Appreciating Food through Its Politics

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I want to lighten it up a little as we enter this week. I've been writing on heavy topics (both on the blog and in my private writing) because it's better to let them out than to keep them rattling around in my head. However, I think we all deserve a good diet of sweet with our bitter, dessert with our vegetables and all that. And perhaps one of the easiest ways to do that is to talk about my love of food.

Planning to Move Planets: Thoughts on Returning to the US

Monday, July 30, 2012

One friend of mine described it as "cultureshock" to come back home after being abroad for an extended period of time. And, I must admit, I've got a mix of feelings about returning to the States. Here are some of my thoughts.

Visual: A Fruit of Unknown Origin

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Some Words on Doing Nothing from Franz Kafka

Saturday, July 28, 2012

You need not do anything. 
 Remain sitting at your table and listen. 
 You need not even listen, just wait. 
 You need not even wait, just learn to be quiet, still and solitary. 
And the world will freely offer itself to you unmasked. 
 It has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

 - Franz Kafka

Learning with Humility

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Expectation is the enemy of humility.

I don't know if that's a quote by anyone famous, but it's something that I've put away in my mental filing cabinet for whenever I feel like I've failed at learning something. And trust me, on this trip, there have been many times when I've felt like I've failed.

That's the major problem with starting anything - when you're first learning as a child, you have some natural humility in that you don't feel like you must be perfect at everything right away. However, when you're an adult learning something (say, a hard language like Bengali), you might feel sensitive to the fact that you're not "getting it" right away. Hence today's post: some tips on how to regain some measure of humility and feel at ease with your learning process.

My 5 Major Ramadan Activities

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Homemade burfi! It's a sweet milk cake.
Since I talked about fasting earlier, I thought I should talk about what I've actually been doing during this month - often, people assume that I'm not doing anything but feeling hungry/thirsty all the time! Instead, here are the most common things I'm doing each day.

1. Sleeping. Of course, this is because I have the privilege of being on vacation during Ramadan, but since we are getting up and eating pretty early in the morning, I take it as my cue to sleep in a little bit each day rather than staying awake from 3:30am onward.

2. Plunging into work. In some ways, I think I get the most done when I'm fasting - no necessary breaks for food/drink! But seriously, investing yourself in a project or reflection really does make the time positive and strengthening.

3. Reading Quran and learning more about religion. This one is a pretty obvious choice during the holy month, but since it is my first time being immersed in an Islamic culture outside of my own private learning, I thought I'd reiterate how big of a learning experience this is.

4. Cooking! Or, more accurately, watching and sometimes assisting people who are cooking. I mentioned before that I found it pretty interesting that we continue to cook and prepare a lot of foods when we ourselves cannot eat, but it is a regular part of the day to fry foods, make curries, and be in the presence of both food and water. Normal life doesn't stop when we are fasting, it just becomes markedly different.

5. Remarking at the complete normalcy of day-to-day life. Ok, not really an 'activity,' but coming from a Western country where only a few people are fasting to seeing everyone do it (regardless of what work they're performing or their living situation) is pretty astounding. It intrigues me to think of the unified group of people fasting and how their lives are affected in similar and different ways by observance of this ritual.

The Cumbersome Beauty: Why Fashion Can Be So Exhausting

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bengali women wear pants.

You're saying to yourself: "yeah, so?" But I found it really interesting. Living in the US, my common stereotype of women's fashion was that it was caught up in skirts. Skirts keep women (in that context) from participating in strenuous activities, such as sports and labor. So, misguided me thought that Bengali women were thus more able to move around and benefited based on their wearing pants. Wrong. Pants do not equal empowerment. Here's why:

A Day of Ramadan in Our Household

Monday, July 23, 2012

Ramadan is upon us! During this holy month, for those who don't know, Muslims everywhere observe the fast - meaning that they do not eat or drink between the hours of sunrise and sunset (unless they have been restricted from fasting due to illness, traveling, or other prohibitory factors). The fast is a really unifying part of Muslim identity, though before this time I had only experienced it on my own in the US (and, consequently, had to explain what I was doing to many people). Here in Bangladesh, however, where I have the benefit of being immersed in Islamic culture, we have some very ritualized ways of participating in Ramadan. I thought it'd be interesting to detail a typical day in our house, so read on!

Visual: Material Opulence

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A bunch of multi-colored bangles and other items at a local market.

Some Wisdom from A Writer's Resource

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"Your focus is your reality." 
- the front cover of my notebook from Half-Price Books.

