Monday, February 13, 2012

Did you say party??

So, this last week was the perfect illustration of our life here. On Sunday night, we were gracious invited a small birthday dinner, which involved mutton, some ridiculous guacamole/salsa thing with baby shrimp in it, lamb, chicken, roasted potatoes and beef (I think). It was followed by a solid Chivas Regal and chocolate cake (which I did not eat—I am on a diet!!).
On Tuesday, I was randomly invited to a dinner hosted by a local politician, featuring our American Ambassador. Not knowing what exactly to expect, I donned a somewhat conservative blue cocktail dress and high heels, even put in the contacts (you should know that I use the contacts ONLY when it is important!). I arrived there, along with another colleague of mine, and entered the lavishly decorated living room of the host. In it, there were several Bangladeshi guests, a tall white guy (turned out to be UK defense attaché) and the Ambassador and his wife. There were also a couple of Bangladeshi ladies, clad in superb sarees and dazzling jewelry. One thing you should know about Bangladeshi women – they tend to wear sarees ONLY on formal occasions. Kind of like me and the contacts, I guess. Let us just say that I felt a little funny among all in my sleeveless cocktail dress. I promptly sat down on a chair, only to realize that I was sitting next to a large serving dish, featuring a small roasted lamb seated on a carpet of fragrant rice, its turned head staring at me accusatorily. In defiance, I asked for a small slice of its butt and proceeded to eat it, balancing the plate on my knees, while a tall Bangladeshi guy, the quiet strong type, sporting a cool bandana on his bald head along with an elegant dinner jacket introduced himself as a singer who loves to sing for the people of Bangladesh. I nodded frantically, mouth full of surprised lamb and shook his gentle hand. Then I was introduced to a bunch of really nice men, who all seemed to own restaurants or men’s clothing stores. After that, I began talking to a stunning young woman, who was saying how much she loved Las Vegas, a sentiment which we share. I joked that she should get married and move there soon and she laughed. I stupidly asked her, “So, what do you do now – do you go to school or work, or…” She looked at me like I had a lamb bone in my hair, and said (rather unpretentiously I might add) “Umm, I am an actress?!” “Oh, really, wow,” I responded, feeling rather dumb, “where do you act?” “In most dramas, on most channels.” OK, so I don’t watch Bengali dramas on most channels, kill me. Who knew this was Tarin Ahmed! Still, I did keep on feeling idiotic. On exiting the party with the bandana singer, my driver just stood there, mouth agape, staring at us. Turns out, Bandana man was one of the biggest music stars of the country, SI Tutul. I kept on feeling stupid until I went to bed. I still win though – his name is SI Tutul and he has invited us to his restaurant to sing for us!
On Thursday night, our Embassy hosted a representation cocktail party for all junior officers from all Embassies in Dhaka. It was held on the rooftop of what is possibly the best restaurant in Dhaka, The Belaggio. I finally met a bunch of Russian diplomats and flexed my mad Russian skills. You should see me prattle in the language after 3 glasses of champagne. I impressed AT LEAST one Third Secretary, if not also a Second one. I made it back home at about 11. I think.
Then, on Thursday night, one of the Embassy families had their annual Mardi Gras bash on a fabulous rooftop. In a fit of paternal love, we decided to bring Son to the bash, which turned out to be a great decision. Exhausted from a week of representational events, I was content to sit there and force myself not to eat the phenomenally great Cajun food (again, I am on a diet, remember??), while Son ran around like a maniacal monkey and accumulated beads and party whistles. The Diplomat, who is not exactly a party animal in general, made us leave at 8.30 pm, which was a nice thing to do as it was possible that in another 30 mins or so, I might have keeled over my chair from fatigue. Which was a shame – the music was great, the food amazing (but I was not eating it), and I was surrounded by great friends from the Embassy. But the madness had to stop. We spent the following day quietly shopping for veggies at the market and lunching at the American Club. We ended the day on a high note by making pizza, talking to Grandma on camera and watching Tarzan. It was a good week.

