Bangladesh – Sunday, February 10, 2013 – Kushtia
The demonstrations are still going on each evening. Friday it was just a candlelight vigil with no megaphone. Last evening it was a small demonstration with an effigy of the convicted opposition leader being hanged. This evening the megaphone is back. On the street there’s an older man standing under a frame with a rope around his neck and a sign on his chest portraying the group’s desire to hang the opposition leader that was only given a life sentence for his role in the massacre of intellectuals on Black Night, December 14, 1971. I went out and took a picture. Three friendly young men in the demonstrating group wanted to talk with me. So I asked about the essence of their cause and we chatted about my being in Bangladesh. As always, they were very happy to talk with a foreigner.
Yesterday, Saturday, was a half day at the school. We played games with some of the kids out in the play yard and visited some of the classrooms where the kids were drawing or doing other lighter activities. Saturday is a supplemental day. After the kids went home at noon we had another session with the teachers. Deni led the session on English pronunciation. She worked with them on some of the consonants that don’t have matching sounds in Bangla. Her vehicle was Three Blind Mice which has all of the target sounds. She also added a tongue twister to the one I introduced in our first session. I led a session on classroom management highlighting what they might do when some of the kids finish an assignment and the remaining students are still working. They came up with quite a few suggestions. We’ll continue the teach sessions three days a week.
The megaphone plus an ambulance stuck in traffic right in front of the building plus the passing unmuffled three wheeled truck engines is quite deafening at the moment. It’s only late at night that we get some relative silence. It was nice to walk out closer to the edge of town this afternoon where the traffic din wasn’t so pronounced. Instead it’s the bird whistle calls that are used like bells on the bicycle rickshaws. You’d think sometimes there’s a whole aviary in the vicinity. But it’s just the rickshaws.
Yesterday afternoon after the teacher training we walked over to the ferry on the river and went to the isolated village on the other side. It’s a landlocked area where only a few motorbikes disturb the peace of pedestrians and bicycles. We walked along the river and then took the inland path threading past the farm family compounds. It’s a route I’d been on when here in September. My goal was to visit the family that had been so welcoming when I came by last time and for Deni to experience their hospitality. We weren’t disappointed. They welcomed us into their compound immediately. Limon, the young man who initially met me in September and the two young women who had invited me into their home last time gathered along with their families and various distant relations and friends from the surrounding homes. We were immediately offered chairs on their porch and a low table was brought out where snacks were served. They made us feel like honored royalty. One of the young men still had on his phone a picture of me from my September visit. Apparently “Bob” is quite famous in the immediate area. Deni was warmly welcomed. They really liked her exuberance. We were served green coconut milk and then the coconut meat. It’s quite sweet. We exchanged pictures, took pictures, and talked about our families. The older of the English speaking young women inquired of Jay, using his name. By the time we left after almost an hour there were at least fifty people gathered around us wanting to know more about us and to just experience being with a foreigner. We had a full entourage with us while walking to back to the ferry. At one point we had to pause so we could be greeted by a young man’s mother and daughter. They already knew all about us.
Limon needed to go into town so he went with us on the ferry. We saw him again after he’d gone on his errand. He’d had an appointment to see about his arm. He broke his arm in December and his father, a peanut farmer, didn’t have the money to send him to a hospital for treatment. Limon’s still having pain from the break. Medical care is a real issue here in the rural areas. During the visit we invited some of the older youth to come see us at SunUp school. We’ll probably go back across the river for another visit in a couple of weeks. It’s such a great experience to spend time with local people in their homes. They genuinely want to know all about us and are very welcoming. We could never get such a response for a drop-in visit in the US.
This morning Deni did some creative dramatics with two groups of the primary age children. Then at the end of their school day we had a planning session with the oldest students (13-year-olds) to determine what they’d like to do in after school sessions which we’ll start tomorrow. Some of the girls are heavily into the Twilight series. Some of the boys particularly like some science subjects. And some like sports. They all are interested in finding out about the US and some of the countries we have visited. We’ll also spend some time with them on getting information from the Internet. Their parents have cell phones. But only a couple of them have regular Internet access at home. None of them has their own cell phone. We’ll meet with them twice a week. It should be a lot of fun. We’re also working on plans to do reading aloud with the younger children. They’re all going to be speaking Yankee by the time we leave.
You may be wondering why I’m talking about school on Sunday. The weekdays are different here. Friday is the Muslim day of prayers. So there’s no school and some businesses are closed. Saturday is a half day of school. Then Sunday through Thursday are the regular full school days. It’s confused Deni a bit today. It’s been hard to think of the school day today as Sunday. Tomorrow I have a meeting at the end of the school day with the four teachers of the older children to see if we can’t expand their offerings of more engaging activities as part of their curriculum and not just teach to the test. Alo will be backing me up. It’s what she wants for her school. But I certainly expect some resistance from the teachers as an outsider coming in and telling them what to do. Of course I’ll be doing this as tactfully as possible with lots of feedback from them. But it will be a challenge.
We’re just back from a meal of Bengali Chinese food. That means add sugar and chilis. A small group of demonstrators is out in the main road painting slogans on the road. There’s periodic Indian music coming from radios across the street. And then there’s the regular honking and din of the traffic in the background. We can describe it and take pictures. But until you actually experience it it’s hard to imagine the density of the sights, sounds, smells, and humanity of Kushtia, Bangladesh.
This is Deni now:
Last night, Alo, Moni, Coop, and I went on an expedition to try to find me a traditional Bengali ensemble – a tunic-style top over pants with a scarf draped over one shoulder. I knew it would be difficult because the women here are so incredibly small. We could find nothing big enough in ready-to-wear, so we went to a store that has the material cut, but not sewn. We found a beautiful one, but even doing it that way it was clear it wasn’t going to work. So we all trooped across the street to the tailor. He and Alo muttered and measured and I think they decided they could make it work with some additional material. It made me feel just huge. I kept muttering, “at home I’m not considered much above average in size.” Anyway, it should be ready tomorrow. Hope it works – the material really is something special.
It was so funny to see the reaction of folks to Coop when went across the river. It was like the second coming!! When we appeared, Limon and a few family members were there. Before we knew it about 50 people of all ages had assembled. We got asked the usual questions – why did you come to Bangladesh, how long will you stay, do you like it here? Stuff like that. Then there was the question that we get in Africa and now here – what is your religion. When we say we don’t have one, people don’t know where to look. Then we’re asked what football team we support. Our lack of interest in this national obsession seems to cause even more shock than our lack of religion. On our walk this afternoon, one of the random people who shook hands with us on the street asked the religion question. I decided that I just wasn’t going to go there anymore. I explained that in our country we didn’t ask people about religious affiliation because that is a very personal thing and that I wasn’t going to answer the question. That seemed to satisfy the gentleman.
A word or two about our bathroom. Alo was very gracious and had a western-style toilet installed. And I do appreciate it. However, there is a little matter of where the water from the sink and the second sink in the other room goes – like on the floor! Yep, the pipes from both sinks empty onto the floor next to the toilet, which is built on a raised dais. There is a hole in the floor and the water is supposed to drain out there. But, the floor doesn’t slope enough, so you get standing water that refuses to go anyplace. This is a totally disgusting thing and a great place to breed mosquitoes. We both have many bites. Last night Alo had a mosquito net installed over our bed. That helps a lot.
Oh, well. That’s the way it is. That’s all for now.