Monday, December 15, 2008

In Praise of the American Sandwich

Hello all. Reports of my demise were premature. Down, yes; out, no. I've merely been enjoying clean water and cooking oil, my own bed, having my dogs back, and all the video games I purchased for a kind word and a biscuit in Bangladesh. Oh and work, although enjoying doesn't quite encapsulate the love-hate relationship I have with work.

Things are obviously different around the Cook home. Our living room is less living room now than a McDonald's Playland in which someone has placed a comfy couch. There are no less than four separate play zones in which one can place a child to sit or stand without fear of bodily harm. There, this child can work on fine motor skills by trying to kill and eat darling zoo and/or woodland creatures. In addition, I just constructed a large fenced in region for mano-a-mano, two babys enter, one baby leaves cage matches (with adorable drawings of dancing elephants). We are doing our best to not go mad raising these kids, and most of it hinges on our boys being able to entertain themselves for at least 15 minutes a day. So far, so good.

All in all, the return home has been great. I must admit to taking much of my life for granted, and every tiny little normalcy is magic upon returning. Driving a car. Sleeping in my own bed. Eating food with confidence that you will not be vomiting within hours. Every simple familiarity is a gift. I don't think it's been said enough, so I'll say it here. The American sandwich is a thing of beauty. I'm not just talking free range chicken breast on challah with grilled onions and farmhouse cheese at Zingerman's; I'm talking subs loaded with shaved meat and honey mustard; I'm talking Soul on a Roll (barbequed brisket with slaw, or a deli reuben. Shit, I'm talkin' PB&J on white. I don't even like white bread, but I'm still talking about it. Simple. Satisfying. If it doesn't make me blow junks or bleed internally, so much the better. I got sandwiches in Bangladesh, yes. And they were good, yes. One had egg and mushrooms and was crushed and toasted within an iron over open flame, and it was delicious. At other times I rolled spicy kabob's up in Naan, and again: delicious. But damn it if we don't go to town on the sandwhich in the US. One of the Chicago Reader music critics once wrote that no matter how cool you are, right now, somewhere in America, there's a kid inventing a form of music that will totally piss you off in 20 years. I would like to add that right now, somewhere in America, there's a guy making a sandwich in his kitchen so delicious that it would totally kick your tastebuds in two. If you talk to that man, tell him to mail me one.

It's good to be home.

A few things happened in Bangladesh before we left that I haven't blogged on yet. Going into them in any detail seems very stale, but let me do my best to get them out here for my personal record of the trip. If you don't care, at least I'll remember it when I'm old and trying to explain the trip to Kamran, Kalil, and Maya.

You're Living All Over Me

The hardest thing about Bangladesh was living in the same room with my entire family. In my older age, I have learned that I am by nature an introvert who enjoys his own company and the silence that brings. So it was that being in a room with four other people all day was difficult. Why not walk into the living room, dumbass? Well, lots of reasons. The first, is air conditioning. Our room had it, the rest of house felt like the rest of Bangladesh: like bathing in hot spit that tastes faintly of turmeric.

The second was baby placement. Our bedroom had a crib, a bed, and a mattress on the floor. These are perfect spots to lay down a child such that he can sleep, play, or cry uncontrollably for five minutes to an eternity. The rest of the house is covered in hard, hard marble tile that is easy on the eye and horrible on the fontanelle. It just isn't a good place for a kid to roll around. About half-way through the trip, I started brining the crib out into the living room, but it was still one tiny crib, and I've got twins. Further, neither one really liked hanging in the crib for any longer than they could nap.