Monday, February 6, 2012

America Week And The Spoiled Child

This past week the Diplomat and I went down to the south of Bangladesh where the U.S. Embassy held a 3-day self-promotional bonanza in the port city of Chittagong. The trip is a complete blur to me, a phantasmagorical mix of teas, meetings, visa presentations, KFC lunches on the go, dinners with local dignitaries, talking to students, talking to local American Chambers of Commerce, talking to American citizens living in the area, fending off droves of rapturous street kids who’d follow me with wide eyes, fascinated by my knee-high business skirt, and late-night drinks at the hotel. That was the fun part. The manning of the consular booth at the fair which the Embassy and USAID set up at the local cricket stadium was decidedly unfun. Basically, it involved standing at the booth and answering the ubiquitous question, “How do I get visa/citizenship to America?” or something of that varietal over a 100 times per hour. Surrounding the booth was a sizeable and rather permanent population of kids, varying in age from 2 to 7-8, who simply could not take their eyes off our shiny coloring books featuring various American insignia, among the other promotional materials. The idea was to use the books when someone would visit our booth with a nice, thought-provoking, deep consular question and we can have fun answering while his or her child colors the Statue of Liberty with gusto, thus instilling in her the desire to visit our lovely land one day. It did not work out exactly like that. Our booth was constantly besieged by crowds of people deeply interested in the subjects of immigration and whether we were giving away pens or shapeless baseball caps. Add to that mix the scores of small children, practically living around the booth, and you get the idea of just how insane it was out there. Now and then a newcomer will try to snatch one of the damned books (we really had just a few of them), and then all the kids would joyfully and relentlessly dart and chase the unwise child all over the fair grounds, wringing the book out of her hands and then proudly brining the wrinkled trophy back to the consular booth. When we finally decided to give them all away on day 3, a mini-revolution erupted and I feared for my life for a few long seconds out there.
All in all, however, we truly enjoyed our time there. We met many fascinating people, both Bangladeshi and Americans who have lived there for many years. I was particularly impressed with the Chittagong Women’s Chamber of Commerce – it has over a 1000 members and we had the privilege of meeting some of them over tasty tea and cake! Absolutely amazing ladies!
Let me tell you also about the trip itself. We flew on the wings of Regent Air from Dhaka. The 45 min trip was completed on a remote-controlled model airplane or so it seemed at the time. You know how you walk out on the tarmac and you see a bunch of nice, large planes and you begin to wonder which one is yours, and then as the bus makes a turn around the large Saudi Air Boing, you suddenly notice a tiny propeller, awfully close to the ground and there are folks loading YOUR bags on it? And then there is that odd feeling creeping up from the bottom of your stomach, and you start thinking about your child, parents, husband and shoe collection and ask yourself certain existential questions. And then you climb in through the impossibly narrow, tiny ladder and take a nervous seat. The next 45 mins make you ask yourself many more existential questions, especially since the plane seemed to be landing in a large swamp before hitting solid runways a split second later. We came back on the train. It was worth it. No offense to Regent Air, they were very nice and served us the ever so popular chicken sandwich without crust (or any substantial filling for that matter), peanuts and a Mentos mint, along with some old-school Mirinda.
In the meantime, Son was being looked after by his courageous grandparents, the Inlaws. Upon my returning, Son was overjoyed for at least 8 minutes. After which I summoned him to the table for dinner, which he refused with indignation. The following 30 mins were filled with discipline-related conversations with the hard-headed child, who was asked to choose between sitting on the timeout chair in the bathroom, or come eat tasty delights with the family. With chin high up, he gave me a scornful look and slowly entered the bathroom, closing the door behind him demonstratively. Well, after that he was just as demonstratively sent to bed without dinner. The next day he could not wait to sit at the table. All in all, thank God for grandparents who help out with grandkids even if the price for that is steep (complete indulgence coupled with spoiling).
This Friday we also attended the SAARC Charity Ball, organized by the ladies of SAARC in Dhaka. It was a chic affair, hosting diplomats and other fabulous personas from places like the Maldives, Bhutan, India and so on. The food was to kill for! They had none less than 5 different salads – I admit my dinner consisted solely of those. Oh, I have missed salads in Bangladesh. Good times. This week we are gearing up for even more frantic times, which parties awaiting on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. If I am alive at the tail end, I will tell you all about them.