I spent a fantastic 10 days in the south of France with my family and friends, my mum promptly bursting tears as I walked into our kitchen as a total surprise. It was the perfect break, the fresh air, relaxed atmosphere and deserted villages a complete antithesis to Dhaka. On my way and way back I realised how few women travel in muslim countries. Both in Dhaka and Dubai where I landed I was not allowed to wait in any lines, despite me attempting to and refusing to be taken out a few times before giving in, and whisked from the back of lines straight to the front. At one point I asked why I was being taken out, knowing that I was the only white person both in the line and then on the plane, but the answer I got was “we like to let women go first”, even though there was one more woman behind me with her husband. I was however thankful for this treatment at one point where I hadn’t managed to get a window seat (I get a little nervous) and seemed to be in the middle of a huge dispute of bangladeshi men about where on the plane to sit. The kindly steward motioned to me whether I wanted to move, and I was very grateful to then be sat at the front of the plane by a window for the rest of the flight. I got back into Dhaka on a Saturday, it actually feeling almost like I was coming home. It’s funny how quickly you get used to places, although it did take me a few days of nights with little sleep to get used to waking up early, the humidity and A/C, and noise again. However it has seriously cooled down and now there is even a breeze sometimes – running is much easier now and I’ve started sleeping without my A/C (although I still get frozen at the office).
I have some new and very interesting things to do at work revolving around researching restorative justice and looking at it from as many different angles as I can. Restorative justice, like many things, does not have one accepted definition but in my company’s capacity it is looking at how to deal with offenders of crime without the punishment aspect and prisons – to instead work with communities to attempt to repair the harm that has been caused both to the victim and offender. One of the ways of doing this is through community mediation – something I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post. I am working with a criminology masters student who recently started with the company and together we will be creating a presentation for the team on restorative justice and new ideas about it for Bangladesh and contribute perhaps a new understanding for everyone involved. Now I only have 2 and a half weeks left it’s quite a lot of pressure but I’m looking forward to it.
This week I’ve also started to attend Zumba, which is a lot of fun. We have also found a new tailor just around the corner from us and even though he is a little more pricey, I already have four new dresses that are really lovely. After giving him the fabric I bought, it was about 7 pounds to get a dress made the same as a dress I gave him to copy. He and three or four other men work into the night and I like walking past their little shop in the evenings and see all the sewing machines going. I will also be getting some pants made as he proudly stated he is a specialist in trousers. I managed to go to hash the day I arrived back and then also the next week which were both very fun, with more and more people each week as people arrive back from their summer holidays. We had a pot luck dinner this week at a friends where we were asked to bring something from our country. I whipped up some bubble and squeak the cheat way (as I did not have a roast the night before) but it went down really well. We took some wine and cheese I had brought back from France as the contribution from my french room mate. It was a very enjoyable night especially after learning most people where there were vegetarian so I could actually eat more or less everything! Not a common thing in Bangladesh.
We had a day off this week for “National Mourning Day” for the country’s founding father and president. Despite the name, there seemed to be celebrations going on and someone told me it was “party everywhere”. I was told that the day was also the birthday of someone worth celebrating but haven’t quite figured out if that was true or what the situation was. Either way, we had the day off from work so a nice long 3 day weekend. We went down to Old Dhaka with the aim of going on a boat ride. As soon as we arrived at the boat terminal, a very chatty man started walking with us an said he had a small boat to take us on. Usually we wouldn’t accept the offer of someone who had approached us but he spoke good english and we bartered a good price so we accepted. The boat was small and wooden and low to the water, sitting a little too left or right could have meant we got wet. We had decided on going out for an hour but had a small disaster 5 minutes after getting on the boat – my housemate’s shoulder popped out of its socket when she lifted up an oar to try to row the boat. It was as painful as it sounds, and it was a small nightmare from then on getting to land, getting her off the boat and finding the car (for her much more so than us!). It’s not really advisable to move at all when this kind of injury happens so she was in a lot of pain. Our chatty boat man Nur was brilliant all the way through, instructing people to pull the boat up, keep away from us so as not to knock us, instructing our driver how to find us and even pushing rickshaws and CNG’s out of the way to clear the road for our car. Just before we left I got his number hoping to go back. We had to go to the hospital in the north of the city, so it was an extremely painful hour-long ride on bumpy Dhaka roads for my housemate. She did well but I’ve never seen anyone in so much pain and didn’t know what to do – the only thing being instructing our driver to drive slower “ASTE!” and pointing out all the bumps and holes (which are difficult to see sometimes). Everything was sorted in the hospital, which, in complete contrast to the rest of Dhaka, was totally empty (even of doctors – they were on holiday) and she got some good drugs which made her happier. The shoulder is now in it’s rightful place.
