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Another week come and gone, and boy howdy was it a week.

We had a professor from the University of Libral Arts Bangladesh ULAB join us who specialized in organic farming. The theme this week was thankfully not poo, but rather mangos; I’ll elaborate below. We had an extended say over at the resort site and are starting to carve a little niche into the village. As a reminder we have to keep the name of the village a secret concerning anything published on the web per our confidentiality agreement, sorry. We made our first fabric purchase, and I am picking up even more Bangla. Gascon clan, Shanghi is now everyone’s favorite game and helps whittle away many an hour. We also have been getting to know some local foods very well.

To elaborate on the theme of the week, mangos, it was a glorious week for what one of our new friends Amadol calls the “King of Fruit.” It all started actually on Thursday evening, quite late in the week for a theme to develop but hey we’ll take it. It all started in the village market and saw the biggest mango we had laid eyes on in this country, it was a Mollika mango, coming into season right now (yesssss). This variety has a flavor that is out of this world, with a creamy yellow-orange color and a tart yet sweet sensation it tastes like citrus, melon, and honey. We were sitting at our favorite bamboo platform at Rotan’s tea and gorga shop sipping lal cha (red tea – not rooibus tea but just plan black tea here is called red for some reason). Amadol, the Bangla version Fez from That 70’s Show, was with us and Samul joined us after we had finished tea. Samul is the oldest member of the English classes at 42 and is a sugar middle man as well as mango and lychee grower. As we finished our tea he asked if we would like to tour of his mango garden.

Of course we couldn’t refuse, so off we went after paying for all four teas at a whopping Tk12, or 17 cents. We walked through the teak forest and past the primary and high schools where a lively game of soccer was going on. We headed to a secluded corner where the Muslim school was and through a little gate. We entered am orchard that looked like any back home, neat orderly rows of tree after tree some heavily ladened with beautiful green mangos. We made our way to the center of the garden to find his mango shepherd. Not his real title but the job was the same. By night this man sleeps among the mangos protecting them from thieves and has a mango stick both to pluck his wards from their lofty perches and give a smart whack to the fool that tries to steal any mangos on his watch. Samul asked if we would like a mango and of course who could refuse a fresh picked mango right from the orchard. When we asked what type of mango it was he replied, Rupali. Now after doing a little research online I found that while it was quite clear he was saying it with a ‘p’, online the name Rumali is a type of mango grown all over India (of course that’s most likely in Hindi). We also discovered mango is most easily peeled by hand without the aid of knife or vegetable peeler, at least these varieties. Just pierce the skin with a fork or other quasi sharp thing and peel like an orange, then feast. The Rupali has a green rind when ripe and orange flesh and has a very nectar sweet flavor heavy on the melon notes. It’s ok, not as good as the Mollika but still an amazing fruit. I think these are used a lot for juice as they are very sweet and have a nice color. We sat an enjoyed the peace and quiet of the orchard and the sweet fruit it bared. As we prepared to leave he sent us home with about seven more, we had a feast that night.

At the Jessore market Saturday we found a new type of mango called Fazlie. Poor Renee Carlton was FaceTiming with me last night when I showed her how they eat mangos here. The result was me eating a mango as big as my face getting juice and pulp everywhere; nothing like being a heathen when you’re eating the king of fruit. I’m not sure if I just got a bad one but it was just ehh, not very sweet, and very high in fiber. In fact I still feel a little string hanging out between my teeth, looks like I’ll be heading to the market for floss later today. According to the internet it should be low in fiber so I think I got a bad one. Muslima said that this is a good mango to juice and started kneading the fruit bruising it to no end. Then she said you freeze it and suck out the innards when it’s thawed. When we asked what everyone’s favorite mango about 90% of people say Himshagor. Unfortunately, the season for the Himshagor as passed and all I can hope is we tried one without knowing. If only I had been aware that everyone’s favorite was an early season variety.

It was dreadfully hot all week. We’re talking temperatures in the upper 90’s with 80-90% humidity. In case you missed the instagram post one day we had a heat index of 117! The best part we have no AC, yup, none what so ever. That 117 degree day the power went out too, welcome to the gates of hell I believe is the right term. Even in the dead of night its hot with a heat index of 96 the other night at midnight.  The monsoon has been non-existent for the last few days too finally returning on Saturday. Today is a much cooler, maybe a heat index in the low 90s, it’s almost like winter in comparison to earlier in the week.

