Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Money vs. Time

"We live and we die by time, and we must not commit the sin of turning our back on time"
 - - Tom Hanks character Chuck Nolan in Castaway.

My sister Kelly constantly laughs at me and my random choices. Not so much that I choose to do what I do but that I constantly change my mind. It's a Pisces thing she tells me. You swim in the current and as soon a new current comes along you decide, "Hey, this new current would be fun!" and off you go. That last part I made up. Now I am not disputing her observations because it is true. However it is the random choices that have lead me to where I am now since I started this journey.  I am going to wax philosophical a bit. Not so much in defense of what I do but why I have come to terms with the fact that I do it, and I really like it.

It is all about my evolved and ever changing belief in Time vs. Money.

Semi-seriously though. Most of us unknowingly live by the limitations that are placed upon us by an ingrained series of factors. The societal expectations of what is normal is the most damaging. Get an education, get a job, buy a car, get married and have kids (oops), buy stuff, then keep buying more stuff. Work long hours, don't rock the boat, be normal (oops), get comfortable -you deserve it. Dream big and live for "someday" but do not actually "go for it". We subconsciously set limitations on ourselves every day. We worry about the past and stress about the future. That is how we roll.

Personally, I can hear the track announcer yell, "And down the stretch they come". Like it, don't like it, ignore it, deny it or turn your back on it, time is our mortal enemy. You are in a horse race and you are somewhere on that race track running one lap. I am at the top of the home stretch and I am fully aware that I need to have the final kick so that I can finish strong. When the race is over we will all get a big wreath of flowers to celebrate. (This horse racing reference was for you Ken Parker.)

So, what the heck am I talking about you ask? We are back to time vs. money. I want to travel and experience as much of this world as I can, while I can. Naturally I need money to do it. As an example I told my sister that I think I will stay here in Bangladesh until the spring of 2022. I used that time for a few reasons. The first being, aside from the madness of most things here, life and work are easy enough and nobody really messes with you. It can be stressful if you allow it and I have my bad days. It is not stress free but stress debilitating. Secondly, in the spring of 2022 I can start collecting my Canadian Pension (holy crap that looks ominous in writing) early. I will top that off by starting to draw from my personal RRSP pension. With 3 years of living and saving in Bangladesh, which is possible, plus a decent monthly draw I can hit the road on a massive 2 year journey.

HOWEVER, let's talk about time. In the two extra years I spend here in Dhaka, I could arrange to move on and work somewhere else. Ideally 6 month contracts would work for me but most schools want a year. As I get older I am getting smacked hard in the face with the reality of global ageism. Yes, I can find work in various places but it is becoming a larger challenge. So, why would I stay in one place "just because" when I can move on to another place? Ageism is causing a new fear, a limitation if you would. Now we are back to Feel the Fear and Do it Anyways by Dr. Susan Jeffers. The only motivational book I ever make reference to.  Maybe without the stability of staying put I will not save as much. Maybe I will not find a new job. Maybe, maybe, maybe..Feel the fear and do it Anyways.😛😎. I did not start this journey to save money. I am fulfilling a desire that has been deep-rooted in me as long as I can remember. There-in lies the conundrum (wow, big word). What is my personal balance between time and money?

Let's talk numbers. Life expectancy in Canada is 82.5 years. Realistically, how many people are active over the age of 70? I do not mean going to Florida and playing golf, hitting up a Princess Cruise or spending time at their cottage. All wonderful things, but not my wonderful things. Eventually I will stop doing what I am doing when I cannot physically do it any longer. So let's use 70 is the baseline for good health. That leaves less than 13 years for me to journey on. "Wow, 13 years is so long" you say but how many times have you said, "Hey, where did those 10 years go? - exactly. I have so much left to see and do. If I decided to take three of those years away to stay in Dhaka because it is easy, well, I am reverting back to the life that I lead before July 31, 2010. "I am turning my back on time."

