Friday, November 22, 2019

Sri Lanka We Are A Go

"Don't let your schooling interfere with your education"

Sri Lanka is booked! Country number 47 is now squarely in my sights.

Sri Lanka has long been on my radar. (I refuse to use the idiotic term "bucket list"!) I can remember it being called Ceylon. There was the civil war that started in the early 80s. The Tamil Tigers, who fought for an independent state were always in the news much like the FARC guerrillas of Columbia. But I think it is one of those places that has always held my imagination. Mysterious, remote and a huge part of the ancient Silk Road routes which is something that I have become fascinated by since I lived in Xi'an China. Xi'an, the start of the Silk Road in the East.

** Important Note**  I am well aware of the terrorist attack in Colombo in April of 2019, only 8 short months ago. Now known as the Easter Bombings, killed 259 people include 45 foreign nationals. I am heading there with my eyes wide open. Remember, I currently live a 20 minute walk from the Holy Artisan Bakery. Site of the 2016 Terrorist attack that killed 29 people including 18 Foreign Nationals. I also drank at the Leopold in Mumbai, India which was the first place shot up during the attacks there in 2008. I feel that the bullet holes still in the windows and walls are more a nasty tourist attraction then a subtle reminder. Anyways, do not mistake my knowledge of these events with some sort of ego driven desire to brag that I have been to a previously dangerous location. This is just the world we live in now. Remember England, France, USA, Canada, New Zealand, nobody is immune. Here is a full list of attacks to get a better understanding. To add a bit of perspective, a terrorist attack in 2019 killed 259. The Tsunami of 2004 killed 35,000.

I have put together a decent itinerary with lots of variety. I fly out on Dec 17th and I have 3 glorious weeks, returning Jan 4th. I will fly into Colombo I have booked 4 dives which I am really excited about. Most of the dives around Colombo are deep wreck dives. Its then a train ride south to Hikkaduwa where I will again go diving. This time 8 reef dives over 4 days. From there it is time to chill on the beach in Mirissa for a few days. I might even have a beer.

From Mirissa it is the longest trip of the travels. About 4 hours north to Ella and into tea country. Here there are suppose to be some fantastic and challenging treks that lead to incredible vistas. Then a great journey by train to Kandy and back into city life for a few days. As I move back towards the capital I will spend a few days at the National Park to see some Elephants doing their wild Elephant thing,  near Rambukkana and finishing back on the beach at Negombo.

Everything is pre-booked, a rarity for me. I am going to do my absolute best to stick to my itinerary....Stop laughing dammit!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Recharging My Bangladesh Mojo

Mojo: a magic spell, hex, or charm broadly : magical power. It has entered the English language and  taken on an additional meaning of personal confidence and charisma.

A wander around Old Dhaka and the riverfront was exactly what I needed. Genuine smiles, random handshakes followed by "your country?", organized chaos, sensory overload at with every step including smells ranging from organically sweet to "I think something is dead over there". The beautifully disgusting riverfront and a chicken and rice lunch from a shanty side road restaurant. Delivered by as an insane CNG driver as I have had since I arrived. I would not have it any other way. My Bangladesh Mojo was ebbing and a trip to Old Dhaka absolutely restored it today.

There is something about getting out of Banani and Gulshan and getting into Old Dhaka, or any other neighborhood, to understand the enormity and history of this city. To read some interesting and somewhat eye opening facts about Dhaka, Click Here.

I like hailing a CNG and negotiating a quick price, jumping in and heading out, trusting my driver knows where he is going and will get me there safely. In my experience they have never gotten lost. A few times stopped and asked for quick directions but were in the right vicinity. I have also gotten there safely but we are going to give a lot of wiggle room to the word safe.

