Ancient Guava Monsoon

Last week I finally met with the owner of a beautiful nearby cafe and Japanese restaurant. I was hoping to propose to him that he housed some Hope for Life products so we could sell locally as well as online and in the UK. It was a hugely successful meeting – not only has he agreed to pay the extra 5000 taka (42 pounds) the charity needs for staying in their current premises every month, after seeing the beautiful embroidery work he already started talking about getting his restaurant made some embroidered napkins and wall hangings. He has indeed agreed to display the products in his cafe and will even give the girls some new designs he thinks will sell well (not for profit of course). I am extremely happy with this development and proud that I have made it happen. We should be going together to visit the charity tomorrow so I’m really looking forward to putting these plans into action before I leave. I had a lovely dinner with the cousin of my friend from primary school who took me to the wedding a few months ago and who I get on with very well. She had also invited her friends that I had met at the wedding and it was a really fun night complete with incredible Bangladeshi food cooked by her grandma.

This weekend was my last weekend in Dhaka. I took a day trip to the old capital of Bangladesh Sonargaon with my housemates, and it was a really worthwhile trip. As is usually the case in Bangladesh however we had some horrific traffic and a few traffic standstills on the way back. On the way there it wasn’t too bad and we just had to wait until they moved a crashed lorry off the road. The small town of Sonargaon was just beautiful. The main “attraction” is Panam City, a street of derelict ancient Hindu mansions built and then abandoned by wealthy merchants after the Indo-Pakistani War in 1965. While it is protected by the Department of Archaeology, there has been no restoration and little upkeep of these beautiful buildings (unfortunately a common theme here). We were immediately self-allocated a tour guide who was relatively good in English and knew about the area. We had some fuchka from a street stall and watched some kids play football. After Panam City we took a walk through the fields and countryside to visit Goaldi Mosque, a pre-Mughal and one of few surviving medieval monuments in the area, which is also protected and has been minimally restored by the Department of Archaeology. Because of this it is no longer used as a mosque but stands proudly next to the much larger, bizarrely pink, current mosque which was in full session as we arrived. We took a short walk around the very peaceful area and below the mosque songs. I was very happy to catch what I think was a school class heading to prayer – all the boys dressed in different colour punjab tunics and small white prayer hats. We were inevitably an attraction here too.

Before heading home, on referral from our lovely driver, we went to the grounds of the Folk Art Museum. None of us were interested in going inside and we had heard it was not at all worth it from various people but the grounds were beautiful, spacious and green. We had a cha on the lake front then took a walk around the lake. It was all very serene and like the botanical gardens, full of couples. We were the centre of attention of a group of young boys who were all desperate to have their photo taken. In the end I got them all in one picture and we had a photo sesh with everyone – again, manic as everyone scrambled to get in. The park reminded me of a holiday park with some play areas, paddle boats and restaurants. We left all feeling very serene and ended the day buying some guava – a fruit that has totally grown on me and that I’m going to miss having daily! Fruit from the country is much better than fruit from the city, especially if you ask your driver to get it at bangladeshi, not bideshi, prices!

The journey home started well but upon entering Dhaka city began to deteriorate. From this point it took just over two hours to get home, with long periods of standstill. At each standstill we got out of the car for the breeze, but were a very interesting sight in the middle of the busy Dhaka roads so unwillingly attracted a very large crowd of people. I thought I was used to it but I don’t really understand what they have to stare at. Even if we’re just standing talking, they will stand just staring watching us. I often think about what it would be like the other way around in a western country – I’m not sure it would be quite as acceptable.  Despite the curious eyes, traffic jams are far more exciting in Bangladesh than in the UK, at least I think so. As everywhere in Bangladesh, there are people everywhere, and traffic is often at a standstill. There are always people selling things to people in cars in most traffic jams and traffic lights, so, hungry, we tried some of the street vendor food – some unknown fruit sliced with chili powder and spices in a small plastic bag, and then the same fruit prepared with curry powder and spices in hot sauce served on a piece of newspaper, as well some version of jhal muri which was just puffed rice with spices and chili oil, served in a paper cone. For 5 taka per serving (4p), it’s definitely worth a try and they were all delicious!

We had a new housemate arrive this weekend a few days before Lola’s departure. I was incredibly confused waking up and seeing someone lying on our sofa asleep, who looked vaguely like a friend I know here but I didn’t know how he would have got to our sofa the night before. He turned out to be our the fifth housemate in a four room house, so Lola moved out of her room and slept in my and my other housemate’s room for her last two nights. This was probably for the best as she is usually a nightmare waking up in the morning! Already we have become good friends and I’m very sad to be leaving such a wonderful flat of interesting people behind.