Where does that leave me now? I have this new position at school which pays me a few extra dollars. Nothing to get excited about. I could stay here in Dhaka but it is certainly not an idyllic place to spend the next 3 years. If it were Thailand or Vietnam, sure. To just stay here, work at a school that is a nightmare and unorganized, in a city that is survivable but not enjoyable is really not a long term option. Therefore, I might have put a new plan into motion...as I do.

One of the biggest challenges as an older ESL teacher is that ageism exists and is very real. There is nothing you can do about it, it just is. You can whine about how unfair it is and how it would never happen in your country but that is not going to change anything. Reality bites. Or, you can be the optimist and realize this situation opens up possibilities to go to places you might never had considered before, such as Bangladesh. Rose colored glasses? Yup, maybe a little bit. Maybe we all need to wear them a little more often.

You chose how you want to live. Negatively with what you cannot control or positively with what you can. It is up to you. You may not get to exactly where you want to be but you can kick doors down on the limits you were placing on yourself even without  knowing you were doing it, and by doing so opening up all kinds of new possibilities. The rose colored glasses are starting to fit quite nicely, thank you very much.

Fu** you ageism. You give me a constant reminder of time which empowers me. That enables me to make the right choices to move forward. Fu** the obsession with money, embrace time. My next destination will surprise most of you.

News at 11:00

Monday, May 27, 2019

As We Head Into Summer

As we enter June I have reached the three month mark of life in Dhaka. I do not know why, but three months is always a milestone for me. There are a few things coming up this month that will take me into summer. Ah, summer in Bangladesh also known as "The Rainy Season". I like the more common term, Monsoon season. ..Yipppeee ! Three months of daily torrents flooding our infrastructure lacking city. Bangladesh divides their year into 6 seasons. Sheet is a funny name for winter. however winter days are cool and the air is clear. As the monsoons have run their course the days are filled with sunshine. It sounds pretty good, not Sheet at all.

Click here for a breakdown of the seasons and what to expect, if you ever decide to challenge your sensibilities and visit Bangladesh.

The end of June marks the end of the school year for the Malibagh (CTIS) and Gulshan (CTS) campuses. The Wari campus (CTIS), which is where I will be stationed full time after June, is on a different schedule. With the end of school all the foreign teachers head out for the summer for a well-deserved break. South African, Thailand, Philippines, Australia and Ghana are some of the destinations. Sadly, because life can be difficult here, most will not be returning. One and done is the mantra around these parts. Good luck and safe travels to Marcus, Nick, Domenic, Rosa, Willie, Caroline and Sven.

**CTS - Canadian Trillinium SchoolCTIS - Canadian Trillinium International School

Now for the news that will make my high school teachers, principle and administration staff (Spik and Shaw for those in the know) roll over in their graves. I have been offered the position of school principle for the Wari campus. Let me say that again and yes you read that right. I have been offered the position of a school principle. Peace out, Mr. Bracken (RIP), you were right. Anything is possible if I would just stop smoking so much pot. 😎. The irony being that pot is now legal and I have not smoked a joint in about 30 years. I wonder what would have happened if I just gone all Grateful Dead for the past 40 years. I have only told a few people about this and I hope it does not come back to bite me in the ass. I am usually pretty good at keeping quiet until something is finalized. So here we are.

I am negotiating my contract, role and responsibilities and it has gone sideways. I should come to expect that in this country. Money is money so whatever, I will get paid. I am going down a path of long hours, managing teachers, helping parents, and basically being at the whim of the CEO. Anyone who knows me knows how that will turn out. There have been some outright lies and Cheshire grins.

** As of May 30th the contract is signed. I am now the Principle of CTIS Wari Campus. These poor children **

 Anyways, if it does not work out I will request to step back and be a teachers, screw the title and responsibility. If that does not warrant a discussion then off I go! Finish the contract and be on my way.  My initial contract runs out at the end of June, this one will run until end of April 2020. Although Dhaka is a daily shit show. I could use a bit of a routine to fully recharge but realistically that is impossible here. Recharge that is. I am in the midst of putting together a plan for the biggest tour I have ever attempted starting in the spring of 2022...I will push it to 2023 if this Bangladesh adventure holds true. 😀🚢🚉🚍✈🌄.

