2001.05.18

Well, what a two weeks it has been. In a way, it has gone by so quickly and I start to wonder if I will be able to do anything in my two short years in Bangladesh. Sometimes, however, the time drags on and for no reason, even on a good day, I'll start to wonder what exactly I'm doing here and why I want to just break down and cry. My emotions are all over on a roller coaster. I can maintain my sanity and everything, but I know that many times I'm on the verge of screaming or crying or both. I have yet to lose control, but I can feel my emotions playing tricks on me.

Sometimes I don't even want to leave the house to get food. I've been having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner for the last two weeks. I bought a jar of peanut butter (Peter Pan brand even!) and two jars of strawberry conserves. They have bread loaves here (pao ruti) but they are made special. Generally ovens aren't used here, so the native breads are all flat breads that are fried or baked in a large round oven to about the thickness of a waffle (nan ruti).

Anyway, I force myself to leave the campus every day, to try and go somewhere new, but sometimes I end up going to one of the stores I know well and getting more of the standard bread, biscuits, and sometimes some instant noodles much like ramen noodles. I feel like I'm a freshman in college again! I hope my cooking repertoire picks up a bit in a hurry. I'll start to eat out a few times a week for some variety once I get my finances a little more in order. We only have about 133 taka to live on each day (about $2.50 US) and that's more than most people in Bangladesh. Most people in Bangladesh have never eaten at a hotel (restaurant) in their lives. Compare that with the percentage of people in the US that have never eaten at a restaurant!

To follow up on the last entry, I never did find the Buddhist temple. I just walked around through the country side for quite a while and ended up talking to a few people on a bridge and then headed back. The country side is very nice and mostly relaxing. You can walk and be relatively alone and people don't bother you so much. It turns out that the temple was to the north, not to the west. I've learned the name of the town and will have to visit it sometime.

I've also found a Baptist church to the south east. I mention these things because mosques are a dime a dozen in Bangladesh. You can't walk 10 minutes without stumbling over one. I don't mean to suggest that they aren't beautiful in their own right, but things quickly become quotidian and I don't notice them as much anymore. The first days in Bangladesh, I was looking at each rickshaw with fascination. Now I don't even see them unless I need one.

I think this is why it's hard for me to describe some of the more basic aspects of daily life to the people that send me letters and email. Everything becomes normal quite quickly and when that happens, I can't fathom how anyone would not know that to be the case. Who would think of describing daily life in America by stating that you can drink water right from the faucet or pull out your frozen dinner from the freezer and heat it in the microwave oven in 5 minutes? Some things just become so ordinary that you don't even think to mention it anymore. I'll try to pick a theme or topic to write about every two weeks that seems basic, but may be new to other people. If anyone reading this has any questions or ideas for topics you want to know more about (how does the toiled system work in a country with no toilet paper for example), just let me know at myq@bigfoot.com.

Today I'll describe the basics of my work at the Primary Teaching Institute (PTI). There is a PTI in every zila (equivalent to a state) in Bangladesh for training primary school teachers. Theoretically, the teachers-to-be go to school at the PTI to attain certification and then go on to get a job. In practice, it is really in-service training. Almost every trainee at the PTI already works for a primary school. There are thousands and thousands of primary schools throughout Bangladesh. With a population of 130 million, there's a lot of kids to be educated.

Most trainees are age 25-30, but some I think are as young as 20 and some look to be in their late 30s or even 40s. There are a total of 106 trainees in my PTI, which is small compared to most. Everyone lives on campus in one of two hostels (male and female) with 6 people to a room. The program is for one year, beginning in July and ending with a week of final tests in June. I arrived during the practice teaching part of the year, so there really aren't any classes going on. The trainees are practicing what they have learned to date.

Practicing is putting it nicely. I tried to teach the trainees the concept of "thinking outside of the box" in one of the few classes I've had a chance to teach. They seemed to understand the concept and were excited to learn it, but when I tried to challenge them a little bit and think of ways to make English fun and or useful for their students in an effort to compensate for crowded classes, no materials, etc., they all fell back into their pre-programmed mode of thinking straight from the text book. They show me their lesson plans and they are all the same boring lessons, often copied from each other, and focused more on making themselves look good in front of the evaluators (and following the mandates of a proper lesson plan according the book) rather than actually teaching the children.

It is easy to complain and since my time is running short, I'll cut this entry short by stating that, all things considered, the trainees and teachers in Bangladesh are putting forth effort. They have many obstacles to face (students not coming to class, students with no shoes on their feet nor food in their bellies, etc) and they are probably doing the best they can. Well, maybe not the best, but they are trying. It is easy to criticize and everything seems ludicrous from my point of view. But my view comes from schools that have lights and roofs and supplies and room to walk around. These things simply don't exist for the 130 million people in Bangladesh. Yes, that's half the population of the United States and is actually the fate of the majority of the 6 billion people on the planet.

Mull that over for two weeks while I try to make it through another two weeks. Thanks everyone for your letters and emails. Hope things are well in the USofA.

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