Sunday and Monday were supposed to be our last two days with the students. Instead, they were more strike days. We’ve lost seven or eight school days to national strikes during the month we’ve been here. Over 50 rioters and three or four police have been killed. The worst day, there were 23 people killed. We were scheduled to travel to Dhaka on Tuesday, but that wasn’t possible because no buses run on strike days. I guess it’s good that I had mis-remembered our departure date. We’re leaving for Bangkok on Sunday, not Saturday as I had been thinking all along. It’s a good thing we have all the details of our schedule written down. It would be good if I’d check it a bit more often. Anyway, the delay has worked out OK. Our only worry was that more strike days would be called and we couldn’t get to Dhaka. But we’re here now.
Tuesday we spent going to student’s homes for lunch, tea, and visits. One student, Jitesh lives in the oldest house in Kushtia. It was built by his great-grandfather. I’ll let Deni say a few words about the spectacular. [Deni] I just loved Jitesh’s home. You know how crazy I am about antiques. Well, his home is full of amazing beds and wardrobes and built-ins that were built when the house was new! And the tile work is so beautiful. It blows me away that someone can live in a place with so much family history. Their family distributes for Unilever and the ground floor is taken up with products ready for distribution. The two upper floors look down on all the business activity in the courtyard. The family includes about 40 people – grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, siblings. We were so happy that Jitesh’s family was willing to share their amazing home with us. It was a memorable experience.
[Bob]Tuesday night we had dinner at one of the teacher’s home. Her husband, Ajoy, is a university English professor. He is a strong supporter of the school and has been very helpful in the meetings we’ve had with parents and teachers. One day we had a meeting with the teachers in which we discussed the remaining items the parents had wanted as immediate improvements. That was a good meeting and I got some of them to volunteer to make the improvements happen. During the days we finished recording the songs, rhymes, and stories in the 7th and 8th grade English books. Then we recorded 39 children’s songs. Alo has photocopied the words and music. Now she also has recordings of us singing the songs. Tuesday night was a parents’ meeting. We spoke briefly at that. Then there was an after program with four 7th grade girls doing a couple of traditional Bengali dances, a boy playing the tabla and singing, and Deni’s 8th graders performing a short play, The Three Wishes. They did a good job and enjoyed it.
Wednesday morning most of the children came to school an hour early to say goodbye to us. We had to catch the 8:30 a.m. bus to Dhaka, so we didn’t have much time. The kids wanted our signatures in their copy books. Many of them also wanted our email address. One of the 8th graders is already a Facebook friend of both of us. We sang a couple of our songs that we’ve taught them and said goodbye. Deni and Alo cried. We received small gifts from some of the students and the teachers. Toton, the upper grade English teacher gave me a big hug. Then we had to wave goodbye and take a rickshaw to our bus. It was a bitter sweet parting. We’ve gotten to know a lot of the students and many adults with the school and in the community. They’d like us to come back. But right now we need to move on to the second part of our trip and then return home.
In Dhaka we went to our hotel that Alo had reserved for us. It’s the nicest one in this area of Dhaka. All of a sudden we are in an environment of full services, A/C, hot water, wired Internet, and a spacious hotel suite. The restaurant here at the hotel is quite good. Thursday was another strike day. So again we were afraid we’d be stuck not being able to go out. But Alo and Moni started us on a round of visiting all their relatives here in Dhaka. Alo grew up in Dhaka and quite a few of Moni’s relatives are here also, though he grew up in Kushtia. We’ve had lunch and dinners at relatives’ homes. There are engineers, development specialists, and teachers in both their families. One of Alo’s brothers-in-law got his engineering degrees in Moscow. In the 1980s the Soviets gave scholarships for university study to top students in Bangladesh and some of the African countries we’ve been in. Here in Dhaka there is a Russian Club of former Russian university students who meet regularly and keep up their Russian. The teenager in the family, Pulak, is a musician. He plays keyboard, guitar, and sings in a local rock band. We had a great time exploring the keyboard together. He was in a children’s theater group that went to Moscow recently on a two week trip to participate in an international competition. That was his first trip abroad and he loved it.
Friday we went to the Moghul era (16th – 18th century) capital on the outskirts of Dhaka. We all supposed that since it was Friday, the weekend in Muslim countries, that traffic would be light. But because of four strike days having occurred during the week, people had to do postponed business. Even the banks were open. The result was a mammoth traffic jam. It took us two and a half hours to make it through a two mile section of the route both going and coming. So we were pretty beat by the end of the day. Before dinner we did manage a shopping trip to one of the Aarong stores. They are the premier place to get quality goods, many of which are handcrafted. The stores are owned and operated by BRAC, the largest NGO in the world. I got a panjabi and Deni picked up a few gift items. That evening we hosted a dinner at the hotel for some of Alo’s extended family.
Saturday we were able to tour quite a few sites in Dhaka: the Red Fort, the Star Mosque, a Hindu temple, the Pink Palace, and a Shia mosque. We spent some time wandering and browsing in the narrow winding streets of Old Dhaka. If you have an image of an older, crowded section of Calcutta, then you have a good picture of old Dhaka.
That night we have a last dinner with Alo, Moni, and Khaled, a strong supporter of the school. We had met him and his charming nine year old daughter on Wednesday evening. Khaled is the managing director of three garment factories employing 7,000 workers here in Dhaka. He’s built this business over the last 10 years. He regularly travels to the US to meet with buyers and buyers come here. Khaled has already taken his daughter for a two week trip to the US where they were on the East Coast and at Disney World. She is truly bilingual speaking unaccented English as well as Bangla.
Today (3/10) we flew to Bangkok for the second phase of our trip. We’ll spend two days in Bangkok. Then we go to Angkor Watt in Cambodia. We’ll post more soon.