The wildlife one encounters in South Asia is amazing. I don’t mean the actual tiger sanctuaries of the Sundarbans-type wildlife. No, no. It is actually the thousands of creatures who co-exist with you each day, from your waking moments to the shower to the breakfast table and beyond, that are so easily forgotten in the cold, sterile houses and rooms in the States.
I woke up this morning to a strange chirping sound. It sashayed through the cracks in the windows, a mechanical chirping, insistent yet vibrantly musical. Growing up on the east coast of the US, I immediately began having hypnopompic visions of RadioShack, and “soothing” alarm clocks that ease you out of sleep with the faint chirping of birds and the gentle illumination of the room. I was also somewhat irritated at how many times my roommate was hitting snooze on her alarm clock….
Clearly I did not grown up in South Asia. Of course it was an actual bird, sitting happily outside of the window and talking to his friend in the morning. When my eyes finally opened for long enough to realize this, I stumbled out of bed to brush my teeth, willing myself to completely awaken, as my next job was to redirect the endless stream of ants away from my apparently delicious toothpaste.
Then down to the breakfast table, passing some enormous beetles and leaf-like bugs sunning themselves in the bright morning light. Our way to work requires the skilled attention of the driver at each microsecond to avoid, among others, the goats galloping along the road with their tiny ears and glossy black coats, cows who choose when and where to cross the road, and geese in pairs taking in the morning air followed by their amused owner shooing them in the general direction (give or take 500 feet, a cup of tea and several dozen feathers or so) of the village market.
After getting to work, our musical interlude of the morning is provided by a cow mooing in a deep, sonorous base which reverberates through the ceiling and floors. As has been noted, roosters do not actually crow at dawn…but rather whenever they feel like it, as was evidenced by a rather loud and insistent friend causing background amusement during a 7pm skype call. For those who believes that fidgeting burns calories, try swatting mosquitoes and flies, wasps the size of golf balls, and the occasional bee away from your computer while trying to complete that already irritating statistical analysis. (This is how we justify eating our weight in dal and fish curry at lunch…)
One of my favorites is the “tik-tiky” darting through miniscule cracks and across whitewashed walls with alien grace. The gecko, a tiny, translucent companion who might be staring at you curiously when you first open your eyes in the morning. (n.b. when going to sleep in south asia, avoid having your face in close proximity to any walls…)
This is only the beginning of a guide to the everyday wildlife of Gaibandha. I also took a break and headed outdoors on a peaceful sunset bicycle ride with my lovely friend Shefa. (For all of you who are aware of my seemingly limitless clumsiness, riding on tiny rutted trails past rickshaws and motorbikes and women carrying large things on their heads required a great deal of concentration. I DIDN’T fall in a ditch. Seriously. Although I think riding on the road might have been worse when I was nearly sideswiped by an itinerant cow and a van-gadi (kind of a motorized cart) while trying to take a photo.
Our hosts are so wary of the potential for any of us expats to strike disaster when we leave the 4 walls of our compound that we have our own very special log: the “Expatriate Movement Register.” On our bicycle ride, we were surprisingly only stopped once out of overwhelming, almost palpable, curiosity about who in the world I was. The standard line of questioning: “What is your name? From what country did you come? Are you married?” (if the asker is a woman). If this is a guest to whom it is reasonable to reply, the conversation continues: “Oh, you are a doctor. Practicing physician? What specialty? Private practice?” If I was from Bangladesh, it would continue further: “Where are your parents from? What do they do? What medical school did you go to? What batch? Oh, aha, you are very junior to me.” And now dinner can resume.
Remember that for your next cocktail party…