The third reason is Andre, the adorable dalmation who tried to eat my face. Here's a picture of him. Cute, eh? How cute would he be if he tried to eat your face? The first time we were in Bangladesh, Andre nearly bit off Tania's hand. We were assured that this time, Andre was mellower, and if we didn't pay him much attention, he wouldn't pay us much attention... or eat our face. And so, Andre was seemingly friendly towards me. He sniffed me, wagged his tail, and even licked me. So, I got comfortable, even started petting him. And thus, on the third time I petted him, Andre leaped up, tried to ingest my hand and claw my chest. I leap back, Salman grabbed Andre, and Maya started crying. Tania tried to comfort her, telling her Daddy is ok, and I'm trying to tell her and everyone that I'm fine. Tania then told me to show Maya my chest to prove that I'm ok, and I then realize that Andre has torn a big hole in the center of my shirt, scraped my chest and leg, and that his bite missed so narrowly that the side of my hand has the imprint of the side of his teeth. For the rest of the trip, Andre lived on the roof of the building from 6 AM until 9 PM, and we stayed in our room for the remainder. Salman loves his dog, and Andre loves Salman, but anyone else is dog food. In retrospect, my masculinity feels bruised after being mauled by a dalmation named Andre. I owe you one, Andre, and if I'm ever in Bangladesh again, I owe you paybacks.

Thus, after that, we became cloistered and I became claustrophobic. It was then, in our weakness, that the creatures came for us as we lay sleeping. I was fast asleep one night, when something walked over my head. Having seen the giant, slow-moving spiders of Bangladesh, I though "TARANTULA!" Luckily--for my masculinity--I did not scream it, but jumped up as though I had, scraping my head violently and sending it flying across the room. Tania is yelling "what, what is it?" and I see it, a humungous cockroach. Having not seen it, she says "get a tissue and kill it!"

Friends, this was not a cockroach that you kill with Kleenex or even Brawny. This was the kind of beast you take a shotgun to and pray he doesn't have friends. He was a whopper, about three inches long, and thankfully not very fast. No wonder the cats in Dubai eat roaches; these roaches are good eatin's. I had to crush him with a shoe, and I didn't sleep well for the next week.

The next plague upon us were scabies. Kamran had a bit of a rash when we got him that just proceded to get worse while we were there. It seemed to start via a lesion on his hand and chest and work its way outward. For a while, Tania and I were putting socks on his hand to keep him from sucking on the hand, but all we were left with was a soggy sock. Overtime, this plague began to cover his body, and his face broke out as well. Then Kalil got it, and then Tania and I started itching. At this point, everyone in the family got to know the joys of permethrin cream, which more or less, is like slathering your body in insecticide. This didn't stop our fantom itch, but at least it kept the cockroaches at bay.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hi All- the news is that Keith is out and Tania is in. Thanks to all those who really enjoyed Keith's postings, but since he is getting back to work, I will be handling this blog for now. I can fully assure you I will will be neither as funny nor as articulate as my husband. Just so we are clear. However, I will be posting some basic info about the kids and will try to do so regularly.

We have been home for a week now, and this marks the twins' 6 mos bday. They have adjusted rather well to the move. We have had them in for their first check up, where they were subjected to ear irrigations, 2 shots a piece and Kalil got his very own nebulizer. The new meds, though similar, are doing their job, so I guess I won't complain about the price going from .50 to $30. I appreciate those who have indicated that the boys look healthy, and not tiny as we reported them to be. To give you an idea, they scored 0% for height and head circumference and 2 and 4% for weight. So they are tiny ( the Dr did note that the US scales skew for white babies and Asians tend to score less. By comparison, Maya was at 25% for weight and 50% for height. She is now 50% and 90%).
Miss Maya is a trooper and already went back to school- a half day for her first day back in town and full time since. She missed her friends and is happy to be back. The reason I know this is because when she got home, she rolled around the floor and shouted, " I'm home, I'm home!".
Ok, that is all for now since the boys are up again.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Hello all. We returned home safely Monday night, totally exhausted but in one piece. Everyone will be slowly recovering from fatigue, the 11 hour time change, and the 40-50 degree temperature difference and I'll return to work bit by bit over the next couple weeks. I'll try and add a few bits to explain what happened in the last few weeks and some pictures, and then I'll sew this up.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Coming Home

I haven't had time to write anything lately, and I probably won't. The news is that we got our NOC and passports on Sunday, and we are scheduled to get the boys US visas today. We have a hold on a flight that leaves here Sunday the 16th and gets in to the US on Monday in the early evening (33 hr travel time due to time changes). There's a flurry of activity upon leaving, so we will most likely be busy with saying our goodbyes and celebrating the success of the trip.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Bottle Up and Explode

