Thursday, February 6, 2014

Expat Blog Challenge--Day Five: So this one band camp.....I mean, the AIRPORT.....

I'm going to be unconventional here.  Of course, like every expat, I've got stories upon stories about airport trauma.  In fact, there's almost NOT a trip that doesn't involve some sort of snafu that sends you spinning. Especially now that we're traveling to another hemisphere, the possibilities are exponentially greater that craziness will transpire.  So, rather than force myself to commit to ONE of those stories, I instead, submit for your reading pleasure an endorsement of the KING of airports.....Changi International Airport of Singapore......a.k.a. "Mecca of the Metropolitan".......

Changi Airport isn't a hub of international transport, where worldly-weary travelers connect to various international locales. Changi Airport is a haven.....a welcoming, hospitable sanctuary of all things ordered and good.  Maybe my perspective is a bit colored, considering I arrived in the "refuge" of Changi after moving to and living in Dhaka for 10 weeks, but given their top ranking in the "Best Airports of the World" survey, I think my opinion is justified.  Grant you, Dhaka is the anti-thesis of all things Singaporean.  Singapore boasts 5 million in population, and is the third most densely populated territory in the world, but ironically doesn't feel over-crowded with its hyper-organization and cosmopolitan appeal.  Dhaka bursts with a burgeoning 7 million and can't claim anything organized--from political discourse to basic infrastructure--evidenced by comic-book scale screaming politicians and human-sized potholes in packed-dirt roads. Where Dhaka tends to feel musty, muddy, and generally sepia-toned, Singapore is refreshing and cleansing--like a neatly arranged row of jasmine-and-ginger-scented Bath and Body Works anti-bacterial hand lotions. What doesn't feel good about that?

I was told it was beyond fabulous.  I treated it like urban legend.  However, my testimony having been there personally, is that it is everything everyone says it is....and MORE.  It's up there with the Google campus, people.  Landing in Changi--after having the travel experiences of Las Americas in Santo Domingo and Shahjalal International in Dhaka and even Miami International--felt like I had teleported to that scene in Contact with Jodi Foster, where she's just passed through the wormhole (fulfilling the plan of the alien beings) walking on the beach with her "father" (aka-Alien emissary in father-form) this edited excerpt (the funky super-imposed music in this YouTube clip even fits....)  

It is a Metro-plex unto itself.  I would seriously consider Changi as an actual vacation destination from's like being on a cruise ship!  It vaunts adult-sized slides, massage centers, a digital social tree, a flippin' butterfly garden for goodness sake!
So, the next time you're feeling overwhelmed and stressed with Asia and its sometimes over-populated, over-polluted, intrusive lifestyle, "Rethink Travel" with Changi Airport.  No need to even venture out into Singapore, really...just stay at the airport.  Heck, I'll meet you there! 

Expat Blog Challenge--Day Six: Keep Movin'...Movin' on....

See what I did there with the title, Homegrown Nomad?  Huh?  Huh?  ;)

TGI....T!  Nope, it's not the wrong letter.....not in the Muslim world, at least......and it's officially the weekend!  I'm sitting at home in my comfy bean bag chair (with ottoman....yeah, I know, it's cool) relishing in the delights of candlelight, projected movie on wall with contented children consuming pizza a la "floor picnic," and the warmth of my fave new sweater (navy blue with colored flecks cardigan with shawl collar-kind of neck...mmmmm....).  Yes.  Home. Is. Good.