We were invited to the Gaye Holud of the brother of the woman working at the charity I am involved in this week. As I described in a previous post in more detail, the holud – which means tumeric, is a traditional cultural bangladeshi ceremony before a wedding in which family and friends wipe tumeric paste on the bride and/or groom’s face to give them beauty before the big day. It was a much smaller affair than the other one I’d been to, partly as this was a seperate groom one which is more common. This meant it was much more intimate and both me and my housemate were also invited to wipe tumeric on the groom and feed him a morsel of something sweet. I borrowed a sari and was dressed and consequently made up by the family. We felt very welcomed and it was a lovely evening complete with biryani, the classic dish of Bangladesh, and dancing. There is some development on my work with the charity but nothing confirmed yet. The rent for the premises is going up and they will need to move soon as they cannot afford it. I am trying to get people to donate a total of £50 per month so they can keep the premises – it’s the perfect location, size and situation and it’s going to be really difficult to find somewhere else. I’m asking people to donate just £2 per month via this link. That’s one less pint.. per month! If 25 people do this they can keep their premises and continue to educate women and children too poor to attend school. Thanks in advance.
Pearls are much cheaper here than in Europe, so a friend showed me his favourite place to get some. He also showed me some antique shops full of brass and wooden knick knacks which I loved going around and have already been back browsing. Many of these have original boat parts in them, including propellers, spot lights, port holes, wheels/helms and everything else you can think of! They all have beautiful collections of compasses, I’m just trying to think of an excuse for me to get one. When ships are beached here it is free for all and everything is pulled out and sold in small antique shops. It is all so interesting I could spend much more time amid all the brass ornaments, trumpets, masks, carpets, jewelry and ship parts. There is also a lot of really beautiful furniture and art – if only I had the money and suitcase space! It’s all very cheap but getting it home would be a kerfuffle I can imagine. I am not yet fortunate enough to turn left on an airplane and have 40kg of luggage. Some day.
We had planned to go to Sonargaon on the last day of our weekend, the old capital of Bangladesh which apparently has some beautiful ruins and temples. But, after rumours of heavy traffic in and out of Dhaka of people coming back from visiting families for Eid (also because there have been many hartals this week), we decided against it. I instead went with some friends back to Old Dhaka and called Nur, the helpful boat man, to see if he could give us a ride on the boat. Instead of our agreed hour, we ended up spending the next 5 hours mostly on foot, climbing to the top of huge ships being done up, meeting kids in the slums, seeing the places people in the poorest parts of Dhaka live, having tea and paratha with locals, seeing schoolchildren in a slum school, learning where rickshaws are made and the artwork painted, and many more. Because we were bideshi, it seemed we could go anywhere we wanted and people were happy to see us, even when we stopped the men working on the boats and boat parts to ask them about what they were doing (with Nur’s help of course). The kids loved our visit, and spent most of the time running up to us, shaking our hands, and running away, one taking a particular liking to me and kissing my hand every time! The older ones were more confident and asked for pictures to be taken of them, which I was happy to oblige with. Bangladeshis mostly love getting their picture taken, and I was asked numerous times by both children and adults to take their photo during the day.
One of my favourite parts of the day was visiting the Hindu area of Dhaka in the middle of the Pavitra Ekadasi festival. It was like we walked into a different world – there were bands of trumpets and drums playing upbeat music not dissimilar to the samba style infront of small shops/stalls. Inside were many people and a display of the God with food laid out in front of them. Around each doorway/stall were many many people. I’m not sure why certain people were at certain stalls, as some were completely full- perhaps the music was better! Everyone was very happy and the roads were packed. Dhaka is colourful already – but this Hindu street seemed even more colourful and full of life. Everyone was certainly in celebration mode. Our boat owner-turned tour guide was just fantastic. He seemed to know exactly what tourists wanted to see, and went to any length to make it happen. We climbed up to the very top of a ship being done up, we went into the houses of one of the poorest parts of the slums, we stopped a fisherman mid catch on the water to see the fish, we went into a sculptors house and watched him sculpt, we tasted raw sugar cane snapped up from a branch, we tried our hand at some manual boat labour and so many more. He pointed out interesting buildings or views we wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. I ended the day hugely pleased and have passed his number onto expats in Dhaka so they too can have the experience.
Thursday will be my 2 week mark and it’s looming. There is so much to do before getting on that plane!