Things blow up here a lot. I’m not talking about terrorists with martyr vests or car bombs, stuff simply just up and explodes. Two weeks ago, we all awoke to a large “boom!” and flash of light down the road from us. Then the power went off. If I were in Lebanon, I would think “car bomb,” but I’m in Bangladesh, so instead I thought “car bomb.” Then I quickly revised this down to "pipe bomb" and then “transformer.” This is not an alien experience to me, as I’ve had a transformers blow a few times in the US. Here they blow every other Tuesday, and if it rains, which it always does, on Thursday as well. One morning, three transformers that I could hear exploded somewhere between ruti, omlette, and cha. Cyclone Reshmi had been in the Bay of Bengal for days, masquerading as a tropical depression, and it had rained here three days solid without pause. In any case, none of the transformers were ours, and we had our typical morning brown-out and went on with life. Since then, there have been various loud pops and bangs, as its seems an electrical wire will stray here, fall down there, and this tends to create loud noises of varying sorts. Much of this can be explained by poor infrastructure and the rest can be explained by a land ruled by chaos and habit. Panna Phupa told me that 30% of produced energy is lost in the system due to people pirating energy. They simply hop up on the electrical poles, attach some wiring and viola, free juice. The government owns the energy industry, and no private firms will get involved because you just can’t make money if there’s that much pirating.

This reminds me of a tale I’ve told before. When we first arrived in Bangladesh a couple years back, we stopped to get natural gas. Nearly all cars here have been converted to run on compressed natural gas, as Bangladesh has lots of it, and it burns much cleaner. So, nearly everyone has a big gas cylinder in the trunk. So, we stopped and started filling up. You could see various people milling about the station; most people are not in their cars while filling up. So, Berry Phupu turns to me and says, “usually, we get out of the car while filling up, but it’s raining.” “Why?” I ask. “Sometimes the cars explode.” Sure enough, I’m reading the newspaper here that week, and there’s a picture of a car that exploded at the filling station. For the rest of my time here, I was the guy trying to look nonchalant and unconcerned as I crept away from the car and hid behind anything that appeared to be flame retardant.

This trip has been very different from the last. One of the largest differences is that we don’t go out much. The first time we came, everyone was inviting us to dine either out or at their house. We were also constantly shuttling from Panna Phupa and Berry Phupu’s house to Boro Phupu’s house where Tania’s parents were staying. This trip has been largely different. One, the boys start working themselves into sleep around 6 PM. People know that were really tied up with the kids, so we never go out at night. Two, I haven’t been going over to Boro Phupu’s house on Fridays because I need some time to myself, and the trip is horrendous. It’s a nauseating stop-start trip through the heart of Dhaka that lasts about 45 minutes and goes something like this, repeated at 10 second intervals: break, gas, break, gas, honk. Break, break, honk. Gas, gas, break, vomit. It ends in a construction zone that you have to walk through to get to their house, holding babies, trying not to fall into a large open trench or get hit by some random 12 year old with a sledgehammer. Work crews here do not look like the work crews of home. They look like someone walked down the street asking, “anyone want to bang on sh*t?. It pays!” And four or five random guys in lungi’s (basically man skirts) take them up on this, and half of them are boys who should be working with erector sets, not installing sewer drains.

Before I get to serious adoption issues, a last note on explosions. It’s a tough commentary to make, to blend the appropriate amount of snide sarcasm, jingoism, and yet not give you an idea that people in Bangladesh are anything other than peace-loving people. People do make bombs here and set them off to make points. It happens. Typically, its one political party attacking another, rather than say, someone blowing up an American business, and these things are rare. Bangladesh is no Gaza Strip, nor is it even Pakistan. It is easy to see why Bangladesh separated from both India and Pakistan, in turn. Bangladesh is a Muslim nation, but they are a Muslim nation that is geographically separated from Pakistan by India and thus culturally more like India than Pakistan. Although religiously, Bangladesh could be thought of more like its old name “East Pakistan,” but culturally, it is more like it’s even older name “East Bengal.” Hindu’s live here in peace with Muslim’s, and Hindu holidays remain national holidays much like the Muslim ones.

Bangladesh does have an Islamist political party, Jamaat Islamia, and there are plenty of folks running around with bushy beards, wishing that we returned to how things were back when Mohammed (PBUH) was around (My two favorite things in this philosophy: one, men dying their hair and beards with henna, giving them orange hair. This seems a little vain and perhaps a little feminizing for the Prophet, but I’m obviously an outsider here and not hip to the fashions of 1st century AD Medina. And, two, brushing your teeth with some type of twig. Surely the Prophet would not object to Crest). Jamaat has largely been powerless since the country began. They are currently moving towards legitimacy by attempting to enter the elections this year. It’s unclear if they’ll be allowed, but they’ve removed certain offensive things from their party constitution that might keep one out of the election, like, say declaring that the country of Bangladesh is illegitimate. If you’re yearning for the Caliphate, perhaps elections for parliament aren’t your thing. Despite this party’s existence, I just can’t see Bangladesh approaching anything close to Sharia and Islamist rule. There are lots of reasons for this, but I would say that by and large people here are NOT yearning for the Caliphate: they’re yearning for food and shelter, money, jobs, peace, and prosperity. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Everyone here has a hustle, whether it’s selling cell phone time on a corner, popcorn on the street, or high speed internet from a corner shop in the bazaar. Actually, most people here have three hustles going on. This is the reason why microloans are so important and successful here. People here are busy carving out a better life, and it may just take a few dollars to do so. I read an interesting article about a guy here who got a microloan to farm crab here. He was initially laughed at--no one here farms crab--but he turned it into a living. The loan amount? 2000 Taka, a little less than $30. $30? I can’t decide which I want to do more, own a crab farm or get into the microloan business (My mom is already in that business, having given money to the Grameen bank recently). Poverty breeds anger, and although there’s plenty of poverty here, there is also opportunity.

This discussion is all an excuse for me to write about TV here. Most folks here get Indian TV on their cable, and trust me, you will see nary a burka. Indian TV is nearly as over-sexed as US TV. I don’t have any great examples--let’s just say that tight tops and bare midriffs are in full effect--but the funniest thing I have seen is the cheerleaders for the Indian cricket league. In one televised match I saw, these cheerleaders weren’t in the stands, inciting the crowds to pull, pull, pull for their team. They were merely in the studio, at the ready in their pig tails, mini-skirts, and pom-poms to dance, dance, dance us into a commercial break. One difference between here and there: this can’t be a respectful gig here. In the US, our cheerleaders tend to be young and fresh-faced. These looked oddly like they had been hired off the street.

Here's a link to my favorite TV commercial. It's both funny and has a great song in it. Can't wait for the follow up commercial when this guy's colon explodes about three hours later.

Adoption Update

We are progressing rapidly. We now have the NOC, and we should have the boy’s passports by Sunday. This means that we could actually leave early! I have to go down to Emirates Air and see if an early departure is possible, and then convince Tania’s parents to come back early with us. It will mean missing Tania’s cousins wedding here on the 21st. We would all love to be there for the wedding, but we would all love to be home more. The last few nights here have been particularly upsetting. Amidst all the joy over getting documents and watching the Obama victory on CNN, there have been some really challenging evenings due to fatigue, homesickness, and the dreaded demon plague of scabies. I will put up a graph here soon detailing each of our desires to be home. It waxes and wanes for most but for Maya it has been a steady climb. She used to just say she wanted to go home when tired or crying for some other reason, but she now says it constantly. It will cost us about a grand to change our tickets, and Tania says she would pay that for three extra days at home. I said I would do it for an extra week.

Pictures to follow in my next post: children, transformers, and street-walking goats.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Amongst the Unwashed

I wrote this several days ago, before several new plagues were upon us. Tania got some flu-like demon virus, and Kamran's parisitic skin plague (which may or may not be scabies) spread. Dad was in charge of running the family while Mom slept, so I've been moving cribs hither and dither to juggle babies, smearing ointment over crying babies, and trying to keep people from waking Tania up. I will update things later today after getting this posted and spending some me time today. Tania is feeling better and took the kids to her Aunt's to give me the day off. This post is only 3-4 days old but seems ancient.
The last week featured a bunch of rough patches and strained, poor parenting from yours truly. The boys were sick for three days after immunizations and Maya was having issues that, unfortunately, could have been avoided if I had my wits. A couple nights back, we were in bed sometime after 9 PM, she was watching her DVD player, basically refusing to sleep, and being louder than I wanted her to be. After refusing to quiet down, I took her DVD player, turned it off, looked up, and got smacked in the face. There was yelling, fear, and crying. I can only say “we don’t hit in this family, ever” using the velvet vocal tones of a psychologist so many times before it gets ugly. Luckily, this was a turning point. I made a conscious refusal not to be in those sorts of confrontations anymore, and she’s made an unconscious decision not to make her Dad a terrifying, crazy, screaming freak. I put her back on her old, regular bedtime schedule of dinner, bath, story, sleep, and we have resumed our father-daughter love fest. She remains my favorite person, and I feel for her situation. She misses everything familiar to her and chafes against the new restraints.

