The new normal

The past month has been a time of adjustment towards our new situation. After the Holey terrorist attack, our movements are extremely restricted now due to potential security issues. We can go to work and home and very few other places in between.

On July 10th, our post went on Authorized Departure for EFMs (Eligible Family Members). It’s a status that means that families of officers were highly encouraged to depart from Dhaka and go back to the United States. While they could stay if they chose, most took this suggestion seriously and decided to take their families to a safer place. Some remained behind because they don’t have children and wanted to stay with their spouses. For those of us who had to stay behind, it means a much emptier community. It also means a higher workload for officers, since EFMs also work in valuable positions at the Embassy. In my own section, we have lost all but one of our EFMs. It does mean I get to learn new skills as we try to fill the void, but it is definitely a strain to maintain our old workload.

I was also moved last week to a new apartment due to some issues with the previous place. I like my new place a lot, but I’m now having to re-unpack, re-decorate, and try to figure out how to adjust to my new surroundings. I love the new place though – it’s far quieter, better laid out, and has a much bigger kitchen. I feel safer here than I did at the previous place, so that is something.

One bright event in the past couple weeks is that a colleague and I were able to get out to Kolkata. Walking outside was so wonderful, and I felt very safe for the first time in weeks. I hadn’t realized what a pressure I’d been feeling until it was gone. Even though we were only there for a couple of days, it made a difference in my peace of mind.

The first day we walked nearly 7 miles under pouring rain for most of the day. We stopped by an sidewalk umbrella seller and ended up chatting with him under his tarp-covered kiosk, drinking tea, while the rain came down in sheets. My colleague and I were both thankful for our Bengali language ability. Then we walked to Victoria Memorial and some markets. By the end of the day, we were soaked, but content. It was just wonderful to get out and meet everyday people and talk and smile and look up at the sky and feel the rain on my face and the ground below my feet. To feel the breeze on my face and smell street food smells and grass smells and even bad smells. To see children playing on the sidewalk and lovers sitting on benches hiding beneath umbrellas. These are the things that are now closed off to me in Dhaka, at least for the time being.


However, I know the Dhaka community is resilient. We host each other at our houses for dinner or board game nights, try to think of creative ways to entertain ourselves, and when we ask each other “how are you doing?” we actually want to know. It must be toughest on the people who now have to be separated from their spouses and children – I can’t imagine what they are going through. I think we will have to be even more “there” for each other in the coming months as we assess what the new normal will be in Dhaka. We will watch and wait and keep trying to do our jobs as best we can, and hope for the best. Because how we face the situation each day is the only thing we can control right now.


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Dengue and Other Horrors

It’s been awhile since I posted to this blog. My work has kept me quite busy and life started to seem more or less normal. I had a routine: I played volleyball twice a week, went out to brunch with friends on the weekend, and went shopping at the limited areas we were allowed to go to. It seemed enough. I even organized an Embassy-wide Consular Open House Day that opened our usually closed doors to our colleagues. It was a smashing success and enjoyed by all. Life on the nonimmigrant and immigrant visa lines was booming and I was starting to get the hang of things.

Last Friday, I went to a wine and paint evening that our Community Liaison Office put together. As my beach landscape started to come together, I felt like my body was falling apart. I started aching, and my face felt like it was on fire. I felt removed from the festivities and lethargic. When I got home, I took my temperature – well over 102F. he next morning, I called our med unit. They told me that I should wait another day, and if I still had a fever on Sunday, I should come in. Well, my fever soared that day and night, up to 104F. I took a cold shower at 3:o0am to try to cool off.

I went in to the med unit first thing Sunday morning. My temperature was still about 103F and I felt even worse. They took a blood test, and came back 10 minutes later with the news that I tested positive for dengue fever. The next 6 days are a blur of trying to cool down my fever, taking Tylenol (the only medicine really for dengue), trying to drink excessive amounts of fluids and sleeping. I had planned a trip to Kuala Lumpur due to a 4 day weekend, but unfortunately had to cancel plans as I realized my body wouldn’t be up to par.

Thursday a rash broke out over my entire body. My arms and legs were lobster red and my hands were so sensitive I could barely grip a spoon. I itched like mad. However, this is a good development since it signalled the end of my dengue. I rested Friday all day as well, and a friend reached out to me to see if I wanted to go to our favorite restaurant, Holey, the next day. I told her it sounded like a great idea and that I hoped I’d be well enough for a well deserved brunch.