Of course, as an international educator, "home" is.....temporal.  So, though we have "nested" here in Dhaka and we are at the first part of our 3-ish-year stint here, of course we've thought "big picture" and what that entails for our nearly every expat teacher does.  Considering the litany of changing variables involved in that potentially anxiety-inducing process, we obviously can't make hard-line decisions, so we spend our time thinking about the future in categories.  We typically start with continents......"Well, we haven't done South America or Africa yet....."  Done, of course in our context usually means "lived there for an extended period of time" not "visited"--which is kind of the difference of "acquaintances" rather than "close friends."  The goal of the expat teacher, typically, is to establish a closer intimacy with the world rather than engaging in mere small talk from time to time....  Once continents are pegged, you begin, in two-fold process, listing your networking connections in a variety of countries or what you've heard about an assortment of schools in that region...."Yeah, well, So-And-So's in Senegal right now and they've liked it so far..." and "Yes--well, remember Such-A-Who is in Chile and their FB pictures are breath-taking...."  See, you can't actually plan for the future as an expat educator because you never know what jobs will ultimately be available at what schools at the time you ultimately decide to move on..... So you make lists of possibilities.  It's a bit like playing career-RISK every few years.  You evaluate your strategies and you assess your troop situation in various regions, but ultimately, it's all up to the roll of the dice when it comes right down to it.

So, our little list of options kind of go like this:

1.  We're in Asia, we might as well make the most of it and stay this side of the world for a while.  I mean, we did just ship stuff here....

2.  We yearn for 4 seasons.....or at least SNOW :).  Or, perhaps a job that will pay enough to live in a "summer" climate but where we could travel TO snow for vacations...(that's thinking out of the box!).

3.  I'd like a school big enough to maintain a two-teacher theatre department, but small enough to not keep me buried under a huge class-load.  I need to get my MFA.....!

4.  IB schools are great for my youngest, so I think we'll stay in one for a while.

Other than that, we're all game.  Bring it on, world :).

Monday, February 3, 2014

Expat Blog Challenge--Day Four: Reflection

Within this post, I'm meant to read the fifth entry I've made on this blog and reflect upon my frame of mind within it.  Considering this is my 4th blog entry, I am going to have to behave like a seasoned educator and....modify.

Therefore, a reflection on Reflection it is.

Today, my seven year old came home and wanted to teach the family how to meditate.  Apparently, a yoga teacher (or someone of similar background) came to teach the kids about "learning to channel the calm" within themselves.  For my child, this comes in the form of cooling off after she's been re-directed or given any kind of criticism....whatsoever.  This usually results in her slamming doors, quickly and curtly responding "I WILL, O-KAY?!?" or "I'm SORRY, Oh-KAY?!?  

I feel her pain.  Really, I do.  My mother used to chastise me for "The Pout."  As a child, I would purse my lips in a similar fashion to Arnold from Different Strokes (seriously, can we have a Pub Quiz at some point with ONLY 80's TV questions?  I'll NAIL that).  Remove the baseball hat and adjust the grayscale a bit (no need for a height differential--I'm still about that size), and that's me below....circa 1985.

So, it's genetic.  What can I say?  It was a bit humbling to be educated by my 7yo on tranquility.  She did a stellar job--spared no detail.  She even had props (paper "boats" to put on our bellies as we breathed) and a meditative "ocean track" playing in the background.  I'm glad she's practicing the skill early (way to go ISD 2nd grade team!). Me......well.....I'm kind of a "burn the candle at both ends" type.  Rarely does it do me any good to speak of--typically the "snowballing" or "in the weeds"effect and resulting headache....

Dhaka itself does not inspire quiet meditation.  There's constant construction noise, airplanes passing overhead (we live close to airport), incessant barking dogs, horns and bells from traffic noise, loud-speaker amplified prayer calls, people everywhere.  It's a different rhythm than Santo Domingo noise--which I could tune out with no problem--and we haven't really acclimated to the rhythm (not entirely sure we ever will, honestly).  It still physically jars us. So, meditative and quiet time is a treasured commodity.

I've been pondering the wisdom of this gal lately:  "The Day I Stopped Saying 'Hurry Up'"  and, though I confess that my crazy-hectic life still impedes my mastery of the "mindful" lifestyle, at least it's a goal in the forefront of my mind.  Since our move to Bangla, we've instituted a "no electronics" rule for the dinner table (where we do homework, eat family meals together, etc.).  But it is frequently a challenge to keep ourselves focused on what's REALLY  important instead of what's pinging or buzzing or notifying us from various devices within our reach.

