"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Monday, April 25, 2011

This blog is moving!

Accessing my blogger account has become almost impossible. First time I manage to get in in the past five days, and I don't even have all the features available. So, I created a new blog on WordPress. Please, join me there. The background and title of the blog might be different, but the content will still be about the things I'm passionate about : writing, our uprooted and globe-trotting life, expat issues, multicultural themes, bridging the world, traveling, mothering two TCKs - not necessarily in that order...

It make take a few days to go live, as I'm still playing/struggling around with the new format.

Thank you to all who read my posts, and offered their comments, over the past four years. I hope to see you over at the new blog.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

On feeling far, far, far from Holi.

Today is Holi, in India, or rather for Hindus all over the world. If not for Facebook, and the friends from /in India whom I'm in touch with via this social media tool, the day would have gone without my having the slightest notion that a mere 45 minutes (lucky birds) away from where I live, people are happily throwing colored powders at each other, and by the end of the day, millions of men, women, and children in India, young and old, rich and poor, will look as if they all plunged into a gigantic tub of multicolored paints.

Here I am, and my older daughter is the one
drenched in paint, on the left.
Holi 2010
As I sat at the diplomatic warehouse where expatriates buy their liquor (unlawful in Bangladesh), waiting for the clerk there to enter the items in his computer, I noticed pictures of Hindu gods under the glass top of his desk. Dare I ask him whether he's Hindu ? He might have been siting at someone else's desk. But then, I saw a red thread wrapped around his wrist.
"Is this your desk?" I finally asked.
"Yes," he answered, looking up at me, clearly puzzled by my question.
"Are you Hindu?"
This time, he seemed astonished. "Yes, I am."
I gave him my brightest smile. "Happy Holi."
There was a long silence. "How do you know about Holi?" he asked after a few seconds. I'd had time to sign my cheque.
When I told him, he relaxed, visibly, and told me that they celebrated Holi yesterday, at some open area close to the airport. But his hair had no trace of colors, nor did his skin. Quite different from India, where you see people with purple, bright pink or green hair or patches of skin for up to two weeks, afterward.

My younger daughter with one of her friends - Holi 2010
Still, I felt happy to have connected with someone who knows about Holi. On the way back, I was caught in the usual traffic, and I was trying to think of ways we could celebrate Holi with the girls. But where? I don't imagine our landlord or the people working in our building, all Muslims, would like it if we started throwing colored powders at each other, my daughters and I, in the narrow patch of grass in front of our building. I was thinking I could welcome them each with powders in my hands, and spread some on their faces when they walk in, this afternoon. Or maybe we could hold a Holi session locked in a bathroom. Mm...

For a crash course in playing Holi, or just a walk down memory lane, here is the link to my post, last year.

HAPPY HOLI EVERYONE, whether you're in India or not...

Monday, February 28, 2011

Have bicycle, will ride it in the streets of Dhaka

 So, I was a blogger gone mute, these past few months. I'd like to think I'm slowly extricating myself from this dark spell, and one way to do that is to shed my own bit of spotlight over an event I participated in, this past Friday.

Yes, it involved bicycles. And women. And a movement launched by an active and passionate young Bangladeshi woman.

Arohi means "rider" in Bengali, but the Sanskrit root "Aarohana" means ascendance. And the goal of this young initiative is to give women more mobility by encouraging them to use bicycles as their means of transportation.

The objective of this first ride through the Dhanmondi neighborhood was to get a feel about how women on wheels are perceived, in Dhaka.

Dhaka is plagued with one of the worst traffic situations I have ever encountered. Lagos, Nigeria, was pretty bad, too, but Dhaka will really stretch anyone's patience to its extreme limits. Spending fifteen, twenty minutes in a spot, without moving an inch, is routine. And of course, it's not exactly safe. To give you an idea, our car got into an accident, only today. An auto-rickshaw towing another auto-rickshaw, the driver totally heedless of the fact that the machine attached to his was going right and left, bumped into our car, parked on the side of the street, of course tried to continue without stopping, and the second auto caught our fender and tore it from our vehicle. Routine.  

