Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Squatting On My Heels

A recent view of the gate Holy Family Hospital

Long long ago and far away, when I was 21-23, I spent a couple years in what is now Bangladesh. This was in 1967-1969. I used my time there well, doing independent study in my college subjects, writing in journals, intensively learning to play guitar.

I got a job after a little while in country working for the Medical Mission Sisters as they ran Holy Family Hospital, the only hospital in all of Dacca, now spelled Dhaka. I was in charge of handling their cash, a position they named Financial Secretary. They wanted a Westerner's hands on the cash as they felt I would not want to steal from them. I answered to Sr. Yolande Landry, who gave me this financial part of her double job while she kept the hospital outreach and community placement for herself. I was to review the charity cases and sign off on them (something I had no idea how to sort out) and I was to go to town and come back from the bank (on public transportation, mind you) with the correct denonminations and amount of cash to make monthly payroll. The safe was in my office. There were other things to do, and theoretically, I was the head of the accounting department. That was totally beyond my understanding and skills. They knew that.

In fact, that was when I resigned. They were visited by a competent manager tasked with revising their accounting system. Both the sisters and I knew I had no business remaining on the job. They were right. I did not steal one paisa from them. They paid me the equivalent of $45 a month for a six day week, seven hour day. I did not have to support myself at the time so this was walk around money, but there wasn't much for me to buy either, just cheap but strong legal ganja and rarely illegal hashish.

I only got too stoned to do my job one day. On that day I found a room off to the side that was sequestered and slept it off. On another day I had gone home for lunch as was my habit and when I came back I met a praying mantis about four inches high and bright green swaying on the middle of the blotter on my desk. On a third day near the end of my time at the hospital I left the house to go back to work only to discover that soldiers were shooting and chasing rioters at the end of that Dhanmondi street. I went back home that day.

They were taking Ayub Khan down and replacing him with General Yaya Khan. That was happening in the west, in what is now Pakistan but was then West Pakistan. Dacca is in what was then East Pakistan, but is now Bangladesh.

Squatting On My Heels

The last thing you would
call me is gaunt. I don't mind.
If I was all bony
then could I squat like
the rest of the world does, flat
on my heels and butt?

Even underweight
I could not do that.

I guess
I'll just decompose
and shed radical
weight, leave vile puddles of me
all over the place,
become skeletal
(though I am big boned) and gray.
maybe then I can.

‎April ‎2, ‎2014 6:57 PM

Written for Thom's 3 Word Wednesday


  1. I had no idea there's a Western squat. You couldn't have managed the squat toilet.

    1. Fortunately, Bangladesh is a former British colony. There is a copious overlay of western ways. This includes western toilets. In those days, I could achieve the squat but not the balance. I tipped over backwards. This was a matter not of the ankles, but of the center of my gravity. I could not lean myself far enough forward to achieve stability. Again, when I weighed 155 pounds, I was thirty pounds lighter than my high school graduation weight and 7 pounds from my street starvation weight.

  2. Love the bit about leaving vile puddles all over the place.

  3. education for me also..although i have sampled the delights of old Parisian squatting loos..nice to learn a little more about you too!

  4. wow the things you saw. I love your poem and the topic it covers.

  5. Interesting tale. Sort of a surprise that you worked with nuns:) Next you will be telling us you studed for the priesthood:)
    Like Jae I am familiar with those old Turkish toilets in Paris....only a couple left now and I am pleased that got rid of those monstrous pissoirs in the street.
    In Asia they still have some. There is an art to using them which requires skill and aim . I DON'T consider this a suitable forum for giving lengthy instructions.


The chicken crossed the road. That's poultry in motion.

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