As I said, the school semester at Malibagh ends on June 30th. Wari Campus is closed now until June 16th. Seriously my time is real slack right now. I might have taken the week to go somewhere but we have exit and entry visa issues if not planned properly. That is another story for another time and probably my Good-bye Dhaka post. I am down to 3 classes a day and fill in for teachers who call in sick, which is every single day. I arrive at school at 8:00 am and catch up on paperwork and drink coffee. Today's paperwork was the last 15 minutes of the Raptors win over the Bucks. My first class of the day now is grade 4 English, which is my absolute favorite class.

Grade 4 lining up in project teams

Because of Ramadan classes are now 45 minutes instead of 65. Lunch is 30 minutes instead of an hour, for those who are not fasting such as the few Hindi's and Christians in the school. Next up is Grade 10 Health Science. We have been working on a video project that will take them to the end of the year. My final class is Grade 8 Social Studies. They are making a music video about pollution. These little projects are their final exams, so nothing to prep for me.

Next week is EID vacation when Muslims will thankfully break their fast of Ramadan. The following is review week, then exam week, then grades, report cards and parent meetings. However, during this time Wari will reopen with a whole group of new students and a few new teachers. It should be a fast and furious month.

Grade 8 in a Video Production Meeting

I have also joined the BHAGA club. It is a social club with all kinds of facilities and a meeting hub for Expats. By joining BHAGA I now have access to all the embassy clubs just by showing my fancy membership card. American, British, Dutch, Nordic, German, Canadian, Korean and a few others that slip my mind. Each has a good bar, restaurant and music scene. It will help me to survive here because that is what you do, survive in Dhaka.

The highlight of my week is Tuesday night road hockey at the High Commission of Canada. We play for about 2 hours on the tennis courts and it is tough with the heat. Afterwards we have access to the pool and the beer is ice cold. There is one idiot American who constantly throws his stick when he is out of play. Seriously, a playground trick. It has been mentioned but this being an embassy everyone is being diplomatic about it...and he keeps doing it.

You know who is not a diplomat...ME! I may just get 5 for causing an international incident.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Let's Play Catch Up

It has been almost a month since my last post. When I started this blog I tried to keep away from making it a diary when I was not traveling. No excuses because I  believe that you can write about something every day. It does not need to be monumental, it just needs to be the truth. After all, "The truth is stranger than fiction but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't." -- Mark Twain must have had Bangladesh in mind when he spoke those words.

Let me ask you this. Have you ever seen something strange or out of the "normal" where you are and give it a "double take"? Then, after you see it a few more times it just becomes a part of the landscape and not really a "thing" any longer. That is NEVER the case here. Every day I am gob smacked  (I have always wanted to use that word) by the world that is around me. Nothing surprises me because everything surprises me.  That reminds me a something Soneya, our office receptionist said to me the other day. "Ken, I never miss you, do you know why?" "Because I never forget you".  My world.

 The Korail Basti Slum  is very real
 The Korail Basti Slum  is very real
 The Korail Basti Slum  is very real
 The Korail Basti Slum  is very real
 The Korail Basti Slum  is very real
 The Korail Basti Slum  is very real

What odd little ditties have crossed my path in the last month? How about chickens being butchered on the street and the remains being pushed into a sewer. Commuter trains that are so full that people are hanging on for dear life gripping open doors. For those who do not want to pay for a ticket, they sit on the roof of the train. Old, young, man or woman it does not matter. I should take a few photos of that hardcore reality one day but I am always staring in anticipation when the rail crossing comes down. Traffic as I have mentioned, still shocks me. It is nothing to find a car, motorcycle or CNG coming down the wrong way because their lanes are too packed. People fight for every inch in traffic. What should be 2 lanes is 4 and even 5, all with horns blasting. I have seen so many people with missing hands or limbs begging in the street. I am told this is from the factories. "People get hurt every day and nobody cares. There is always someone else to take their place" Anise casually mentioned to me. A guy working chest deep in the rancid sewers waters pretty much sums up Bangladesh.

