Arguably the best, unforeseen side effect of moving to Bangladesh is that I have discovered and cultivated a love for reading and watching science fiction. I read Frank Herbert’s Dune series last fall (courtesy of Ross Meyer) which marked the first occasion I ever cracked open a book dealing with futuristic visions of earth, the colonization of the universe, diverse alien species, space travel, etc. I couldn't put it down!
Since then, I've nourished myself on a steady diet of classic sci-fi including Ray Bradbury, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, C. S. Lewis, H.G. Wells, and Isaac Asimov, as well as modern authors like Iain M. Banks (thanks Sam), Orson Scott Card, Alistair Reynolds (thanks again) and Robert A. Heinlein. I can’t get enough of these authors! I love reading sci-fi because it stretches and molds my imagination and creativity in ways that other genres simply can’t.
Our friends in Bangladesh have also influenced our decision to begin watching the amazing British sci-fi show Dr. Who, which is coincidentally celebrating its 50th Anniversary today. Dani and I have spent many evenings enjoying the escapades of the Doctor and his various companions but, unfortunately, we haven’t quite caught up enough yet to watch the Anniversary Special everyone is anxiously waiting for tonight. We still have three seasons to finish first!
Ironically, today of all days, I stumbled upon the first police box I've ever seen in my life. Let’s set the scene: I was biking down a dusty back-road on my way to buy some bars of soap (of all things). I had just veered away from a fairly large throng of angry looking men jogging down the street with banners and chanting loudly in Bangla (they were garment workers protesting for higher wages I think) when I saw it:
There it was, in all its decaying glory: the Bangladeshi police-box.
With Dr. Who on my mind, I had to stop. Frankly, it was abandoned and devoid of anything interesting and I can't imagine there being any genuine practical use for an old beaten up police box without a phone or First-Aid kit in Dhaka. But I do have a gut feeling that if the Doctor had originally landed in Dhaka instead of London, his TARDIS might look something like this!
I’ll end with a quote from the Doctor that I feel summarizes our feelings about living and travelling in Bangladesh in an adequately “Dr. Who-ish” manner:
“This is one corner… of one country, in one continent, on one planet that’s a corner of a galaxy that’s a corner of a universe that is forever growing and shrinking and creating and destroying and never remaining the same for a single millisecond. And there is so much, so much to see.”
It seems like the bulk of my life here in Bangladesh is spent at work in my classroom. I spend a minimum of eight or nine hours a day, often more, and often several hours on weekends in my little second-floor glass-greenhouse of a classroom. I would be lying if I stated that I liked my employers but I can say with absolute certainty that I do, really and truly, love my students.
Dani and I both have myriads of stories involving our wonderful kids (despite the fact that many of mine are eighteen…hey they’re still kids!) their clever antics, witty comments, mischievous jokes and playful insight but these would take far too much time to catalogue. I figured I would share a single story from this year as an example of some of the fun I get paid to have as a high school teacher.
A few weeks ago, I sat my grade nine English class down and gravely told them they were going to complete a difficult project. This assignment would be mentally trying, emotionally draining and potentially dangerous. It would require teamwork, bravery and a boldness that they had never used in school before. My students were worked up and leaning forward on the edge of their seats, anxious and somewhat nervous, to hear what sort of Herculean assignment I had prepared for them.
I gave them the task of plotting my murder.
Dead silence. My students shifted uncomfortably and awkwardly in their seats for a few seconds peering at each other out of the corner of their eyes just to make sure they had heard correctly. Finally one student stood up with her jaw set and a determined gleam in her eye…”Let’s do it!”
My student’s enthusiasm concerned me. I began to second-guess myself. As they murmured in their groups and cast evil grins in my general direction, I was reminded of the gruesome rendition of the Christmas tune “Joy to the World” I used to chant gleefully around Christmas as an elementary student: “Joy to the world/The school has burned/And all our teachers died/Our principal is dead/We shot him in the head/And all the school books burned etc. I convinced myself that I would die a miserable death.
