Monday, March 24, 2008

Happy Easter!

Our work week (I use the term “our work week” loosely as DAVE is the only one working right now!) is Sunday through Thursday, so Dave had to take a half day off to go to Easter service on Sunday morning! Luckily it was held at the American Club, a 5-minute walk from our house. The pictures are of us walking to service. We were busy listening, singing and mostly keeping Catherine in her seat, that we did not take any photos during the service. The Easter service was held outside on the lawn and there was a gentle breeze blowing. We saw lots of friends which was nice. Because the service was on the lawn, when Catherine reached her time limit in her seat (she made it about half way through the sermon) I just took her about 15 ft. away to the playground!

These were pictures I should have snapped…her flying down the slide and digging in the sand in her beautiful Easter dress! I recall doing things like that in my childhood…After the service we had a wonderful brunch and then headed home. Dave headed to work and Catherine headed to bed.

Our nanny and driver are Christian so we gave them the day off. So, I hung around the house as Catherine slept and Dave took a rickshaw to work. I sent our cook home after a half day and he was really excited about that. Catherine had a great nap (2.5 hours) and then we headed to a friend’s house to go swimming and have some fun with play-doh and other kids. A quick stop at the club to play and we were home by 6PM. Hungry and tired, we threw together some leftovers (with the cook only here a half a day, we were on our own for dinner…yikes, what to do?!) Catherine LOVED the hodge podge we pulled together; chicken hot dogs, paratha (like a pancake/crepe), watermelon, cheese and lentils! We had a lovely Easter and hope that you did too!

On a side note: baby # 2 (official name RIGHT NOW is ‘chick pea’) is 16 weeks today. :)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Catherine and I attend a birthday party (and prayer service)

Our nanny’s daughter recently turned “2” and we were invited to her birthday party. Dave was in the States so Catherine and I attended. The party was to be dinner and cake at their house. Although, Bangladeshis eat VERY late by American standards (9 or 10PM) we were asked to come at 7:30PM. We arrived at the appointed time, Catherine wearing her favorite party dress, purchased from our cook/bearer for her own birthday back in November. The party was to be at the apartment of our ayah which consisted of a sitting room with small attached kitchen (think one counter with two burner stove top and small college size fridge) and 2 bedrooms. She shares this apartment with her sister’s family and each family has their own bedroom.

When we arrived we were ushered into the bedroom where about 7-8 men were sitting on the bed (which took up 75% of the room) and there were only two chairs in the entire apartment and they were reserved for Catherine and I, inexplicably the honored guests. About 7:45PM, a prayer service began (our ayah is Christian, uncommon in Bangladesh but not unheard of). There was singing and a sermon (all in Bangla) that lasted about 45 minutes. During this time, Catherine and the party girl were chasing each other around and the adults were trying to keep them quiet. This was my bad mother moment…I found it SO difficult (i.e. preposterous!?) to even try to keep a hungry, tired 2 year old sitting still in her chair during a prayer service in another language that I found myself not even trying to keep her in her seat. When the minister was finished he asked ME to say a few words?! I just said how happy we both were to be there celebrating the birthday, etc. He translated into Bangla and then the ‘service’ was over.

The cake was cut and I thought, oh no, we’re not going to eat and I did NOT feed Catherine dinner before we came. They started passing around vanilla cake and chocolate cake (we brought) and I couldn’t eat it on my empty stomach and Catherine was so hungry she wanted to eat the whole thing! What to do?! We had a couple of bites and put it aside, THEN we were served our dinner! A special meal had been prepared for us with the best meat. Catherine loves the rice with pork and friend chicken. After we ate, we had some more cake. We gave our gifts, said our thank you and good-byes and I whisked Catherine home and to bed. Overall, we had an eventful night.

Catherine hosts playgroup!

