Bangladesh Thursday, February 7, 2013

A famous Baul singer Baul singer and musical group performing Lalon Shah poetic songs A rousing duet that then leads to dancing Baul music duet that finished up with celebratory dancing Ganges River fishing Sunset over the Ganges River Overloaded passenger boat crossing the Ganges Vendor on our ferry with tomato dishes IMG_9951 Finishing a meal that was delivered to our balcony "dining room" Our apartment A western style "throne" installed just for us Hindu funeral procession Kushtia street scene from our balconyBangladesh 2 – Feb 7, 2013 – Kushtia

I was going to start this post yesterday afternoon. But the noise out on the street was deafening. I couldn’t concentrate. Our apartment is on the third floor of the building. From our balcony we get a good street view. Earlier in the afternoon a Hindu funeral procession had gone by. They were taking the body on a decorated cart to the riverbank for burning on a pyre. Noise makers and chanting accompanied the quick procession. I barely had a chance to take a picture. That one was interesting A bit later a political group of about 30 young men brandishing sticks marched down the street chanting political slogans at the tops of their voices. Shortly after that a demonstration unfolded in the intersection below. About 25 demonstrators lined up with their banner accompanied by a bullhorn mounted on a rickshaw blasting us with their message. That one was deafeningly loud and went on for about a half hour. Normal street life swirled around the demonstration with few people paying any attention.

For the last two days strikes have been called throughout the country. The first strike was the political opposition protesting the trial of a leader of the collaborative movement forty years ago when 3 million Bangaldeshis were killed in the war with Pakistan over separating into two independent countries. Then yesterday after the verdict of life imprisonment had been announced there was a strike by a group that wanted the death penalty instead. When strikes like this are called by major political groups the government shuts down buses and major public transportation and the schools in an effort to keep the demonstrations from escalating with large groups of people coming in from the provinces. It keeps it local. Frankly the demonstration outside our balcony was pretty pathetic. It was just noisy.

Because of the strikes for the last two days our school here has been closed. We’ve used the time to have two productive sessions with the teachers helping them with English conversation and pronunciation. It’s very difficult for Indian language speakers to pronounce some English sounds since they don’t have them in their group of languages. In addition to having each of the teachers speak on a topic we chose together we’ve been singing some songs including the ABC song. Deni noted down pronunciation issues during the conversations. We then helped the teachers practice the sounds. I created a couple of simple chants to help with practice. Also Deni read aloud one of the children’s books we brought for them to model reading expression. The teachers were eager for the help in improving their own spoken English. We’ll continue having sessions with the teachers at the end of their school day three or four times a week during our stay. In our discussions and planning sessions with Alo, the headmistress, we’ve heard from her about her progressive efforts to provide a much better student learning experience than the typical rote based British system that the government is actively trying to get away from. Predictably she’s getting some pushback from parents who want to know why their children aren’t being taught the way they remember. Alo characterizes them as her “crazy parents”.

Today we will be observing in representative classes with teachers that hopefully won’t be too intimidated by our presence in their classroom. Alo wants us to do some modeling by teaching some classes so the students get a taste of “American” education. That’s a bit daunting for both of us. We’re trying to negotiate a manageable way of doing it with us supplementing the teacher’s work with short lessons and activities. We’re trying to get away from being expected to take over the class for entire sessions in a foreign curriculum. The school schedule is five days a week plus a half day session on Saturday which is reserved for sports, singing, drawing, and computer work to supplement the regular lessons. They have four computers in their lab for 165 students. It will be interesting to see how they handle limited resources. The classrooms are very small and crowded with desks. There’s little room for more active learning with small group activities. There is a modest assembly room which is smaller than a typical American classroom. And there’s a small outdoor courtyard with a few pieces of play equipment.

Deni’s really appreciating the good food. Alo and her husband Moni are taking us to good restaurants or bring in food for us. It’s good flavorful Indian food. Deni says that Alo acts like a “Jewish mother”. She is constantly urging Deni to eat more. Dinner is typically late at about 9pm. So we’re having some trouble sleeping on full stomachs in addition to working through the usual jet lag. Right now we’re wide awake at 3am. We’ve been promised good tandoori chicken later this week.

Because of the strikes the last two days we’ve been asked to not go out walking before 5pm. Early evening is when everyone is out in the streets and shops as the work day ends and the temperature drops. It’s been nice and warm midday though at sweater temperature first thing in the morning. Tuesday evening we walked out to the river. I was amazed to see the riverbed almost empty with stark sandy banks showing everywhere. It’s the dry season now. It was the end of the rainy season when I was here in September. Then the river was right up to the edge of the banks. Now the channels have to be actively dredged for the boat traffic to be able to navigate. From across the river were the sounds of Muslim men chanting their prayers. The sun was setting as people were out promenading along the river shore.

Then before dinner Alo and Moni took us to Lalon Mazar to experience Baul music. I was there in September and thoroughly enjoyed it. Some of the same musicians were there. When we arrived we were given chairs and a group of musicians assembled. Various disciples of Lalon Shah’s poetry and music live at the mausoleum site. They perform Lalon’s musical poetry for people that assemble each evening. Four different singers were leads for the songs. Included was an older woman who is quite a famous performer. The last song was a duet that then finished by inviting me and then Deni to dance with the singers to the music. Lalon Shah was born in 1776. The Baul people who in the past were wandering minstrels more recently have focused around Lalon Shah’s mausoleum performing his poetry and music and smoking ganga. Basically they are early day hippies. We of course left a gratuity. That’s a major source of income for the performers. Twice a year there is a big Lalon festival surrounding the mausoleum with hundreds of people gathering to hear the many performers. US rock concerts certainly were nothing new.

We’ve got additional activities scheduled including visits to the homes of some of Alo’s relatives. We’re being hosted like royalty. We just hope we can offer enough in return to make it a valuable visit for Alo and her school.

Deni says:

As an independent American woman of a certain age, constantly being taken care of is driving me nuts. Everyone gets very upset if I choose to stand or walk any distance. I hear, “Oh Deni, no. Please sit down. Aren’t you tired of walking? Let’s take a rickshaw.” And then there is the strange little lady who “cleans” our apartment. She stares balefully at me as if I am supposed to give her some magical instructions in Bangla. She empties the garbage, takes a pass at the bathroom, and then just looks at me. And there is the lady we are told to call “sister” who waits to snatch our dirty dishes and “wash” them. Sometimes I need to do a second wash. She at least doesn’t stare at me but actually smiles. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining. Everyone is very friendly and wants us to have a good time. It’s just that I’m finding the cultural differences are very clear.

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