Monthly Archives: October 2012

Bangladesh September 2012 – Email 3

 

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Bangladesh email 3 – Sunday, September 30, 2012 – in the air between Bangkok and Tokyo

It’s been a week since my second email. I didn’t anticipate many new experiences. But the best was yet to come. Last Sunday was indeed mostly a dead day. All of us USAID volunteers in the country at the time were asked to stay in our hotels because a general strike was called to protest the anti-Muslim video. There was indeed a strike. There were no buses or trains running. School and many businesses were closed. But other than a few arrests that were made in the capital there were no demonstrations or problems. And certainly there were no problems in Kushtia. Late afternoon I couldn’t stand being cooped up in the hotel anymore. So I started wandering down the street to see what I could see. I didn’t get more than a block and a half before I was greeted by a young man with two companions. The young man wanted to speak English with me. He’s in his senior year of university getting a science degree. He is preparing for the US Graduate Record Exam in hopes of improving his chances of getting into a US university for graduate programs in biotechnology and genetic engineering. He’s going to be applying to the Univ of Washington and other West Coast schools that offer the program. He was anxious to get any suggestions I might have on how to improve his chances of getting a scholarship to pursue his US studies. Mehedi joined us in a few minutes. We found out the young men were on their way down to the Ganges to watch the racing boat competition. So we went down to the river. Regrettably the races had just finished and the many families that had been at the river were starting to head home. Clearly the biggest event of the day for Kushtia residents was the boat races. As I mentioned in my last email those boats with their 30 or more paddlers make an impressive sight moving rapidly across the river. The young man and I continued our conversation at the river and on our way to the fruit market. We talked politics and I was able to convince him that he’s a Democrat with his strong concerns for the poor status of women in Bangladesh. It was a treat to talk with one of the best and brightest of the local young people. He’s a bit at loose ends right now because Islamic University that he attends is closed by the government until further notice because of conflict between pro and anti-government factions on campus. All over Bangladesh the university students and faculty are a major source of opposition to the current government advocating greater freedoms and social change. So the government closes the schools to squash opposition activity. It’s the third time the universities have been closed this school year. We have a bit of amnesia in the US right now about what a force our students and intelligentsia can be if they organize and push our government for reforms. I’m afraid our students have been drugged by iPods and shopping.

Now the best. Hearing that a US volunteer would be in town the headmistress of a local international primary school had requested I come on Monday afternoon to talk with them for an hour about America. Whoa, that’s a pretty big topic. So that morning I prepared a slide presentation of pictures of mountains, lakes, etc. from our vacation pictures I have with me. Then I added pictures of our family and some of our activities. I figured I’d spend about 25 minutes with the slide show, take questions, then be done. Was I wrong. The students are learning English as part of their studies. So there would be no translation to Bangla needed. The students staying for this after school presentation were mainly fifth and sixth grades and some second graders. The seven teachers were there. There were lots of questions during my slideshow. Then after each student and teacher greeted me individually I thought it would be over. But then one of the students asked me to sing a song. That broke us loose. I sang “The Bear Went Over The Mountain”, then it was “Old MacDonald’s Farm” by request with all the animal sounds. The music teacher brought out their harmonium which she added to the songs. The students sang “We Shall Over Come” with each verse first in English then in Bangla. The singing continued with national anthems (I even managed the high notes in the Star Spangled Banner), then they finished up with some of the oldest girls singing some Lalon Shah songs. The Lalon songs reinforced my impression that the Bangla young people as well as adults really value their heritage in music, language, and culture with much less of the penetration of Western pop culture that we have. After the picture taking none of us wanted to quit. But it had been two hours and it was time for the children to go home. In appreciation the headmistress presented me with an ektara, the one string instrument used in the Baul ballads. Everywhere I have now carried the ektara with me in Bangladesh I have had many adults comment and ask if I play it. The instrument is clearly one of the symbols of Bangla folk culture.

