Sunday, January 27, 2008


We went back into the village today for another exercise, and I took several photos of the family we've befriended.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Explanatory Models

I've now completed my first week of the Medical Anthropology unit, taught by two professors: one affiliated with BRAC, the other with the University of Amsterdam. It's--and maybe I'm biased--such an interesting subject, and a really brilliant way to begin our study of public health. Apart from Vanesse, who recently completed her Masters in medical anthropology, no one has had much exposure to these ideas. All conversations (class-related, meal time, casual), then, seem to have incorporated anthropological themes--one of the consequences of an intensive course in a residential setting!

As one of our exercises, we again ventured into the village (this time on bicycles!) to get an idea about the health concerns of a few families. Each pair (national and international students) visited a house and asked about illnesses, their perceived causes, and the related courses of action. Responses were then reviewed in the larger group setting, and I decided to share a few here.

  • 11 month-old male with fever, coughing & wheezing, rash, and diarrhea
  • Explanatory Model: mother works hard during the winter months with cold water, and this coldness is then transmitted through breast milk to the child; the child tends to be sleepless at night, and is therefore exposed to more cold weather.
  • Treatment: allopathic treatment by medical doctor; homeopathic treatment specifically for rash

Bhuter Achhor:

  • Lethargy, protrusion of tongue, enlargement of eyes, difficulty speaking
  • Explanatory Model: possession by evil spirits/ghosts during the month of Magh (winter)
  • Treatment: recitation of Qur'anic verses (Sura Jinn) by a maulana; allopathic treatment if recitations are unsuccessful

Jabra Chalan:

  • Curvature of the spine, chronic back pain
  • Explanatory Model: as a result of witchcraft or sorcery, a ghost was sent down from a tree onto the patient's shoulders
  • Treatment: visiting fakir bari (witch house); needed to counter the supernatural cause of ailment

These particular ailments were not common among the households visited, and it seemed that more widespread health problems were explained more in terms of popular biomedical understandings (and accordingly individuals sought treatments that were either more allopathic or traditional/herbal in nature). I chose these cases, rather, because they really demonstrate the links between culture and health, and because I found them so very interesting.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Banglitalian Food

As only a handful of the international students are on campus this weekend, we thought it might be fun to try a little cooking of our own (ordinarily our meals are provided by the campus chefs). I volunteered to make a little pasta. I wasn't feeling especially ambitious, so when I was in Dhaka I bought some linguine and tomato puree so that I could make a quick marinara.

I arranged to make lunch today, and was escorted to the kitchen by one of our extremely friendly cooks, and found myself in the middle of a VERY large space full of Bangladeshi men who spoke very limited English. So that in and of itself was an adventure. I managed to explain that I needed onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and herbs if they had them (they didn't). In the end, everyone was so excited to assist that I didn't really do anything but stir the pasta and taste-test. The end result was a sort of Bangladeshi-Italian fusion dish, with a sauce made of the above ingredients, some soybean oil, and the local variety of squash (very large green "pumpkins").

It's very hard to re-create a recipe you're used to in an environment that's so foreign--the only similarities between my kitchen at home and the kitchen here were the knife and cutting board, which made for a very different cooking experience. It was also extremely fun to watch all of the chefs come and examine the pasta (imported from Italy) and the tomato puree--clearly neither ingredient had ever been seen in that kitchen before. They were passed around, and pieces of dry pasta were sampled (as I feebly tried to explain that it's only good when cooked). Almost everyone was convinced that my sauce was going to turn into some kind of curry, and I was offered soy sauce, fish sauce, turmeric, eggs, and chicken as possible ingredients, all of which I had to turn down (the squash was my compromise).

Quite fun, all in all. And I got pasta for lunch, which was another nice break from the rice routine.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Slum Visit

On Tuesday our class visited the Korail slum in Dhaka. It's the largest slum in the city, and it's home to approximately 29,000 people. Their residence there is technically illegal, making it very difficult for quality services to reach this community. The slum is only accessible by boat--here are are some of my classmates being shuttled from one bank to the other.

And some of the slum in the foreground, next to the water, with the Dhaka city scape in the background.

Our group was assigned (once more) to look at housing, water and sanitation in the various households we visited. The experience there was extremely thought provoking, but I'm finding it rather difficult to translate my thoughts into words. As such, I'll provide a number of images without much commentary. If you have any questions, though, please feel free to ask, and I'll answer to the best of my ability.
I will say, though, that if you look like me, you will inevitably draw a very large crowd of children...