I have wandered a few different and interesting neighborhoods. I did find myself in the largest slum in Dhaka one afternoon which caught me by surprise. What do you think of when you hear the word slum...well it is the same as what I thought. However there I was sipping tea with locals without a care in the world. There was nothing to be afraid of. People are generally kind, smiling and in the case of  Korail Basti, a bit shocked to see me there. One police officer walking his beat smiled and gave me a welcoming"thumbs up" as he walked past.

Korail Basti banana vendor
Mom was happy to let me take the photo - Korail Basti
 Korail Basti - water mellon vendor
 Korail Basti - You can not escape Rickshaws in Bangladesh
 Korail Basti sitting surrounded by the produce
 Korail Basti clothing vendor

I work in Wari which is in Old Dhaka. Here the streets are narrow and busy. This also gives me the wonderful opportunity walk past the infamous chicken murders every morning. Nothing starts your morning better than headless chickens being tossed into a large clear tub and hearing them bounce around. I actually giggle at this every morning because it is so over the top. Oh, the heads go into a clear bag so there is that. However the butchers of Wari are always smiling and friendly, I think because they have just killed my appetite for the day. The best diet ever! Oh and the smell is lovely.

The other campus I go to is in Malibagh. It is a bit more modern and the main streets are wider which just makes the live game of Frogger more exciting. In any direction there are side streets that can take you back 100 years in just a few steps. All in all it is a nice area with everything you need, including a disgusting KFC. I just cannot escape chickens!

Baridhara ladies shopping
Baridhara - How to take 20 years off your life
Baridhara kids would not leave me alone
Baridhara breakfast of simosas and shingaras
Baridhara OK just one more selfie

Near the Canadian Embassy is Baridhara. Here you will find the very modern Jumana Future Park. A massive shopping centre and mall including state-of-the-art movie theatres. I usually take the bus here. It is easy, direct and cheap. Walk anywhere away from the mall and you get into amazing little neighborhoods of food stalls, tea shops and smiling faces.

Banani and Gulshan 1 and 2 is where you find the modern amenities and where most foreigners live and work. There are modern grocery stores and pharmacies. Things here are quite a bit more expensive than other neighborhoods. At times prices for items can be compared to the west. Foreigners make a good salary here and do not blink an eye at paying $4 for a coffee. There are bars, embassy clubs and health clubs. It also houses all the Embassy's  there is a very large security presence including checkpoints going into and leaving the areas.

Anise with his new sunglasses
The end is near for these chickens
Time to remove the head, in front of our school
Welcome to the Wari campus. Would you like a fresh chicken sir?
A quick push of the neck on the blade and into the bucket you go.
Wari traffic on a slow day

I have had some impressive day long walks discovering some of the nooks and crannies of this city. However, some days you do not want to leave your apartment. The constant staring, idle chatter from random strangers, never ending selfies and the blasting of car horns wears you down. I am not alone with this sentiment. People I have met who have been here for years "hide from Dhaka days" to preserve their sanity. I am not sure that is logical but it is my reality. My reality has never ever been so weird.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Rites and Rituals

Politics and religion. Two subjects I usually avoid on this site. After all, angry political and religious posts are what Facebook is for. However, since I am living in what is considered a "moderate Muslim" country I want to share my experiences and what will be my biased views on these experiences. Will I offend some people? Probably, but just because you are offended does not make you right.

We are now two weeks in to Ramadan. Ramadan is a month is spent by Muslims fasting from dawn to sunset. Now some perspective on this fasting ritual. Yes, during daylight hours a Muslim will not consume and food or water. Cool, stay committed to your beliefs.  Here in Dhaka the sun rises at 5:13 am and sets around 6:40 pm based on the day I write this post. Naturally those times shift a minute or two every day. Therefore, you ree not eating or drinking for 12 hours which is not, I repeat not an epic challenge. Most of us eat out of boredom or habit and we over eat to boot. Here, you would think it was the start of the Zombie Apocalypse. Teachers and students not showing up to school because they are too weak, dizzy and of course so very tired. All on day one.

