Deni Goes to the Dentist
Well, once again I have experienced Bangladesh medical care. I was eating ice cream and for no earthly reason, one of my molars broke! So, yesterday, Alo, Moni, Coop, and I trekked off to their dentist. He put in a temporary filling – I’ll go to my dentist when I get home and have something more permanent done. It was kind of a scary procedure. I don’t know if it’s the language issue or if doctors here are just not into the whole informing-the-patient thing that our doctors seem to be getting better at. Anyway, there I was in the dental chair with this man, who so far had said only, “What’s wrong?,” getting out all sorts of implements and a needle. A needle!!!! I asked what was going on and Alo said he was going to do a filling. I stressed that it didn’t need to be a big deal (read that as no needles necessary) because it just had to last until I got home in a month. So, no shot of Novocain, thank goodness. He was very gentle and skilled. I’ve no idea what this cost – Alo and Moni paid for it because we are their guests. We explained we had insurance that would reimburse us. I even tried to use Alo’s excuse for every sweet thing she does for me. “If you don’t let me do this, I will feel shame.” I told her I would feel shame if she paid, but apparently her shame if I didn’t let her pay would far exceed my shame if I did. Bangladesh hospitality is beyond belief.
Yesterday was yet another strike day because a third verdict (death)came down in the trial of the opposition party leaders charged with war crimes in the liberation war (see earlier blog explanation). We didn’t see much in the way of demonstrations here in Kushtia, but around the country there was much violence with two policemen beaten to death in Dhaka and over thirty people killed throughout the country. Today is Friday (weekend) so Alo and Moni were planning on taking us to Mujibnagar, the home of Bangladesh’s first government-in-absentia during the liberation war. But given the current unrest, they cancelled the trip. Apparently some of the violence yesterday happened there. We’ve just learned that the strike will resume Sunday and run through Tuesday. This is very distressing to us because we have so few days left here – we are heading to Dhaka on Wednesday afternoon. I have a little play that class eight is scheduled to perform. We have the whole planting project to finish with classes six, seven, and eight. And we need some serious time with the students to say good-bye. I’d hate to think that the strike means we’d just sort of fade away. (Whenever Alo talks about our leaving SunUp, she gets teary.)
Last night we went to the home of the English teacher, Toton. He, his wife, their two lovely daughters, and two nieces and a nephew did a wonderful job of hosting us in typical Bengali fashion. We had a great conversation. Both Toton and his elder daughter speak very good English. She is a particular fan of Michele Obama. (We both agreed that her new hairstyle is great.) We had fun talking about the differences between our countries. We finally had to leave when Alo and Moni wore down. There has been a lot going on with the school this last week, so both of them are exhausted.
Oh – a couple observations: I’ve never seen people with more beautiful, lush hair than the Bangladeshis. Alo says that they shave the small children’s heads from time to time and this makes it grow in more thickly. It seems to work.
I’ve been interested to see the attractive eyewear that folks sport here. Very stylish. And even some men wear glasses with sparkly things on them. I also noticed that one of the male parents had the nails on one hand polished a very deep burgundy.
A crisis of epic proportions is fast approaching. Tomorrow I will run out of coffee. I’ve been enjoying fresh brewed coffee each morning even without cream. I have a dandy little travel fold-up thingie that allows me to do a cup at a time. Anyway, tomorrow the last of the coffee will be used up and then what do I do? This is a nation of tea drinkers. Real coffee just isn’t in the cards in Kushtia.
I’ll turn this over to Coop.
Tuesday morning was the visit by the Chairman of the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education for SW Bangladesh and his party. This was both an honor and a source of anxiety for Alo and the school. The Board has yes and no authority for operation of the school. Alo made the invitation last week because the Board had been hearing about SunUp and was curious about the school. First there was a meeting in which the chairman presented his position that Bangladesh students should learn to read and write Bangla well and learn about their culture and history in Bangla before learning English. Ultimately he did acknowledge that he is in favor of beginning English instruction at grade 1. The party visited some of the classes where the students answered his questions very competently in both Bangla and English. The comments he entered in the school guest book before departure were positive about the quality of SunUp education. So, though a bit shaken, everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Wednesday was a time for meeting important community groups that had invited us to visit them. First was the superintendant of police (police chief). We had met him at the badminton tournament and the handball competition that I reported on in earlier blog postings. We were invited to his residence, which is a large compound on the edge of town. We toured their flower gardens and saw their two cows, chickens, and the pigeons he raises. We spent at least a half hour with the superintendant. He has made a lot of improvements at the residence since he was promoted to the position a couple of years ago. He had a pond dug and used the dirt to fill in a low area to create a large vegetable garden. He produces enough vegetables for his household plus the small guard unit that works at the residence. He knew that I’m involved in agriculture and was excited to show us his gardens and animals. It was interesting to find out about his progressive enhancements to policing in this district. He has a force of 3,000+ assigned to 32 precincts throughout the entire Kushtia district (county). During the last few years, he has also served in UN peacekeeping forces in Liberia and Sudan. He was very impressed with the professionalism of the American officers he worked with in Liberia. He has applied some of that experience to improvements in his Kushtia forces. We appreciated his taking so much time from his busy day to host us at his home. He’s a very well educated and well traveled man who is a delight to talk with – and, as with all gardeners, he was happy to load us up with vegetables before we left.