Friday evening, I was lounging in bed and scrolling through FaceBook. One of our Dhaka groups posted something that came up on my newsfeed – they reported shooting near Holey, the restaurant I’d planned to go to and one I went to nearly every week. I texted some of my colleagues to see if they had heard anything, and they had not. Most were out of the country on vacation due to the Eid holiday. I continued to read the comments to the post with growing horror.

About 15 minutes later, a call came out from the Embassy that said there was a shooting at Holey and a possible hostage situation. The news become more horrific as it unfolded. A colleague who lives in my building came down and we poured over Al Jazeera, CNN and BBC, trying to clean some more information. I fell asleep around 2:00am, still waiting for news on who the hostages were and what was happening.

This morning I woke up around the time when the siege was ending. My colleague and I heard gunfire and several explosions outside. More news is coming out on who was involved, and Embassy staff has been instructed to stay put, so I’m trying to stay as calm and productive as possible while we wait for more news.

Holey was the first restaurant I ate at in Dhaka. I remember thinking “with places like this, Dhaka is going to be just fine”. It’s impossible to reconcile that oasis with the horrors that have happened in the past 24 hours. My thoughts are with those affected by this tragedy.


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Indian Weekend

Last weekend was a 4-day one, and therefore I took advantage of the time and decided to go on a “Golden Triangle” tour with two other Embassy folks. We began in New Delhi, driving to Agra to explore the Taj Mahal. We arrived in Agra near sunset just in time to make it to Agra Fort. Many of the local Indian tourists were fascinated by me, apparently, and I had about a dozen people taking photos of me or asking to take selfies with me (I declined).  It was amusing and annoying at the same time.

We spent the night at a so-so hotel, and woke up at 4:30am to get to th Taj before sunrise. It was worth it!! Sunrise was beautiful and it was not too hot (it would later reach 115F).


After the Taj Mahal, we went to some other minor monuments, which we had all to ourselves due to the heat. We stopped by Fatehpur Sikri, but became hot and miserable about an hour into the tour. Honestly, I wasn’t a fan of our local guide, who called me back impatiently when I wandered off to look at something because he wanted to finish his spiel about every single carving on every wall. Having to take off our shoes and walk across hot marble while being barraged by persistent hawkers was the last straw! Thankfully my travel companions felt the same about having burnt feet (one of them might have elbowed a too-close-for-comfort hawker in the ribs), and we returned to our car.

After driving a little while, our driver turned to me and said “we now go extra monument.” I groaned a bit inwardly at the thought of more carvings. We drove off the main road and into the country side, and I saw women all wearing bright orange clothing – apparently the official color of Rajasthan. The dehydration made things seem a little magical. We pulled up to what appeared to be a pile of rubble. Our local guide met us and we entered through a doorway. The site was breath-taking and so unexpected we let out a collective “oooooooh.” We’d reached Chand Baori, one of the largest step wells in the world.


As we toured the sides of the well and saw some pretty interesting carvings, the wind started to whip around us. The skies opened up as we reached the other side of the well, and we took cover as hail started falling around us. As the hail diminished (but the rain continued) we decided to chance it and run to our vehicles, giggling the entire time. The air was suddenly cool and refreshing.

We continued on to Jaipur and arrived after dark. Exhausted and still dehydrated, we retired briefly to our rooms to rest up. The hotel was lovely and the attached restaurant was incredibly cheap and tasty. It was a great rest stop.

Honestly, I fell in love with Jaipur. The next morning our newest guide took us to Amber Fort, which was magical even in intense heat.

As we walked through the area that used to be solely for the king’s 12 wives, I tried to imagine life as a sequestered queen. Sometimes I feel sequestered in Dhaka because of our current movement restrictions – there’s always somebody to open the door for me and greet me, somebody to drive me around, but my freedom is severely hampered by not being able to walk outside. While it’s a semi-luxurious lifestyle, it’s emotionally challenging. At least for me it is only 2 years, and for them it was life. And being able to walk freely in India, if only for a few days, has me now feeling a lot better.

After the Amber Fort, we visited the City Palace Museum, which was nice. Then came lunch and after that, 5 hours of driving back to Delhi. We did not arrive in the city again until nightfall, but met up with a guide the next morning who took us to a large mosque littered with remnants of Mid-Sha’ban (and all night Muslim celebration), a glittering Sikh temple and and Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial.

All in all, it was a great little whirlwind tour before our flight left in the afternoon. It took over two hours to check in and get through customs for our flight, and by the time I got on the plane I was ready for my Dhaka home. Diplokitty was also glad to have me home!