Encouraging people to use bicycles would seem like a great idea, and a good way to reduce the number of cars circulating, but also, maybe, to reduce the number of buses. I will have to write a post about the buses that transport people, in this city. There again, I had never see anything like that. Not in India. Not in Nigeria. Nowhere in my travels. It would also give women more independence. It's certainly an ambitious goal. 

We started the ride in a quiet area,  but the itinerary took us along some busy avenues, and across some chaotic intersections. We had to deal with the traffic, and that included swarms of rickshaws coming at us from every which way. At some stage, I thought I'd lost the group. I was stuck behind several rickshaws, with no way through. Thankfully, one of the riders in our group was wearing a bright red scarf, and I was able to spot it, and follow it from afar - and eventually, to catch up. 

I could give you some funny details about how a fellow rider suddenly caught up with me and said : "it looks like you have a flat tire." And indeed, the rear tire was flat. Thankfully, it was not punctured. Or how I realized, after a few uncomfortable minutes, that I had taken my daughter's bicycle instead of mine (they are the exact same model, but of course my daughter being smaller, the seat was lower). As the organizers had thought of involving a mechanic, the tire and seat situations were promptly resolved. 

We had a car riding along with us, several photographers, and even a young woman in a rickshaw carrying  her two-weeks-old daughter in a baby sling - the little darling slept peacefully through the whole ride, I may add.

Below are some pictures that may give an idea of the kind of bedlam we found ourselves in. Add the noise, the pollution, the frequent stops to allow the whole group to remain together (not an easy feat). This was no peaceful ride in the countryside. But I enjoyed it. And I hope to do it again.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

One year since the earthquake in Haiti

Almost three months since my last post. I'm almost through with a deadline, and I know I must again carve the time to keep my blog alive, but the main reason I'm writing today is that it is the first anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti. One year, already.

My husband spent again almost three weeks there in December, called again by UNICEF to help curb the terrible cholera outbreak that's claimed some 3500 lives, so far. And my niece, yesterday, posted a bleak, heartbreaking status on her Facebook page, lamenting the fact that nothing has really been done in the past year. It's easy to be engulfed by feelings of despair when it comes to the reality of the situation, there. And she, a child of 13, is smack in the middle of it. She saw one of her school friends die of cholera, in class, a few weeks back. 

There are many articles in the press, today, some lashing out at the UN, others trying to look for the positive and shreds of hope in the middle of all the misery. Yes, it seems that very little was done. Yes, people are still living in horrendous conditions, under tents or tarpaulins. Yes, indeed, where is all the money that came pouring out in the days and weeks that followed the earthquake ? What happened to all the promises made by so many governments across the world ? And I'm not even going to mention the political crisis with the recent disastrous presidential elections. 

And yet, there are also countless stories of uplifting displays of courage. The work of Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) since the earthquake, and during the ongoing cholera crisis - to point out only one - is nothing short of heroic. Everywhere, people are doing little or big things, helping out. 


In the mist of all the press, good and bad, today, I would like to highlight a statement by the UNICEF head executive, Tony Lake, published in the Miami Herald, and an uplifting story printed in the New York Times. The Marché en fer rising again from the rubble and singing its freshly-painted bright colors in the sky of Port-au-Prince could be such a symbol of hope for a new Haiti...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

And where do you think my children have lived all their young years?

Never would it occur to me to carry anything on my head. It doesn't matter that I have also lived the past ten years (and counting) between Nigeria, India and now Bangladesh, where this is the normal way of carrying most anything. But for them, it is the most natural thing to do.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Buying plants

We entered our apartment one week after our shipment was scheduled to be delivered, and five weeks after we left the neighboring country of India. Almost one month later, and we're still camping.  As it turns out, the ship with our container did make it to the local port, but the person in charge of all the paperwork was much too busy drinking to have the time and/or clarity of mind to do this work. For the past three weeks, he's been telling us all sorts of tales about why the delivery of the container was delayed, when in fact, he hadn't even begun to work on the process. This, by the way, in a Muslim country where alcohol is forbidden. We are now told that it will be delivered next Thursday, but by now, I carefully avoid thinking about it too much as it only makes things worse. If it comes, great. If it doesn't come, we'll go on camping out and try to be reasonably gracious about it ... Hm ! In the meantime, we do our best to try and fill out the empty space so it feels a little less like a transition hall, and more like a home. I bought some cushions. This week-end, we went in search of plants.