As my students plotted, I envisioned gruesome scenes of impalement by scissors, being thrown out the window of my classroom to be ravaged by street dogs (Or even worse, trampled by the ragged herd of goats that occasionally lounges outside my windows. Death by goat is awful.), being bled to death by thousands of tiny paper cuts or being tied up and left overnight as prey for the massive spider living behind my whiteboard. I was wrong. Their plan was frighteningly achievable.
Ultimately they agreed that the best way to kill me was to poison the one thing I could never function without: coffee.
My students would watch me sip my coffee as I presented my final lesson and would watch as I slowly crumble to the floor and suffocate. They discussed how they could stuff my body down the toilet or hire a rickshaw wallah to dispose of it in the Running Park behind the school. They thought it out a little too well. Creepy!
Poison coffee would probably be the best way of murdering me…just in case anyone out there is seriously considering the possibility. That’s what my students would recommend anyway. Anything but death by goat!
Maybe I should go British and switch to tea. Or yerba-maté. I hear that's good.
Yesterday I had the intriguing privilege of checking out Comic Con Dhaka; which turned out to be one of the most bizarrely exciting events I have ever attended.
I believe I can sum it up in a single word: Fantastic!
Up until Saturday afternoon, I was a Comic Con virgin. I had, to my deep shame and eternal chagrin, never attended Hal-Con in Halifax, never watched people dressed as my favorite comic book characters parade around a convention centre with pride (it’s a toss-up between V and Rorschach for me personally…just in case you cared to know) and had certainly never received multiple, overly enthusiastic bear-hugs from a ninja turtle. Now, I can proudly say that my first Comic Convention was in Dhaka, Bangladesh. And I have the T-shirt to prove it!
The conference was hosted by the brand-spanking new and surprisingly well-polished Jamena Future Park in Bashundhara. After purchasing our tickets for 150tk, passing the dilapidated Bat-Mobile fashioned out of Styrofoam and entering the Indiana-Jones style temple façade, we were assaulted with a kaleidoscope of t-shirts, action figures, posters, a surprisingly well-crafted “mini-TARDIS” and much, much, much more. As we began our exploration, we were quickly pulled aside for an interview with a camera crew and reporter. (Begin diversion.)
The only true quality needed to be broadcast on national T.V. or plastered on the front page of a major Facebook page in Bangladesh is to be born Caucasian. I was interviewed live on television several times last year and I was snatched up and interviewed by pretty much every reporter in sight when I ventured into the heart of the party on Bangla New Year last April. I had sporadic introductions in broken English from locals for the next month explaining that they recognized my furry face from the holiday programming. Fun stuff! (End diversion.)
So anyways, after being pulled aside and awkwardly interviewed with my coworkers for a few minutes, I continued my exploration of the event. One of the most encouraging and exciting discoveries at Comic Con Dhaka was that there is actually a thriving Bangla-language comic culture here in Bangladesh. A plethora of Bangla-language comic artists and writers were proudly displaying and selling their work, which was both cheap and surprisingly decent quality. I suppose my subconscious-ethnocentric-psyche had prepared me to be disappointed with the quality of locally written and published graphic novels. I was humbled and found myself blown away by the quality and depth of the stories I encountered (translated to me by my high school students of course. Ami ektu Bangla bougee)!
It was fascinating to see that despite the popularity of Western heroes, villains and monsters, Bangladeshis have added to the comic-book culture and created their own, locally relevant graphic novels which feature quintessentially Bangladeshi character roles such as poor rickshaw wallahs, withered imams and scrawny fishermen. They crafted organic stories based in Bangladesh that are relatable and relevant to the culture here…and I think this is awesome!
Other personal highlights of the event included watching the “We Draw Stuff” guys at work and buying an ink portrait of Bumblebee from them, perplexedly wondering why SpongeBob Squarepants would dare invite himself to a Comic Con (it’s a disgrace but I digress) and marveling at how much time and effort Bangladeshi high school students poured into their costumes.
In short, Comic Con Dhaka was a unique experience I wouldn't have missed for the world. I learned tons, watched talented artists at work and experienced repeated hugs from a loving ninja turtle. And I have the t-shirt to prove it!