Day in the Life, Part 1

I apologize in advance for the fact that I have “a day in the life” post, I know it’s about as generic as it gets. But it’s generic for a reason, and it’s going to be just too fun to write, and most of my peeps back in the US don’t actually know what my living is Bangladesh is like. Also, I think it’ll be fun to write one of these now, when I’m trying to get started and it’s like walking through impossibly thick mud. And then another one in the middle of things, and another when (if?) I’m thinking about wrapping up my role and taking off.

For a change, I actually wake up to my alarm (I’ve been religiously sleeping in) to call America to tell someone happy birthday. And it’s good I woke up when I did, because my cousin and her husband both call right then to make sure I’m still good to pick up my niece from school. This means I actually have to emerge from the mosquito net and start the day, which means drinking multiple glasses of cold water. It’s not quite at hot as it was even a few weeks ago, but my body is still shocked to be in Bangladesh in October. Corn flakes and milk and watery, gross, yet weirdly addictive instant coffee for breakfast. (I know, Bangladesh has no shortage of delicious breakfast foods. Parathas and fried potatoes and eggs and pithas. I just can’t stomach it in the morning, no matter how much I try. Always just cereal. It’s nice on the rare occasion when I’m home alone because no one bothers to try and fatten me up.) Email and a tiny bit of reading and a shower before I pop into my cousin’s car and head off to Sunbeams School, Dhanmondi.

Traffic is a way of life, so I get a chance to chat with Moktar Bhai, who’s driving. He’s got an opinion about most things and is pretty sure he’s right, which means he loves to share. We discuss whether or not I’d get a high-paying job if I wanted one (American degree? Definitely, just got to get into a bank, or no, no, cell phone companies are the way to go), how I really should just learn to drive (why don’t I give it a try right now? No? Okay, well, he’ll teach me to drive if I teach him English) and what life is like in America. (Bangladesh’s “daal-bhaat”-lentils and rice, the standard meal – is really all he needs. This I agreed with heartily.) We arrive at Sunbeams a bit early, and he insists on tea/coffee/a banana/ice cream/an amra/kot bel, and now I’m thinking I should have just said yes to one of the options to make the man happy. Your level of hunger is really irrelevant to the Bangladeshi need to feed. Good guy, actually, it’s always fun.

Grab my niece from good old Sunbeams (known to be the best English-medium school in Dhaka, I still feel a vague sense of competition in there because my school wasn’t quite as good. Hardcore basketball games, too, back in the day.) She’s pretty pleased to see me, and we discuss her day in the car as she eats a banana. (Moktar Bhai asks her for the banana peel. “Please don’t throw it out the window?” she says as she hands it to him, and he takes it and promptly throws it out the window. Utter indignation, but he’s SURE that throwing it into a pile of bushes isn’t littering, and me, my seven-year old niece, and Moktar Bhai argue about littering, biodegrading, and the danger of banana peels all the way home)

I eat lunch with my cousin’s husband (Arshad Bhai’s from Chittagong and it’s his personal mission in life to fatten me up as much as possible, so in general it’s advisable to not eat around him, as fond of him as I might be).We make plans to watch the debate tomorrow morning while I try to dodge his repeated addition of more chicken curry to my plate. Once we’re done, he takes the little one out on an errand, and I spread out on the floor with my computer to get some work done. I’ve misplaced my modem, so I don’t have the internet. (Oh yes, internet here is incredible. I own a bitsy USB modem that gives me internet wherever I choose to go. It’s like magic.) But I get to work on a powerpoint presentation, a general informational one that I’m going to use for volunteer recruitment. My timeline says I should be giving this presentation a lot by late November.

I eventually walk over to another cousin’s (nearly getting run over on the street, DHAKA ROADS ARE RIDICULOUS) where I spend the rest of the afternoon drinking tea, chitchatting, enjoying the babies, and working on graduate school applications. In the evening I get news that the purchase of the helpline domain is coming through (I’m getting Shuni means “to listen”. This isn’t actually what we’re calling the helpline, but it’s easy and accurate, and it’s related enough to what we’re going to be calling the line) and I consult with Nuhash and quickly choose a couple email addresses that seem useful (info@, schedules@, career@). This is extremely exciting, because I’ve been waiting on the domain and, more importantly, official email addresses, to make the job description public – and as soon as I hire full-time staff, I’m ready to start recruiting volunteers.

Some more helpline related correspondence. An email to the Befrienders   Worldwide South Asian Regional Director asking her how I officially register as part of their Charter. A friend of mine who’s familiar with how psychiatry works in Dhaka has offered to take me around to meet doctors and observe how things go down in the Dhaka mental health care world first hand.  He made a great point to me the other day, about how very very important referrals are in a country like ours, where people are embarrassed about mental health issues and don’t know where to turn to. Making referrals available, along with befriending on the phone, is a whole ball game in itself – a massive amount of research – but it’s one I’m willing to jump into. This’ll take the cooperation of mental health providers, of course, so we’re going to go about getting that process started. We set up a day next week to go to Dhaka Medical College together.

Dinner and more talking with the cousins (I’d long for these conversations, sitting around in my Cambridge apartment. My mother calls me and I tell her where I am, and she says, “Ah, just what you wanted, just what you came back for.” Absolutely.) Now I’m sitting around writing this, drinking even more tea,  yawing, and discussing logo and picture ideas with Nuhash.  The kid’s got mad skillz, and I appreciate, again and again, how many incredible people I have on my side.


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