There are several nurseries along the road, not far from where we live, and no sooner had we stopped that men approached us eagerly. Except that one of them was not a man at all, but a young 10 year old boy. At first, I thought he was the son of one of the sellers. But he seemed so earnest, he was so fast to run into the masses of plants to lift them out - including some pretty heavy ones -and show them to us, that I started to wonder. As it turned out, he works there all day, is paid 1500 Bangladesh Thaka per month for his work (that's about 21 US Dollars) and goes to school in the evenings.

When he saw my camera, he took a pose, and said: "camera action !"

In the meantime, a crowd of people had gathered on the road and the sidewalk. Some were rickshaw wallahs hoping we might need their services. The rest were just watching us, passing the time, always curious to observe foreigners as they go about their lives.

As it turned out, two of these rickshaw men were right to have waited patiently, because they carried each a big plant  for us, after carefully tying them to the sides of the rickshaw with a piece of cloth (not sure if I would call it an orna, which is is the equivalent of the Indian dupatta.)

Our car looked like a jungle, but at least, now, we have a few heart-warming touches of green in the apartment.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Virtual Tour for Kelly Starling Lyon's "One Million Men and Me"

A few weeks back, Kelly Starling Lyons sent me an email asking if I would like to participate in her virtual tour on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Million Man March (October 16) - which was the inspiration for her picture book, One Million Men and Me. I was thrilled, of course. Not only do I like Kelly and her writing, this also falls perfectly into my continuing commitment to bridge the world.

We had to overcome a few challenges : first, I needed to get the book, and as I'm told that postal services cannot be trusted, here, it meant asking a friend at UNICEF headquarters in New York to send it by the pouch, and hope it would get here on time... Which it did.  But when I opened the envelope, the book inside was wet and quite damaged. I had to very slowly peel off the pages glued together and set them under the fan to dry (my hair dryer is in the container, with the rest of our personal effects). The bottom of many of Peter Ambush's expressive illustrations had suffered, but at least, the text was complete.

I had also hoped to involve the library at the American International School of Dhaka, but it proved impossible - this I found out only a few days before my post was due. In the end, I invited our daughters' new friends, and we read the book together in our empty, very echoing apartment.

The group was composed of girls aged 6 to 10, all from mixed backgrounds (France, Haiti, Indonesia and the US), and kids who've all already lived in at least two countries, spanning several continents. We talked about the beautiful illustration on the cover, and the Million Man March. After I read the book, we looked at pictures of the March on the Internet, and also discussed the March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs, on August 28, 1963, the civil rights struggle, and Martin Luther King Junior's historical speech. It was the perfect end to an extremely gloomy, rainy day in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

When I asked the girls what they had preferred in the book, they all mentioned the illustration with the African princess. One of them also said : "the first page, when the cousin said that no girls can go, but her daddy took her anyway." And she nodded, as if to say : there.

One Million Men and Me takes us back to that magical day, allowing us to experience it through the eyes of young Nia. We feel her pride, and we feel her joy, as she shares this very special moment with her father. She will never forget it, and nor will all the girls who read the book, I bet.

Thank you, Kelly, for this opportunity to discover and share your (and Peter Ambush) very touching book about not only the day when "Black men made history," but also the beauty and importance of the special bond between father and daughter (two daddies attended the reading, by the way, and my husband took the pictures.)

Anyone who posts a comment, here, or on Kelly's Facebook page or her blog, will be entered in a drawing for one of three prizes - One Million Men and Me T-shirt, tote bag or signed poster. Kelly will announce the winners on the March anniversary, October 16.