The headmistress has been searching awhile for a native English speaker to come be a guest English teacher. She really would like me to come be a guest teacher. She would also welcome Deni. I told her we couldn’t come for a whole year or two as she’d like. But we might be able to come for a month or so. We are mutually exploring that possibility now. It would be so much fun. We would hopefully stay in some of the students’ home. Deni wants to come to Bangladesh now that I’ve had such great experiences. The Bangla people are so friendly and welcoming. And it’s a beautiful country. It would be a great winter break to return to Bangladesh. The two hours I spent at the SunUp International School was the highlight of my trip. It was pure fun.

Tuesday was my fourth and last workshop. Again all the participants were women. So there was much interaction with many questions and contributions by the participants. After lunch at the SETU office it was gift giving and parting. They were very pleased with my workshops. Then Mehedi and I began retracing our steps on the way back to Dhaka. The flight from Jessore to Dhaka was Wednesday. Three other volunteers and I spent Thursday and Friday in Dhaka finishing our reports and getting acquainted along with some touring. I do like to get to know the other volunteers. I have already found such contacts to be valuable. It was through another volunteer that I made contact with Daniel Oltimbau, our guide for the February Serengeti trip with our grandsons. This next January I’ll be doing a joint assignment in Angola with another volunteer that lives in Lake Oswego.

Thursday morning Michael, another volunteer, and I went to the Dharmarajikha Buddhist Monastery. It’s an oasis of tranquility in the southern section of Dhaka. It was founded in 1962 with a prayer hall, clinic, shrine and K – 12 school for students of all faiths. The monastery is also the home of 672 orphans. It’s an impressive institution. After touring the facilities which surround a large pond and Buddha statue we had tea with the head monk and companions. The head monk is 76 having been a monk for 60 years. Accompanying him were the retired senior monk, 84, a retired physics teacher, and a retired police commander. Both of the senior monks have made multiple trips to Mongolia and Myanmar (Burma)  forging ties with monasteries in Buddhist dominant countries. The Dhaka monastery also has a sister monastery in India. The acolyte monks and orphan students were busy readying the facility grounds for a visit Saturday by government ministers. The Prime Minister has visited three times in the past. I was quite pleased to see there is continuation of Buddhism in Bangladesh. Though now a minority religion Buddhism has a long history throughout India.

Returning from the Buddhist monastery we took a driving tour around Dhaka where we saw Dhaka University, Parliament, and other sights. The most notable sight was the Memorial to the Intellectual Martyrs. In 1971 the Pakistani military summarily executed over 250 university intellectuals and political leaders in their attempt to squash the breakaway of then East Pakistan from West Pakistan. The Pakistani military was subsequently overwhelmed by the Bengalis and East Pakistan became Bangladesh. The memorial has busts of each of the slaughtered intellectuals placed in a triangular field with a memorial spire in the middle. It’s a grim memorial of what the Bangla people have had to endure to gain independence from first the British, then the Pakistanis.

Friday the activity was a visit to the National Museum. We only got 2-1/2 hours in which to explore. I could spend two or three days there. They have a wonderful collection of porcelains, fabrics, furniture, wood carvings, silver, armaments, classical and folk instruments from the height of Bangla Mughal (Muslim) culture of the 18th and 19th centuries. I was fascinated by a series of large detailed pen and ink drawings chronicling the coming of the first British soldiers to Bengal. The drawings covered two whole walls. There were parchment Sanskrit documents in Bangla script from the 8th to 16th centuries. There were even a few early and late Buddhist stone and terra cotta images of various gods and stories. But of course the largest collections of the early Buddhist objects are in the British Museum and the Louvre in Paris. I’ll have to return to the Dhaka museum on future trips.

That’s it. I’m in the middle of my 36 hour journey home with last night, Saturday, in Bangkok and a brief plane change today in Tokyo. I hope I make my 1 hour and 30 minute connection in Tokyo. The pilot informed us we’re having to swing way east to avoid a tropical storm that is working it’s way north from the southern tip of Japan. It will hit Narita tonight when hopefully I’m already on my flight to Portland. Ending up in the middle of a typhoon is an additional excitement I’d like to avoid.

