) and a beautifully timed monsoon shower dissipated the crowd.

We did, however, receive our first email to stay put and avoid the area around the embassy. A friend sent an SMS to ask "Everyone home ok?".  I was in the kitchen making dinner and hadn't seen the email alert. Ceiba was not off the bus from school yet, and by now a few minutes late even. My mouth got dry and my stomach turned. I sent a quick sms and email to Chris to be safe.

Our driver always gets Ceiba off the bus. I assessed the activity in the street outside our balcony, nothing was out of the ordinary. I opened the door to go downstairs to also wait for Ceiba. I slipped on sandals, but quickly paused, took them off and put on runnable shoes. Downstairs I went to wait, my heart rate fast. My mind was blurred with thoughts of what could be coming down the street in front of the embassy, if the school buses were in any danger or if the children were being kept at the school. Our bags still needed to be tweaked. What if things headed south, and we needed to leave quickly? Okay, I was overreacting, but the state of the world and days of news reading kept me in a whirlwind.

The bus pulled up, Ceiba got out, we talked about her day, she giggled and bounced and carried on as a  child should. She got a snack, showed me her art and calmed down my nerves. And then the "all clear" came. A short time later I heard Chris's voice on the phone. And so all was fine.

It's comforting to know we have a great group looking out for our well being here in Dhaka. While we all feel Americans are well regarded in Bangladesh, we sadly too know it only takes a few people who don't like us to make a negative or catastrophic impact. And while my husband has a important job to do here in Dhaka, I feel I do also. We are all the "face of America" when we are in someone else's country. And I take it very personally to try my best to show a good face, to give eye contact and a smile and to answers questions openly.

Today, I stopped at the market. Though maybe I overthought things, I felt more watched today. I smiled and chatted with a shopkeeper. He asked where was I from. I paused, thinking of my surroundings and recent world events, but proudly said with a smile, "I'm from America".

And he smiled back. Maybe just as I know he is not the Muslim that harmed Americans in Libya, I am not the American who made the horrible film that has sparked so much controversy.
We are just people.

It's good to be prepared and responsive, but there's no better way to end the night. All under one roof.
 We continue to keep all those serving at home and abroad in our thoughts. Please do the same.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Spouse Support

In the wake of recent events around the world, the support and closeness of our "family" of State Dept personnel and fellow expats of other nations who live here in Dhaka with us has been overflowing. Each time there is news of another demonstration, another flag burning or information about yet another embassy/consulate coming under fire, a sickening feeling comes over. It's hard to describe how emotional it is to see the irrational events unfold, but we feel sadness for the state of world this week. We feel concern for the safety of our State Department and military family abroad.

In our house, we talk often about what "should go down" when an emergency presents itself. We know where to meet, we know where our rendezvous points are, we know who is responsible for whom, and we know what to pack should we have to leave suddenly. We rehearse these drills and understand what is at stake. 

I don't profess to be a quiet spouse. On many occasions, one can hear me sass or nag my husband. And though it won't happen on a regular day, at times of crisis, I am quick to morph into a subservient wife. If Chris said "know your place woman", he'd hear a earful of backlash from his heckling comment, but when it's necessary, he knows that I know my place. He knows I support him and his service to our country with every breath in me.

A State Dept spouse's/partner's most important asset for the US government is to hold down the home front so their spouse/partner can do their job. Our spouses/partners have an essential job to perform, and so do we. Not always an easy job to keep the mindset to perform, but of the utmost importance. We must keep our home life calm and secure. Their minds need to be on the tasks at hand, to be in the game, and not worrying about what is happening at home or if their family is ok. His mind needs to be focused, not distracted. 

So to all spouses/partners holding down the home front, please keep it up. Your other half needs your confidence and quiet support to do their job to the very best of their ability. And the job of diplomats and service members abroad is a vital one for the sustenance of the freedoms we have as Americans.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Walk About

We are fortunate at post to have motor pool (embassy run "taxi" service of govt vehicles to shuttle authorized personnel). Being such a large post with unreliable, if not near nonexistent, public transportation, motor pool is a necessity, especially on the cusp months without a vehicle. They are so dependable here, in fact, that many people choose to pay the per mile prices of them vs purchasing or bringing a car to post.

Today, while in the backseat with motor pool, in a plain white SUV with diplomatic plates, we drove past the open market. It amused me that my regular fruit vendors recognized and pointed and waved at me from across the street in a vehicle they've never seen me in. I guess I still don't blend well in SE Asia with pale skin and light hair and eyes. It made me smile knowing my smiles and photographs to people sticks with them. That they remember me. Maybe they just remember that I don't haggle for my mangos and pineapples and that I pay foreigner prices instead of local ones. I'll just delude myself and continue to think it's my smile :) In the two years here, I've gotten more enjoyment from the genuine exchange of smiles here than anything else.

