commentary, fun!

unlikely similarities

Upon telling people that I was moving to Dhaka, many replied that I couldn’t have chosen a place less like home.  In some ways, they were right; saying that it’s been a cultural adjustment would be putting it lightly.  Yet at the same time, this city has revealed itself to share many characteristics with something that I found quite familiar.

Namely, Jewish grandmothers.

While imaging a hoard of windbreaker-clad eighty-somethings hurtling their way down a Dhakan alley leads more to images of dissonance than of harmony, over the course of my ten months here I’ve found many areas of overlap.  So here are the top ten – in some sort of order – ways in which Bangladesh is like a Jewish Grandmother.

Top 10 Ways in Which Bangladesh is Like a Jewish Grandmother

10. She never drives within the lanes.  While one might be doing it because of reduced eyesight and/or depth perception and the other because traffic laws hold no sway, both lead to the same white knuckles on dashboards.  Basically, Dhakan traffic is like that of West Palm Beach if it had a population of 17 million and a much less well manicured road network.  Oy is right.

9. She’ll talk about what’s for dinner while you’re eating lunch.  More for the love of food than for the necessity of planning what’s next, meals are a hallowed time not to be taken lightly.  And that’s meant in an emotional and nutritional sense.  Luckily, the brick-like feeling in your stomach after the meal is generally justified by the deliciousness of what just caused it.

8. You’re wearing that!?  Anything too low, or too short, or too tight will likely draw a few choice words or looks designed to dissuade you from walking out the door in your ensemble of choice.  Looking for something more fitting?  Try something a little less so.

7. She will talk you off your rocker.  Here it’s called adda, there it’s called playing mahjongg at the club with the girls.  Both roughly translate to an hours-long chat about anything and everything.  Cha (tea) and shinghara accompany the former while coffee and rugulah might go along with the latter, but – as is generally the case – food plays a starring role in each.

6. She has an opinion on everything.  And will not hesitate to make it known, often more loudly and more frequently than you’d prefer.  From commenting on how you’re still not married yet to letting you know just how under-rested you look, she’ll be sure to fill you in on what’s filling her thoughts.  Smiles and nods, kids.

5. She likes her clothes shiny and bright.  From magenta tops with sequined necklines to shoes that glint in the sun with silver and gold accents, she’s bound to have something shiny and blingy somewhere in her outfit.  Well, probably in many places.

4. She constantly warns you about potential impending sicknesses.  While antibacterial handwash hasn’t made it big in D-town yet, worries about maladies certainly have.  Changing seasons loom large on both collective minds, and warnings about taking a jacket along to protect you against the vicious changing seasons translates well between Bangla and Bubby.  And if you do happen to catch the sniffles?  For whatever’s ailing you she’ll always have a fix, whether it be chicken noodle soup or frying garlic in sesame oil and then rubbing it all over your chest (bonus points if you can match those remedies to their respective owners).

3. She has a penchant for tacky decoration.  I’m just going to say: there are entire markets dedicated to fake flowers here.  Imagine the look on the Hadassah gals’ faces.

2. She won’t stop feeding you.  If you sit down at her table, don’t even bother declining the plate of afternoon sweets she offers; it’ll be in front of you in 30 seconds no matter what you say.  You’re completely stuffed from the meal you just finished 30 minutes ago?  Well surely you have some room for this large bowl of fruit and some of that brisket in the fridge.  The words not and hungry are simply not available in the same option together.  Kapiche?

And the number one reason?

1. She loves her family.  If you couldn’t figure as much from the plethora of photos of relatives adorning her home, then it will be immediately evident as soon as she starts chatting you up.  The conversation, no matter where it starts, will most likely turn to her kin – often even beating out foodspeak – and she’ll beam with pride as she tells you where her grandkid goes to school or shows you a picture of her doctor son.  And most importantly, she’ll treat you like family, too, whether you share her DNA or not.  The bear hugs and hospitality extend well beyond blood relations, and she’ll be more than happy to welcome you into her larger clan.  As long as you eat this plate of sweets first.

So the next time G-Ma calls and tells you about her plans with the gals for the weekend, be sure to let her know she has roughly 160 million potential friends in what she might consider to be the least likely of places.  Miss you, Grandma!


on repeat

It’s been a couple music-filled weeks, from Baul music festivals in Kushtia, to discoveries of (relatively) hidden Bon Iver tracks, to surprise concerts from Bengali music sensations.

So, to begin with, here’s couple of tracks that have been looping in the background for the past little while.  First, from a friend of a friend, Lemonade’s “Braids” off their as-of-yet unreleased new album.

Swiped from the stellar music discoverer Lower Frequencies, The National’s “Think You Can Wait.”  (Be sure to click through to LF’s blog for a number of other excellent finds.)

Next, a track featuring the dear, dear Justin Vernon.  Shied away from it at first listen, but now, many times through, I think I might just be hooked.

And how’s about a little Bangla?  This tune has been the ring-back tone on my research assistant’s number for the past six months – meaning I’ve heard the first three lines or so about three hundred times.  So it was a bit of a surprise when, at a concert hosted by BRAC University’s cultural club earlier tonight, out from the singer’s stellar voice came this song.