Thanks for joining me in my travels in Bangladesh. I’ll start up emails again in January when I reach Angola.

Bob

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Bangladesh September 2012 – Email 2

 

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Bangladesh Email 2 – Saturday, September 22, 2012 – Kushtia, Bangladesh

The wonderful experiences just keep coming on this trip. Thursday was the second time I presented my seed saving workshop. It was received well. There were lots of questions and comments but a bit less interaction than the first one. Everyone was grateful to get information they didn’t have. Many of the farmers are illiterate. So workshops like this are a good way for them to get information. I’m told that the information will then be spread to their friends and neighbors. So the impact will be rather large in the area after I’ve done four such workshops.

Thursday evening was a real treat. I’m being accompanied on all of my experiences by Mehedi, my Winrock International guide and translator. They are my sponsoring agency for the Farmer-to-Farmer program. I’m also being accompanied by a regional director of SETU, the cooperative for which I’m presenting the workshops. He makes all the arrangements. They’ve been very attentive. That evening we went to Lalon Shah’s mazar. Lalon was a poet and folk singer who is revered all over Bangladesh. He is particularly the patron saint of the Baul people centered around Kushtia. The Baul are a group of singing, marijuana-smoking bards who espouse a love of the land while shunning the mainstream. Lalon Shah was a secular humanist of the last century promoting a tolerant mindset. Lalon Shah’s mazar is a mausoleum which contains his grave and that of others of the Baul people. There is also a large tile floored open air hall where each evening folksingers can come and extemporaneously play and sing Lalon’s poems and songs. When we arrived the power was off in the area. So there wasn’t much happening. There were a couple clusters of people just sitting and relaxing in the dark. At one end a carpet was laid out and a few instruments were sitting there: a harmonium and two tabla drums. There were some chairs stacked nearby. So we sat down to see if anything would happen. In a few minutes a tabla player, a harmonium player, and a singer sat down and started singing a Lalon song with instrument accompaniment. A few more people sat down to listen. It was all very informal. Eventually the power came back on. Then some more singers and players arrived and entertainment moved up a notch. For an hour there was impromptu sharing of the singing and playing roles. One man particularly was an excellent singer with powerful delivery. The instrument players were quite good. I recorded some of the songs for use as a soundtrack in a future slide presentation. I was particularly glad to hear the harmonium playing. The harmonium is a reed instrument like the accordion. It has a mellow and quiet tone serving well as a backup instrument. It was a great evening of Bengal Indian music.

Friday is the Muslim day of prayers which are usually at 1pm. Most shops are closed for the day. It’s the Muslim day of rest. So I didn’t have a workshop on Friday. But I wanted a chance to walk around and see things. So Mehedi agreed to accompany me in the morning before he went to prayers at 1pm. We set off to go to the “bank”. I couldn’t imagine why we would need to go to the bank. There aren’t even any ATMs here in Kushtia. Well, it was obvious once we got down the road and arrived at the “bank”, the bank of the Ganges River. There was a small passenger “dhow” style boat loading up to go across the river. So I said, “let’s go”. For 2 taka each (3 cents) we walked up the bamboo dock onto the boat. The boat is flat deck. All of the 20 or so people on the boat were standing up for the short ride. There were also bicycles and a motorbike on the boat. The banks of the Ganges out here on the delta are very sandy. There are huge sandy banks at each bend of the river that look like huge dredging spoils. The sandy silt is from the Himalaya Mountains which are gradually washing down to the Bay of Bengal. It’s this sandy silt that makes the Bangladesh delta so fertile from the periodic floods over millennia. As we approached the far bank there was a racing boat that started out on a practice run. About 30 oarsman were rapidly paddling in unison to move the boat at an amazingly fast speed. There was to be a race in the afternoon. So this was a practice run.