My first round of HHE (House Hold Effects) came yesterday. I’m still unpacking a few boxes and sorting, but my home is finally feeling like a home! The second one should come in a couple of weeks, making my apartment complete! Diplokitty will have his cat condo again, and I’ll have cleaning supplies and fun food stuff. But for today, I’m cleaning and sorting! And dreaming of my next possible location for vacation. Happy Friday everybody!


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Sounds of Dhaka

Dhaka is one of the most densely populated cities on earth, with about 15 million people packed into a fairly small space. Traffic is a nightmare, and the sound of honking horns blends together with construction, airplanes, and the call to prayer to create quite a cacophony.

I’ve now been in Dhaka for over a month, and it’s definitely been interesting. I find Consular work to be fascinating (good thing, since I am Consular-coned!) and the staff at the Embassy are amazing. Local people are warm and welcoming, and the Americans who work in the Embassy have kept me busy with dinners, house parties and shopping trips.

We are restricted in our movements, which does make things a little bit more of a hardship than even normal-hardship-Dhaka. To give you a better idea without cramming up my blog with less than fun topics, I’ll direct you to the Department of State’s Bangladesh Travel Alert. The not walking outside is probably the most significant challenge for me. There are some pretty little avenues and parks one could walk in, or even bike in. Instead, I’m reliant upon a car to take me everywhere. Living the past year at FSI, where I never needed a car, this comes as a harsh adjustment. There are definitely sacrifices to this life, but I’m still willing to make those sacrifices.

Since I last checked in, I’ve gotten some walls in my new house decorated and received my UAB (air freight), so things feel a little bit more homey and bright.


I also had the opportunity to go on an Embassy field trip to the Bangladesh Air Force Museum. It was more fun than I expected, and more than a little bizarre – but in a good way!!


While I can’t walk or take public transportation, I hired a driver who can help me to explore a little bit of Dhaka and do some shopping. Did you know that Bangladesh has amazing pink pearls? I’ve bought more than I’ll ever wear, because they are incredibly affordable and beautiful! I’ve also had a lot of clothes tailor-made, both eastern and western style.


The next couple months should be fun – I’m heading to India to visit the Taj Mahal, we’re having the Embassy National Day and one of my bestest Bangla-language buddy will be starting their tour here soon too. I hope to get my HHE at some point soon so I can start to entertain. Overall, I’m still happy to be here in Bangladesh, doing a job that I enjoy, with people who are fantastic.

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One Week In Dhaka

So I arrived safely in Bangladesh, and have spent the last week getting my bearings and learning the ropes. I’m still definitely a little lost – it’s a huge learning curve, but I’ve enjoyed my time here so far. I wanted to tell you a little bit about the fun that is trying to transport a cat across the world.

I was able to spend a couple of days in New York City with my parents while I did last minute meetings. I was pretty exhausted as I’d just gotten over bronchitic and laryngitis, so we mainly hung out in the hotel room with the kitty. We had a little accident in the Washington D.C. airport (think holding tight on to a squirmy kitty in an airport bathroom stall while trying to wipe poo out of his carrier – least fun ever!). The flight to NYC was also incredibly turbulent due to high winds, which didn’t make things any better for Mus.

Anyway, NYC went quickly and I ate some delicious food before heading to JFK with my parents. I check in to Air France, and find that I can upgrade to business for a very affordable price, so I do so. I ask if I can check my bags all the way to Dhaka, and the supervisor comes over and informs me that I will not be able to import Mus into Dhaka if he comes in-cabin with me. Therefore, they refused to check my baggage all the way, but only to Istanbul. As this was contrary to anything I’ve ever heard, even from Turkish Air (who would be the ones I would on the last leg of the journey), I was not happy and told them so. They did not care. They agreed to put a provisional check-through on the luggage, and said Turkish Air could decide whether to let my checked baggage go further.

My parents and I said a sad goodbye and I headed to security with Mus. Now, if you’ve never travelled with a cat, you might not know that TSA makes you take your cat out of their carrier and you have to walk through the X-ray machine with the cat. And Mus, while a delightful cat in general, hates behind held except for that 5 minutes when I come home from a long day of work. I had visions of Mus running through the airport, never to be found again. So I requested a private room that could lock. TSA looked a little put out, but agreed. They took him from me so I could walk through the X-ray, and I got to the other side and gather my things. One shoe achieved…and the 2nd shoe was not to be seen. We looked all around, and it’s just…gone. They were still holding my kitty in his carrier and I’m shoeless. They asked if maybe we can go into the exam room while they seach for my errant shoe. I agreed, not wanting to prolong Mus’s distress.


