Postcards from the Edge

of Bangladesh

Archive for September, 2009

Barbie

This made my day yesterday:

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A right poser

My cute-as-pie, naughty-as-hell neighbour sitting on my kitchen steps with his new favourite toy, a plastic doll. Well, it’s not NEW new, given that it’s arms, legs, body and head aren’t connected to each other any more. But. somehow, it still manages to blast out the Barbie song.

I’m a Barbie girl, in Barbie wooorld, life’s fantasic, when you’re plastic…Come on Barbie, let’s go parrrty!

I was not expecting to hear the super wonderful and powerfully lyric-ed Barbie song in this neck of the woods. What magical blast from the past. 1997 to be precise. Was that really 12 years ago??

I did it

Today, after many vicious internal debates with myself in bed every morning (which have historically always resulted in my saying ‘sod it’, and rolling over to go back to sleep) , I actually got up and I actually did some exercise. Davina Cardio Box. Given my current fitness levels, it was a rather pathetic performance all round. But it’s start.

And for the first time, I did it wearing trainers. I was all authentic kick-boxer style before going barefoot. (Didn’t bring trainers to Bangers, but the friend I met in Bali bought my trainers out for me). Putting them on this morning was weird. I haven’t worn closed shoes, or socks, for 6 months. I’m not sure my feet liked being all closed in and covered up. No idea how I am going to survive back in the real world when I try shove my flip-flop loving feet into high heeled boots, and all the other lovely proper shoes I have back home. I foresee blisters and pain in my foot-future.

My roast aubergine and tomato pasta last night morphed into a roast aubergine and tomato stew type thingy. One, I forgot to actually buy the pasta. Two, the electricity died on me half way through roasting the tomatoes (aubs already roasted), But I managed to pull it all together (kind of) into a pretty delicious stew type thing. I am beginning to love my little oven. And detest power cuts even more. I have rekindled my long-standing romance with www.deliaonline.com. All of Delia’s recipes, online and searchable. Such a wonderful place to spend time. Delia taught me how to cook. It’s almost impossible to cock up a Delia recipe. Well, unless the electricity dies on you, of course. Next up, is search for a whisk, I want to make meringues. Ya-um. They should still work with non-caster-sugar sugar? Maybe I can use my pestle and mortar and grind some normal sugar? Also not sure how I’ll measure the sugar either with no scale, but let’s see what happens.

Walk

Yesterday after work, I went to check out some jhum cultivation. It was really the most beautiful walk/scramble I’ve been on here. I checked out some rice fields, on a hill. Which is pretty weird to see. In Bangladesh there are rice paddies everywhere, which look like this:

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Flat. Very flat.

Well, Bangladesh (most of) is super flat. Over 1/2 of the country is below 5 meters above sea level.

With jhum cultivation, rice paddies look like this:

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Not so flat.

I’m not sure how easy it is to tell from that photo how steep that hill is. Can you see the normal flat rice paddies down below? Anyway, it’s steep. I know, I had to scramble up it. Well, it was a mixture of scrambling, being pulled from the front, and even (at times, to my horror) being pushed from the back. Fuck, I MUST get other shoes for such walks in future. If this carries on much longer, my lasting legacy here will be the foreigner who had trouble staying on her feet.

All in all, lovely walk, beautiful scenery, such as:

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It's all green. Everywhere.

Ok fine, there was also sweating. And having other people carry my camera (felt like a British lady during colonial times, but its an SLR and I really don’t fancy cracking the lense) incase I did slip and drop it. But I DIDN’T slip. Ok, I slipped a bit, but I didn’t fall. That is something.

In food news: Getting into this whole cooking with oven thing. Tonight is roast aubergine and tomato pasta. Hell, I’m even going to blanch the tomatoes. With potato wedges for lunch.

Jhum cultivation

My potato wedges rocked last night. Motivation to try harder in the kitchen from now on.

Today is mercifully cooler than yesterday. Good thing, as yesterday I fobbed off a walk to check out some Jhum cultivation on some of the surrounding hills. So tonight I go check that out. Hopefully with less sweating than would have occurred yesterday. Do I talk about sweating a lot? Can’t wait to live in a country again where sweating is only part of my gym/exercise regime and not a major topic of conversation/the deciding factor for or against any proposed activity.