We hosted playgroup and here are the little munchkins playing with Catherine’s toys. The cakes and tea are for the ayah’s (nannys) and the sliced veggies, fruit, juice and muffins are for the little ones. Playgroup goes from 9-11AM and Catherine is usually pretty tired afterwards. Sometimes parents come, but mostly this playgroup is for ayahs and the kids as most of the parents of these kids are both working full-time here in Dhaka.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A review of the Seagull Hotel in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

*This photo is of the hotel's swim up 'bar'. Don't show up thirsty! The coke machine was not only empty, but unplugged. The whole area was dusty!

The hotel is listed as a “Five star, luxury resort hotel”. Despite this I had been warned before heading to Cox’s Bazar that I should set my expectation QUITE a bit lower than five star. I was told the following “its 5-star by Bangladeshi standards, NOT international standards”, “it’s the best place they’ve got in Cox’s Bazar…and it ain’t that great” and “that place is a 5-star…dump”. Well, these inputs seemed to be spot on!

Here are some of the more delightful memories of this (un)forgettable hotel.

  • Check-in was quite efficient until it took them 15 minutes to make copies of our passports. Are they having an artist re-create them?!

  • The folks at reception did not speak English all that well, so some things were difficult to understand. For example, the woman at the front desk informed me that that there is a pool available upon payment. Huh? Then I found out they nickel and dime you at this so called five star resort! 200 taka to use the pool for an HOUR. A fee to use their ‘private’ beach also!

  • Our room was supposed to have TWO double beds. We arrived and found ONE double bed. They quickly corrected the error by taking us to a room with two TWIN beds! We decided to stay put. Whatever?!

  • NOT a kid-friendly hotel. The only restaurant at the hotel starts serving lunch at 1PM and dinner at 8PM!!! Not acceptable for international travelers, especially those with kids!

  • ALL rooms are smoking and there was a big smoking convention in town…I’m not kidding…200 employees from Benson & Hedges and the common areas were all smoky!

  • Our first morning we saw the housekeeping cart outside of our room at 7AM. When we came back from breakfast the cart was gone yet the room hadn’t been cleaned. I asked them to clean it after we left. We returned at lunchtime, still not clean. I asked again, they wanted to come in and clean while Catherine was napping. I said no way! I asked a couple more times in the afternoon. I finally got a hold of the head of housekeeping and relayed how many times I had requested our room be cleaned and he looked at me with a straight face and said, “Ok, madam, so you want your room cleaned EVERY day?” Duh.

  • Our first night the Smoky Smokers convention had a live band playing poolside (right outside our window) until 4AM! I called down to the front desk and asked them to stop playing as it was 3AM at that point. He said he would “TRY and ask them”. What does that mean?! My plan was to keep calling every 5 minutes until the music stopped, thinking they would have to do something, right? Well, they did something alright. After my 5th or 6th call they disconnected my phone. I could no longer make any outgoing calls on my phone!

  • I asked the gentleman sitting at a desk near the pool on our first visit did we need to sign anything or did he need our room # as I recalled there is a charge for using the pool. He looked at me with a blank stare and waved me off into the distance. Alrighty then! I got a call at TEN PM that same night, asking ME to come to the pool, because I had neglected to sign in when I used the pool that day. Catherine, of course, was asleep and so, I said “I DON’T THINK SO!”

  • A request for a ‘plain’ omelette at breakfast will get you two scrambled eggs with tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, peppers and jalapenos! Bon Appetite!

  • Because Catherine was quite ill and there was great urgency to our departure, I asked for our hotel bill to be made up on our way IN to breakfast, so I could pick it up and pay it on the way OUT of breakfast-you know EFFICIENCY. After breakfast, the gentleman at the front desk said that everything was going to be paid by the travel agency. [They were the ones that I paid in Dhaka for our 4-night stay]. Seemed strange, so I confirmed they even pay for our incidentals, too? He assured me, yes, they pay for everything. Okay, great. On our way out the front door to jump in the shuttle that would take us to the only flight leaving that day (that happened to be full-and we were only on stand-by) the same gentleman stopped me and said he was starting to print up my bill now. Uh, what bill? Your bill for things that were not included in your room bill like the pool, beach, room service. We proceeded to have a futile mini-argument over the definition of the word ‘incidentals’ while Catherine whined incessantly at my feet. Good Times! He could not get my credit card to work and demanded cash. I said bill me, I GOTTA GO!