On to the professor. Man, am I ever glad he came to help us, we learned so much and he saved us from embarking down a path that would have led to almost total disaster. You see not only was this man a professor but he also spent many years as an organic farmer here in Bangladesh AND he practices ayurvedic medicine.

Aside warning: Now I’m not going to fully knock traditional medicine because it does work in certain areas and is amazingly wonderful in terms of psychological benefits through meditation; but sometimes it makes sense to blend eastern and western medicine. Take for example water intake. For some unknown reason people here don’t drink enough water to stave off mild dehydration. For goodness sake when its 117 degrees out, you take a liter of water wherever you go and finish it within the hour if your outside. You also should be taking oral rehydration salts (striped down and enhanced Gatorade) every few hours to help rebalance electrolytes lost though sweat. No one here does that, just Jordan and I, guess who’s only had one headache? They seem to seek out medicinal herbs to help with headaches and the doctors say don’t work in the middle of the day (duh); and refuse to take the oral rehydration salts unless they have the runs. I find a lot of resistance when I try to explain simple proven anatomy and chemistry can be fortified if you acknowledge western chemistry. Sigh…

Back to the professor, He was a very quiet man but he was full of information that was so very helpful in our ability to plan this organic farming endeavor. We have been working with a local farmer Dudu to allow us part of his land to use for the organic farming test plot. Well Dudu was much more than generous, he allowed us to use an entire acre. Now that’s way too much for what we can accomplish in a few months. I know it doesn’t sound like much but the goal is to make a plot that is well organized and easy to tend with little to no labor as you guessed it even with oral rehydrating salts I don’t want to work in 117 degree heat. The area farmers can then come and look at the plot and see how the process is done and decide if they would like to convert their farms as well. In Bangladesh they segregate their land into kata, or 435 ft2 areas. There are 20 kata in a Bingha and three Bingha in an acre. We wanted the test plot to be between one and three kata, so you can see why we were amazed at the 60 kata we were offered to work with. Now this acre of land wasn’t empty, in fact it had just been fertilized and planted with a jujube orchard. Not good. With the fertilizer in the soil the test plot was going to do great this year and then terrible next year, because we couldn’t add fertilizer to it. Nazmine was telling me that it was refreshing that I was forecasting for next year’s success; typically the locals would just forge ahead and not think about long term success. The professor was telling us when you add pesticide and fertilizer to an area you kill the ecology in the soil and it takes up to three years to start to bring it back (hence the three year conversion to organic). He told us that if we were to use even just a portion of this land we would have a significant challenge ahead of us. Not only would we have to bring the soil back to life but we would have to make agreements with all the surrounding farmers that they needed to be extra judicious with the application of fertilizer and pesticide to ensure it didn’t blow onto our test plot. Even with a buffer zone and drainage ditch it was a risky endeavor. Not to mention the rest of the jujube orchard would be without pesticide and without the buffer area. In addition to that, if everyone around you is spraying pesticide and you aren’t, where do you think the buggers are going to go? Yup, they are going to make a bee line for the test plot.

When the professor was explaining to Dudu the process in setting up the proper boundary for the organic sector and the types of plants you need to include to rejuvenate the soil you could see his excitement wane. He is still very interested in going organic but the test plot is now even more critical than ever as an educational source for the community. When converting you need to think about how to enrich the soil with Nitrogen, the job that chemical fertilizer typically performs. In organics this is easily accomplished through the use of legumes, they have special little nodules on their roots called mycorrhizae that are fungi that take Nitrogen from the air (air is 78% N) and fix it into the soil. Every four years you plant a field with legumes to infuse nitrogen. For our test plot we will be scattering a small amount through the entire test bed to help accomplish this task. In addition to help act as a pesticide you need to plant different plants that help repel bad insects and attract good insects. This is easily accomplished through the use of marigold and coriander. This is all fine and dandy but if Dudu wasn’t sold on the financial investment to his own land we needed to find an alternate and quick.