I was headed to the River Front but experience has taught me to get as near to Old Dhaka as possible and then jump out and walk. The narrow streets have high volumes of traffic, which include Rickshaws, CNGs, bikes, cars, trucks and people on foot, so it is easy to get out and venture along with the hoards. This was no different. If you stop for a minute, find a small safe area where you will not get killed by an variety of raging driver. Take in the kaleidoscope of colors all around you. That will bring peace to the mayhem you are about to be immersed in.

I find it impossible to tire of Old Dhaka. There is just way to much going on at all times. It is complete sensory overload. What is always charming are the wide smiles, the screams of "hello boss, whats your country?" and for me the general good feeling I get by being there. I get lost in my world of wandering and that is exactly how I like it.

My only goal was to get to Sadarghat and the old river port. Wandering the riverfront, chatting with the always curious locals and finding random food adds to the day. Watching the large ferry boats astounds me. The sampans and the oarsmen always calling down for you to jump on board. I have in the past and it is fun, I don't know why I didn't this time.

The day was sunny and warm and the air was clean. A rare combination for this time of year. It was also a Friday, the holy day here so the area was quieter than usual, but do not think for one minute it was peaceful. I found lunch in a side street restaurant of chicken rice and a boiled egg. With a small bottle of water it was 125 Taka, just shy of C$1.95. This was not your trendy neighborhood restaurant. This was a dockside hole in the wall that would absolutely scare most people. However, as my sister found out in Puebla, Mexico. That is where the good eats are.

Anyways, I feel recharged. The bad air is now a game of "guess the AQI" every morning as I did in China. The long hours in the van to and from school seem a bit easier. The mobile phone loaded music helps. Things just feel better all around. Sometimes a small recharge can bump you right back where you belong.

I enjoyed a CNG back to Banani. I went directly into my apartment and booked a flight to Sri Lanka. Thank you for the inspiration Old Dhaka. See you again soon.

* A funny little story about our van ride to and from school. I go to Wari campus in Old Dhaka, about an hour away depending on traffic. With me is Naureen, Sadia and Jeff. We pick up 3 teachers who work at the Malibagh campus, their names are totally unimportant. On the way to school the 4 of us nod good morning to each other knowingly, stuff in our ear buds and prepare for the trip. The Malibagh teachers start complaining from the moment the get in the van. The school, the management, the kids, other teachers, Dhaka, Bangladesh, Work visas, whatever. It just never stops.

We we drop these teachers off at Malibagh and pick up Rupa and Jafrin. Oh yeah, Andrew is with us from the start but he is not apart of the equation, his choice. On the return trip we all are chatting about the day, except Andrew who sits sullenly in the front seat mumbling to himself. We laugh mostly at the kids, parents, each other or just about anything. It is a great stress release. For the record Nuareen tells a great story. For about 20 minutes or so the van is lively and relaxed. We then turn the corner onto the street where the Malibagh campus. Like Pavlovian dogs that we have become, talking stops, we put in our earbuds and wait for the inevitable pickup of the black clouds.

These three clowns get in the van and as if on cue, resume the complaining from the mornings session. It is quite impressive really. We all quickly look at each other and smirk like little kids. Each of us then stare out the window drifting off into our little bubbles listening to our personal security blankets.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

No Squirrels Allowed

We have a "no cell phone policy" in the school. Teachers can look something up on their phone but students are forbade to have any cell phone usage at all. In grade seven there is a student who carries her hand held math calculator around with her. She actually puts it on her desk at all times. Given a moment, she will pick it up and stare at it as if it were a mobile device "I am creating emojis" is her reply. This is absolutely worse than a mobile phone it is a surrogate for a mobile phone. The human race is finished.

Now what about squirrels you ask? "Decision need to be made/owned. If they do not work out, make another. Just don't do nothing" That is the best advice ever given to me and I need to put words into actions. In the last two months, I have wavered back and forth about my job and life here in Dhaka. There have bad days where I think to myself "I do not need this shit" and immediately start looking for new jobs. It usually takes about three days before I get an interview and formal offer but I am not sure this is a positive or negative experience. It is positive for the ego boost and knowing that I have options when the time comes. Is it negative? Absolutely! If I am having a shit day/week and immediately think "fuck it I am leaving, it creates a very slippery slope from which to direct my life. Things get hard. Just leave. Running away is never the answer, ever!