I'm encouraged by our willingness to unplug, though.  We have a four-day weekend at the end of this month, and a 2-week break in April (yeah, read that and weep, DR friends!).  We hope to go to Thailand for April, so we're staying put for the 4-day.  My youngest wants to lead a family yoga-workshop, and I'm stoked about it, as she and I are the ones who need it most :).  Perhaps we'll make it a weekly trend....IF we can schedule it in.....(kidding, y'all....Only kidding!).

Peace, hugs, and love to you from the Desh.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Expat Blog Challenge--Day Three: An object that makes you think of home....

So I was intending to write about the "stuff we carried with us" in today's blog post.  I interviewed my family at the breakfast table this morning (they're really getting in to this challenge with me--my eldest commented to our carpool "Mommy's a Blogger!" which simultaneously embarrassed me and comforted me through her pride) and many items were offered, but didn't seem to "stick":  My girls' blankies--one crocheted for my firstborn by my best friend and soul-mate, another guarded for posterity by my mother in a closet and handed down to the baby girl; our framed photos, spanning different locales and ages; our sun collection--originating from different Latin American countries, hanging proudly on our wall.

But nothing really passionately stood out.  In fact, I was a bit beleaguered thinking about my incredibly perceptive older daughter's comment upon moving to Bangla (realizing they weren't going through the predicted "culture shock" I surmised they would and the hours I spent reading about "how to cope" with it clearly wasted) as she brightly commented, "You know, Mom, all we really need in life is each other.  Wherever the three of us are, as long as we're together, we'll be fine....." (note cheesy family motto alluded to in blog title...all credits to Mr. Marley).  I've brainwashed them well, friends.  "People are more important than stuff"  (previous comments about stupidly-large shipment notwithstanding).

Then, despite my reaching a veritable dead end, unsolicited inspiration (which seems to stalk me quite often, when I least expect it) was thrust upon me at the break table with my colleagues this morning.  I was minding my own business (and by that I mean nicely-harassing the Head of Secondary about how recruiting was going for next year....primarily in the Drama department, as my mentor and masterful colleague--his wife, funnily enough--is being seduced away from Dhaka by his new and exciting pursuits) with my morning snack in hand.  To my surprise, I quickly became the focus of the conversation and attention as I liberally dolloped peanut butter onto my apple slices.  One of my Kiwi colleagues commented--quizzical expression on face--"What's that you're eating?  Apple and peanut butter?"  I think it's important to note that his nearly identical apple was starkly naked, lacking the yummy velvety peanut butter accompaniment.  I momentarily polled the collected faces at the table--Aussie, Brit, Kiwi, Kiwi, Aussie, Aussie, American, Canadian, Brit, Me.  To my surprise, most of their expressions mirrored the Kiwi....."Reeaallly?" I mused.  "This is pretty 'gold standard' where I come from."  And it is.  The other American confirmed it--and the Canadian concurred.  THEN, I unwittingly livened up the conversation by asking for a carrot stick from Canadian (when the apple was fully consumed but my desire for PB wasn't...) and slathered PB on it.  "Carrots, too?"  they posed.  "Um....yes. And celery, and toast, and innumerable other things made more exciting by Peter Pan creamy honey roast...." I responded, concluding with a wide, commercial smile.  My Kiwi friend offered "You know, I can understand the idea behind the peanut-butter-and-jam sandwich."  Quite honestly, I was jolted by the implication....."can understand the idea behind?  You mean, you've never had a peanut-butter-and-JELLY sandwich?  In. your. life?"  I was immediately corrected by the overwhelming majority as they chorused "jam."

