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Around the world in a daze

Office life

BANGLADESH | Monday, 3 January 2011 | Views [253]

Booa is always the first to arrive at the office. She is the cook and cleaner so isn’t deemed important enough to carry a key. She sits and waits in the car port for the other staff to come and let her in. She is always dressed in a ratty orange sari, with a faded pink blouse. She wears the end of the sari up over her hair. Her front tooth has been chipped and she wears huge wide glasses. I don’t know her real name; everyone calls her Booa or Khala, meaning Aunty. This is supposed to fit with the idea of the office being like a family, but it doesn’t work. She never eats with us and whenever someone needs something done they can’t be bothered doing, like running to the store, they ask her to do it.

Often I arrive early (on time) and sit with her. She doesn’t speak English and stares at my attempts at Bangla for an awkward few minutes until someone arrives. It is usually for them to be 15 to 20 minutes late and then look at you like you’ve inconvenienced them by showing up on time.

Everyone spends the first half an hour to hour of the day sitting in the conference room reading newspapers. They don’t have English papers so I generally go to the office and start work.

Booa also has to start work. She half heartedly sweeps the office and sometimes empties the bin, then heads into the kitchen. She spends most of the morning squatting in the corner of the dank, musty kitchen over a huge machete type knife that is held pointing upwards. She cuts directly onto the floor and given her half hearted attempts at sweeping, I’m not too sure how clean it is. The kitchen is the way to get to one of the bathrooms, and I’m sure the dirty bathroom feet going through the kitchen floor are a large factor in the food poisoning I keep getting.

There are only two gas hotplates, no oven, and no kettle. Booa cooks one or two things at a time then leaves them to get cold, while she cooks the others. As a consequence, by the time we have lunch half the stuff is cold, the other half is scorching hot and too hot to pick up, which is difficult considering we eat with our hands.

Lunch is usually ready by 1.30, but most people won’t eat until 3. After this, Booa does the dishes and wanders around aimlessly for a while. One of her favourite ways to pass the time is to stare at me and Anna. We are never doing anything interesting but she will stand and watch us for hours.

The other staffs always claim they are busy and have so much work on. But if you look at their computer screens you’ll see YouTube clips or Facebook. Often the doors to individual offices will be closed. This means they’re having a nap and don’t want to be disturbed. The staff’s works long hours. They have only one day off a week and that day is for praying, so I understand they must get tired. But I think if they didn’t take naps at work and didn’t spend the first hour reading the paper, they could get enough work done in 5 days that they wouldn’t have to work the 6th.

The boss works his own hours. He comes in around 11 or 12 with his three year old son, who wrecks havoc in the place. Then he goes home for an hour or two at lunch time then works later in the evening.

Adi his son is free to do whatever he pleases. The Bangladeshis dote on young children, which means they are never disciplined and run around thinking they own the place. One day everyone but me and Anna were in a meeting, Adi ran into our office covered in permanent marker and with two in his hand. He started drawing on the furniture. I said stop, then as soon as I turned my back he started again. So I confiscated the pens, he started crying and another staff member ran in, asked Adi what was wrong and gave him back the pens. Adi promptly started drawing on the furniture again and now we have nice new decorations. But no one seems to mind because he is cute.

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