2001.06.28Hello! It? been a while since I?e checked my email and hence updated this page. If there is anything that is routine in Bangladesh, it? that you can? abide by any sort of schedule no matter how hard you try nor what means you employ.
Recent news from Bangladesh: I have purchased a bicycle! It? Hero brand from India (black market I later found out) and cost 2600 taka. That? about $50. It? a pretty decent bike, but the helmet that the office has given me, combined with the Kryptonite U-lock that I brought with me are worth more than the bike! I cycled from Chittagong to Patia in a little over an hour and have been cycling once or twice a week since. I have a crazy idea of cycling up to Srimongal for our in-service training next month, but we?l see how that develops. It would take about 3 days and is about 300 km to the north. I could short-cut through India, but I? need a visa which I don? yet have. I might go into Dhaka next week to see if I can get one.
The rainy season has started in full force. I quite enjoy it actually. I had to wade through 10 inches of water one morning to get from my residence to the school. It rains almost every day, but not all the time. It? overcast most of the time, and the rain will just begin for no reason and then stop just as quickly. It? kind of strange. When it doesn? rain for a day or so, it gets very hot and humid. It? very difficult to survive, but it helps that I take a shower every 12 hours or so to cool off.
Along with the rain, the final testing has begun at the PTI. It doesn? help that the opposition party has called three days of hartals during the tests, but we manage. The tests are quite interesting. There? not even a veneer of objectivity in the tests and cheating is not only rampant, but tacitly condoned. Not only do the trainees cheat, they?e not even very good at cheating. They are completely obvious when hiding their cheat sheets and looking over their shoulders. As a fellow proctor of the exams, I have begun to crack down on the cheating. Theoretically, anyone caught will be expelled. My colleagues won? do that, so I have been following their lead and simply taking away their cheat sheets. However, my legitimacy to do so has been challenged from day one. It doesn? seem to be an issue that the trainees don? have any right to cheat in the first place, but they claim that I have no right to catch them. Come on, it? like shooting fish in a barrel: there are so many people cheating and they?e so bad at it. I?e caught roughly 30% of them red handed, and the other 60% either look at someone else? paper or hide their cheat sheets more effectively. I think my crack down has helped either less people are cheating or they are becoming better. If they won? learn the material, at least they will learn to be better cheaters. Learning is happening my goal is achieved!
Well not really. Yesterday there was a near riot when I finally caught one of the more "powerful" students cheating red handed. I had actually been threatened with violence the night before and think the outburst was probably from some scheming among the more prolific cheaters, but in the end, after 2 hours of yelling among all of the staff members in the office (with every sentence containing my name but too fast for me to understand), it turned out that I was in the right and the students called in to apologize to me. It? not what I wanted really I? like accountability if possible. It? one of the major barriers to development in this country. You can cheat and lie all you want and in the end, all you?l have to do is eat some crow, but you?l never be accountable for your actions.
Anyway, that? that. I? not too hard on them because I? new. But I? hoping with the next batch of trainees, I can teach them some self-respect, some pride in their work, some ethics, and other concepts which I feel are sorely lacking in Bangladesh. These are the lessons, rather than English itself, which I think I can offer to the people of Bangladesh to truly help them. I don? think learning English in the villages is going to help anyone, but there are experiences and concepts that I can introduce to them that might be worth their while.
So in other news, in order to bump up my mood (sense of worthlessness or powerlessness in spite of all the obstacles to development in Bangladesh), I visited a few NGOs on my bike over the past few weeks. It was a refreshing break to see what some others are doing in the development community and see their enthusiasm and energy. Some of it rubbed off on me and it was again exciting to feel that I was here for a reason and might be able to help out a little bit. Of course I am a realist as well and realize that many of the NGOs are corrupted. Development is an industry around the world and people are getting rich off of it. Sometimes the "target people" (the one? that are supposed to be helped) get nothing at all. So I haven? jumped on board with any of them yet, but I? checking out my options and will hopefully pick up a secondary project to work on as well as the PTI. Now if I could only reinvigorate my PTI experience. I can already feel some of my effort and enthusiasm waining, as everyone there is pretty much apathetic about the entire system.
While at one of the NGOs, I found out that email has now come to Patia! Would you believe it? I can? either, nor can I believe the price at 8 taka / minute, I could spend my entire monthly allotment in 8 hours! I have yet to try it, but I guess in an emergency, I could send email from there. For now, I?l continue to pay 10 taka for the 1 hour bus ride to Chittagong and check my email from there at 1.5 taka / minute. Supposedly they have Net2Phone as well which is cheaper than the 50-100 taka / minute to call the USofA.
Ok, for the last tidbit of info in this entry (I?e only got 15 minutes left and haven? even sent any email yet!), I? going to admit something to the world: I wear a skirt every day in Bangladesh. Yes, let it be known across the entire planet, I? now a cross-dresser. It? an interesting lesson in cross-cultural differences. People ask me, "Mr. Myq, why do you keep your hair like a girl?" I point out that in America, not only do some men have long hair, some have ear rings and, shock of all shocks, some men have nose rings (I don? wear mine in Bangladesh though). This last tidbit is the biggest shock because in Bangladesh, only women have nose rings, and just about all women have them. They are so common that I only notice when a women doesn? have one.
In Bangladesh, a man that wears a nose ring is referred to as a hizra which is roughly a transvestite. I can get away with the long hair and ear ring because I? a bideshi but the nose ring would just be too much for them to handle. Anyway, the point of all this is that I answer the question by pointing out that cultural roles are socially defined and that American roles for men and women are somewhat the same and somewhat different. For example, if I wore a lungi in America, people would probably call me a cross-dresser. A lungi is an ankle-length wrap-around skirt that every man wears in Bangladesh. Although pants are becoming more common, and are always worn to work, lungis are for sleeping in and lounging in. I wear one into town every once in a while to warm receptions. I?l probably bring some to America with me, but because only women wear skirts in America, I probably won? wear one on the streets. It is also very common here for men to hold hands, hug, and basically be affectionate with each other. In America, the innate human/mammalian need for touch is usually satisfied with members of the opposite sex, but even married couples in Bangladesh don? touch in public (and often don? really touch much at home either from what I?e seen). So, men who are friends are always holding hands and leaning on each other. It? something I can? really get used to, but I don? mind so much anymore when my colleges at work grab my hand and hold onto it while they are talking to me.
So I? going tangential here. The point is that these actions and clothing in America are not as socially acceptable as they are in Bangladesh. Similarly, ways of dress and action in America are not accepted in Bangladesh. I have conformed somewhat by leaving out the nose ring, but have to keep some of my American-ness or I might go crazy. I think it? a nice balance. A giant, white, long-haired bideshi with an earring walking down the street in a lungi. No wonder people stop and stare.