The lady, as it turns out, is Moushumi Bhowmik, a singer-academic who spends most of her time traveling between West Bengal, Bangladesh, and far northeastern parts of India (actually to the east of Bangladesh!) collecting and archiving local tunes, writing some of her own (like this gem) along the way to add in.  Check out a live version of the one above to see something a great deal closer to what the show tonight was like.  (Although, gotta love wanderings through jute.  Jute!)

Thanks for listening!



In scanning through my music library the other day, a single track from an artist I didn’t recognize caught my eye.  Double clicking on it revealed it to be the gem of a “song” posted below, something that discovered online last summer – by what chain of events or related internet searches, though, I have no idea.

All I can say, I guess, is – enjoy.

Horray for You!

commentary, fun!

swapping thinkers

I was reading this lovely piece written by Claudia Gonson of the Magnetic Fields about the seminal books, authors, performers, and so on who have influenced her throughout her life, and thought – how wonderful would it be to write/swap these with your friends and family and teachers?  To read about the thinkers who helped them think.

And while I haven’t started mine yet, I thought I’d share two poems that have stuck with me, and yet I’ve never shared up here before.  The first is  “Little Sleep’s-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight” by Galway Kinnell, and the second, “Fern Hill” by Dylan Thomas.  I’d be curious to hear what you think of them.


“Little Sleep’s-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight”
by Galway Kinnell


You scream, waking from a nightmare.

When I sleepwalk
into your room, and pick you up,
and hold you up in the moonlight, you cling to me
as if clinging could save us. I think
you think
I will never die, I think I exude
to you the permanence of smoke or stars,
even as
my broken arms heal themselves around you.


I have heard you tell
the sun, don’t go down, I have stood by
as you told the flower, don’t grow old,
don’t die. Little Maud,

I would blow the flame out of your silver cup,
I would suck the rot from your fingernail,
I would brush your sprouting hair of the dying light,
I would scrape the rust off your ivory bones,
I would help death escape through the little ribs of your body,
I would alchemize the ashes of your cradle back into wood,
I would let nothing of you go, ever,

until washerwomen
feel the clothes fall asleep in their hands,
and hens scratch their spell across hatchet blades,
and rats walk away from the cultures of the plague,
and iron twists weapons toward the true north,
and grease refuses to slide in the machinery of progress,
and men feel as free on earth as fleas on the bodies of men,
and lovers no longer whisper to the presence beside them in the
dark, O corpse-to-be …

And yet perhaps this is the reason you cry,
this the nightmare you wake screaming from:
being forever
in the pre-trembling of a house that falls.

Continue reading

commentary, fun!, video


Above is a stupendous video made by some superlative people in sunny California and sent all the way to the mosquito-ridden streets of Bangladesh.  It was no straightforward journey, involving the shipment of a package that went all the way from San Diego to Dhaka and back, its reshipment through a different and more circuitous route, and finally a rickshaw ride from Banani through Gulshan and (finally!) to our Baridhara doorstep.

So, 30,000 miles and much anticipation later, I present to you one of the best videos ever made.

(A mammoth THANK YOU to Miss Rosemarie Wagner and Mr. Ezra Furman.  You should have seen the accompanying card and crown.  Pure genius.)

fun!, video

curious kitteh

Much overdue for an update – it’s been a busy couple of weeks with a lot of contact meetings and what have you! – but I have to continue to delay on writing a bit longer, so sorry!!  But for now, I’ll leave you with a little video I threw together of a much-loved kitty taken in by Keith, one of the fellow Bangla kids here.  A little kitty goes a long way, you know?

fun!, video

concentric circles

This past week was Durga Puja, and a few of us went and checked out the festivities at various times over the weekend (pictures forthcoming).

On Saturday night, we were waiting for a ride from Old Dhaka after the celebrations, talking with one gentleman who had been walking with us and acting a pseudo-guide for a while.  We were standing in a small circle chatting when we noticed a person or two come up behind us.  Five minutes later, this is what the area immediately surrounding our circle looked like.  It felt a bit funny making a video, but it was just too silly and absurd not to document.  I guess we stuck out a little?



Jon Seale recently charged a slice of pizza and a Coke to his Visa card. The amount he saw on his online statement: $23,148,855,308,184,500.

The global gross domestic product is, by contrast, estimated at between a paltry $60 trillion and $70 trillion.

The North Texas man tells Robert Siegel that after he quit laughing, he called the bank.

“The girl that answered the phone actually kind of choked when she saw the number on her screen,” Seale says. “They have assured me they will take care of that.”

Seale was not the only person who experienced the glitch. It turns out that a small number of people, all using their Visa cards, were charged the same amount.

“My son made the comment that maybe with this amount of money we could afford to get season tickets to the Yankees,” Seale says. “I told him for this amount of money, we could buy the Yankees.”

(via All Things Considered)


pie is the new cupcake

“It’s pie time that cupcakes moved on. What this country needs is a change of dessert attitude. Where cupcakes were individualized, pie is communal; where cupcakes were neat, pie is sloppy, where cupcakes were precious, pie is luscious; where cupcakes were frosted, pie is filled; where cupcakes were a business model, pie is a lifestyle. Cupcakes are over. Pie is now.”

– David Karp, LimeDuck

(via @wbur)