This family was actually very eager to have their photo taken--hard to tell by their expressions here, but those changed drastically when I showed them the image on the camera.

During the course of the day, we had the opportunity to visit a birthing center and a school, both operated by BRAC. The school was an absolute joy to see at the end of the day--after so much hardship, the children were the picture of happiness. They performed several songs and dances for us, and gladly demonstrated their knowledge of English.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


A few pictures of my classmates, because I think they're all amazing!

Serious academic discussion outside the BRAC center. (Vanesse, Shah, Berezy)

Bonding at the airport in front of the BRAC U van. (Takele, Boshir, Vanesse, Shah, Yuko, Sachin, Basir)

Peaceful relations between Pakistan & India! (Shah, Sachin)

"Photo of the Year" (Takele, Basir)

Candid. (Yuko)

The Guys. (Boshir, Sachin, Shah, Basir, Zaman, Mamun, Regan, Jude, Shuvro)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Class Photo

Dr. Cash took his leave (until next month) this morning, and asked that we have a group photo taken before his departure. Having my camera handy meant getting my own copy, so I thought I might share it here. For the record, I'm standing two steps above the ground level--I'm not actually towering over everyone that much.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Field Visit

Yesterday we had the opportunity to visit a village in the area surrounding Savar. Our class of 29 has been divided into 4 sub-groups, and my group was given the task of observing housing, water, and sanitation. I walked around with two of my classmates (both of whom were fluent in Bangla), and I mostly just smiled at people and took pictures. Not being able to speak the language is very frustrating in the field setting, and when data collection relies on conversation, stopping often to translate can be detrimental. In short, I really need to learn how to say more than "Hello, how are you?, I'm fine, Bye. (Bring mangoes.)" Being able to leave campus and walk around a (I'm told) rather typical Bangladeshi village, though, was very enjoyable--everyone was very cordial and receptive, and I made particular friends with this woman:

And here's a landscape (with cows--just like being at home!):

And a shot of my team members (Takele, Bashir, Yuko, Arif, Naznine, Sabrina):

This evening I wrote my first paper of the year--only two pages, which was perhaps a easier for me with my native English than it was (/is...the computer lab is still full tonight) for others--on arsenic (may as well get an early start). In a few days I have to give a presentation on the USA, with emphasis on health concerns, so I need to finish putting together my PowerPoint. Otherwise, we've had a number of group projects and readings. With eight hours of class a day, we progress through material and activities pretty quickly. There hasn't been much time for anything but class-related activities, and everyone is still trying to get acquainted. I've found a kindred spirit in Vanesse, a medical anthropologist from the Netherlands who appreciates Bollywood as much as I do.

Rumor has it that a few other students are interested in getting wireless for the dorm, too, so perhaps I will be saved the trouble (and some of the cost) of getting my own. Hopefully I will be more connected within the next few weeks. As is, it's hard for me to stay as connected as I would like. No other news really, except that they served chocolate ice cream at lunch today. I didn't realize how much I had been missing chocolate until I had some. Only a week in this country and already I'm missing chocolate and baked goods.

And on that note, I retire!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The First Day of School

It's Sunday evening, and I have just completed my first day of class at the JPGSPH. Following a half-day of orientation yesterday, all 30 students are now better acquainted, and as we spend all of our time together, we are quickly developing rapport (everyone is so friendly). Today we began our first module, "Introduction to Public Health", in which we will become familiar with the concepts needed for the rest of the program. Class runs 8 hours a day, and this particular course will be approximately 12 days in duration. We have three fantastic instructors, however, so there has yet to be a dull moment.

I the true spirit of a research-based course, we will be going into the field for the first time tomorrow morning. As luck would have it, I have been placed in the student group that has been charged with the task of casually (for it's only our first time) observing health seeking behaviour AND water use patterns (among other things). So I'm very excited. The groups are composed of both national and international students, so I'll be relying heavily on my Bangladeshi classmates for translating until I pick up some conversational skills. We'll be going into the village a lot within the next two months (during the qualitative and quantitative sections), so I'm excited to have this informal introductory period so early on.

