This week has been very busy. We had a nice dinner at a colleagues house where we had a “fusion” of Nepali and Bangladeshi food and some interesting talks about religion and spirituality. I had the absolute honour to meet a senior criminal law through a very lucky connection one evening, and we had a really good chat over some very strong tea about law, politics in Bangladesh, the cases he’s won and my aims for the future. He kindly offered to take me to a case he’s finishing in August some time – one that I think I understood as the biggest ever, with (if I can remember correctly) around 800 offenders being charged in one case and over 1000 witnesses. Unfortunately the Supreme Court closes soon and there’s not enough time to take me to see that before it closes, but the offer was there and much appreciated.
I had an extremely bizarre moment after work this week. We were heading to the silk shop near our house and we greeted by a group of glitzy transvestites at the bottom of the stairs. One decided to follow us asking for bokshish, which is like change/tip and saying “I’m gay, I’m gay”. Homosexuality is illegal here and so I originally thought they were trying to collect for a Gay Rights group here that I know about as I support on facebook. But, as we got to the top of the stairs he/she became more demanding and we were greeted by a angry group of at least 10 other transvestites, who formed a wall to the shop. The shop keepers behind them were clearly distressed but didn’t really know what to do. I pushed my way through as I was in front of the first one, and got into the shop, after being touched far too much for my liking as I pushed through the crowd. My two housemates weren’t so lucky and were blocked by the very broad transvestite who followed us up, and couldn’t get through so started retreating. When I came out the shopkeepers started to help and hold the others back. In the end, we got in, and after a lot of yelling between the shop keepers and group, they left, probably forcibly by the sound of it. We were certainly not expecting to be surrounded by a group of now apparent large prostitute transvestites, but it was an experience.
I had dinner with 3 hashers on Wednesday at a decent Chinese restaurant. We got 3000 taka off (25 pounds) our meal from our win at the pub quiz a few weeks ago so we had a really decent meal for cheap. It was a really fun evening between trying to name 25 capitals beginning with B (we did it, no thanks to me) and eating huge amount of chinese food. I also learnt that you can bring your own alcohol to many restaurants here as it’s not served – felt a little embarrassed I didn’t know that as my 3 dinner-mates all bought a couple bottles of wine each., but it was enough!
Thursday night we had our first party – a goodbye to one housemate and a welcome to another. It started slow but our initial worries that no one would turn up seemed ridiculous by about 1am when I could barely get through my flat. Granted, I did not know most of the people but it seems as if word spreads in Bangladesh when there’s a party, especially an expat party with inevitable alcohol available. As a result the alcohol we supplied ran out fast, but the party still didn’t really finish until about 7am when my last housemate went to bed. I retreated a little earlier, around 5am, after a good amount of dancing. Luckily there were no problems at all despite there being so many people I didn’t know. I was even asked “do you know who lives here?” a couple times.
Friday was hash again – but this time it was a country hash outside of Dhaka. In total it was probably just over an hour above Dhaka so very rural. The hash was one of the most chaotic I’ve been on – I think due to both some inexperienced “hareing” (lead hasher) and the rain washing away some of the paper the hares had put down in the morning. From my experience last week I was over-careful not to fall again and live up to my new name, but this was much harder than usual. It was very wet and muddy everywhere and while I did the run, we had to walk many parts so as not to fall over. A lot of it seemed to be on thin mud banks between paddy fields which was beautiful but I ended up staring at my feet most of the run trying not to slip in the mud or trip on the uneven ground. When I looked up at the checkpoints it was really beautiful, the water forming a mirror in the paddy fields and the sky turning an orange colour as the sun set. It was one of my favourite runs despite the chaos, mostly because I actually completed the whole run with no trouble but secondly because it was really stunning.