Petting him through the carrier calmed him down

We went into a tiny room that was filled floor to ceiling with files, and they refused to close the door because they only had one TSA agent who could watch me. So I got a good grip on Mus while he tried to be anywhere but where I wanted him to be. They had to take the carrier away and x-ray it. At least there was a table I can basically wrestle him down on. About 10-15 minutes later, somebody came in triumpantly with my missing shoe, and a little bit after that, somebody returned my carrier. I manhandled Mus back in and we go on our way. Thankfully, business class upgrades also come with business class lounges, so I was able to take Mus somewhere quiet after our ordeal.

My JFK to Paris leg was pretty uneventful, with one exception. As we were waiting to take off on the runway, I was still checking my email and other things. I decided to try to check which gate I would be going out of in Istanbul for the last leg. To my horror, this showed up:


I frantically sent out messages to my social sponsor and my parents. But there was nothing else I could do at that point. I tried to not panic, and enjoy my last view of America. Other than this, the flight was normal. Mus cried a little bit, and I tried to get as much sleep as possible because I knew this would be a very long journey. Luckily I can sleep pretty much anywhere, so I got about 4 hours of sleep on that journey. Paris itself was also fairly uneventful, except that during check-in at the gate, the flight attendant told me my carry-on was too large and they would need to check it. I told him I wasn’t staying in Istanbul, which it was a connection, and he said that it would be fine and I would be able to get it in Istanbul. My social sponsor was also able to reach out to Turkish and it turned out that the flight was NOT cancelled, thank goodness!

I arrived in Istanbul after a verryyy uncomfortable ride on a very cramped plane (Mus was equally unhappy and let his unhappiness be known). I got a little bit of a doze in but it was difficult with no leg room and feeling clausterphobic. It was a relief to make it to Istanbul, knowing I only had one last plane right to Dhaka. However, my bag was nowhere to be seen!

I finally found a counter and they told me my bag was outside of customs. I explain that I was not intending to enter Turkey and I have no visa and I have a cat, and that I need my bag because it has important things in it. They helpfully replied “Well, if you have important things in there you should carry it on…” I tell them that I tried, but my bag was taken from me. I wait, nearly in tears (ok, actually in tears), for about 20 minutes while the agent called various people. She told me I can go buy a visa and get the bag, then come back in, or I can get the bag checked to Dhaka, in which case it would end up there sometime in the next week. I dejectedly find the visa counter and buy a visa (thank goodness, just $30). I tried to tell the customs folks my predicament, but they clearly didn’t care and just stamped my passport. I went to the place I’m told to go in the baggage claim, and no bag visible. I go to another one, and again, no bag, but there is at least somebody manning the desk. I am nearly in tears again because Mus is heavy, there are no carts available, and this baggage claim is pretty large. The man tells me my bag is on the other side of the baggage claim, where I’ve just come from. He sees I am visibly upset and asks why. I say “I’m tired and I can’t find my bag!” He replies “You cry for tired?” “Yes, YES I DO CRY FOR TIRED. I WANT MY BAG.” I go back down to the other side and finally find the bag. I grab it, so relieved, and make my way out to the terminal to get back in to International. My gate is of course the end of the end of the end, and then down in its own little creepy basement. Luckily, there’s a handicapped bathroom I can let Mus out in to stretch his legs. This is also the bathroom where people sneak in cigarettes too, as there were about 100 butts and it smelled very strongly of smoke. Mus isn’t happy with the smells but glad to stretch his legs.


Creepy gross bathroom

I board the plane and am happy to see that the seats are a little larger than the last one. Also, my neighbors are all Bengali, and super nice! We chat for some time and I relax. Seven hours later, at 4:45am, I arrive in the Dhaka airport. My social sponsor greeted me enthusiastically and we proceed quickly through customs to the baggage claim. Gloriously, both bags arrived (one zipper broken, but everything still inside).

My first few days were a blur of shopping and meeting people. I ended up staying up until 11:00pm on the night I arrived because I went to a trivia night, and then had to pick up my “new” car I’d purchased. I started work last Sunday and have been filling out paperwork and meeting people ever since. I’ve been able to observe some visa interviews, which were fascinating. My house is amazingly spacious, and I’m having fun slowly decorating it. The bed is comfortable, and my air freight items are supposed to arrive soon which more of my stuff.