It took me a minute to ponder this.  There I was, inundated by a cultural divide and a moment of introspection.....over perhaps THE most undeniably common lunch pail item of the American picture-perfect childhood (well, not now, thank you very much peanut allergies).  that quasi-palatable stuff on bread.  Negative.  I will not acquiesce to Australian peanut butter, but thank you very much).  Oh, bless their hearts.
I did what any good Southern daughter would do when confronted with a similar situation....I played hostess, and shared :).  A couple of them took me up on my offer...and were converted, I am eager to say.  One Brit even enthusiastically shared that she was going to serve peanut butter sandwiches to her children that very afternoon (good on ya, Gal!).  The rest respectfully abstained.  One even helpfully offered that I could find Australian peanut butter here in Dhaka.  (Well thank you, Miss, but why would I want "Australian" peanut butter if the general population of Australia doesn't understand the unlimited possibilities of the stuff?  Case in point--Aussies squish up vegetables--and God knows what else--and spread

I further blew their minds by sharing the ingredients of my FAVORITE sandwich of ALL-TIME, found at the Harvest Moon Cafe in Rome, GA.  They call it the "ABC" and it consists of "granny smith apples, bacon and sharp cheddar, grilled on honey-oatmeal bread."  It is to die for, and is the perfect mixture of sweet, tangy, salty, and tart all grilled up on warm, home-style slices of deliciousness.  Ahhhhh.  Just when I thought America's contributions to the culinary world paled in comparison.....PSHAW!
It tastes MUCH better than this rather innocent picture leads one to believe....
So, for us, like many people of the South, we think of home through our bellies and require "down home cooking" in frequent measure.  I've already alluded to the importance of Jim Dandy quick grits in our household, and it's followed by highly desired plates such as Southern-fried chicken (my eldest will bedevil me for it for weeks on END), varied casseroles (sweet potato and green-bean varieties ranking high), homemade biscuits (next on the list to master), cornbread (smuggling in the corn meal next--Deshis have corn flour, which is another thing completely).  I even regularly kept a pitcher of sweet tea in my fridge wherever we were, until I recently went under the knife for kidney stones this past October (that'll teach ya).  It's been marginally devastating to have to relinquish nearly my FAVE drink on the planet to the "summer treat only" list.  But, put anything cooked "Southern-style" in our mouths, and we immediately (in our minds at least) find ourselves barefoot in green country grass next to the fishin' pond at my parents' house or sitting on a front porch in a rocking chair somewhere watching the Spanish moss blow through the pine trees.

A sequel to this blog--if I'm to really do it justice--would be to discuss our predilection for Dominican culture and food...our "other" home.  But that's another post altogether, so I'll save that for another day.

Expat Blog Challenge-Day Two: "All who wander are not lost" --JRR Tolkien

Inner voice:  Blog writing is not novel writing is not novel writing....

Okay.  Day One down.  Late, but down.  Day Two......

My first impressions to this linger around the many conversations I that trend from summertime and travels back home.  "'re in Bangladesh now?  Wow (slightly uncomfortable pause).....why?"  Yes.  Why, indeed.

Well, as this is a blog entry intended for the "Expat Blog Challenge" I feel I'm preaching to the choir a bit on this one, so I'll spare you the laundry list of reasons why living Stateside, for me, "just don't suit" (to quote Melanie Smooter's Mama from Sweet Home Alabama).  Instead, I'll attribute my wanderlust habits to my grandparents--and the house where I spent my summers in the small town of Bartow, Georgia.  
Strangely enough, I'm not sure how far outside of the South my grandparents truly "wandered."  I know my grandfather was in WW2, and was stationed at some point in Asia, but he never seemed to enjoy his travels much and he wasn't inclined to talk about his globetrotting with the US Navy, so I can't really attribute my gypsy-tendencies to that (Sideline Note to Self:  Interview family about grandaddy's Navy experiences).  As far as I know, my grandmother's "longest voyage" was a sojourn to the West Coast in an RV with my older brother and Aunt Susie and Uncle Buck (I hear you....yes, I had an Uncle Buck...but he was oddly similar to John Candy in his affinity for dirty jokes and his driving a gigantic, ugly car).  Any reference to "road-tripping" cross-country with my Aunt Susie and Uncle Buck sounds more to me like medieval water-torture than a chosen-lifestyle, so that, most definitely wasn't the catalyst for my globe-trotting.  