We've already been given our first writing assignment, too, so that will keep me busy for the next few nights. I had a little while before dinner, however, so I decided to use that time to write a quick update. The school, on its first day of class, is hosting 6 students from Harvard's School of Public Health, so they will be joining us for dinner (and increasing the American faction considerably). One of the professors there, Dr. Richard Cash, is teaching here presently.

In other news, I have only seen one cockroach so far, and he seems to have vacated my room now. I'm almost entirely on local time, and I've started to sleep more soundly, which means the Mefloquine is having less of an effect on my dreams (they were frighteningly dynamic and realistic for a few nights earlier this week). The climate, too, is seeming a little less hot. It's only been in the 70's so far, but coming out of a Vermont winter, it felt much hotter. I think that's all for now. More tomorrow, hopefully.

Friday, January 4, 2008


A brief, random assortment, as I'm a little pressed for computer time...

A view of the street from my window at the hotel.

My new home.

My bed.

One of my roommates.

Marigolds. Everywhere.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Greetings from Savar!

Today I moved from Dhaka to Savar--about a 20-30 minute drive outside the city. It's the location of BRAC University's Training and Research Center (BTARC), where I'll be spending the first 6 months of the program.

I should start by mentioning that there is only internet access in the computer lab, which doesn't officially open until Saturday. Someone let me in tonight because I asked, but communication may be limited for a little while.

I've moved into my own 10X10 room--it's small and furnished and quiet, and very undecorated. The campus here in Savar is gated, and there are trees and marigolds planted all over. Compared to the city, it's practically silent here (compared to VT, it's still pretty bustling).

So far I've met 5 of the other international students (from Tanzania, Japan, Myanmar, India, and the Netherlands), and they all seem very friendly. The rest will arrive tomorrow, and the national students on the morning of orientation (Saturday).

In other news, I'm feeling quite well today, though my voice seems to have gone a bit--hopefully it will come back by tomorrow.

More soon, I hope!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The First 48 Hours

Well, relocating seems to be off to a good start thus far. However, I'm currently blocking out the culture-shock, being online in my bed at the Hotel de Castle (do check out the website if you get a chance) while watching BBC World on television. Not exactly an immersion experience, I know, but I'm sure that will happen shortly.

Upon waking (after 9 hours of comatose sleep) on Tuesday, I felt the beginnings of a cold, but I held out hope that it was really just a manifestation of jet-lag. When I woke today, however, I realized that it really is a full-fledged bug. So sleeping and fluid-pushing have been top on my agenda--hopefully I'll be right as rain tomorrow.

Today I managed to connect with Shawn--former ND graduate student and friend currently residing in Dhaka to work on an independent project. He's been doing some very pioneering work in terms of video-blogging. He VERY kindly agreed to help me acquire a few of the essentials--thus, I now have a reliable source of power for my computer, and a new mobile phone that would love to get some calls! I also had the opportunity to meet his grandmother, uncle, aunt, and cousins, who were all extremely welcoming!

In keeping with my tradition of losing all appetite when entering other countries, I have been extremely, uncharacteristically un-hungry for the last few days. Shawn tried his hardest to find an agreeable, easy-transition food for dinner, and we ended up at the Bangladeshi version of Pizza Hut. Unfortunately, even pasta could not persuade me, though it certainly makes for an interesting "first real meal in Bangladesh" selection...

All in all, today proved to be quite the sensory overload. The traffic astounds; I'm still trying to get used to all of the staring; the language barrier is very evident... but more on all of that later. Exhaustion is overtaking me now, and I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep. Tomorrow I move to the BRAC School of Public Health for the first phase of my stay. I'm looking forward to meeting all of my new classmates, and to adopting an established routine. I imagine I'll feel more at home when I have a day-to-day agenda. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


This is my horoscope for 2008, as projected by Bangladesh's primary English newspaper--it seemed highly apropos, so I decided to share!

From: The Daily Star, Jan 01, 2008

"As your new yearly cycle gets underway Saturn enters Virgo, heralding a major new period in your life. New foundations will be established revolving around career developments, bringing added responsibilities and duties, stirring your ambitions. It may take a while to adjust, but things should ease, and improve considerably when Jupiter enters Capricorn in December. Whether or not you're seeking it, a position of influence, leadership, or responsibility may come your way. Mercury governs your career zone, so when it turns retrograde, be careful with contracts, paperwork, and long-term commitments. The North Node enters Aquarius from December, indicating you'll get lots of satisfaction from immersing yourself in new working methods and being active and productive."