Wednesday night, I was home resting and eating some dinner. As I munched on some food, I kind of felt a bit weird, and then I noticed a bag on my table was swaying, then saw that my glass of root beer was also swaying, which I thought “Huh, that’s odd.” Then suddenly my world started shaking alarmingly. I dove under the table and saw Mus hurtling towards the couches. I had no idea whether the walls would fall down on me or what exactly was going on. I texted my social sponsor and asked “Is this what I think it is?” She replied “Yes, stay away from the windows.” It was an earthquake. The epicenter was in Myanmar and it was estimated to be about 6.9 on the Richter scale. After the floor stopped shaking, I came out from under the table and at that point, my upstairs neighbor came down to check on me and we chatted for a bit. My cat stayed hidden for the next couple of hours and I kept feeling like the earth was continuing to sway. I think that was my official “Welcome to Dhaka!”

Yesterday was the Bengali New Year (Pohela Boishakh). I went to a fun house party with my sponsor, then on to an engagement roof-top party at another officer’s house. It was a lovely day and great to meet and talk to people. Today I’m going to dinner with some new friends and another party – my social life has definitely increased since coming here! Mus is also enjoying his increased space, though I think he’s a little more jumpy than he was in Virginia. There are all kinds of strange noises that come from outside (and inside, for that matter!). He does enjoy staring out the windows at the street below. And sleeping, of course.



Well, I am off on a shopping trip soon so I’d better wrap this up. I’m happy to be here, and happy I brought little diplokitty. More later!


Dhaka sunset

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Spoiler alert: Passed!

Last Wednesday, I took my Foreign Service Bengali language exam. Seven months of going to class every day, studying vocab, and learning how to think about high-level ideas in another language led up to this point. I was extremely nervous, even though my instructors praised my speaking skills. The test is an intense 2 hour long ordeal – moving from basic conversation to preparing a speech to reading both short and long texts in Bengali script.

I was really tired afterwards so I went home and took a nap. I woke up to see that my results had arrived in my email inbox. I’d passed!

My last week or so is being spent with last meals with friends and sorting through all my things to prepare for pack-out. The movers are coming on Monday. I woke up a little ill today so I’ve stayed home to prepare. However, yesterday was a wonderful-fun-filled-day with my Bengali language class to the cherry blossoms.

My going away party is next Saturday, and I leave for Bangladesh on Sunday! I’m not sure when I’ll get the chance to update this again, but I hope soon. Wish me luck!

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Nearly there

With three weeks until lift off, it seemed like a good time to update this blog. Things are starting to speed up, but I’m enjoying a weekend that is somewhat calmer in which I can study Bangla. I’ve got a nice little countdown that I look at from time to time to make me realize how little time I have left…

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In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been assigned housing (which looks marvelous!), scheduled pack-out, finalized plane tickets, received Diplokitty import permits, and have started to schedule meetings with folks to discuss Bangladesh. At the moment, I feel on top of things, but I’m waiting for something to go wrong at the last minute. I’m training my cat to be comfortable in his container and harness. Tomorrow I’m going to try drugging him to see how that works.

My parents and brother came to visit a couple of weeks ago and I enjoyed getting to do some of the touristy things I’d missed. Mt. Vernon was fun, and we also rode bikes on the Mt. Vernon trail. Last weekend I was able to take a tour of the White House, which I’d always wanted to do. I also went to the Renwick Gallery, which was stunning.

I realized that my going away party will be a year to the day of my invitation to A-100. I remember feeling so confused and unsure at that time. I was on the register for a total of 3 days before getting my invite, so things moved faster than I’d expected them to. I also remember the pure excitement I felt for weeks afterwards. I am so so so glad I made the decision to accept.

I do have mixed feelings about leaving D.C. I’ve really enjoyed my time at FSI and playing around in the area. I’ve done so many fun things over the past year – biking, hiking, movie watching, meeting new people, eating amazing food, or just looking at the window with my diplocat by my side. There is a little bit of fear of the unknown, fear I won’t be great at my new job, fear that things won’t be the way I hope them to be. But mixed with that is the excitement to travel to a new country – the sights, smells, sounds (and there will be many of all of those) make me itch to finish packing and race towards the airport. I can’t wait to explore the region – Thailand, Nepal, Sri Lanka to name a few. I can’t wait to meet all the people at the Embassy and start decorating my new place. I am happy to get started with something concrete – workwise. I’m excited to meet Bangladeshis and try out my newly acquired language skills. This is what I’ve been training for for nearly 11 months now, and while I may leave Washington D.C. with some wistful sorrow, I am looking towards the future with hope.

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