I had been excited all week about my Saturday plans. I was going to visit Meider Jono Asha, the charity I had come across on the internet via the founder’s blog, and contacted to see if I could help in any way. The plan was to spend the whole day there meeting everyone involved and taking pictures of the products from the craft centre to put them online for sale. The charity started as providing basic literacy training and education to women living in the slums, and now boasts a Next Steps Asha training centre, where the women make crafts from fabric and saris. This group and the products are called Hope for Life, and all the money donated and raised from the crafts goes directly to maintaining the education centres, paying wages to the craft girls, and to the provision of medical help and support where it is needed (for instance during and after a birth of a child). There is a literacy training for women every week, Student Support and Mohiller Shustho, emergency medical funding and aid to those in the slums. The charity also has Rainbow Asha Playgroup where young children of the workers are looked after and fed and given early education. In the afternoons there are school classes in basic education and English for older (8-11 years old) children from the surrounding slums who are too poor to go to school. Many children do not go to school here because their parents cannot afford it – it’s 300/400 taka per month for the fees (3 pounds) but a lot more with books, food and uniform. It would only be about 2000 taka per month (15 pounds) but not many can afford that here.
I am reasonably happy with the photos I took but it was harder than I thought it was going to be as the light was very bad in the apartment so I went up to the roof to shoot. It’s been raining a lot recently and many time we only managed to get a few shots before it started tipping again. My housemates were a huge help in this, helping me bring all the products up to the roof and back again, giving opinions about ways to shoot, and holding the umbrella above my camera and the products. I have now created the online shop and a facebook page for the Hope for Life group, both of which will be launched in a couple weeks when they are finalised. I am also looking into selling the products locally. They are all really beautiful with many intricately embroidered, and handmade by women in the craft centre, and funds all the projects the charity runs. I’m looking forward to sharing the pictures and shop with everyone and starting marketing it.
The woman who showed me around the charity and spent the whole day with me had known the founder (who now lives in the UK) since she was 9. Now 25, she had an adorable daughter and another child on the way. I met all her family and her 14 year old sister gave us henna mindi – she was very talented at it. Her whole family is involved in the charity – from her aunt who lives in and runs the daycare, to her mother who lives in and runs the craft centre. I was invited to spend iftar with her family later in the evening, so I spent some time talking to her sister who spoke very good English and was clearly a very smart girl. At 14 she was also fasting! They start around 10 years old. She was cooking most of the iftar food and showed me how. She said that she loved cooking and you could tell – afterwards we watched some cooking shows together. The food she made was really delicious and I was really happy to share it with them.
We went for a restaurant Iftar on Sunday at an Indian/Bengali restaurant that we like as we’d been putting it off as a flat. Iftar is the breaking of the fast at Ramadan, every day at around 6.50pm (it changes according to sunset). Not that we were fasting, but iftar food which is called iftari looks really delicious and a lot of it is vegetarian! We had bought some iftari off the street during the week after work which were deep fried aubergine, deep fried pakora (much like a bhaji but with other vegetables) and behaju (no idea how it’s spelt) which is some kind of deep fried potato ball with lots of spices and onions. There was more variety at the restaurant though, like prawn cakes, aloo naan, spring rolls, chola (a chickpea dish) as well as pakora. After getting our food we went to sit down and the only other person in there was a man sitting alone, his water and food at the ready. We were alerted it was time to eat when a server came running in shouting now! aste aste!
We finally picked up our clothes from the tailor after he messed us about it and were a bit disappointed with the work. He had forgotten some things, and made things too small for me. We won’t go back. Tonight we took advantage of the cheap price of massages at the Nordic club as it’s summer and most people are away, then met some friends for dinner at a North Korean restaurant – something we were all very curious about. It was one of the most bizarre dinners I had ever experienced – during our koreon food which was very nice (kimchi, rice bowls, seafood pancake and others) the all-female servers, in between refilling our water and bringing us food, performed some songs and acts – the first being an all girl rockband, the second a whiney love song, then a very strange act where two of them dressed up and pranced around a bit with a fan, then the same love song again but this time played on the piano with a violin accompaniment. They wouldn’t allow pictures which was extremely disappointing considering the ridiculousness of it all. Anyway it was an enjoyable evening with a now good group of friends.