Women’s handball is a sport we’d never seen before. But now we have and we can describe it to you. It’s ultimate Frisbee using a ball a bit smaller than a vollyball. But because a ball is used, there’s also dribbling with one hand allowed. It’s played on a sandy field. It’s pretty rough and tumble – the players get knocked down a lot. And they get dirty. This is no game played wearing a sari or chador. It’s competitive sport. Saturday was the start of the three day tournament at the Kushtia sports stadium. Moni is on the athletics board, so he was right in the middle of organizing it. And of course we got special guest seats next to the District Sports Commissioner, the Kushtia Police Chief, and the District Commissioner, which is the highest political office in the district. We had met The Police Chief and the District Sports Commissioner previously at the badminton tournament.
We watched the first two matches. While watching the first match some of the players from another team were seated at our feet. They were very interested in us. We greeted them, and they immediately wanted pictures. That caused a minor uproar because each one wanted to have her picture taken seated between us. There were spectators seated behind us who couldn’t see the match while this was going on. We got it calmed down and then watched our new friends win their match. Of course, the girls wanted a group picture. Later we were pleased to hear that “our” team would be in the final match on Monday. More about that later. Before leaving the field, we were asked to come into the sports association office there at the stadium for “tea” with the District Commissioner. A snack was served to the small group of us seated around. At one point I exchanged cards with the District Commissioner. He commented on my farming activity listed on my card since he was trained in agriculture, they have a couple cows and his wife, who was also there, is an avid gardener. Deni finds it a bit strange to be feted as foreign guests. It is part of the super hospitality we’ve experienced everywhere here.
We have been receiving numerous dinner invitations from students’ families. Saturday we had dinner at Mathila’s home and Sunday it was Aungti’s home. These are families that strongly support the school, so it was important that we accept the invitations. Mathila’s mother prepared an extensive dinner with a large variety of dishes. We could only sample the various items there was so much food. In addition she sent home with us some of a sweet that we liked a lot. Mathila, in 4th grade, speaks good English. She’s a close friend of Maisha and lives just down the street from Maisha, Alo, and Moni. Mathila’s parents don’t speak English. We chatted with Mathila and found out about some of her interests. It was good for her parents to see their daughter speaking English well with foreigners. It helps the parents’ confidence in what their student is learning at SunUp. It’s great PR for Alo. We took one of our tablets along that has our family pictures on it so we could show them. And of course the visit ended with picture taking all around.
Aungti’s father speaks a fair amount of English, so it was easier to communicate at their house. We’d already met Aungti’s parents because they are the parents of the groom in the wedding celebration we attended earlier. At the celebration, Aungti’s father had been very solicitous and made sure we participated in the activities. Aungti’s family is upper class; her father is an engineer and the family owns a hotel. They have a very nice apartment. It is of course smaller than our homes in the US, but that’s true of all the homes here. Dinner was more traditional dishes with copious quantities. It was all very good. At Aungti’s home we were able to share our pictures, and they shared videos first of Aungti and Maisha when they performed traditional Bengali dances on TV three years ago. Then they showed videos of Aungti’s mother’s younger brother’s wedding. He lives in London working as a chartered accountant. The bride lives in Ottawa and is an architect. They met via Facebook and will settle in Canada because the bride has residency. Aungti’s parents gave us a gift of a hand embroidered bedspread and pillow sham set. This is a very traditional gift in the traditional red colors. The school supporters are really showing their appreciation for our time and efforts here. Moni was starting to fall asleep after a long day helping at the handball tournament, so we had to leave.
Sunday would normally have been a school day, but another strike was called. This is the fourth school day that’s been lost to strikes while we’ve been here. During past strike days there had been demonstrating groups marching around town all day. Yesterday there was one group marching up and down for awhile and a small gathering for a short time at our intersection. That was all. I expected more since four anti-Islamist bloggers had been killed by the police by Islamists a couple of days earlier. But maybe Kushtia is getting a little tired of the demonstrations. There was no garbage pickup; no buses were running; there was no school at SunUp. That was about it. In the early afternoon, we were able to have a meeting with the teachers in which we discussed our observations and talked about what might be done to address a couple of issues that we mentioned. We of course praised the many successes they have at the school. This last week there were the six regional scholarship winners. On top of that there was an announcement on Friday that one of the SunUp students had won a regional quiz competition and received a $1,000 prize. That’s a big deal for a student anywhere. These are both high honors for SunUp school and the many bright students here.
Finally today we had a normal school day. I’d been tending and watering the class 6, 7, and 8 bean seed pots during the days of no regular school. Today we were able to explore the results so far of the bean growing project. Six of the 20 or so pots had already sprouted beans poking up. Some were not looking so good because the soil was too high in clay content. So we dumped the non-sprouting ones out and looked at what was happening. After mixing some more sand in with the soil we repotted the laggards to everyone’s satisfaction. In the lessons accompanying the project, I’m choosing topics that tie in about soils, fertility, etc. The kids are really responding positively.
This afternoon was the handball tournament final. The “our” team which is from surrounding villages was playing a Kushtia town team. Unfortunately, we were out matched, losing with a 0-8 final score. After the match, there were the speeches by the sports association representatives, the District Commissioner, and the local ruling party leader. The last of the speeches was presented with much passion. The players had to stand during all the speeches. Finally, there was the awarding of first and second place medals and cups. Then gifts were given to the attending celebrities and the sports association organizing committee members. And then we were each presented a gift as honored foreign guests. The teams had pictures taken. “Our” team wanted more pictures with us. They really liked our support. There was a final “tea” with the group surrounding the District Commissioner and the party leader. Then it was back home to recoup.
We only have eight days left in Kushtia before Alo takes us to Dhaka for three days before we leave for Bangkok. So we’re really having to pack in the activities. We still need to schedule a field trip to a farm just out of town for the 7th and 8th graders. Tomorrow the head of the regional school commission will be visiting the school for an inspection visit. This is an honor for SunUp school because the commission head doesn’t usually leave his office for the inspections. So Deni and I will be putting our best foot forward as supporters of the school. Tonight we’ll be eating Chinese on our own so Alo can prepare for the visit. That also means we can finish eating before 10pm. We’re finding it difficult to eat such large evening meals at 9 or 10pm. Alo has been scheduling dinners around 8:30pm as a compromise to help us on this one.