Each and every day Dani and I wage a war of the most vicious kind. Chemical weapons are liberally deployed. Our apartment is strewn with guts, limbs, and slimy gore that sticks to the soles of our shoes. The brutal intensity of the conflict is shocking at times and I find myself surprised by the great lengths Dani and I go to conquer our heartless, never-ending opponent: the cockroach.
You can find a brief outline of the major combatants in this epic conflict below:
Dani “Ninja Stomper” Ryan
Danielle shows no fear when she is prepared for battle. She ruthlessly scours the territory of the apartment for a roach presence and when one is detected, she takes immediate and decisive action!
Dani “Ninja Stomper” Ryan does not react well ambushes. When surprised, she often lets out small squeals of terror and quickly vacates the kill zone…only to return with a vengeance armed with her weapon of choice.
Weapon of Choice:
The dreaded flip flop. This is an excellent choice for Danielle’s combat style. It can be wielded either by hand or on the foot. She often chooses to deploy the flip flop strapped to her feet with screams of “HIIIYAAAAH!” piercing the warm night air.
Danielle possesses an aggressive, no holds barred, attack-dog mentality. She does not mind blood, guts and the sickening crunch following an overenthusiastic flip-flop attack. She does however, leave the clean-up for her loyal comrade.
Jon “Blister Agent” Ryan
Jon fares well with ambushes and has won accolades for his cool-headed reaction to “roach dropped on the head” ambushes. His primary strength is not in the short term elimination of immediate threats but rather his merciless dedication to the long-term extermination of the cockroach species through the use of innovative chemical techniques.
Jon has an inherent aversion to the crunch following a combat engagement with a flip flop or shoe. As a result, his reaction time to sudden appearance of roaches is delayed as he scrambles frantically to find an aerosol spray can. This slow reaction time gives roaches the advantage in their familiar hit and run tactics.
Weapon of Choice:
Aerosol spray can. Jon is a cold-blooded killer of roaches with the aerosol can. Cruel, triumphant smiles cross his lips as he watches the grotesque mechanical movements of dying roaches legs as they squirm to breathe and stay alive after being doused in the spray. Jon’s aim is deadly. If you are a cockroach and you are reading this, watch your back. He is coming for you.
Anything chemical. Jon is a chemical weapons specialist. He purchases chemical agents from Bangladesh, Korea and China and has developed a proficiency in several techniques, but his preferred technique he refers to as the “Baqsol Booby Trap” (South Korean design), where globs of poisonous, brown goo are placed in the corners near the drains and lie in wait for an unsuspecting roach to devour it, die be cannibalized by his/her colleagues. Then they die. Etc. etc.
Roaches have two primary strengths: numbers and resilience. There is strength in numbers and statistically for every cockroach we see in our Dhaka apartment, there are a further two hundred hidden away in the walls, pipes and drains. Secondly, they are tough little buggers (like the pun? BUGgers!) as they can survive months without food, go 45 minutes without breathing, live for days in the freezer, and can tolerate ridiculously high temperatures. They are also stealthy, can squeeze through insanely small cracks and are great at hiding. Their resistance to radiation also renders the use of nuclear weapons redundant.
The primary weakness of the roach is their foolish reaction to being cornered. They often run to a corner, remain motionless while looking ugly…essentially waving a white flag of surrender. Unbeknownst to them, prisoners are not taken in this conflict! (While Danielle and I acknowledge that this is a blatant violation of Article 4 of the Geneva Convention, I did preface this post with a warning that this is a particularly bloody and brutal conflict!)
Weapon of Choice:
Roaches use biological warfare. They tend to enjoy living in sewers and, as such, decided to deploy various germs, diseases and contagions with them as they raid our kitchen, bathrooms and living room. Thankfully these villainous creatures have yet to be successful in their campaign against our health.
Guerrilla warfare is the preferred strategy of Deshi cockroaches, as exemplified by the fact that they deploy their units only at night and are reluctant to approach well-lit rooms. They effectively use textbook guerrilla hit and run tactics such as dropping from the ceiling onto Jon’s head (always Jon’s…never Dani’s!) and always remain mobile.
There you have it folks! We fight a daily, endless battle against a vicious, capable, numerous (possibly undefeatable) foe but our morale is high, Dani’s flip flops are primed, my aerosol cans are loaded and we are ready to press on to our ultimate victory in the Roach War.
I understand this is an incredibly random topic for a post…but I have been recently contemplating the enormous (and ridiculously cute) fruit bats who squeak at me as I stroll under them on a daily basis and couldn’t resist creating a piece of writing in their honour.
