Bangladesh – February 11, 2013 – Kushtia
Today we had lots of activity at the school. We negotiated with Alo about reading aloud to the children from some of the books we brought with us. We decided to read to fourth and seventh graders. So we were sitting on our balcony evaluating the few books we have to decide which would be appropriate for the two classes. We had the books spread out on the table. Some of the kids came out of class from one of the classrooms down the hall. First it was a few boys. They eagerly picked up some of the books and started reading them to each other. A bit later some of the older girls came by. They also wanted to read some books. We then had a chance to talk with the kids about their reaction to the books; whether they liked them or not. They are universally eager to read recreational books. Some of them have books at home in Bangla. But they don’t have English books. We’ve just got to find a way to get English books appropriate to their culture and interests into their hands. The older girls have seen the Twilight series and are very interested in it. We had no idea they had such close contact with American movies and series. This is very different from Africa where they have little exposure to American entertainment. Of course Hindi movies from Bollywood are very popular here. Many understand Hindi since it’s a closely related language. They just can’t read Hindi because the Devanagari script is considerably different from the Bengali script (letters). And surprisingly, here in Bangladesh they don’t use subtitles on American movies and series. Folks develop enough understanding of English to watch the movies. But speaking English is more difficult since they don’t have the chance for practicing conversation. That’s what we’re addressing here at the school and why we are regularly stopped on the street by people who want to practice their English. We really are the only game in town right now. We’ve seen no other Westerners in the week we’ve been here.
On the way to dinner at Alo’s home we picked up Deni’s new sari that Alo has given her. It’s a gorgeous grey with a sparkly gold swirling pattern and coral highlights. There’s the tunic, trousers, and matching scarf. She’s looking forward to wearing it to special events. Alo will be getting Deni a more traditional Indian sari to wear at a special school function on the 21st. Dinner was in Alo’s second and third floor flat. The upper floor is half roof terrace where there’s a view of the street and surrounding neighborhood. We were treated to our dinner with Alo and daughter Maisha. Moni, her husband, is in Dhaka for three days. Maisha is a very bright and outgoing young lady. She’s ten and in seventh grade with 13 year olds. She fits right in. She’s quite a conversationalist and very open with us. A few of the kids don’t quite know what to think of us. Not, Maisha. This morning I joined Alo to greet the children arriving at school. Some of the little ones didn’t know what to make of me. But the older ones are starting to feel comfortable with us around. Some of them greet us by name quite enthusiastically. We’re starting to see some of them as we walk around town now. Within just one week we’re beginning to feel more at home. Five weeks is definitely a longer term commitment. We’re gradually finding ways to be useful at the school and find our place.
At five today we had our first hour long session with a group of the older children. We showed an expanded slideshow of our family and activities and talked a bit about some differences and similarities between America and Bangladesh. Then we got some feedback from the kids on their families and activities. Predictably there are the students who read and watch TV in their leisure time. And there are some of the boys that play video games. Many play sports. In order of popularity they are: cricket, soccer, badminton, and volleyball. We’ve seen cricket being played in many open fields around town. The boys are attempting to help us understand the rules of the game. So far it’s an uphill battle. This evening we saw a rooftop badminton court in use. We had no idea badminton was taken seriously as a sport anywhere. The kids would like to play it at recess. But they don’t have a shuttlecock or room for a court at the school. Walking back from dinner I noticed a game of chess in progress at one of the shops. Carom is quite popular at school among the older girls. On Wednesday at our next after hours session we’ll take the kids on a pictoral East African safari. And I’ve asked one of the boys who has spent all but the last two years in Saudi Arabia to show us some pictures and tell us a bit about it. Two of the boys have spent time in both East and West India. We’ll be asking them to share their experiences also. It’s amazing to us that the teachers haven’t promoted sharing of such experiences in their classrooms. In addition there’s the issue of the students who either have excellent or minimal English proficiency. A few of the kids are hungry for people to listen to them and talk with them in English. A few others won’t volunteer a word. The national school curriculum is geared for reading proficiency. Alo is trying hard to have the teachers go beyond that and foster good speaking ability. The relationship between teachers and students is very formal. In our after hours sessions we’re trying to make it a more American experience while emphasizing they must keep the formality during regular school sessions. Students stand whenever a teacher enters the room. Deni likens it to tissues popping out from a tissue box. Sometimes it’s so startling it makes Deni jump. The students also wait for the teacher to leave the room before they leave. In the afterhours session we ask them to violate the rule. They are still a bit baffled by us on such things.