We spent the next morning scoping out parts of the Panigram property that could potentially be used for a small test plot. The boss wasn’t too keen on the idea of putting the plot on the resort because they had already planned the landscaping, but when I told her a successful plot was most important to the overall success of convincing farmers to go organic and the original plan would require large amounts of continued labor, among other reasons, she agreed the resort land may be the best option. Luckily the on-site spa is Ayruvedic oriented and they wanted to have a medicinal herb garden adjacent to the building. We will be pursuing this option with fervor as it makes the most sense for long term success for both education for farmers and benefit towards Panigram.

We discovered that even though we have one or two farmers interested in going organic we still need to increase the awareness of organic in the surrounding area. Bangladesh has only 799 acres dedicated towards organic farming as of 2012, there is huge potential for the village to be known as the organic capitol of the country. We are now planning to launch an education campaign in the local village at the primary and high schools as well as in the English classes that Jordan is teaching. If we can get the villagers talking organic and mentioning it in the market maybe we can create enough demand for more famers to want to become involved in the conversion effort. In reality all we need three or four famers that all have land adjacent to one another to commit and we can start the process at the juncture of their land. As I said before a buffer zone needs to be created to help repel insects and filter runoff. Take a little trip back with me to middle school math for a moment. As the size of a shape increases the area increases at a higher rate than the perimeter. So as the more land we get involved in organic becomes larger the cost to the farmers to install the buffer zone decreases.

We also learned how to create bio-fertilizer and pesticides from Shafiq. It’s stunningly easy. For a really great foliar fertilizer you take one kg (2.2 lbs) of new bean growth and wrap it in a used (very important it isn’t new and if it is you must rub it in mud first) cotton cloth and create a tea bag like satchel. Put this in a clay pot filled with five liters of water, cover with an airtight plastic, and bury in the ground for 14 days. After the 14 days, unearth the pot and add one drop of fresh water. If a volcanic eruption ensues you have successfully created fertilizer. You can also do the same thing with cow urine, although the thought of waiting around till a cow urinates is a little too close to last week’s theme of poo. Not to mention having a 6’4’’ guy racing to hold a pot under a peeing cow is going to be quite a sight. You do the same thing as before but without the bean vegetation tea bag. For a great aphid repellant take ash from a fire and mix it with just enough kerosene to make a paste. Then fling this mixture toward the underside of leaves and voila there goes your nasty aphids.

Every time I learn about something new in this country I always seem to mutter the theme song from the “The more you know” NBC public service announcements, ba ba ba bahhh. Its uttered a lot here.

We had an interesting run in with a familiar plant from our SoCal culture the other day. Weed plants, growing well like weeds. Seriously, we get out of the car at the disadvantaged women’s village and the professor walks up to it and goes huh do you know what this is? Jordan and I play dumb and say uh, hemp? I’m not sure if he was just not understanding but he said no and that it used to be used as a drug. I cocked my head, used to… Had he never looked outside this generally drug free country? I had to break out the scientific name, and he shrugged at that, but make no mistake it was a full blown Cannabis sativa. As we were leaving the area we noticed marijuana was EVERYWHERE. I’m not sure if people smoke it, it didn’t seem to be cultivated but rather a feathery roadside shrub. Strange strange country.

Yesterday was a much needed day off, and we relaxed hard. I powered through about 100 pages of the Game of Thrones, getting to the Red Wedding before throwing the book down in disgust and proclaiming I was over it. Then 20 min later decided the best way to get over the shock was to keep reading and move on. For those of you that follow the books or the show, I imagine you had an equally similar reaction. We went to our new favorite place to spend money on afternoon snacks, café de light . We went with Naz and Savaila and we all pigged out on French fries, ice cream, milk shakes, these funky roll things with chicken and spice and some sauce, cake, Faluda (a fruity creamy drink thing with tapioca, gelled fruit stuff, ice, and apple chunks), and a chicken hot dog with cheese. Side note: cheese does not exist here unless it’s American slices, no cheddar, no parmesan, just American singles. All that cost the four of us $5. It was a nice treat. We purchased two saris that will be either turned into a table cloth or a quilt when we get home, and got some greens to have a salad. We had to wash everything in bleach water for 30 min and the rinsing part was a pain because we had to use filtered water. This will be a rare treat as the work was not worth the reward, salad dressing is absent from this place.

 Well. Until next Sunday have a great week everyone. We miss you all and can’t wait to come home to a proper salad rinsed in tap water with a nice creamy ranch dressing. 


 


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