After extensive research, I have concluded that Bangladeshi fruit bats are, quite simply, awesome. Here are four reasons why these mammals are wicked cool:
1. Fruit Bats are CUTE! - As I mentioned before, these things are like kittens with wings. They peer down at you with wide googley eyes that make my heart melt (Dani agrees FYI. This is not a unique case of my brand of weirdness!) and I can’t help but grow fond of them. Kittens. With wings. Inherently awesome.
2. Fruit Bats are BIG – Apparently, the wingspan of the species that lives in Bangladesh can reach up to almost four feet. That’s pretty big folks!
3. Fruit Bats are actually FLYING FOXES – Technically, fruit bats and flying foxes are the same thing. Who knew? I see flying foxes every day. Awesome.
4. Unlike most bat species, they do not rely on “sonar systems” to guide their flight. Their enormous googley eyes enable them to see in the dark and day. Those killer eyes serve a purpose!
Anyways, that marks the end of my ode to the awesomeness of fruit bats. If you take one thing from this, remember, Kitten + Wings = Fruit Bats = Awesome!
Well, Eid sacrifices are wrapping up as I speak (or rather type). I spent the whole morning puttering about our ritzy neighborhood on my bike observing the annual slaughter of hundreds of cows and goats (and a single, forlorn, very lonely looking lamb). I took loads pictures, a few videos, chatted with grinning, bearded men clutching scary knives, listened to haunting chants of “Allahu-Akbar” mingled with the terrified bleating of dying cattle and even managed to receive a spray of poppy-red arterial-goat blood across my face (I stood a little too close for that one)! All in all it’s been quite the morning! I haven’t even had my coffee yet!
Before I begin, I feel it’s worth mentioning that this was by no means my first time witnessing animals being killed, skinned, and chopped to pieces. My first “job” ever was at a chicken farm where my Dad gave me two loonies (two dollars Canadian for those of you unfamiliar with Canada’s curious currency lingo) for helping him kill several dozen chickens. I remember skinning ferrets and muskrats with Poppy in his shop behind the house as a kid and going caribou hunting in high school. On a dare from my father, I leaped off our ski-doo, pounced on a partridge and wrung its head off to avoid wasting a shotgun shell. I’ve seen this stuff before. I understand the process that turns a cow into a juicy hamburger on my plate. Eid just happens to be on a much bigger scale.
I have a few observations from this morning’s events, some are serious, others are trivial, but all of them stand out in my mind.
Cows bleed a lot when their throats are cut. This seems obvious but the gushing torrent of bright red never seems to end. I contrast this with goats, which, as I learned the hard way, do not gush blood into the dirt but rather spray it randomly in small spurts that can reach up to a few meters away. This explains how I managed to get goat blood in my beard.
I expected the Eid slaughter to be mostly devoid of religious significance (similar to the Hindu festival of Holi, which, from my observations in Nepal last year, is simply an excuse to party and throw colourful powder at random strangers) but the slaughter could not have taken on a more religious tone. The atmosphere of the actual slaughter was (for the most part) not that of a party, nor was it festive, it was actually quite somber. In keeping with the religious symbolism of the sacrifice (remember Ibrihim and Ishmael from yesterday) many fathers had their young sons with them and they watched the animal being tied up, pinned down and slaughtered together. Some of the younger boys were crying as they watched the animal they had fed and played with for the past few days have it’s throat slit and, more than once, their father’s wept along with them. It was thought provoking and it brought the Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac alive for me.
While I’m on the Old Testament note, seeing so many sacrifices in the name of Allah reminded me of the roots of Christianity and Judaism where animals were regularly sacrificed and burned as offerings to Yahweh. The Old Testament temple in Jerusalem and the sacrifices made there would have been very similar to Eid here in Bangladesh. I’ll be able to clearly and vividly picture scenes from the OT as I read from now on. Bonus!
The animals knew what was coming. The cows and goats seemed to know that they were about to die. They had this sadness and fear in their eyes that put a lump in my throat and the goats thrashed around and fought especially hard to stay alive even after the knife met their throat. One poor cow, who was third in a line of four cows to be slaughtered, literally fainted and collapsed in a quivering heap as her neighbor had his throat slit. She didn’t regain consciousness until she had already been tied up and the knife went to work at her own neck. Although I am relatively hardened to this sort of thing, I did find myself feeling very sorry for some of the animals.
The crows, vultures and dogs are having an amazing day!
Well, that about sums up my thoughts on Eid. I haven’t fully processed everything yet but I’m sure with time a few more thoughts will pop up in my little brain. I’m hoping it will rain a lot in the next few days to wash away the blood and gore. It was an interesting experience and I am very glad I stuck around for this particular holiday…but I’m not sure if I’ll care to see it again though!
