Sunday was SunUp school sports day. What a hoot. If you can imagine trying to organize 150 kids into relay races starting with 3 year olds you have a pretty good idea of what went on. Alo holds the annual sports day at the town stadium which has a big open grass field. Her staff had set up a covered viewing area with chairs for the parents. We were seated on sofas right in front. There were flags for flag raising and singing of the national anthem. Helium balloons were released. We led songs. Then the races began. Much organizing work had been done to get the kids grouped by size. They each had a letter A – J so groups could be called one at a time. The littlest ones had a foot race. The kindergarteners had to run and then pop a balloon. The little bit older kids had to run, bite a plum and hold it in their teeth, then run back to the finish line. There were sack races, marble in spoon races. The oldest kids had to balance a quart water bottle on their head and make it across the field. This was hotly contested by the 7th and 8th grade girls. But a seventh grade boy came in 1st in a real upset. The parents had races. The staff had races. Deni and I participated in both. Then there were prizes awarded for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place with consolation prizes going to everyone else. It had rained overnight and was threatening when we arrived. After all the kids were organized and ready to start a shower came through scattering everyone. But the rain soon subsided and the event proceeded. Just as we were leaving the rain started again in earnest and continued the rest of the day and all night. This is the dry season. The rain was not expected. But it did settle the dust.
For dinner we were invited to the home of Mowlee, one of the 7th grade students. She’s a longtime friend of Alo’s daughter, Maisha. We were served a good very traditional Bengali meal with rice, curries, and sweet yoghurt for dessert. After dinner Mowlee presented Deni with a beautiful brown and gold shalwar kameez. And Maisha and Mowlee danced for us. They have been studying native Bangladeshi dance since they were seven. Mowlee speaks good English. Her father is assistant registrar at Islamic University. He speaks halting English, her mother, not. Her father of course has a brother who lives in Michigan. There is a real brain drain of university educated Bengalis to the US. Every educated family we’ve spoken with has family members in the US. They win the annual lottery for a set number of immigration “diversity” visas. Of course only the most educated qualify for the lottery pool. The lottery pool for Bangladeshi’s must be larger than for Africans. I’ve only encountered one African who has gotten such a visa. Alo had her laptop with her and was Skyping with her youngest sister and brother-in-law in San Antonio. So we had a chance to talk with them. Alo had told them all about us. So they were anxious to speak with us. They provide some support to the school on a regular basis and are on the board. Next time we’re in Texas we’ll want to visit them.
Last night there were regular truckloads of singing and chanting young people escorting their goddess Saraswati statue to the river. Some trucks sported blasting megaphones adding to the cacophony. Once the escorts reach the river, they offer the statue to the river where the clay will dissolve and return to a natural state.
Because it was cool and rainy all day Sunday the building had not heated up. There is no central heating or space heating of any kind in Bangladesh. It was down into the upper 50’s overnight. So we had to bundle up and put on extra layers to stay warm. It was back into the 70s today with the sun appearing again.
Today, Monday, was another strike day. Starting about 10 am there were groups of chanting marchers brandishing sticks marching down the main streets. Then there would be trucks of protesters sporting a deafening megaphone go slowly by. There was even a group of protesters on motor bikes. Of course school was closed, buses weren’t running, banks were closed. We were using the down time to record pronunciation guides, word lists, dialogues, rhymes, and songs in the English language texts so the teachers would have audio of native English speakers teaching pronunciation. Then one of the blaring trucks would go by and we’d have to discard our current recording and start again. We made it through two and a half of the six grade level texts. We’ll complete the remainder of the recordings during the next couple of days. Alo can place the MP3 files on a flash drive. The speaker set she has will take a flash drive directly and play from it. So it will be easy for the teachers to use the recordings even without a computer in the classroom.
The main event of the day was the midday meal Alo prepared for us. I’ll let Deni describe it.
Alo continues in her mad plan to make us fat. Lunch was a wonderful feast – rice with many spices (biryani rice), prawns in a coconut curry sauce, marinated beef kabobs, chicken, beef in mango sauce, cucumber and carrot salad, and custard sauce over cubes of cake for dessert. A couple hours later she served tea and cookies. The woman has no shame. She seemed very sad when we told her not to worry about dinner for us tonight – we were way too full of all the good food she had prepared for our lunch. It took some doing, but we finally convinced her that we would not die of hunger if we skipped one meal.
Tonight we met with an English prof from the government university and the editor of the local English language newspaper. He is also the Kushtia correspondent for the large English language paper in Dhaka and has an important administrative position at the university. We talked about education, politics, movies, and the current political situation. It was a very interesting conversation.
Back to Bob:
Tomorrow will be a regular school day. We’ll be teaching and assisting in classes. I’m looking forward to getting our bean seeds planted in grade 6. For learning about plant fertilization I’ve started composting in a plastic water bottle. We should have some fun with the yucky stuff in that. There is no lack of cow manure in the streets. So we’ll have some additional natural fertilizer as well. After school we’ll have another session with the teachers working on English pronunciation and supplementing the curriculum for a more full understanding beyond the memorization required for the national exams. Deni will be working on doing some movement and reading with the younger students. It should be a fun day.