Once on the other side of the river we set off walking down the causeway at the edge of the river. The river is diked on both sides. There are dikes throughout the delta moving rainwater gradually out to sea. All of the paths through the countryside and the little villages are on the dikes. We wandered up the riverside a ways. Out on the wide sandy beach women were forming balls of cow manure and placing them out to dry in the sun. The farmsteads in this area are quite leafy from extensive tree cover. So the beach affords an open area for such production as well as a soccer pitch and other recreational areas. After a bit we turned inland “to see what we could see”. At one point a young man we passed greeted me in English and wanted to chat. Eventually we turned around and began retracing our steps. I stopped to get some pictures of jute fibers drying on a bamboo frame. Surprisingly the young man who had greeted me earlier greeted me again and pointed to his house. It was right there. Then his younger sister came up and, in English, invited me into their compound to see the jute fiber they had processed. I was quite surprised to encounter English speaking young people. Once inside, Mehedi and I were ushered into their front room where much of the family and local children crowded in to meet the foreigner. We ended up staying over a half hour in their home and compound getting acquainted and taking many pictures. The boy and three of his sisters (or cousins) attend the international school across the river in Kushtia. They are in grades 7 and 6. They were all speaking English with me. They were excited to meet a foreigner and have him in their home. We were offered sweets to eat. An older boy prepared coconuts fresh harvested from their tree for us to drink the milk. Then we were given coconut meat to take with us. I’ve got pictures of mom cooking on the low fire and auntie preparing chapattis. I just love this kind of experience. The young people were sharing how they live and getting a chance to find out what I could tell them about my family. Regrettably I didn’t have my phone with me. I’d left it in the room to charge.  I usually have it so I can show people pictures of our family and home. So I just could tell them about our lives. We finally had to leave so Mehedi could get to prayers. I would have stayed longer if I could have. We retraced our steps amid periodic “hello” and “how are you” called out by local kids. I get the stares and looks of curiosity. Everyone returns my greetings and is friendly.

After prayers we set off to the Rabindranath Tagore home at Kuthibari on the other side of the Ganges. Tagore spent ten years of his later life at the home writing his poetry and periodically traveling to receive various awards and recognition around the world including the Nobel Prize. The home and extensive grounds are out in a rural area. It’s a popular destination for Bangla families to come and enjoy the afternoon first touring the home where there are many pictures and a few artifacts honoring Tagore. Then families can spend time on the grounds and around the large pond whiling away the warmest part of the day in the shade of the large trees. We purchased local “ice cream” from a vendor. It’s made from milk, sugar, and cloves. The vendor serves it on a banana leaf after he has cut the small cylinder into bite size pieces. Included is a small piece of banana leaf to use as a spoon.  Twice, young people came up and wanted to greet me and find out about me. Both are university students. The young woman who greeted me is studying business administration. She speaks excellent English and was pleased to meet me. The young man is studying English literature. His spoken English is more hesitant. He wanted to practice speaking and was nervous about it. I encouraged him as we exchanged pleasantries and family information. An older gentleman thanked me for being there. As you can tell I’m really experiencing the friendliness of the local people.

The workshop today was quite enjoyable. It was all women, 24 of them. They were quite animated with lots of comments and questions. They clearly feel more willing to express themselves when there aren’t men in the audience. They were quite appreciative of the information and learned a number of new things. Afterwards two of the women wanted to have their picture taken with me. They are both quite short. One is a Hindu, the other a very Asian looking Muslim. Both are bright faced and cute. So I was happy to have my picture taken with them. The Hindu woman is shorter standing than I am sitting down. I get a lot of comments and stares because of my height. I do tower over most of the people here. Though the SETU regional director is fairly tall, most other folks are more than a head shorter than I am. I have to wear my hat when walking through doorways and going up staircases to soften the blow in case I have a temporary lapse of attentiveness to headroom.