I have had a bumpy ride for the last couple of months. Dhaka can wear you down "if you let it", and I have been letting it. Compounding that is that the school I work for is a typical shit show .It is more of a factory to make money then it is an education facility. Small things started to fester where they usually would not because my attitude had been deteriorating. We all know how that rabbit hole works. This is the second time I have been through this mental meltdown since I arrived in February. The first time I had job offers from Uzbekistan and two from Mongolia. I changed my mind and took my vacation to Thailand. This time I have job offers from Vietnam and again Mongolia and I will take my vacation to Sri Lanka.

However, if I said "screw it, screw them" and took off  I would be leaving for all the wrong reasons. I would absolutely be making the life difficult for quite a few teachers and my coordinator 
Naureen. She has been amazing to work with. She also has these moments x 100. We both talk each other out of it for the same reason, loyalty to the kids. The school administration hold no value to either of us. This has been true for all the teachers at all campuses, past and present. I have given it the good old college try but it is time to focus on the students and then march on.

My sister Kelly constantly laughs at my Piscean ways. Hey, I think I just turned a proper noun into an adjective but I digress.  Anyways I am always looking ahead to what is next for me and she laughs at my ability to be distracted by the newest shiny object. Guilty as charged. However I have realized that by constantly looking ahead, and not being in the moment, I fall into the trap of  "there is always something better""I do not need this shit"'fuck it".  These very dangerous precedents have ebbed into my life and affected my ability to make decisions. Very dangerous indeed.

Which leads me to say that I am going to fight to the finish in Dhaka. I owe it to the students. I owe it my coworkers and more importantly, I owe to myself. I absolutely need to finish what I have started. I walked away from a job in Mexico and I don't want to make it an easy habit to develop. Finally, on this topic, I am actually very private in all matters of my life. So much so that those in my life understand and leave me be or go crazy trying to figure it out, which always amuses me.  This leads to a game of develop theories and assumptions and is more fun to watch then television. Yes I know, tossing it out on a Blog contradicts all this but isn't life about all our funny silly contradictions?

So where does this leave me? I am going back to my original plan. I knew all along that I would follow it eventually. I will stay in Dhaka until the end of April and finish my contract. I will have a vacation starting December 12th and running until Jan 4th (24 glorious days). I am going to head to Sri Lanka, which has been high on my list for as long as I can remember. I am going to explore Colombo. I am going to spend a week diving in Hikkaduwa. I will hike in Ella and Kandy and take an old train in between. There are elephant reserves to visit, beaches to lay about on and cold beer to drink.

Mostly though, it will be the break from Dhaka needed to get me through until the end. 
** (Update, my flight is booked with Sri Lankan Air)

Now a bit of perspective. For all its insanity, Dhaka is a very cool and interesting place to live and explore and I have said that more than once. Secondly, I get two weeks spring holiday in March and there are eight religious holidays in April. Getting through the spring semester will be a snap, if my head is in the right place. I will have a pocket full of money and the summer off to get my travel vibe on. That also goes back to my original plan of Qatar, Iraq, Lebanon and Cypress and other points in between...or completely change my travel plans at the last minute...ohhh shiny things! It will also empower me to choose where I want to work and live next and not just take anything to "keep moving forward".

So there it is. My travel blog evolving into more of a diary. I find that writing things down and getting them out of the dark chamber that is the bubbling cauldron of my thinking is liberating. I am comforted by the fact that I may be a bit of a squirrel at times, but dodging cars has become the norm for me.

Books I have read this month. Now it is off to the DCC market in Gulshan 1 to do a little coin shopping.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
The Book of Negros by Lawrence Hill
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen