"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

And where do you think my children have lived all their young years?

Never would it occur to me to carry anything on my head. It doesn't matter that I have also lived the past ten years (and counting) between Nigeria, India and now Bangladesh, where this is the normal way of carrying most anything. But for them, it is the most natural thing to do.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Buying plants

We entered our apartment one week after our shipment was scheduled to be delivered, and five weeks after we left the neighboring country of India. Almost one month later, and we're still camping.  As it turns out, the ship with our container did make it to the local port, but the person in charge of all the paperwork was much too busy drinking to have the time and/or clarity of mind to do this work. For the past three weeks, he's been telling us all sorts of tales about why the delivery of the container was delayed, when in fact, he hadn't even begun to work on the process. This, by the way, in a Muslim country where alcohol is forbidden. We are now told that it will be delivered next Thursday, but by now, I carefully avoid thinking about it too much as it only makes things worse. If it comes, great. If it doesn't come, we'll go on camping out and try to be reasonably gracious about it ... Hm ! In the meantime, we do our best to try and fill out the empty space so it feels a little less like a transition hall, and more like a home. I bought some cushions. This week-end, we went in search of plants.

There are several nurseries along the road, not far from where we live, and no sooner had we stopped that men approached us eagerly. Except that one of them was not a man at all, but a young 10 year old boy. At first, I thought he was the son of one of the sellers. But he seemed so earnest, he was so fast to run into the masses of plants to lift them out - including some pretty heavy ones -and show them to us, that I started to wonder. As it turned out, he works there all day, is paid 1500 Bangladesh Thaka per month for his work (that's about 21 US Dollars) and goes to school in the evenings.

When he saw my camera, he took a pose, and said: "camera action !"

In the meantime, a crowd of people had gathered on the road and the sidewalk. Some were rickshaw wallahs hoping we might need their services. The rest were just watching us, passing the time, always curious to observe foreigners as they go about their lives.

As it turned out, two of these rickshaw men were right to have waited patiently, because they carried each a big plant  for us, after carefully tying them to the sides of the rickshaw with a piece of cloth (not sure if I would call it an orna, which is is the equivalent of the Indian dupatta.)

Our car looked like a jungle, but at least, now, we have a few heart-warming touches of green in the apartment.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Virtual Tour for Kelly Starling Lyon's "One Million Men and Me"

A few weeks back, Kelly Starling Lyons sent me an email asking if I would like to participate in her virtual tour on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Million Man March (October 16) - which was the inspiration for her picture book, One Million Men and Me. I was thrilled, of course. Not only do I like Kelly and her writing, this also falls perfectly into my continuing commitment to bridge the world.

We had to overcome a few challenges : first, I needed to get the book, and as I'm told that postal services cannot be trusted, here, it meant asking a friend at UNICEF headquarters in New York to send it by the pouch, and hope it would get here on time... Which it did.  But when I opened the envelope, the book inside was wet and quite damaged. I had to very slowly peel off the pages glued together and set them under the fan to dry (my hair dryer is in the container, with the rest of our personal effects). The bottom of many of Peter Ambush's expressive illustrations had suffered, but at least, the text was complete.

I had also hoped to involve the library at the American International School of Dhaka, but it proved impossible - this I found out only a few days before my post was due. In the end, I invited our daughters' new friends, and we read the book together in our empty, very echoing apartment.

The group was composed of girls aged 6 to 10, all from mixed backgrounds (France, Haiti, Indonesia and the US), and kids who've all already lived in at least two countries, spanning several continents. We talked about the beautiful illustration on the cover, and the Million Man March. After I read the book, we looked at pictures of the March on the Internet, and also discussed the March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs, on August 28, 1963, the civil rights struggle, and Martin Luther King Junior's historical speech. It was the perfect end to an extremely gloomy, rainy day in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

When I asked the girls what they had preferred in the book, they all mentioned the illustration with the African princess. One of them also said : "the first page, when the cousin said that no girls can go, but her daddy took her anyway." And she nodded, as if to say : there.

One Million Men and Me takes us back to that magical day, allowing us to experience it through the eyes of young Nia. We feel her pride, and we feel her joy, as she shares this very special moment with her father. She will never forget it, and nor will all the girls who read the book, I bet.

Thank you, Kelly, for this opportunity to discover and share your (and Peter Ambush) very touching book about not only the day when "Black men made history," but also the beauty and importance of the special bond between father and daughter (two daddies attended the reading, by the way, and my husband took the pictures.)

Anyone who posts a comment, here, or on Kelly's Facebook page or her blog, will be entered in a drawing for one of three prizes - One Million Men and Me T-shirt, tote bag or signed poster. Kelly will announce the winners on the March anniversary, October 16.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

And how do children get to school and back home?

I am told that the government of Bangladesh has devised a plan to enroll the numerous local children in schools : there are classes from 7 am until 12 noon, and then from 12 until 5 PM. This means that at 12, every school day, the streets fill with boys and girls in uniforms, some heading home, others about to start their school day.

And how do they commute ?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

New wall.

 I found the cable to download the pictures from my camera at the bottom of one of the bags I had not yet emptied. I can now show you our new wall.

When they first came to measure it, I asked if it was necessary to protect the floor. They just smiled, and said no. It was true.

First, they drew the the main lines on the wall, with pencils: the trees, the branches, a few animals.

Then, they started painting, using only small jars of paint and very thin brushes. See how the wrist supports the hand that paints, so the lines are even?

The young boy who was with them is the son of the man, above, and they assured me that he was 16 years old, even though he does not look a day older than 12.

And here is the wall.

I love looking at all the details, like these ladies drying a sari...

Friday, October 1, 2010

So, today, I grumble and whine.

Well, I can't download the pictures of my beautiful new wall from my camera, because somewhere between the hotel, the many bags, and the move to the new empty apartment, I seem to have lost or displaced the necessary cable. And so, today, I will rant.

My husband is in India. He had to go back there for some final debriefing. They have a big country meeting, and he will see his colleagues from Hyderabad, and those from Delhi and all over India, some of whom have become good friends.

Last night, at the dinner table, my daughters commented on the fact that it was not fair that he could go to India ; they also wanted to go, see their friends, familiar faces and places.

Brace yourselves, for here come the grumbling and whining. I know this is a new adventure, bla bla bla. I'm the first one to constantly clamor that we are so very lucky to have this kind of life - traveling the world, living in different countries, discovering and sampling new cultures, forever broadening our horizons.

But you know what? Some days, it's bloody difficulty. Especially at the beginning. Or rather, after the very beginning.

When we are no longer in the hotel, and having to learn the daily ways of our new host country.

When I discover that in order for me to do any kind of shopping, I basically need to give up half a day, and out of that half day, a good two hours (sometimes more) will be spent in the car, fighting maddening traffic jams.

When I start the day thinking that I need to work, but after an hour or two seating in the very uncomfortable forty-seventh-hand couch that we bought with the option of reselling it again as soon as we receive our personal effects, my back hurts like hell, and now, what do I do? The apartment is empty. Go out? Where? To get stuck in more traffic? And anyway, kids will be back in an hour or so, which means I don't even have time to go anywhere.

When I miss my friends back in Hyderabad.

And where is my husband, who is the person whom we are trailing? In India, working, yes, but he gets to see familiar faces, and to go back to a place that feels familiar, because that's where our home was for the past few years. Even at work, here, in Bangladesh, he's met up with colleagues, friends he already knew from New York, or elsewhere, people he's worked with before. He doesn't get to start all over in quite the same way.

Do we, expat, trailing spouses and children get any credit for this? We should.