Tomorrow will be a dead day because my last workshop is being delayed. It’s all because of the ridiculously thoughtless producers of the anti-Muslim video that’s roiling Muslim populations around the world right now. There was a demonstration of 2,000 in Dhaka yesterday. A strike has been called for tomorrow in protest of the video. So I’m being kept at the hotel just in case. Winrock International can’t take any chances with volunteers. For Monday I’ve been asked to give a presentation on life in America to some school children that are attending an awards ceremony. I’ll keep it personal and hopefully geared to their age and interests. I never quite know what I’ll be asked to do when I’m on assignment. Luckily I bring a large selection of our family pictures with me on my laptop. So I’ll be able to put something together.

The light evening cooling breeze is starting to come in off the river. It’s now 8pm so it should start cooling down a bit from the regular daytime temperature of 92 degrees and 92 percent humidity. The mezzuin is calling for the last prayers of the day. Folks are out in the streets finishing up their evening shopping. It hasn’t rained since the day I arrived. The monsoon season is winding down. I saw the first rice being harvested yesterday. So life is good.

That’s it for now. I’ll probably have one more email. This is a short but experience packed trip.

Bob

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Bangladesh September 2012 – Email 1

Bangladesh USAID Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer assignment giving workshops on saving and storing vegetable seed for women small farmers.

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Bangladesh email 1, Wednesday, Sept 19, 2012 – Kushtia, Bangladesh

Oh, my, where to begin. What a feast of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. Bangladesh, which is Bengal State of historic India, is all I’ve thought it would be since studying Indian civilization in graduate school. I’ve always wanted to go to India. And now I’m here!

Bengal is one of 27 states in India, each with it’s own language. Bengal just happens to have been partitioned off at India’s independence from the British as East Pakistan. Then it gained independence from Pakistan as Bangladesh in 1972. Bangladesh is 80% Muslim, 20% Hindu. The language is Bengali with some people speaking English as well. But here in Kushtia just 40 km from the Indian border there are no international tourists and only the well educated speak any English. Each Indian language is written in it’s own script. Each script is a variant on the Devanagari script of ancient Sanskrit, which I studied in grad school, but have totally forgotten. People from one Indian state can’t necessarily read the script of other state languages if the variations are large.

Hopefully I’ll be able to see a couple of ancient Buddhist temples when I’m back at Dhaka, the capital, at the end of my assignment. There aren’t any ancient temples in this area. Buddhist I say? Yes, Buddhist. India once was a majority Buddhist country. But Hinduism with it’s caste system had a resurgence during 900-1200. Then Buddhism was wiped out in India during the Mughul (Islamic) occupation in the 1200-1500s. Bengal State has remained majority Muslim. Enough history, which for India is long.

It took three calendar days to get here, though it was really just a little over two days because I crossed the international dateline. It was Tokyo, Bangkok, Dhaka, Jessore, (four flights), then drive 2-1/2 hours to Kushtia. That’s a lot of travel to get me here to present a single three hour workshop five days in a row on saving seed for small scale growers who are members of the SETU cooperative association. SETU has 13,000 member beneficiaries and a staff of 1,000. So I’m traveling to a different part of the district each day. I get a couple of free days for sightseeing, which will be good. But I’ve already seen a lot in just two days.

Dhaka, the capital, has 15 million people in a country of 150 million. Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries of the world.  And Dhaka shows it. Flying out of Dhaka we flew over mile after mile of apartment blocks in the various sections of the city. The city could be Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania or Luanda, Angola with the choking traffic, roadside kiosks and small businesses in block after block of tall apartment and office buildings in a seeming state of perpetual construction or deconstruction. All with a patina of humidity induced black stains of mold. The roads are in equal condition. But that’s just the physical surroundings. The sea of humanity swirling through on bicycle rickshaws, bicycles, Tom-Tom battery powered rickshaws, battered buses, in trucks, and on foot is strictly Indian. The women are dressed in everything from Muslim dress or even strict coverup, to Indian saris, to familiar Western dress. Men are similarly in either casual Western dress or Muslim tunics and headdress. Startling is some of the older men with flaming orange beards and/or hair colored with henna. Many of the trucks are brightly painted with stylized Bengali letters, designs, or religious symbols. Scattered around are the ubiquitous billboards and signs for cell phone carriers, TVs, cars, and luxury items. Some signs are in English. But the majority are in Bengali. I’ll get a chance to explore Dhaka a little bit at the end of my assignment before I return home.

