Today is a special day in Bangladesh. We marched with the school children, teachers, and parents to the memorial to the restoration of the Bangla language under the Pakistans. The date, February 21, represents the day in 1952 when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bangla, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were shot and killed by police in Dhaka. Urdu was proclaimed the only official language by West Pakistan in 1948. It wasn’t until 1956 after much unrest that Bangla was proclaimed an equal official language of the Pakistans. International Mother Language Day was declared an international day of recognition by UNESCO in 1999.
There was a concert last night at the memorial showcasing songs celebrating Bangla and Bangladesh. One of our students, Mowlee, was one of the singers. During the concert Alo and Deni traveled across town to purchase a sari for Deni to wear today. The traditional clothing for the celebration is black and white. So Deni needed such an outfit. Alo and Deni made it back for the last song. Then we headed home. We then spent about an hour watching an incomprehensible – very comedia del arte.
This morning before the march, Alo helped Deni fit and wrap her sari. It’s quite a process requiring many safety pins. Once properly attired we joined the students, teachers, and parents who were gathered to be outfitted with a large banner, headbands celebrating Feb 21, and Bangla letters and flags to hold up high. At the front of the procession was a large floral wreath. We marched through town to the memorial where there was a huge crowd of other groups doing the same thing. Some of the school groups numbered in the many hundreds. Once we worked our way to the beginning of the line, we climbed the stairs and placed the floral wreath and flower bouquets on the memorial. Each group was announced as they ascended the memorial. Deni and I were mentioned by name in the SunUp school announcement. Of course there were many students from other groups who wanted to greet us and take our picture. The night before at the concert we were seated in front row honorary seats and photographed extensively. We’ve taught Alo the word “paparazzi” so we can share comments on the phenomenon.
Tuesday and Wednesday were regular school days. We started the seed planting project with the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. They’re all excited about the activity. Deni read stories in some of the middle grade classes. They’ve been clamoring for her to come. Tuesday at 5pm was our regular session with the oldest students. We looked at pictures of the meteor that hit in Russia and used Google street view to look at a student’s former house in England and our family houses in the US. Then Deni started a progressive story that each student contributes to in turn. We’ve got a girl and a green monster. Next meeting we’ll add chapter two. At the end of the session, Deni did a run through with the 8th graders for the play they’ve started working on, “The Three Wishes.” It’s a simple story but they all like it. They’ll present it to the school before we go. We’re already having to think of how we’re going to fit in the activities we’d like to do before we leave. We’ve only got two weeks left.
Yesterday the English teacher was absent so I took over the first period English with the 6th graders. We had a good time doing their assigned exercises with the added fun of pronunciation work. As we would expect, the kids are much quicker at improving their pronunciation than are the teachers. Our late afternoon meeting was with the teachers. Deni continued working with them on pronunciation. Alo was scheduled to join us so we could present some of our observations and discuss them with the teachers. We’ll have to do it at the next meeting because Alo was in Jessore all day filling out the paperwork for the 5th and 8th grade students to take their national exam at the end of the school year. She also got the results of last year’s tests. Six of the nine 5th graders last year were in the top twenty of regional students so are receiving scholarships for 6th through 10th grade schooling. That’s a big deal since SunUp is a private school with tuition fees for the students. And it’s a great accomplishment to have so many students of the school score so high.
Tuesday night we were treated to a private concert by a musicology professor at Islamic University who sings Lalon Shah and Rabindranath Tagore songs as well as his own compositions. He’s also translated some of the Lolon Shah songs into English. We had a good time sharing about music. Deni and I each sang a song or two. We’re getting lots of music on this trip. This is such a musical area. Sometimes I wish it weren’t quite so. Last night trying to go to sleep at 11pm was difficult with Bangla music blasting from the apartment across the road. The festivities for February 21st started early.
Preparations for February 21st seem to have diverted attention away from strikes and demonstrations for a few days. There haven’t been any demonstrators marching up and down since Monday. Activity at the flower shop across the intersection has been brisk. They were open at 7am this morning for us to get our bouquets to take to the memorial. The weather’s warm with a light breeze to clear some of the dust and smoke out of the air today. Activity is brisk in the street in front with all the noises of the traffic. I particularly like the bird tweets of the auto rickshaws. Deni’s cough is continuing to get better. The food is good with all kinds of variety. The kids are so much fun to work with. And Alo and Moni are providing experiences we simply couldn’t get as tourists. Everyone we meet makes us feel welcome and honored. We have to keep our smile on our face. But that’s not hard when we’re being treated so well here. We know they’ll want us to come back. I’ve met again the cooperative leaders that I worked with when I was here in September. They were happy to see us.
The Country Director of the NGO I work with is still asking me to consider coming to Dhaka for 2 or 3 or 6 or 12 months to teach agriculture at the university. One volunteer has already committed to teaching a year. SunUp school is a better fit for us. Deni and I can both be helpful and contribute from our experiences. She wouldn’t be part of teaching university level agriculture. The NGO is doing pilot assignments in Myanmar (Burma) now. The Country Director tells me he will work on getting me there sometime in the near future. There are lots more places to explore. Myanmar was on our early list for this trip. But there just isn’t time. We may get there yet.