A Few Of The Difficulties I Am Encountering In Starting a Helpline That I Had Not Anticipated, Vary in Seriousness, and Come Hand in Hand With Working In Dhaka.

1. A “crippling” lack of actual work days because of the ridiculous number of strikes called by BNP and Jamaat. I actually hate when western media will put out a headline that says “Bangladesh crippled by ______” (insert anything from “political turmoil” to “devastating tornado.”) What does “crippled” even mean, anyway, when you’re talking about a whole country? But I’ve been forced to admit that that word is starting to make a little more sense. These strikes are so frustrating, especially when they’re called by a political group that should no more be in existence than the Nazis should.

(Of course, for me it’s just “so frustrating” that we have to squeeze in work on weekends because we can’t work on the weekdays. For others, working in the day is their kids eating at night.

I always, always try to remember that. It is alarmingly easy to forget.)

2. “Current nai.” There’s often no electricity when you want there to be. Dhaka struggles to provide adequate power to everyone. As the weather gets hotter and hotter, there will be large chunks during the day where there’s just no electricity. This is called “load shedding” – power is cut off in one area so it can be supplied to another. We’ll go to our office and end up just sitting around because we can’t turn the computer on (and in best case scenario for me, sit cross-legged on shitol patis – woven bamboo mats, I guess is what you’d call them in English– on the floor of our office on my birthday and get to listen to my favourite songs in the world, because Hammad sings them. I can’t get over how perfect things can be sometimes) But more problematic than the computers not turning on is the fact that the ceiling fans won’t work, which is unacceptable in this weather. Heat sits on you like an oversized cow on your chest. I’m real smug in the U.S., “Yeah it’s 100% humidity where I grew up, booyah.” THAT’S coming back to bite me, for sure. I just had an anxious conversation with my mother about generator/power creating options for when load shedding happens during phone shifts, because there’s no way I’m having my volunteers sitting around in an oven when they’re taking calls, not if I have to fan them myself.

3. Guys who work at copy shops have opinions about page numbers. I had the English version of our training manual printed, copied and spiral-bound a few days ago. I very carefully put page numbers, skipping the cover page, contact sheet, etc., and created a corresponding table of contents. This of course felt like it took years. Completed manuals come back to me and what do you know, the copy guy decided that he wanted to put page numbers starting right from the cover page. He didn’t get rid of my page numbers, he just added different ones of his own. It’s quite odd. Now on Friday I get to open training by saying, “So, there are these page numbers here, and then there’s these page numbers there. Look at these page here numbers here, but not these here page numbers there.” Unless I take white-out to the extra numbers? 15 training manuals at 46 pages a manual means 690 blobs of white out. The weirdest things to think about, I tell you what.

4. Email culture doesn’t work in the way I’m used to from the U.S. Wait, you’re not going to reply to my email within two minutes of me sending it? Wait, a lack of response is more likely to mean “Got your email and everything’s cool” than it is to mean that you didn’t get the email? Wait, a strike might mean you didn’t check your email because you didn’t make it to university? Wait, not everybody has internet all the time?

I have been so naïve, in so many ways.

5. I have become a clumsy mess at trying to balance languages. Fluent in both English and Bengali should mean I’m fluent in both English and Bengali, switching suavely between the two however necessary. I should be able to carry the languages together as casually as I carry Sunil Ganguly’s “Shey Shomoy,” and Richard Adams‘s Watership Down in the same arm. As it turns out, I am not a talented bilingual. I can barely say a complete sentence without dropping in words from the other language. I keep awkwardly pausing to look for words when I’m talking to someone who only speaks English or only speaks Bengali. Clumsy mess. I guess today I did drop Watership Down. On, I might add, my foot that already had a toenail ripped off, a toenail that was my contribution to the Shahbag crowd.

6. When it comes to describing KPR to new people, first, nobody has any idea what I’m talking about. In grad school interviews I found myself talking a lot about how there’s no framework in Bangladesh for thinking about mental health issues, no structure in which we’re working or that I can refer to. Every explanation starts from scratch. (Then, of course, when they do begin to understand what I’m talking about, there’s an overwhelming amount of enthusiasm from whoever I’m talking to. Everyone wants to volunteer, them and their whole family. Don’t get me wrong, I love that bit. It’s just funny. )

7. A space between the wall and the tin roof in the bathroom of our office. You may wonder why this is a problem. Mosquitoes while you pee, that’s all I gots to say.


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