Jessore where I flew from Dhaka, and here in Kushtia are small towns surrounded by the rural areas of farms and small villages along the roads. Kushtia has a population of about 200,000. But it’s a farming town and fairly compact because the residents live in small apartments clustered in 5-8 story apartment buildings. There are few single family residences in the towns, only in the villages. The farm families live in their village, not in a farm residence like in the US. I observed this in Western Europe also. Farmland is too valuable to put buildings on. The buildings are clustered in the small nearby village and along the roads. The farmers walk to their farm plots. This is not an area of larger commercial farms, which apparently exist in some of the other districts. The farm plots are just a few acres or less. And a family’s plots may not all be contiguous.

Yesterday we drove the 2-1/2 hours from Jessore to Kushtia on the major road. It was a narrow two-lane road occupied by bicycle rickshaws, Tom-Toms, bicycles, and pedestrians, with trucks and large buses whizzing by in each direction. Because the bicycle rickshaws and Tom-Toms are three wheeled vehicles they are wide. So the two-lane road has really just one lane-width clear for traffic coming from both directions to share. People are apparently used to traffic passing by with as little as one or two inches of clearance on both sides. It’s a little disconcerting to have a big bus bearing down the middle of the road at us as we dart in between two rickshaws in our lane and the bus moves over just at the last split second while the pedestrians squeeze to the edge of the road. And of course the traffic moves to the left since the British were here and driving is on the left. At one point we had to wait our turn to move right to swing around two elephants being ridden by their touts along the side of the road.

The workshop today was at a regional SETU center in a nearby village area. This was my first chance to get out of town into the rural areas. Along the paved roads there are farm house compounds and small businesses. In the distance beyond the dwellings are the rice fields and scattered vegetable plots. Everything is a verdant green. There are tall bushes along the road or a tree canopy totally shading us. The rice fields are all green now at the tail end of the rainy season. Harvest is a couple of months away. The land is absolutely flat and everything is green. The temperature is about 90 degrees and the humidity is high. This is the Ganges River delta. There are waterways snaking throughout the area. Some of the rice fields have some standing water. Many of the farm compounds have a small pond. It is all just rain water. There is no irrigation here. The farmers totally rely on the monsoon rains for their livelihood.

This afternoon after the workshop we had a chance to visit one of the participant’s farms. This is one of the great benefits I get by volunteering in this program. I get out in the rural areas away from the highways and get to meet farm families and see how they live. Everyone is always so friendly. They’re happy to show me their homestead and farm fields. And I can freely take pictures so I can share what I’m seeing with you later.

I don’t usually get very emotional about what I’m seeing. But today it was magical. We were in the middle of a farming way of life that has been going on for centuries. Everything is done by hand. Land is at a premium so every square inch is used for some purpose to support the family. The small farm compounds along the dirt tracks have modest red brick dwellings. The compound walls are mainly jute stalk woven panels with bamboo ridge poles. The farmsteads each have a small pond or share a larger one with a few other families. I saw a young man washing a young cow in the pond just outside the workshop building. There were young kids fishing in a pond and netting fish in a drainage ditch. A boy scampered up a tree to pick a pomelo for each of us to take back with us. Cow dung for cooking fuel was drying in small balls on a woven fence or skewered on poles leaning against a wall like giant shish kebabs. The hard woody core of jute stalks stripped of it’s fiber is dried for cooking fuel. Rice straw is stacked in conical or bread loaf shaped piles for animal fodder. Young cows lounge in the shade along the path to the farm fields.

In the family plots are gourds and long beans growing on flat horizontal trellises 3-4 feet above the ground. The fruit then hangs down in the space below the trellis for easy harvest and protection from mold due to ground contact.  Betel leaf is growing under high horizontal trellises to protect the leaves from sun bleaching. Single squash plants were spread across building roofs. Taro plants grow along the walkways. The eggplant plants were large bushes about four feet high. The chili plants had all been recently harvested. I have to watch for those little green devils in the food. They are H-O-T hot.