So jhum cultivation is what is traditionally practised here in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (and parts of the world), usually by indigenous tribes. It’s like a shifting cultivation, also known as ‘slash and burn’ practised on hills and slopes, and was developed as a result of lack of flat agricultural land. A section of forest land is cleared of all natural vegetation, allowed to dry out, and then burned. After a few months seeds are sown, then later down the line, crops are harvested etc. The land is then left for 10-20 years for the natural forest to grow back and for the soil to regain its fertility. Traditionally, the village/community would own/control the forest land and would decide on this jhum pattern/frequency. Thus the community cultivated land for its livelihood while practising conservation and taking care of the ecological balance.

However, with the population pressure, communities wanting to grow more food have cleared greater chunks of forest lands and returned to the fallow plots much sooner than 10-20 years.The length of the fallow phase between two successive cropping phases has come down to even two to three years in some places. This has resulted in soil degradation, fall in yield, lower returns, and reduction in green cover. So these days its a pretty controversial agricultural practice, and something NGOs are trying to move indigenous people away from, with the introduction and training up on new agricultural methods. I can’t vouch for how successful this shift is/will be, as reaching all people in remote areas here in the CHT is quite the undertaking. But certainly a step in the right direction.

Anyway, history/agricultural lesson over. This evening I see some of the cultivation, which (hopefully) isn’t tooo far a walk away. Christ I’m lazy. Needless to say exercise regime has not gained much (any) momentum since return from Bali. Will try harder.

Food

During my induction month in Dhaka, I made it a priority to buy a little oven to bring with to my placement so that I would not have to live on just fried or boiled food. And besides, I love cooking.

To date (5 months here) I haven’t used the oven. Not even once.

Many reasons

1) Cooking should be fun and relaxing. Not in the dark, sweating.

2) Cooking should be done while listening to music, drinking wine. Rice wine does not substitute well.

3) Electric ovens (obviously) don’t work when there is no electricity. Never knowing when the electricity will go, or for how long, makes using the oven seem even less fun.

4) Here, I’ve become really lazy eater. Normally (in any other country) food is very important to me. I plan(ned) my days around meals. Here, if I don’t have left over food from lunch (when Memory does cook for me, she generally cooks enough for lunch and dinner), I have been known to eat 1/2 tin of condensed milk for dinner. Or sometimes Milo (I found Milo!) straight out the tin with a spoon. Or a bag of bombay mix. Or mango ice lollies. It’s like food as lost all meaning to me. Or at least it has when I personally have to cook it.

But tonight, I use my oven. To make potato wedges. Hardly a culinary masterpiece, I know. But it’s important to start small. I’ve checked that the oven actually works (it does, electricity allowing), have bought hot tomato sauce. And I’m even thinking of making mayonnaise. After much sweating, numerous shops and good use of my English-Bangla dictionary, I managed to track down vinegar in the market today. After all that effort I OWE it to myself to make mayonnaise. But it’s the eggs isn’t it. The raw eggs involved. Eating raw eggs of (potentially) dubious origins is not a good idea. My Traveller’s Health book tells me so. Wish I’d thought if it before tracking down the vinegar. Or actually, the vinegar straight on the wedges/chips is probably also worth the market sweat-fest.

Why

Why, in Bangladesh, when a bus has been parked at the side of the road before departure, do people only try board the bus when it actually starts moving? A bus will patiently wait until it’s departure time (or some time close enough to its departure time), during which time no one seems interested to get on said bus. But when it start actually moving, then oh boy…it’s chaos and mayhem as hoards of people try to get on. Shoving, pushing, crying, banging on the side of the bus, shouting. Perhaps they like the drama of the last minute danger-dash?

But. I did survive my Dhaka to Rangamati bus trip yesterday. Have even managed to find a better way to travel the arduous 10 hours. A proper, luxury bus service from Chittagong to Dhaka. Less swerving, less hooting, windows that block out the hooting/shouting/general chaos of Chittagong to Dhaka ‘highway’. It was actually all quite pleasant. Until I got to Chittagong, and had to hunt down my local bus service to Rangamati. But this I expect was made more difficult by the impossible-to-understand Eid bus timetable. Next time I expect even less pain. Here’s hoping anyway.

Holiday in Dhaka

Having a lovely old time in Dhaka at the moment. A (cool) group of us are in one of the VSO flats, and for once Dhaka has a holiday feel. And it’s not so hot, I’ve even worn jeans. Twice. Spending a fair amount of time in the pool at the Bagha, and even watched a movie. In an actual cinema. Talk about feeling normal again for a few days.

I read a few other Bangladesh blogs, and I’m adding a link to Leetlegirl’s Big Adventures, which is one I read most days. Never met lettlegirl, but it’s great to catch up with Dhaka news/sights/smells from her blog. Today she has some really cool photos of train travel over this Eid rush.

Oh, and Eid Mubarak to all.