In reality, a major contributing factor to my early thirst for exploration was my grandparents borderline "hoarders" lifestyle.  To a child who spent summers in their care--so that my single mother could avoid day care expenses--my grandparents' home was like another world.  Much like Narnia or the world of The Littles, my grandparents' house was an infinite adventure.  (Remember that cartoon from the 80's?  They traveled through the vent system of houses and had buttons on their tails?  MacGuyver-ed airplanes out of pencils and paperclips and such?  No? Just me?  Sorry, is my "latch-key kid" past rearing its head again?)  
Because my grandparents were children of The Depression and lived their lives in The South, things were hard to come by from time to time (that was my grandmother's excuse, at least) and so, they saved. And saved.  And s-a-v-e-d.  My Granny Fannie (yes, that is her name--Fannie Mae Futch--couldn't be more "old Southern" if you tried ;) had huge Mason jars filled with trinkets (before it was Southern chic)--paperclips, rubber bands, buttons, ball point pens that no longer worked, and thumbtacks.  My grandmother amassed boxes and boxes full of yarn and partially crocheted blankets--all designated specifically for someone--"Don't bother that...." she'd chide, "that's for Cousin So-and-So's baby."  My Grandaddy was a jeweller by profession, and in his "stash" lay innumerable gizmos and gadgets from watches and clocks galore.  Opening a cupboard or cabinet in that house was like opening yourself up to a world of exploration and imagination....I would play pirate and pretend the Mason jars were "booty" from ravaged ships, make Indiana Jones-worthy paperclip chains extending into the outer regions, and hide between and betwixt boxes stacked nearly ceiling-high in a hallway and pretend I was hiding in the mud structures of the Ancient Pueblo.  Each new discovery was like a mini-Smithsonian of my grandparents' history.  I remember running out to them as they sat on their screened in porch as they watched the unfolding news of the TWA flight 847 hostage situation or listening to music from the "Live Aid" concert as my grandfather scowled at Willie Nelson's long "sissy-boy" hair. I would exclaim "Granny!  Grandaddy!  Check out what I found in the cabinet in the den!"  And I would revel in their surprised expressions "Lordy, where did that come from?"  I sure felt like Indiana Jones--an archaeologist making some pivotal anthropological discovery never-before seen by men.  In their pecan-strewn red clay and sand covered yard, I channeled Amelia Earhart as I "flew" on the back of my Grandaddy's SEARS & Roebuck riding lawn-mower.  I walked the shores of countless seas as I felt the sand of a back country road between my bare feet, and I pioneered my way through the back country woods.  Surely the big open blue sky above a corn-field in south Georgia was as wide and open over the pyramids of Egypt.  Yes, as ludicrous as it seems, small rural Georgia taught me to think B-I-G.

And, I continue to fulfill my wanderlust.  Not because I'm lost (Would you dare call Indiana Jones lost?  Uh....Let's just let the Amelia Earhart reference slide with that one, how 'bout it?) but ironically just the opposite.  The adventurous spirit that wells up from deep inside me comes from a strong, confident source--the unconditional, always supportive, foundational strength of my roots.  My Mom--who taught me to think outside the box (though she may wish she could have a "do over" on those comments now that she has grandchildren across the globe)--and her parents, who enveloped me with possibility. One thing remains certain, however.....within my 50 pound weight limit to destinations around the world, you'll never catch me without a bag of Georgia grits.....which I cook for my girls here in Bangladesh just like my Granny Fannie did. 

Expat Blog Challenge-Day One: The View from Where I Write....

So, I'm a day late (and probably proverbially a dollar short).  I'd love to say those sentiments are atypical of the trajectory of my life, but I'd be lying.  It's not shocking to anyone who knows me well....or at all, really. As an unflinchingly idealistic optimist with a enormously global artistic brain (I think the iCloud owes me royalties on that one, really) it's just status quo. Asi es la dice en la Republica Dominicana.....

Nevertheless, here we are...and happy to share in an authentic expat blog-a-thon (great brain-child, Cristin!).

