Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Yesterday: Downpour in Dhaka

Note to regular readers -- this entry has been temporarily modified for teaching purposes. Please don't be confused; yes, this entry has changed since you last visited.

Finally, monsoon season lives up to its name, waking me this morning with rooftop drums at six with the alarm impending; the patio across the way buried under the three inches it could contain before spilling over down the narrow back steps., the resident dog usually sleeping on selfsame patio nowhere to be seen. The rain continued through the drive and the workday morning; though the three-inch-an-hour neverending did let up a bit during our drive over to the school, the roadside canal overflowed onto the main road all the same, and passersby rode their bicycles through ankle-deep flood conditions one-handed, umbrellas ineffective before them.

The lab was thick with humid air when we arrived, but the NetMeeting activity seemed well-received and the network slightly more accepting and forgiving with NetMeeting than yesterday’s email disaster. Work is surely boring to my readers, so although it is much of what we now do all day, and although not including it in the blogentries will surely shorten them, I will no longer be including more than the thinnest content-mentioning details unless there is high demand for it, and, well, I’d be surprised.

The skies finally cleared by four as we international travelers arrived in van and car at the Canadian Club for shmoozing with George and Peggy, the Canadian spouse of Aga Khan School exchange teacher Hugh. Most significant discussion at the club involved the universal value translation potential of Coca Cola, something which I think I discovered on my own but which George believes he has read about somewhere. If you’ve never tried this method, I highly recommend it; it’s a much more useful way to compare value (as opposed to raw cost) than dollars-to-taka: the basic idea is that if you want to figure out whether you’re paying too much for a given service or good in a foreign country, figure out how much a coke costs in each country and compare accordingly. For example, what at home would be a nice cotton button-down costs $30, and a can of coke costs maybe 75 cents; here, a can of coke costs 12 taka, or about a quarter, so a nice button-down shirt should cost about 40 cokes, or 480 taka. As good shirts DO cost about 480 taka here, and that’s about 8 bucks, what this teaches you, it seems, is that the dollar here has about a three-or-four-to-one buying power, so you should buy as many shirts as you can, except not at the local Van Heusen store, where the mark-up averages out at about a thousand taka, clearly a price for westerners.

No longer sure what day it is…

Today: Dollars in Dhaka/Buying Up Bangladesh

…fell asleep last night mid-blog at about 7:00 p.m; woke briefly at 8:30 to hit the hotel restaurant but realized immediately upon entry that I was essentially sleepwalking and went equally rapidly back to bed for the first full night’s sleep I’ve had since leaving Logan. Sorry to keep y’all waiting; if it helps, know that I dreamt about blogging all night.


Up, refreshed, by 5:00 to drop ultimately unuseful and unused random pix from hard drive to disks in anticipation camera-to-computer glitches in today’s morning workshop module on photomanipulation, mostly discussing Microsoft Photo Editor, as software here is either MSOffice or nothing. Took some pix of uniformed kids from the nearby junior high school playing football (what we Americans call “soccer”) during tea. At lunch Azra and I holed up in a small classroom to redesign yet again the afternoon curriculum on assignment and assessment over the by-now usual take-out, today a spice mutton curry which I enjoyed immensely even after finally realizing that, in this part of the world, “mutton” means goat. In anticipation of tomorrow’s curriculum on both advanced and teaching-specific uses of MSWord and, more usefully, how writing changes in a digital age, showed Kamel, the school’s Professional Development Coordinator and a teacher of English, Eric J’s webraw-based invaluable, accessible, and highly recommended page on Writing and the Web, to which I would link here if I was not paying 4$ an hour for an Internet connection.

Worth noting, though, just for consistency’s sake, that the above paragraph breaks pretty much every rule Eric and I agree upon in his now-international curriculum component. Sigh.

After school a couple of the female teachers here took the international crowd to a local shopping plaza for what George calls “supporting the local economy.” As many of the people for whom I bought gifts read this blog, I can’t say much about that experience without spoiling everyone’s fun, but I will point out that what Bangladesh is best known for worldwide in terms of quality goods is Van Heusen and other American-brand shirts, so it’s beginning to look like the gift-giving will be a bit sparse this trip unless folks at home are interested in the same thing they can get at home, except cheaper.

Azra and I wrangled an invitation to the middle-class suburban home of one of our tour-guide teachers post-shopping, which was a wonderful cultural and interpersonal experience in and of itself. Urban planning is apparently not at all a familiar concept here, as road-blocking construction was taking place on both ends of her suburban street when we arrived, and Ibrahim, George’s driver, had to drive over steel core to get into the gated driveway. Nevertheless, although some cultural differences are endemic to all groups here in Bangladesh, the contrast between classes here is incredible; while our host prepared a wonderful tea of pound cake and kebab, and I stroked her young son’s pet quail Errol (not a euphemism, thank you very much, and note the Harry Potter reference, itself a kind of universal language), a young impoverished houseboy of just a year or two younger than Errol’s owner tried to impress us by scrubbing the glass-topped table at my elbow. [note to non-Easterners: lest you think it odd that a young boy would be employed as such, although this is no place for a treatise on the machiavellian choices necessary to kee everyone fed and alive in a young developing nation, it’s worth pointing out that such employment really does turn out to be the best option for such a young boy from the his particular economic class and background]

Speaking of the underclass, if you’ve ever seen huddled crowds traveling on the shiny curved roof of a train as it crosses in front of your car at a railroad crossing where the electronic red-and-white traffic bar doesn’t work, and a second barrier needs to be lowered by hand to keep drivers from getting smashed to pieces by a train, as we did on the way back to the hotel, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. One man was even walking backwards on the train roof, precariously hovering over the same ground as the train moved slowly forward under his feet.

The evening was uneventful save for a happy unplanned chat with Darcie, followed by a heartbreaking phonecall with Willow, who said “hi daddy hi daddy hi!” before clearly feeling a bit unsettled by my voice and demanding to nurse, followed by supper and, as usual, more curricular planning. And now…oh dear, is it really 2:30 in the morning? Goodnight, folks; stay cool…tomorrow this blog becomes a curricular example, so I better not break any further rules of digital discourse.

posted by boyhowdy | 4:29 PM |

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