Monday, August 29, 2011

Welcome to Bangladesh

Hello to everyone from BANGLADESH!!!!! 

What a LONG, overwhelming, and exciting past 72 hours!

On Saturday, August 28th, Roslyn and I boarded a plane in Kansas City, Missouri and some 28 hours later touched down in Dhaka, the capitol of Bangladesh.  I would love to tell you that my "roughin' it" began on the plane ride over, but that's just not so.  The flights from Kansas City to Chicago and from Abu Dhabi to Dhaka were not full, so we ended up with tons of space on each.  Also, when we reached Chicago, we checked in with Etihad Airways (the carrier taking us the rest of the way) and were able to (accidentally?) sweet talk the very handsome airline worker into letting us sit together.  He was having some difficulty finding two seats together and stopped to think for a moment.  Then, with inspiration on his face, he looked up at us and said, "Just a moment!"  He came back to announce that he had found us "the very best seats!"  Exit row seating!!!!!!!!!!!  We had so much leg room, it was ridiculous.  On a 14 (turned into 15+) hour flight, you really can't ask for much more.  Aside from a dead sprint across the Abu Dhabi airport and an interesting expierence with security (isn't it exciting to see what two American girls have packed in their carry-ons?), the entire experience was as pleasant as any 30+ hour international trip could possibly be! 
**Also, I should just mention that every international flight I've taken on a foreign carrier (especially an Asian one) has been about twenty million times better than any international flight on an American carrier.  I suppose it's because most of the foreign carriers base their business on international flights, which is obviously not true for United, Delta, or American.
Once we arrived at our student apartment (which is quite posh by Bangladeshi standards, I'm told), Roslyn and I showered, took naps, and held a mini worship ceremony for the French press that Roslyn was so smart to pack.  Then, we headed out to deal with mobile phones, find me a salwar kameez (which is the standard dress for a Bangladeshi woman, made up of loose, haram-style pants, a loose-ish fitting tunic, and an orna, or a scarf of sorts that is draped over both shoulders - the picture below is an example), and just generally explore the area.

So...  Since I don't have any pictures to share, and since it is currently 5:00 in the morning here (I woke up around 4 and needed to kill some time until I felt tired enough to go back to sleep!), I'm going to save the rest of the first day story for later.
I'll be back soon...

Monday, August 15, 2011

A New Beginning

Well, friends, August is half way over and summertime is quickly coming to a close (although I have a feeling the heat may pop back up at least once or twice, just for good measure).  School starts at Missouri next Monday and normally right now, I’d be mentally preparing myself to head back to school and psyching myself up to start a new semester.  But this year, I’m mentally preparing myself for a new, different adventure. 

In less than two weeks, I’ll be hopping a plane and leaving the country for almost 3 months.  I announced on Facebook, but somehow forgot to mention on the blog, that I found out back in April I received the grant I applied for last spring.  This means I’ll be spending the next 2.5 months of my life in a village in Bangladesh, studying a group of nomadic river gypsies.  (I know - I can only HOPE it’s going to be as cool as it sounds!)

At this point, I know very little about what life will be like in the upcoming weeks and months.  I have no idea what it’s going to be like to interview people who speak a different language.  I have very little idea about what I’m going to find out about the river gypsies (but I hope it’s good!).  I do know I’ll spend a couple of weeks after I first arrive taking an intensive language course in Bengali language (I currently know NO Bengali…).  I know I’ll be buying all of my clothes once I get there, as it is important to dress like a local.  I have an idea about where I’ll stay and some of the contacts I need to make when I get there.  I also know that I’ll be traveling with a great friend, which frankly eases nearly every fear and calms my nerves quite a bit. 

Luckily for me, my friend Roslyn worked as my advisor’s research assistant last year and spent 6 months in Bangladesh.  She speaks a little Bengali, knows the lay of the land, and is familiar with the culture.  Roslyn is going back to complete her dissertation research and we both managed to get grant money and arrange to go at the same time. 

The purpose of my research will be to conduct as many interviews as possible and learn as much as I can about the group of people I’m studying.  I hope to be able to use the info I get to write a grant for more money to go back and complete a formal research project for my PhD dissertation.

After 9 weeks in Bangladesh, I’m taking a quick, 5-day trip to Taiwan to see some friends (and hopefully some of my old students) before I come home.  I am equally as thrilled for this trip.  I have missed my friends for the last 3 years and have been trying to figure out how to get back to visit since I left.

After I get back to the States, I’ll have a short 6-day turn around time in which to get back to Columbia, unpack, rest up, take care of some school business, see friends before the Thanksgiving break, and then repack for a trip to Montreal, Canada.  The annual American Anthropological Association conference is in Montreal and I will again be presenting my thesis work (the polyandry paper).  Then, it’s off to Iowa for my friends’ wedding before going home to Lincoln and sleeping for a week straight!  Haha

To tell you the honest truth, I feel pretty overwhelmed by all I have to get done in the next couple of weeks and all of the traveling over the next several months, but I’m also really excited!  The reason I went into Anthropology was because of my love for travel and my interest in learning about other people and cultures.  This trip feels like the first step towards becoming a “real” anthropologist!  It’s what I’ve been taking classes for and preparing for over the last few years.  It’s a chance to follow my dream.

(All photos courtesy of my advisor, Dr. Mary Shenk)