Winter’s Coming

The mornings and nights are becoming distinctly and unusually chillier here in Bangladesh. I don’t know why it is happening but the perceived wisdom is that when it starts getting so cold in November, it means a long and nasty winter is on its way. This is not good news.

UK readers will probably struggle to sympathise with this. In the UK we’re used to the weather turning cold and miserable from about late September and the nights soon start drawing in. I don’t miss the British winter with the S.A.D. I’ve written about before. The whole Autumn/Winter time of the UK I could do well without and, apart from the brief times when we get enough snow that no one can get to work or school and we can all go play in the snow with our kids, there is nothing good about the cold and dark in Britain.

Normally, the lack of both is what I consider to be the reward for us bideshis living in Bangladesh for surviving the Asian summer. From around October onwards you can open the windows (but keep the nets up – a plague of insects of Biblical proportions will come in your house if you don’t) and turn the fans off. For men, we can wear our T-shirts and bear to wear jeans again (without having to peel them off your skin at the end of the day) or – if you are a little daring like me – carry on wearing shorts enjoying, what would be for us Brits, a very pleasant summer weather. The women, I’m afraid, still carry on wearing their shalwa kameezes but they are no longer uncomfortable in the oppressive heat and, as I shall mention in a moment, they begin to have an advantage.

But no reward this year.

No, this year we seem to have gone straight from ‘oppressive heat and humidity’ to ‘a bit chilly around the gills’. Most mornings I am putting on a T-shirt and then a shirt or long-sleeve top over the top of that. My family have started pulling out socks and slippers and even dressing gowns. I refuse, of course. One of the best things I have learned in Bangladesh about personal hygiene is that it is cleaner, nicer and certainly less smellier to have nothing on your feet for as long as possible. The British determination to wear socks and shoes in all weathers and to never take them off except for bed now fills me with disgust – which will amuse at least one of my childhood friends who reads this blog as I never used to think like that…

Anyway, I did think that maybe what was happening was that we were simply acclimatising to the Bangla weather. After all, we’ve always been amused by the way Bangladeshis start getting out the bobble hats and scarves by November and start complaining about how cold it is whilst us bideshis continue to wear T-shirts.

This is a good friend of ours cooking in her kitchen wearing the much loved ‘bobble hat’ and a Western-style jumper

In our first year, I remember wifey and I walking to language school in Dhaka one November morning and I was in T-shirt and shorts and wifey was in a light shalwa  because it was a lovely sunny day. Two children walked past us and one of them pointed at me and said “Pagla” before turning to wifey and saying “Pagli”. Our Bangla was still pretty basic at that point so I had to wait until we got to the school to ask what he had said. The boy had said “mad man” and then “mad woman” and it was suggested this was simply because we were dressed as though it were still summer when clearly, in Bangladeshi thought, it was not.

So this thought worried me. We are heading back to the UK in December for Christmas and New Year, followed by a wedding and I was (still am actually) terrified about how cold we’re going to find it if we now, like the locals here, find November in Bangladesh to be cold.

I am taking comfort in the fact that our friends are telling us “no, it really IS unusually cold at the moment”. Our Ayah, Surola (who is, as I never tire of saying, one of the most remarkable women I have ever met) is already wrapped in a thick chador. This is the advantage the women have that I alluded to earlier. Women always have to wear an orna, a kind of long, light scarf around their shoulders, usually but not always covering their chest area. You are considered naked without one. In the summer, even the lightest orna is a burden as it makes you so much hotter. But in the colder season you can wrap them around your head and keep the heat in. When it gets really cold, you can swap them for thicker and bigger material which is much more like a blanket called a chador. It does the same cultural job of covering you up but is much more like wearing a big winter blanket around you.

Surola (right) and her daughter Millita (left). Taken in January 2011 in the middle of winter. The chador around her she is wearing NOW in November…

I dread to think what Surola will do though, when the winter really strikes in January/February. I’ve never seen a woman wear two chadors and have no idea if that’s allowed!

I guess we’ll see.

A whole family of chadors! Surola with both her daughters. Again – January time. Not November…

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About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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24 Responses to Winter’s Coming

  1. Pingback: A Year of Possibilities – Our Last Year in Bangladesh | kenthinksaloud

  2. Pingback: Flying Home for a Very British Christmas | kenthinksaloud

  3. saradraws says:

    As winter creeps in here in Montreal, I find myself envying those chadors. So much more elegant than my ugly sweaters.

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    • They can be very beautiful, yes. My wifey actually has her own which is more like a poncho, which she bought (I think) in the UK. It keeps her lovely and warm. I’ll bet that you can get them over in Canada too!

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  4. Ladygardenia says:

    Oooh yes, I am expecting to see snow this year! It has to come!!

