Duck and Cover

It’s a part of life in the Foreign Service.

Every week the Marine Security Guards test the emergency notification system in the Embassy, to make sure that the various alarms are working and that we know what they sound like. Most of the time we don’t have to do anything during the test, just be aware of it. As long as the MSGs announce ahead of time that it’s a test, we don’t have to react.

But sometimes the security officers want to ensure that we can react if there is a real emergency. So when the alarm goes off unannounced, we have to assume that it’s the real thing and respond appropriately.

A Duckin and a Coverin. It’s a Foreign Service thing.

Which is why I found myself sitting under my desk in the middle of the morning.

Luckily I had a fresh cup of coffee with me at the time, so I used the time productively.

How was your day?

Safety is in the eye of the beholder.

Sure, that’s not a real telephone pole. And yes, it’s two bamboo sticks. And if you must know, yes, it’s in the middle of the road. OK, I admit it, it could get blown over by a stiff wind. And since you mention it, no one really knows if those wires on the ground are carrying live electricity or not.

What’s your point?

I have proof that this was not my fault

Security is a real thing when you’re posted overseas, especially in so-called “high threat” areas. Where we’re living now is a high threat area. Besides garden-variety crime, terrorism is a real concern. That’s why my house has a high wall around it, and why there are guards on duty on the grounds 24/7.

In this scenario, getting locked out of one’s house is a big deal. An obvious corollary is that losing one’s house keys is also a pretty big deal.

When a certain member of my household first arrived at post, she wasn’t quite clear on the whole “lock the doors and carry your keys with you” arrangement. We were on our way home after work one day, and she suddenly realized that she didn’t have the house keys. When she left the house that morning, the housekeeper was still home, so she didn’t think to bring our keys with her. Waiting in our driveway while the post’s security folks drove over with an emergency key, swatting the mosquitos, will not make my Top Ten Highlights of this tour.

This week it was my turn. I felt pretty stupid when I couldn’t find my keys. Luckily, by this time, we each had a set, so we weren’t locked out of our house (THIS TIME). Still, I lost the moral high ground when I had to admit that I couldn’t find my keys. She was pretty cool about it, didn’t lord it over me (too badly). But I was mad at myself for being so irresponsible.

The regional security office wasn’t impressed, either. “Time to change the locks” was the official declaration. So the facilities folks had to come over and change the locks. I got charged for the core change. I suspect that I was also branded as “one of those irresponsible State Department fools.” But at least we each had a set of house keys, and The Bad Guys wouldn’t be able to enter our house.

They say that washing your car is the best way to make it rain. By the same logic, maybe changing the locks is the best way to find your keys.

But this time it wasn’t my fault. She found the keys in the pocket of her pants. Not my pants. Hers. I have proof. And even better, she admits that it wasn’t my fault. Of course she doesn’t quite admit that it’s her fault, but I’ll still count that as a win.


There are a lot of stray animals in Dhaka. The street dogs are really interesting. They literally hang out in the street. Even the crazy Dhaka traffic doesn’t seem to bother them.

Street dog is like honey badger. Street Dog doesn’t give a you-know-what.
Even street dogs get sleepy.

A few dogs hang out in the Embassy parking lot. I haven’t seen them bothering anyone. They ignore me for the most part, although I have received a few tail wags from Brown Dog.

Brown Dog is mellow.

Hungry Cat is another story. He gets in your face. He waits just outside the inner door of the Embassy, sits right in your pathway, and cries.

Hungry Cat is hungry.

One of the officers took it upon herself to get a cat spayed. She arranged the operation with her cat’s vet, trapped the cat in a carrier, and delivered it to the vet.

I ignore cats. I don’t understand them.

The other day as we walked out of our house on the way to work, we saw this little guy sitting on the wall of our compound. He wasn’t doing anything, he was just hanging out.

I didn’t see him this morning, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t there. I’m not going to feed him, and I’m certainly not arranging a doctor appointment for him. If he wants to sit on my wall, that’s fine, but I’m just not looking for a relationship right now…

Barista Class!

The best coffee roasters in Bangladesh (the one that I found last year) holds training classes for aspiring baristas. They also have classes for helpless amateurs like me who want to pose as someone who knows what they’re doing. When the CLO (Community Liaison Office) at post organized a class, I jumped at the chance to demonstrate my clueless but enthusiastic ineptitude.

We learned about different kinds of beans and roasts, and how to make espresso, cappuccino and lattes. My sad attempt at a latte gave me more respect for real baristas who actually know what they’re doing.

Hands-on help from real baristas
I couldn’t even drink my own creation…
Lipstick on a pig.
She had better luck than I did

We had more luck with the pour-overs.

There is a proper way to make a pour-over

We learned a lot about coffee and had fun sampling our new skills.

Sampling our own creations
Coffee-producing areas of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is trying to increase its coffee production. This coffee roastery is working with local farmers to try to enhance and improve the quality of the crop. They say that in a few years Bangladesh will start exporting coffee. We got to try some local coffee beans. It’s quite good. The hope is that this new crop will raise the standard of living of the local farmers.

Folk Dance in Bangladesh

Last weekend the locally-engaged staff organized a group outing. We went to a resort outside of Dhaka. It was nice to get away from the traffic of the city and spend time with my coworkers in a social setting.

Another group was also using the resort. They put on some performances. I shamelessly eavesdropped on them. Also they were really loud so it was hard to ignore them. The singing didn’t do anything for me, but I was struck by the folk dances.

My Latest Obsession

One of my (many) personality flaws is a tendency to obsess. I can’t let things go. With effort, this flaw can be channeled for positive results, like dedication to a task or a learning outcome. Left to its own devices, though, it can lead to negative results like addiction. I sure hope that my newest gadget helps me channel my nervous energy toward positive activities, and lets me let go of my obsession with air quality.

In the four months here, I have yet to experience long periods of good air in Bangladesh. The air quality in Dhaka always seems to be iffy at its best. Now, in the dry season, I hear that the brick kilns are fired up 24/7 now, creating an air appocalypse, or “airpocalypse.”

When I was in China, monitoring the AQI (air quality index) was a constant task (obsession). I had something like six AQI apps on my phone. In the morning, right after turning off my alarm, I would check the AQI, so I would know if I had to wear a mask when going to work. I didn’t worry about the air quality inside my apartment, because the facilities management folks assured me that it was OK.

I have less confidence in the air quality in my villa here in Dhaka. I can smell the pollution. So I recently bought a little air quality monitor, the Kaiterra Egg. It’s small, portable, and constantly monitoring the ambient air.

Den’s Dhaka Egg

It also links to an app, so I can check the AQI at home from my phone, even when I’m out.

When I started monitoring, the monitor showed that the air inside is bad. At one point, it was even worse inside than it was outside. For some reason.

The air monitor at the Embassy, less than a half-mile away, and inside my house.

The facilities management unit was nice enough to give me an additional air filter, bringing the total to five for my villa.

Love my Blueair air filters.

My wife found the more egregious holes (mainly in the bathrooms), and we used gaffer tape to fill them. That action, plus the additional air filter, improved the air inside. The bathrooms are still a big problem, though. We still have to ask facilities to come and seal up the exhaust fans and other holes that we can address.

Maybe, now that we know where the problem is, we can take steps to address it, and I can stop obsessing about the air quality, and start managing the problem.