To sum up, I would agree that the Seagull is indeed a five start resort….but on a scale of ONE to TEN!!!

Monday, March 3, 2008

What is on the beach in Cox's Bazar?

Well, there are herds of cows on the beach and there are horses on the beach...

Luckily, its a BIG beach. It is nearly 3 football fields WIDE at low tide and about 2 fields wide at high tide. I am ashamed to say that I do not know how long this beach is, but it is claimed to be the longest beach in the world!

Some photos of our room at the beach

Top photo is of Catherine's make-shift mosquito net. It folds up to nothing and is great to travel with. We took the same thing to Thailand. She calls it her "house".

Middle photo is the view from our window. Although we are technically an ocean view room, the forest between our hotel and the beach limits our view a bit! She was having an afternoon snack here.

Bottom photo is of Miss Catherine by the hotel pool. I had put a regular diaper on her rather than a swim diaper, so she is making quite the booty call in her suit!

Mommy and baby go to the beach!

At the end of February, with my consulting job finished and Dave in the States for 2 weeks, I decided to take Catherine to the beach in Bangladesh! She spent the few days before we left singing “mommy and baby going to beach”. The hotel arrangements were made (see separate blog on our ‘luxury’ accommodations) and the airline tickets were purchased (in cash, of course?!). We were packed and ready to go! Our flight left at 8:30AM, so I had to go in and wake her up at about 6:30. When I entered her room, she shot up and said “going beach?”

We got to experience the domestic ‘terminal’ and with the 5 national airlines, the waiting area is about the size of a good sized living room in the US! We get our boarding passes from someone and that SAME someone asked for them back about 3 feet away as you enter the real waiting area. Hilarious. Flight was as comfortable as it could be on a twin prop little puddle jumper. Only 4 others on the plane beside us. We stopped off in Chittagong and let EVERYONE off. So, the continuing flight from Chittagong to Cox’s Bazar was just Catherine and I and the stewardess, which made her elaborate instructions in Bengali AND Arabic all that more superfluous! We felt like we were on our own private jet! I had decided to accept the travel agents recommendation for a car to pick us up at the airport even though it seemed a bit extravagant and I thought we could just as easily take a taxi. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos of the airport in Cox’s Bazar or the parking area. I think our driveway back home was busier. The only car that could be seen for miles was the van there to pick us up! Thank goodness I had reserved that or we would have been walking to our hotel! As we were the only ones getting off the plane and exiting the entire airport and the driver was the only person and car in the entire parking lot, the large placard with my name on it that he held ABOVE HIS HEAD seemed a bit much!!!

We checked into our hotel and were on the beach with bags and beach toys by 11AM! Catherine loved playing in the sand, but we got surprised by one wave that hit us in the face and then she was much more careful at the ocean’s edge. This was fine by me as the surf seemed quite strong.

We headed back to the hotel for lunch and then a much needed afternoon power nap. This was my first vacation with Catherine without Dave, so while Catherine napped a few feet away, my activity options were quite limited. This is why I brought the 900 page Tom Clancy novel! I read for awhile then fell asleep. I found that if I could nap and get to bed when Catherine did, then I felt rested enough to handle the little firecracker all day by myself! It was the secret to our success. Early to bed and early to rise. We got up from our naps and puts suits on headed to the pool! There was no baby pool, but one that looked like it. This turned out to be a hot tub without the jets on. This worked great because the big pool was pretty cold. We hung out at the pool for awhile and then went back and got cleaned up.

Not the kid friendly hotel one would hope for especially traveling ALONE with a little one, the only restaurant in the hotel STARTED serving dinner at 8PM! This is the Bangladesh way. People eat very late here, kids or no kids, doesn’t matter. People eat dinner between 9-10PM every night. We headed back to the room and ordered room service, complete with a vanilla and a banana milkshake for dessert! It was great fun and much easier than going out (at night in a rickshaw…I do NOT think so!). We got cleaned up and read books and Catherine was asleep in her little bed by 8PM. I devoured the Clancy at least until 10PM. Great day!