Here is where it is interesting. Worshipers wake up at 3:00 am to eat Suhoor, but do not call it breakfast. They eat rice, chicken and vegetables and drink milk and yogurt. Then they have a short prayer and go back to bed. After sunset they have Iftar, but do not call it dinner. Iftar is called the breaking of the fast, and boy do people break their fast. I have been to a few and people gorge themselves. Iftar is a huge restaurant promotion where the food is twice as expensive as normal. Kind of like New Years' Eve in the West. People also drink lots of water and juice plus they have been known to sit at a table eating for 3 and 4 hours. I did go to a buffet one night with a mixed crew from the school. Iftar was at 6:37 pm. We went to the buffet and selected our food and returned to our seat. Taking the lead from Lisa Molla, our VP of Admissions, we sat patiently until the call to prayer which announces the time to eat. The entire restaurant just sat waiting. I admire the dedication. When the call to prayer happened not a word was spoken. The only sound being cutlery hammering on china plates. It was actually a nice moment of observation of the dedication of these people to their faith.

So let's review. Fasting occurs during daylight hours. Muslims get up at 3:00 to eat. The also eat for hours when the sun goes down. I appreciate the dedication to your faith but tell me again how you are suffering when you actually eat more in a day than you would normally. It is just at different times and with massive portions. I participated for the first 10 days. Yes I got "peckish" around noon and yes come dinner time I was really hungry but I managed to contain my gluttony. No I did not wake up at 3 am to eat. I went without. Full disclosure I did drink water.

Here is a fun fact. One of the students from my grade 4 class went to the hospital for dehydration and stayed there for 2 days.
**Note to parents. If your child is being hospitalized because of your religious beliefs you might want to rethink their participation**.

I am sure the locals who have started reading this blog will be angry with me, and I would expect no less. Every religion gets angry with anyone who does not buy into their rites and rituals as the standard bearer.  To paraphrase prince Ea's take on religion.."My God is all powerful and all loving and if you do not believe in him, I will kill you".

History is filled with wars and genocide that were waged by all faiths and religions. I am not ranting on religion. If I did this post would be an 80,000 word PHD thesis. I am just making an observation of one of the many rituals of Islam. Next up is the end of Ramadan which is EID. This is the official breaking of the fast. It is also when most people travel to their hometown for a week to celebrate with their families. Very much like the Chinese New Year. Get out of the way because the masses are about to hit the rails.

Have a look at these videos, it should tell the story. This is very real in Dhaka during holiday travel If you want to be entertained and/or horrified do a YouTube search on EID travel in Bangladesh. Hundreds of people die every year trying to fill every available inch on trains, buses and boats to get home to their villages. These are the ones that are reported.  Nobody would even think of waiting a day, let alone two when it would be normal travel, that would be unheard of. It is EID, you MUST travel on the first day. I will stop here because I will only start insulting these people.

I have 9 days off for EID and I am going to stay put. I was thinking of taking a bus to Syhlat in the North East but I am not prepared to die for my adventure. I will go to the main train station on the 31st, the first day of EID. I am going to find a "safe-ish" place, well away from any train or tracks. From here I am going to observe humanity in motion. The Chinese New Year was a complete overload of my senses, but it was orderly. Would you expect anything less from the people of the  Middle Kingdom? I do not think I am fully prepared to comprehend what I am about to witness here in Dhaka.

Last year 405 people died on roads, rails and waterways during EID festival travel according to the Dhaka Tribune.  Yes, I know people get killed in Canada during our holiday weekends, especially on the any stretch of road leading to cottage country in Ontario. The same mentality exists. Leave on a Friday during rush hour with everyone else and drive like the road belongs only to you. There is no reason whatsoever to wait even a few hours, let alone leave early on Saturday morning. The same, but different right?