Everything is well ordered and well kept. Out here in the farm areas there’s no trash. Even in the towns there’s little. Along the highway we passed some small plastic recycling yards. There were big bales of plastic sorted by color and type. I found out that people are paid a small amount for plastic trash they bring in. So even plastic bags were opened up and stacked in piles in the small collection yards. The recycled plastic is made into new items that don’t require high strength. I’m impressed.

The food is spicy and tasty. Just like in Africa it’s mainly starch with a bit of meat in a sauce and some vegetable. The starch is of course rice. Along the roads we passed concrete rice drying floors. To remove the hull from rice seed it’s first boiled and then dried in the sun. Then when the seed is milled the hull easily comes off and can be separated from the rice kernel. The milling takes the bran and germ off the kernel making it white rice. Everyone except me and the other volunteers eat with their right hand. In Africa with the more glutinous starches of corn, millet, and plaintain you can form the starch into a ball and dip it into the meat sauce. Short grain rice doesn’t ball up. I find it more of a challenge to eat rice with my hand without making a mess. So I stick with a utensil. Breakfast is chapattis with some mixed potato and peas in a spicy sauce to use for a filling. And there’s eggs. Lunch and dinner are the same with rice, spicy meat sauce with a bit of hacked meat. And either cooked greens or the potato – pea medley. Tea is served with sugar. Of course alcohol is not served except in tourist places.

Yesterday another volunteer and I had a chance to wander around Jessore with our Winrock guide. There we saw fruit vendors selling various varieties of apples, oranges, green mangos, and watermelon. All except the watermelon is imported fruit. Mangos are out of season – darn! Imported mangos are the same price we pay at home. I’ll have to go back to Mali for premium mangos. Street sellers had a local orange sized fruit with a hard greenish tan shell that has a softer inside and is apparently sour. For a young customer a vendor used a sharp tool to poke into the fruit and break it up inside to release the juice. Then he poured chili powder into the hole. Then he gave the girl a straw to suck the juice out. It would be sour and hot. I’ve never seen that fruit before. We purchased green coconuts for drinking the liquid with a straw. When harvested green the coconut milk is clear and not so milky as from mature coconuts. And there was a lot of liquid in it as a thirst quencher on a warm day. The flower sellers and flower shops had bouquets of tuberoses and gladiolus with a couple of bud roses at the front. Marigold flower heads were woven into long garlands At the SETU office my Winrock guide/translator and I were each given one of such bouquets as a welcome. To get back to the hotel we each rode a bicycle rickshaw. The cost was 12 cents. The pedaler had to first push the rickshaw a bit to get it moving. There were two of us in mine. So it was heavy. Then once moving he started pedaling. It’s a one speed bicycle. So it’s tough pedaling. The rickshaw drivers are all very slender. There are frequent rickshaw traffic jams in the narrow streets. The drivers have to try to keep moving and weave in and out so they don’t stop and have to work to get the rickshaw going again. Near the hotel a kindergarten class was getting out. The mothers were all meeting their uniformed children. Many left in rickshaws joining the traffic of older couples also traveling by rickshaw. Some rode in Tom-Toms which can be jammed full of more people because they are electric motor powered. When we were touring the market area the other volunteer and I were gathering quite a crowd. Tall foreigners are an oddity in the small towns. We were greeted by smiles and looks of interest. It’s a friendly atmosphere though we were not able to communicate more directly in the local language. The ability to talk with strangers met on the street is one thing I really enjoy in Ghana, Uganda, and the other former British areas of Africa. I miss it in French speaking Mali, Portuguese speaking Angola, and now Bengali speaking Bangladesh. But non-verbal communication always works for basic contact.

As you can tell I’m having a great adventure. That’s enough fun for now. More later.

Bob

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