Friday Fiction: A Distant View

Friday, July 20, 2012

Here is a quick-writing experiment I did with describing scenery through a child's perspective.

The houses turned to tiny islands whenever it was rainy season. They flooded the fields, fortified the side walls, and hunkered down under tin roofs to listen to the plink plink and gush of raindrops, signaling that Allah had blessed them again. Selena snapped pictures from the car window and stared. They swung around busses and telegaris with ease, but the rain impeded their progress nevertheless. Gullies of brown much bubbled up from the potholes and unpaved streets, forcing everyone to slow down. IT was safer this way, her father claimed, but her cousin sighed loudly that they weren't going fast enough and that there would be tons of traffic up ahead. Everyone else was asleep. Selena imagined that the tiny islands contained just as tiny people, living out their tiny lives at a great distance from the city where they lived. She wondered how the children got to school when their houses were surrounded by water. Maybe these villages didn't have any children. Only the tallest stalks poked out from above the water line - jute and strong-willed plants, her father said, rice stayed submerged for the majority of its growth. When they visited their village, most of her friends' families kept chickens and goats, to whom they fed grass and leftover meals to. Only people ate rice, so Selena didn't know why they had to have so much of it. The watery fields seemed to stretch on forever.

Summer Reading: My Five Favorite Poe Pieces

Thursday, July 19, 2012

This summer, I decided that I would read the entire collection of a writer that I consider great. I thought about going after so many different people - everyone from Octavia Butler to Shakespeare - but finally settled on someone (creepily) close to my heart: Edgar Allan Poe!

There's my little Poe button. Whoo!

Double Double, Toil and Trouble: A Pump-up Letter to Activists

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Caring is hard work.

As all my activist and ally friends know, it can be depressing to open up a newspaper, watch TV, or generally absorb any media about the sorry state of our universe (yes, universe - I get sad reading intergalactic news as well). We forget how our small contributions affect people and make change in all of its local ways; we burn out and think we're not doing enough; we lie awake at nights agonizing about how the next event/protest/workshop will go and whether it will be acceptably radical enough. But, having finished reading Poe as of late, I believe that he has some choice words on this subject.

Refugee News, Powerlessness and Perspective

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Though not many people in the United States are hearing about it (what's new about that?), a refugee situation has become a central focus of Bangladeshi politics in the last few months.

Myanmar (formerly Burma) has just gone through a period of heavy civil unrest and war, sending persecuted Muslim refugees streaming into neighboring countries including Bangladesh. You can read more about the conflict here. As a result, Bangladesh (which already has a strained system due to its own large population) has to figure out what to do with these people who can integrate themselves into the local culture - they know Bengali, they look like the Chittagong Hill Tract peoples, and they pretend that they are Bangladeshi citizens so that they can leave the refugee camps and work. Which, in some ways, is a positive thing for the refugees. However, the UN will not recognize the need to send funds for aiding these refugees if there isn't a certain number remaining in the camps - so the government is in a fix. Do we keep them here? Do we send them elsewhere? There's really no way to control this floating population or get them aid. A sticky situation all around.

Not to draw the focus too far away from the struggle itself, but it makes me think about all the media coverage that we get about problems going on around the country and the globe. Although we can hear and know about suffering, we often look upon it as a problem that sits at a distance from us since it does not affect us directly. Some choose to ignore it. Others feel very concerned, but unable to help. Overall, the feeling invoked is a sense of powerlessness and an attempt to relate the situation to our own lives. I know that was how I felt when I first heard and read about the refugee issue while here - that it is something to be looked at through the lens of analysis.

And then I thought: this is sometimes how I view struggles that I have more control over. Like cuts to women's healthcare across the US. Or supporting the Robin Hood Tax. Is it apathy? Is it the telescopic lens of the media? There are no concrete conclusions. All we can take away is that we must encourage participation in whatever small way is possible and try to overcome our own powerlessness in response to the systems at large.

I send my prayers to the Myanmar refugees and hope that they get the aid and assistance they need.

I Took A Break! Here's What I Learned

Monday, July 16, 2012

I'm a pretty emotional person. Much of my writing comes from the same place of vulnerability that causes me to tear up when Serena Williams won her fifth Wimbledon and to feel inspired by the words of Margaret Cho on dieting. However, though I know this about myself - that my emotions can get antsy and want to overflow like so many river embankments - I didn't suspect that I would be incapacitated by them for some time during the past few weeks.

In short, I've been in a rut.