Today was the annual school picnic. Like all school picnics there were many games, prizes, a drawing, and food. Alo had spent the afternoon and evening the day before getting all the supplies together. First thing this morning four buses arrived at the school entrance. Staff and workers loaded firewood and huge cooking pots onto the top of one of the buses. School identification tags were pinned to all the students, parents, and teachers. After much jockeying of who was traveling in which bus we were loaded and set off out of town to the northwest, paralleling the river. The drive was about 45 minutes of incessant horn honking, darting around trucks and moving back into traffic just in time to avoid the oncoming buses and trucks. Bicycles and rickshaws don’t count – they just have to scatter to the edge of the road. There is no shoulder. We passed under an arching canopy of trees with farm fields and small villages extending to the sides in each direction. Rice transplanting is about done. The tobacco fields are nearing ripeness. I thought originally they might be grown up turmeric plants that I had seen when they were small in September. But no, they had to be tobacco, which I’ve never seen as a mature plant. The main clue was the fields were clustered around the British American Tobacco Company processing plant. It’s a fairly new crop for Bangladesh.
We crossed the main stem of the combined Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers on the fairly new Lalon Shah toll bridge of which everyone is very proud. Just on the other side of the river was the small park where we would be having the main picnic activities. Down near the entrance, the cooking crew started fires under the big pots and started mixing and cooking huge quantities of food for the group. In an open field the older boys and a couple of the men immediately set up a cricket pitch. We were only occasionally able to pry them away from their game for the most intense activities. (Deni comment: Of course, I immediately got hit on my inner right thigh by a cricket ball. Those suckers are hard, and it was really moving when it encountered me. A few inches to the left and up an inch or two and it could have been very unpleasant. But it was no big deal. It just served to illustrate why I’ve always felt the need to cover my head, crouch, and yell whenever balls are whizzing toward me – which makes me such a popular team member in any organized game involving balls.) There were circle games and contests for the students and the parents. We judged and helped award prizes. Almost all of the event directions and emceeing was in English. Even the littlest students were expected to be able to understand directions in English with maybe a little help occasionally in Bangla.
Later, prizes were awarded for the top finishers. For the main student games they all got a prize as they were eliminated from the circle game. The cooks boxed up the lunches and everyone was served a hot lunch of rice, vegetable curry, chicken and goat, and a drink. On the ride to the park, everyone had a snack type meal. It was clearly quite a feat to feed over 100 people a snack and a hot meal. I set an example by picking up trash that people left around the grounds and set up collection of the empty lunch boxes, but still there was trash left around in the outlying areas. Trash collection and anti-littering campaigns have not hit this area yet. There is daily early morning trash collection and street sweeping in town, but the collection is pretty rudimentary since there are no collection bins such as dumpsters or waste receptacles anywhere. It’s just sweeping the trash into a pile and dumping it into a truck.
After lunch and all the prizes had been awarded it was back in the buses to go to another park. (Deni Comment: This did not go without a hitch. Alo, Coop, and I had gone to the washroom as the buses were loading. Somehow messages got crossed, and the buses left without us! We were surprised, to say the least. I mean you don’t just drive off and leave the school principal and your two pet foreigners. After several cell conversations with the rest of the party, we hopped on an auto rickshaw and set out in pursuit of the group. We ended up taking a detour (?) on a narrow cobblestone road through a village market – luckily it wasn’t market day, so we weren’t delayed. Finally we arrived at the park and all was well.) The park is a private enterprise with extensive grounds with a large pond, a kid-sized railway, and tree lined areas in which to stroll. There are of course food concessions. But it’s not garish like an amusement park. Throughout the entire picnic time and at both parks, Deni and I were centers of attention. Many of the parents wanted pictures of us posing with their child. At the second park folks not in our group also wanted to pose with us. We’ve gotten pretty used to it and get lots of smiles and thank-yous. Deni is getting a bit weary of being on display. But that’s a part of our being here; it doesn’t bother me. We’re helping promote Alo’s school to the parents as they get to know us better.
One of the main differences from an American picnic was the dress. The mothers and female teachers were all in saris or shalwar kameez and several moms were in chador. Many of the fathers wore jeans and sport coats. There was one tie. Others wore casual shirts. The oldest girls wore some of their best clothes. Sisters Fatima and Jannac started the day in amazing matching outfits and then changed to another half-way through the event. Both outfits were stunning. The little girls were in their best dresses. Some of the young boys had their school uniforms on. At home we would most likely be dressed much more casually. Yet even with their good clothes on everyone ate the rice and curry lunch with their right hand sitting on a mat and didn’t get their clothes dirty. That’s quite a feat. (Deni comment: The whole eating without utensils is fraught with peril for me. I am notoriously prone to spilling when I eat. Imagine me trying to stuff rice with sauce into my mouth without covering myself with it from head to toe.)
No modem tonight since Alo Skype’s with her sister in San Antonio on Friday nights. So I’m posting using my phone hot spot. I can’t send pictures using that slow link. So they’ll have to wait. Slow link wouldn’t work. So it’s Sunday that I’m posting this.