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  5. Nakib says:

    It’s unusually cold this time in Dhaka as well. Normally, in Dhaka, due to it having a huge urban population and being a skyscraper-infested, over-crowded and greenery-devoid city, winters used to be like mild summers when I was growing up. But in the past few years winters have become unusually shivering-cold. The length of those extreme cold days have been really small(1 to 1.5 weeks at best) though. But never before has it been cold during the first few days of November like it is now. No air blows, traffic lessens drastically by 8 o’clock(which is pretty unusual and a phenomena of cold winters) and mosquitoes rule the city! It’s pretty unusual.

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    • That’s very interesting to hear Nakib. We always find that Dhaka is MUCH warmer than Dinajpur during the autumn/winter seasons and I would say that even in the last few years Dhaka has felt like mild summer to me – but then I’m a bideshi! – so it is interesting to hear you say that you feel the winters have got colder. Certainly I know that winter 2011 was really horribly cold and had the lowest temperatures ever recorded up at Nilphamari. Global warming to blame, perhaps?

      Good to hear a ‘deshi’ telling me that they’ve never known November to be so cold like it is now. I take some comfort in that I’m not going mad! Best wishes for you surviving the next few months in Dhaka then! 🙂

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  6. Rinth says:

    As usual I’m going to comment about some irrelevant detail 😛 (although you should know I enjoyed reading your post, as always :)). Why is there a related post about how to go outside without a bra??

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    • LOL It IS a good question Rinth and I did um and ah over whether I should include it or not. I’m playing with the new Zemanta tool and finding some things are good and some – like the recommendations for related article – are a bit hit and miss. Nevertheless, I check every recommendation out and reject most articles offered. This one though seemed relevant. My post did discuss the area of what women wear and the issue of ornas and the covering of the chest area. This related post was written by a Bangladeshi girl and discusses the issue of dress and what girls can and cannot get away with. I was interested because this and a subsequent post from the same blog which has been pingbacked to me, pick on the suggestion that wearing bras is bad for you. This is not something I have ever considered before – but then I am a man! Anyway, for this reason I felt it was related enough to allow in as it looks at the area of dress – something that is definitely contentious in the Asian communities.

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      • Rinth says:

        Oh well then it’s definitely related. By the look of the title I did NOT think it would be written by a Bangladeshi about what you said. Gotta check it out! Seems interesting!

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        • Great! Let me know what you think!

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          • Rinth says:

            Ummm… I read the article and I have to say I’m doubtful. Not trying to ruin it with my sceptisism but I’m having a hard time taking the article seriously, especially considering the picture she put in there. Honestly as a girl I feel like what she writes about is BS :-/.

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            • I think that is all good Rinth! It is interesting to hear your point of view and as you are a woman (and Bangladeshi) your opinion has much more weight than mine! I have no idea whether other women hold this girl’s opinion or not (and yes, I agree with you about that photo!). The only thing I have heard (from my wife who works with Bangladeshi women all day, every day) is that she has noticed not many wear bras. Whether that is poverty, a village life thing or what I don’t know. I doubt it is a ‘stand against bras’ though as this girl seems to be advocating. Anyway, it’s all a very interesting subject and the whole issue of what Muslim women can and cannot or should or should not wear is certainly very much in the public arena at the moment.

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              • Rinth says:

                Yeah. I think bras are uncommon especially in the village areas in Bangladesh simply because it is a western well… “invention”… and those women either can’t buy them (stores in those areas don’t really sell the traditional bra) or simply doesn’t know of them. I think the “blouse” worn as a part of the shari kind of works as a bra for them.

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                • Yes, I think you’re right – though I wonder what the unmarried women wear who are still in shalwar kameezes? It is interesting that a Bangladeshi girl felt she had to ‘make a stand’ against the bra though. I wonder if she is a city-dweller? She’s obviously well educated as she has semi-decent English – so does that mean what she is doing is rebelling against Western oppression and just using the bra as a focal point for this?

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                  • Rinth says:

                    I doubt it. LOL it’s either a guy messing around or a girl who seriously thinks bras are dangerous for you :P. I don’t know how it is in village areas… but bras are pretty common in the cities. Why not ask your wife :P? She works in the medical care right? She should know ^_^.

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                    • I’m pretty certain it isn’t a guy messing around. He would have to be pretty strange to want to write about that! I did ask my wife and she confirmed what I thought: The poorer women don’t wear them as they don’t have money or access. The wealthier ones do. I wonder whether the post was just a hint of the many ways that Bangladesh is changing and being influenced by the West – along with its “Be an individual and stand up for what you believe even when opposed by others” kind of motto? Not something that I am keen to see here, to be honest, for all the things that are wrong in Bangladesh, I think the West merely makes things worse.

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                    • Rinth says:

                      I really doubt, by the looks of her writing style, that this has some deeper meaning. I could be wrong of course.

                      As to the difference between poor and wealthy, it could of course be true. But I’ve never seen any women my grandma’s age wear bras other than a blouse, regardless of their financial status. Actually they’d probably be embarrassed as hell if I suggested it to them :?.

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                    • LOL and I would truly suggest not trying, Rinth!

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                    • Rinth says:

                      I wasn’t planning to! 😛

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  7. Pingback: Breasts bras | resourcesarticles

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