The remaining weeks are slow and fast at the same time. Home is slow, with little to keep us busy. When Ceiba is at school and Avocet napping, the time flies, but other times it drags on. I've been trying to walk uptown regularly to buy trinkets or stock up on a lifetime of pearls. Sometimes I just enjoy digesting my surrounding, hoping to store the memories permanently in my mind.

Two years, for us, is our golden time. It's the amount of time it takes us to really feel at home somewhere, to know our way around and feel completely comfortable. Now walking home, I know instinctively which way to turn at the Gulshan Circle, a hectic area of town with many turns. My feet know the best way to walk to avoid the betel nut spit, the open sewers and the best time to run across crazy Dhaka traffic. In my peripherals, I can see old women, the regular children and disabled persons making their way toward me in hopes of boksheesh (money) and am able to divert my path. I never avoid eye contact and always offer a smile, but do not hand out money. Drawing more attention to myself is not a good idea. My heart never completely numbs to the unending misfortune around me, but my brain is wired to stay clear. I have never felt unsafe here, never, but I also know my shoes cost more than some people earn in a month here. To leave Bangladesh and not have compassion... not possible or you can't be still breathing.
I walk along the narrow street between the market areas, bangles and fabric on my left while bananas, apples and grapes dangle from thread on my right. The sweet smells of fruit and nose wrinkling trash intermingle beneath my nostrils. "Madam" is yelled from a dozen vendors as I stroll, some faces familiar, some new. Piles of bread and biscuits fill the shop at the corner, before I cross the street, but I still prefer DuMiok Korean Bakery in Banani on Rd 11. I bid the market farewell and hop across traffic, perch on the medium between the barbed wire and hop again across another lane. The electronic and bootleg movie stores fill my field of view. Bells rings and again "Madam" is chirped as I pass the row of rickshaws beside the staircase to Spaghetti Jazz, each hoping for my fare to ride home. I smile and wave them on, occasionally showing my fingers walking to tell them I'll walk myself home.  Many of the wallahs on the next corner know my face... and that I always walk, just smile or nod as I go by.

The "tink tink" of the brick ladies echoes in my left ear. There are nearly no rocks in Bangladesh. Bricks are brought into town from the outlying factories and then hammered into tiny pieces to use in cement and road foundations. The same group of ladies cracks them near our home every day, their piles growing taller until someone comes to purchase. I peek at the wasps in their giant paper nest beside our fence to be sure they aren't on the attack and then knock at the gate. The tiny window pops open to see me and the door retracts, a smiling guard greeting me home. And each time I remind myself how much I enjoy the walks, my surroundings and the repeated surreal feeling of living here. And often I think how good the a/c will feel and how nice the clean smell of home will be. Today, I think of how few trips are left to journey uptown, so tell myself to write it down.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Four Walls

Since the majority of our possessions have shipped, each day we find ourselves trying to be creative during the daylight hours. While our apartment is nice and large, it's now a blank canvas. There is little inside to entertain a 5 and 1 year old for long. Luckily, Ceiba is back in school and nearly pooped by the end of the school day. To add, she recently started after school activities (Bangla class and soccer) and also has one day a week for ballet class. Avocet, on the other hand, is home all day, even more so now that we have no car to go out and about. She takes regular trips to the roof or small "park" across the street, but with hot temperatures, we try not to have her outside for long. Thank goodness she still takes a good nap in the afternoon.

We get bored... all of us. There are things I should be doing, but it's hard with no wheels and little motivation. I started to upload old unlabeled cds to my external hard drive, but then my Mac ate and would not spit out a cd, so now I've abandoned that project. I resumed organizing baby books, but then stopped when my memory stick was full (because the shop uptown added some junk and I can't delete because it's locked) so couldn't fill in the holes with photos of a first haircut or whatnot. I've started lots of projects... And sometimes I just feel guilty to be on the computer when a cute toddler would rather play or pull my finger around the house to something else she'd like to do. She melts me.

Many days I'm ready to chuck everything remaining in our freezer or pantry, but it's too soon. We still have to eat meals for another 3+ weeks. I do have the fun daily task of deciding what concoction to make for dinner. Would you all like spaghetti and meatballs with stovetop stuffing and applesauce? Or maybe fried shrimp with baked beans, jello and townhouse crackers? Ah the fun of meal planning weeks before you've whittled down your food stock. And every day I'm ready to pull down the suitcases and separate the air freight shipment from the checked bags we have to take back. I want to organize something, but it's still too soon. We are already in a near empty house, we don't want to live out of a suitcase too. I pushed our airfreight day back another week so that we can have our own pillows and "things" for a few more days.

I'm not ready to leave, but the limbo time is killing me.

On any given day though, you will see two laughing girls being whisked around the house by our giggling driver, who has traded in driving our SUV for a double stroller around the dining room table. For now, it's important for them to just have fun and not stress over the impending move. Mama and Papa can do that enough for all of us :)