Honestly, "the view from where I write" is....quite humbling. We currently reside in Dhaka, Bangladesh--which, according to the World Bank in 2012, housed 154.7 million souls. That's roughly half the population of the entire United States in the same year--all squashed together in a country slightly smaller than my great home state of Georgia.  If that little statistic doesn't blow your mind, you probably need some tutoring in math, my friend.

Our apartment is situated in "Bashundhara Residential Area" which sounds quite posh, but in reality is enveloped mostly by the entrails of unfinished apartment buildings and mud. Inestimable quantities of the stuff.  So much mud, in fact, that brick manufacturing is one of the major industries here in Bangladesh.   It could be the Bangla version of the old"lemonade" cliche--What do you do with a country full of mud?  Bake bricks!  There's so much dust and mud in the whole of Dhaka, that it's easy to find putty-colored trees--a.k.a. green trees encrusted with matte brown mud from root to leaf tip.

Nearly adjacent to our rather posh looking apartment building is a slum with its own little market.
Curiously one day, I asked our driver (we car-share with another family living in our building) how many children lived in the slum next door.  His response was a shocking "300."  Three-hundred children, mind you--and how many ever adults are attached to those the span of probably an acre.  All told, I estimate that there are 500 people living next door to me in make-shift houses of corrugated tin, concrete block, and wood.  This, of course, is sadly rather typical housing for developing countries, but gives a hard yank to the heartstrings.

The division of the "haves" and the "have nots" in this is dramatically visceral.  Here we live in our 4 BR, 4BA apartment, whilst the "families next door" lack daily access to clean water in which to bathe or even drink.  Sometimes I feel like I've physically been picked up--like that little satellite icon guy from Google Maps--and dropped into a "Save the Children" photo montage.  The children on the street in front of us play in disparate clothing--despite the fact that Bangladesh is one of the textile capitals of the world--and like seemingly everything here, have their own distinctive layering of dust.  Not surprisingly, however, they smile and laugh and play like any other children on the planet, only, my neighbors play with rubbish and recyclables....sticks, bricks, and water bottle caps....and the variety of livestock and fowl (chickens and ducks, mostly) that happen to roam free on our little "residential" block.

And yet, we expats in "the Desh" are not-so-ironically juxtaposed with our neighbors in our very encapsulated abodes.  The literal view from where I write showcases "the things we've carried" with us from the Caribbean--family photos, cute "" art print of previously mentioned home state, standard IKEA lamps and hand-me-over furniture owned by the school that employs me.  Perhaps in a conscious effort to make the inside not match the outside, I paint my walls artistic colors--usually a hue of blue (my favorite!).

Omnipresent in my view are two curly-haired, blue-eyed, blondes, who in this culture, accumulate their own paparazzi when ambling about the city.  Today is an early-dismissal due to "Bishwa Ijtema"--the 2nd largest Muslim pilgrimage and gathering to the Holy Hajj--which is concluding this week on the Turag River in Tongi (a township marking the northern border of Dhaka).

Since we've time on our hands, and little homework to speak of, the girls are currently choreographing a fight sequence (Jackie Chan style) in the living room.  I'd post a video, but as they are learning the "once on the internet always on the internet" rule, they are extremely conscientious about what goes on FB or the internet.  They settled for a picture and reassurance that I wouldn't randomly email everyone in the world their personal info (does that sound like someone with few personal boundaries to speak of?).  At least they conceded to recording digital evidence of their kung-fu mastery.
And...there you have it.  Our view is not awe-inspiring in the "picture postcard from an exotic locale" sense, but it has its perspective.  A perspective that keeps us (those of us Western expats that teach here in Dhaka) motivated to make a difference.  I am not able to personally effect change for my neighbors on a realistic, substantial level.   But every day, I hold fast to the idea that teach the 1% of this country values that hopefully will inspire them to make change in their own struggling population, and hopefully close the global gap trending towards extreme opposites--endangered existence and....exorbitance.