Today, I am in a café called “Cuppa Coffee Club.” Last week, Pial and I went on a quest to find me a place to work while Maya is in school. Originally, that was supposed to be the American Club, a private, walled compound where Americans can lounge amongst the bougainvillea and drink liquor or coffee, swim, play tennis, and basketball, watch armed forces TV and generally act like bourgeois colonialists. All the place is missing is a lawn jockey and a vending machine that craps bibles and cans of mint julep. Last time we were here, I wanted to see the UM-Notre Dame game, so we went and joined. Unfortunately, they had a rule that a current member had to sponsor you in order to join. So, Tania and I went around begging people on the grounds, beseeching those to respect all that is holy: a need to eat pizza that tastes like pizza and celebrate the greatest college football rivalry of all time. Having been members, we thought joining would be simple; we could refer ourselves. However, they changed the rules, such that you now have to be sponsored by a member of the American diplomatic corp. Thus, we would have to go beg at the Embassy.

My feeling about this? F*** you. The only thing worse than an exclusive club is an exclusive club that won’t let you join. I can only guess that someone got in last time who didn’t believe in creationism, and one of the Bush appointees got pissed and made sure that if you didn’t graduate from Bob Jones University with a major in xenophobia that you wouldn’t get in. To make it worse, the apostate American Club member was probably a naturalized American, brown of skin, and fluent in Bengali. Heathen.

I can do without Starbucks coffee and the $80 membership fee. I’ll Empire-build elsewhere.

So, Pial and I went out and he took me to this place, a fancy café with an altogether different technique to keep out the riff-raff: they charge US prices for drinks. They’re doing a damn good job, too. The first time we came in, there were about four people here, most Westerners. The last two times, I’ve been the only customer. It’s been me and their staff of like five guys. Service, as you might expect is great. No one speaks much English, but they’re anxious and ready to misinterpret my every need. There’s air conditioning, internet, power plugs for laptops, fancy furniture, pleasant photography, and peace if not quiet. The only drawback is that someone here likes Euro-style dance club music, piped in via satellite. I’m much happier giving these guys my money, although it’s too bad Maya won’t get to go swimming while here.

There are now two Bengali couples in here. I just killed two mosquitos, both with an ugly splat of blood. (It is at this point that I must tell you how much I enjoyed life before Dengue Fever.) Now one of the guys is walking around with a bug zapper that looks exactly like a children’s tennis racquet. He swings it through the air, and I’m guessing anything that passes through dies a horrible death. I must have one, and I must wield it at lab meetings.

As for the adoption, it goes very well. I have a dream, a delicious dream, that tastes of tryptophan and involves a couch and the Lions losing to whomever. Our scheduled flight from here leaves on Nov 24th, and I plan, hope, and pray (inshallah) to be on that flight.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Nah. Just kidding. However, we don't think that Kamran and Kalil are identical. They just look a lot alike. Here are some pictures, although it's less obvious in pictures. The boys had their tetanus immunization three days ago and have been sick as dogs. Fever, irritability, diarrhea. Very unpleasant. Plus, Maya has been having her own issues with listening. I don't have the patience this require. Hence a few rough days.
Maya's preschool. It's very nice, with fun toys and projects inside and beautiful scenery outside. Maya is playing in the sandbox with Maleeha.

In a fair percentage of his photos, Kalil makes this face. This is by far the funniest one, though. Tania thought I should tell you that Kalil says "Hey you." However, it sounds more like "hey-000."

Maya comforts her brother. Kamran, I think.