For the past few days, Dhaka has been buzzing with energy in preparation for Eid al Adha, the second-most important religious festival on the Muslim calendar. I’ve observed a festive air of anticipation that I haven’t witnessed before…and I like it! Businesses are decked out with flashing, multicolored lights, locals are smiling, markets are bustling with folks buying Eid-like groceries and Bengali music is blasting from cars even louder than normal. Local mosques have been decorated and I have been the recipient of oodles of cheerful “Eid Mubarak’s” from random strangers on the street.
Then there are the cows. And goats. Lots and lots of cows. And goats. (By the way, in case you didn’t catch my drift, there are cows. Many, many, many cows.)
Eid al Adha is designed to celebrate Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his firstborn son Ishmael (The Quran and Old Testament give very different accounts of this event). According to Islamic tradition, Allah commanded Ibrahim to sacrifice his thirteen-year old son Ishmael and, after Ishmael agreed to the sacrifice, when Ibrahim slashed his son’s throat, Allah miraculously substituted a ram for Ishmael. An astonished Ibrahim opened his eyes to see that he had slaughtered a ram instead of his son. He had passed Allah’s test and had proved his willingness to sacrifice that which was most important to him, his firstborn son, in submission to Allah’s will. To commemorate Ibrahim’s obedience and to symbolically indicate their own submission to Allah, Muslims around the world slaughter animals (cows, camels, goats, sheep etc.) on Eid al Adha. And so ends our Islamic theology lesson.
In Bangladesh, they slaughter cows. Lots and lots of cows. Cows have been pouring into Dhaka by the thousands and they are hanging out, tied up in front of houses, hotels and businesses. They block traffic (I was almost pushed into a bull while riding my bike the other day), “moo” sadly and incessantly through the night (and I must confess, last night, my true depravity came to light when I found myself taking comfort in the fact that these sleep-disrupting bovines would soon have their throats slit!) and poop everywhere. On the whole, adding millions of cattle to an already overcrowded, overpopulated and over-polluted city is probably not a good idea!
Tomorrow all of the cows that have flooded the city will be sacrificed. It will be a massacre of epic proportions and I must admit I am somewhat excited to witness it! (I’m unsure if this is healthy or not. Danielle thinks it‘s not. I feel like a bit of healthy curiosity won’t hurt me…but curiosity has historically killed more than a few cats!) My plan is to bike around our neighborhood, observe and document the sacrificial process tomorrow. I’ll report back after that experience tomorrow and relay some photos and thoughts!
So we've arrived back in Dhaka and we've been in the city for a month. Rather than wax poetic about how ashamed I am about not having written a blog post yet in the five weeks we've been here and how I was so busy I didn't get around to it etc., I'm going to dive headlong into the incredibly weird feeling of...being back home in Bangladesh.
Now, I know and feel that Nova Scotia is, and always will be, "home." I firmly identify as a "bluenoser" (a word which is, in fact, enshrined in the Oxford Dictionary despite spell-checker saying it's wrong) and I acknowledge that nothing can beat the kaleidoscope of fall colours as you drive down Highway 104, the biting wind whipping through your hair at Lawrencetown Beach or the fragrant, salty air on foggy mornings in Halifax. Even the title of this blog, "Sea Salt Nomads," was designed to signify that no matter which crazy location in the world we end up, we will always love the Maritimes as our "home." But in spite of our aforementioned passion for Nova Scotia, Danielle and I both breathed a pleasant sigh of relief when we entered our apartment in Dhaka, looked at each other, and succinctly agreed that we were home.
When I first arrived in Bangladesh last year, I thought there would be no chance at ever settling in Dhaka, let alone returning after a single year and feeling at home! I thought for sure that the noise, chaotic traffic, grinding poverty, time-consuming errands, corruption of...well, everything, garbage, grotesque smells, oppressive heat, unwavering stares, unending frustration of bartering, cockroaches, mosquitoes, diarrhea, rude drivers (did I mention the traffic?), allergies, blisters and inefficiency (to name just a few!) would prevent me from ever learning to enjoy or love the country of Bangladesh. This year however, we are hardened to the negative aspects of life here and are beginning to see the diverse frustrations and experiences of living in a city like Dhaka as blessings and privileges rather than trials.
In short, we are settled back into our apartment. We've purchased some comfy, new furniture and with both of our A/C's blasting, it feels super-cozy! I've learned the game of squash, bought a racket and now play several times weekly while Danielle splashes in the pool at the American Club. We have amazing friends from last year who love and support us. We are officially pumped to dive into our work and enjoy life in our new (albeit temporary) home in Dhaka, Bangladesh!