We then went to the Government College. We were hosted by Ajoy who is on the English faculty and whose wife, Ratna, is a SunUp teacher. He is a very active SunUp supporter and a delightful young man. After a brief meeting with the English faculty, we visited a class of English literature students. They spanned grades 11 and 12 through the four years of college. Grades 11 and 12 for college bound students are held at the College rather than in high schools. We told the students about us and then answered their questions, which were all from men. Deni would have liked to hear from some of the women, but as is often the case here, they were silent. Most of the students use Facebook and some of them wanted to friend us, so we gave them our contact information. Afterward a couple of the women asked Deni if they could contact her via Facebook. She of course said yes and encouraged them to do so. After the student meeting, Ajoy introduced us to many of the faculty groups as we toured the campus and visited the various faculty offices. Every faculty group invited to join them for tea. We had to refuse or we would have been there all day and would have sloshed from all the liquid. SunUp classes were over by the time we got back to the school, so we missed one of the few days left to work with the students.
Wednesday evening we conducted a meeting with selected parents and some of the teachers. Alo had invited a few of the more active parents to give input on improvements they’d like to see at the school. Having observed many instances in various forums the speechifying that goes on and the domination of the conversation by some of the men, we suggested a brainstorming session. This was foreign to everyone, but it worked very well. I conducted the meeting and Deni recorded everything and added her comments. We ended up with over twenty very good immediate improvements that can be worked on plus about ten longer range improvements that can be future goals. (The suggested swimming pool was pretty much off the list.) Alo and Ajoy were impressed with how such a technique could be used for future parent meetings. One of the most exciting outcomes of the meeting was getting three parents to volunteer to work on fundraising to get toys and play items for the nursery and preschool classes. The school needs to expand their equipment beyond art supplies and games. Getting a parent group involved in collecting and fundraising could possibly be a model for more ambitious goals in the future if this first effort is successful.
After such a full day we were pretty beat and were looking forward to a normal teaching day on Thursday. But that was not to be.
Only one student came to school because of the strike, so there could be no classes. Instead, there was a teachers’ meeting to discuss how they could implement some of the improvements the parents had proposed. We were able to discuss seven of the 20+ suggested immediate improvements. We got three teachers to volunteer to work on an activity day program, which was one of the requested improvements. We’ll have to keep in close contact with Alo and the school to learn of the results of such proposed changes.
Friday is the Muslim weekend. There was no school and most businesses weare closed. We had a wonderful dinner at Alo and Moni’s house. They had two musicians come entertain us – keyboard, guitar, and vocals.
On our way to Alo’s for dinner, we noticed many police in riot gear. They were out breaking up any group that had more than four people. The chief is doing everything he can to make sure all stays calm here. We’re not really worried about Kushtia – the police chief makes every attempt to keep things under control and to not provoke groups to react. In addition to all the strike related stuff going on, he’s in the middle of preparations for a contingent of Indians coming to the Rabindranath Tagore estate this next week for a large annual celebration.
This is activity half-day at SunUp. It was also the day guardians (parents) were invited to come to workshops here taught by staff from the district department of education. Deni rehearsed her play with grade eight and I joined the music sessions. Alo has just hired a local musician who performs and teaches guitar. He was here for the music sessions today. The guitar provides a solid rhythmic background behind the harmonium.
After noon we joined the weekly get together of some of the intelligentsia here in Kushtia. There were journalists, bankers, educators, doctors, lawyers, a famous musician. The session was held in a shady area near the river. We really enjoyed talking with some of the folks particularly the editor of the Kushtia English language newspaper. We’ve met him a number of times. He’s a strong supporter of SunUp school. This was our first chance to really talk with him, and we found him to be quite a kindred soul. We’ve been invited to join a session of the medical training class that a couple of the doctors teach. It will be a chance to again talk with university level students. One doctor is Moni’s brother. The other doctor is his brother’s wife. In Moni’s family there are 72 doctors with a son just completing his training to bring the total to 73. Of course the extended families are large.
Late in the afternoon we took classes six, seven, and eight to a farm to see in practice what they’ve been studying in science and agriculture. It was a wonderful place – a research facility where they are doing hybridization and working on increasing production. The students were very interested to see the workers carefully pollinating tomato plants by hand. There was a huge “Ohhh!!” when a worker dug up a hill of potatoes. It surprised and delighted them. We tend to think of Bangladesh as being such an agricultural place. But these are city kids, so a lot of this was new to them.
Bob and Deni