It was my first time haring the hash this week and my last hash in Dhaka. We were up early armed with bags of shredded paper to line our route for later in the day. We had our ‘A’ point (start), ‘B’ point (drink stop) and ‘C’ point figured out, so we had to figure out a route between them that would be an hour to an hour and a half if run. It took a little over 2 and a half hours as we were walking it and to my excitement we managed to get a boat ride in. Many of the locals had clearly seen us hashers before and motioned running when we were “laying” the paper. We made a lot of “falsies” (put paper down a dead end or dead route) and were pleased with the route when we arrived at the C point. A few hours later the skies blackened and it started pouring – bangladeshi monsoon style – and did not stop for two hours – perfect timing to fit our hash in! The hash was extremely successful and running in flooded streets and the gushing rain made it even better – so much more fun than sweating in the heat of the sun! I dread to think what is now in my trainers.. The boat ride was a lot of fun and particularly serene with all the pouring rain – until lightning and thunder struck and everyone got a little bit worried being on a very low and unsteady wooden boat in the middle of the river! It was all fine and one of my favourite hashes (if I do say so myself), mostly as I just loved running in the rain. I even managed to drag my new housemate newly in Dhaka from the morning to join and he did very well keeping up despite his lack of sleep and I don’t run excuses.

I was given a very warm circle fare well by the hashers, in which I received a “Last day on the Hash” beer mug (very fitting) full of beer which of course I had to down immediately, and a certificate congratulating my 9 runs in Dhaka. It feels like so much more, and the hash has really been one of the most enjoyable parts of my time here, something I really look forward to every week. I have made some very close friends and learnt a lot from all the interesting people that attend. Hash is everywhere and I am looking forward to the other countries I can go hash in. Brighton does have a hash but I feel like it will be very different running in the cold and I’m not sure how much time I’m going to have between frisbee presidency and my masters! Regardless it’s definitely something I am going to look into.

For Lola’s last night we went to an Indian restaurant so she could get her fill of paratha before going back to the french baguettes. We had a wonderful evening together with my now 4 housemates and close friend of ours. As you cannot officially drink in Bangladesh if you are not a foreigner, it is normal to be allowed to bring alcohol to a restaurant. Good restaurants are well equipped with wine glasses and bottle opener so we brought a bottle of red to celebrate. Upon opening however the cork split and half came out. The next half an hour was a hilarious attempt to try to get the other half of the cork out the bottle with a pen knife. We managed, but not before there was a lot of cork in the wine in very tiny bits. In the end we had to get the waiters to bring us a strainer so we can strain the wine into the glasses. It’s a situation I won’t forget! We had a really very good meal and once again I wish I had found the place sooner. I had my first pudina paratha, paratha covered in fresh mint which was such a good find, and a prawn malai curry with coconut milk. We also tried a jeera masala, water with masala spices, and a masala coke, unsurprisingly coke with masala spices, but were not at all impressed. I think it’s an acquired taste! We surprised Lola afterwards with a birthday cake, card and present from all of us as she was flying very early in the morning on her birthday the next day. She was taken aback (and probably a little annoyed she had to fit something else in her almost-bursting luggage!) and it made me realise how close I had become to her and how much I was going to miss her. I had a good dinner with my boss the following night with some very interesting conversation.

I had my presentation at work yesterday that I had been working on with a colleague for 2 weeks. Called Issues in Restorative Justice, we presented a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) to the whole team. I was terrified before because I really don’t like public speaking and find it very difficult to structure my thoughts and knowledge to speak it out loud. I’m much better at writing. In the end it went well, although I did slightly freeze up twice and forget my point. I didn’t think it went brilliantly but afterwards everyone stayed for over 45 minutes discussing the topics, so clearly we had sparked some interest which was really nice. Everyone was also very engaged during the presentation which helped a lot. Afterwards everyone made a point of coming up and saying how much they enjoyed it and actually learnt from it, so it made me feel a lot better.

Today was my last day at work and it’s bittersweet. I have had a wonderful experience at work and learnt so much, both academically and otherwise, about the law, restorative justice, Bangladesh, and how development cooperations work in developing countries work (and much more of course – like how to write an international consultant contract!). I have met some lovely and very interesting people who have given me a lot to think about for my future and I’m so grateful for that. I now have two full days left to get my life (and belongings) together and ready to leave in one suitcase. It’s going to be very sad saying goodbye to people that I have become so close with in the last few months.

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One comment

  1. Sounds like you are having (or had) a wonderful experience. The things that you mention seem like wonderful ways to experience Bangladesh first-hand, and squeeze by paying Bengali prices not Badeshi ones 🙂 I’ve heard about those.

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Jesss in the Kitchen

Inspiring others with quick, healthy vegan recipes and articles on animals, the planet and who I am!

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