Next day, we were up early and eating breakfast by 7AM. There was not another sole in the entire dining room. It was a mix of traditional Bangladesh breakfast (rice dishes and others that were unrecognizable) and Western (omelettes, fresh apples, croissants). We left the hotel after breakfast and walked around town for about 45 minutes, came back to the room, got dressed and were on the beach by 9AM! It was a great time to get to the beach as it seemed everyone else was still in bed. Once the beach started to get more crowded, we became quite the local attraction! We were on a “private” beach, technically. Although, all that meant was that the hotel had hired a guard to shoo away annoying onlookers. The thing is that the guard was nearly as annoying as everyone else. With a HUGE beach and very few people he insisted on standing about 1 ½ feet behind our lounge chair. I can’t believe I was feeling claustrophobic on a beach that was about the width of 2 football fields! We stayed at the beach until nearly noon! Under the umbrella, Catherine could have made sand castles all day long. At one point, I dug a big hole in the sand and buried our little munchkin up to her chest!

We decided to venture out for lunch our second day and found a ‘local’ establishment that was right on the beach (literally on stilts) and looked like a shack that would fall over at any minute. We ordered rice and sauce and chatted with an Australian woman travelling through Bangladesh (in her mid-fifties and staying at $10/night budget motel in town-a trooper!) Food was hot and pretty good and then it was time to head back to the hotel for a little afternoon nap!

We headed out to the pool again after our nap and decided to eat dinner in the restaurant. They were going to ‘open’ early to serve us. We arrived at 5:45PM. They must have thought we were crazy to be eating that early! Catherine didn’t eat much at dinner and then went to bed of her own accord at 7PM. She felt a bit warm, but I thought it was good she was getting to bed early.

Catherine woke up around 9PM and was REALLY hot. No, I did not have a thermometer or children’s Tylenol with me!! I started thinking of a way to cool her down and in the back of my mind also a way to get back to Dhaka. I used a cool washcloth to wipe on her face and neck and all over really. She went back to sleep. Meanwhile, I got on the phone realizing that our flight wasn’t for another 2 days to see what alternative flights I could find. She woke up again about 11PM, and again was very hot. This time, I called room service and ordered a bucket of ice. I had plenty of Ziploc bags that I had brought her snacks in, so I loaded them up with ice and surrounded that sweet little body with bags of ice. I was thankful and also really scared at the fact that she did not fight having bags of ice all over her body. She fell back asleep and I started to pack. I was on the phone some more and found out there was a flight leaving the next morning on another airlines. I would have to purchase 2 new tickets (in cash, I later found out) and would only be on stand-by because somehow the flight was full.

Catherine woke up several more times throughout the night and a couple of times wanted to eat or drink, which I took as good signs. Nothing like having a little applesauce at 4AM! She slept again and I finished packing. I had not really slept and got into the shower about 6AM. Catherine woke up soon after that. We were all packed and headed to breakfast at 6:55AM. I had arranged transportation to pick us up at 8AM for a 9:30Am flight.

We made it to the airport and paid (in cash…it was all I had) for the new tickets. Catherine was cranky. Flight was delayed over 3 hours which was fun waiting with sick baby. Stop-over again in Chittagong and finally landing in Dhaka at nearly 1PM. I took Catherine to the pediatrician in the afternoon after her nap. They took her temperature (she didn’t even feel hot compared to the night before) was nearly 39 degrees (over 101 degrees!) The doctor said it was likely nearer to 103 or 104 the night before and it was a good thing I had packed her in ice. Scary stuff.

Well, despite the early emergency return, I think we had a great couple of days at the beach! I would do it again, only next time I would take some children’s Tylenol and a thermometer!

more pictures from this adventure in next blog!