Monsoon, monsoon, monsoon. Ladies and gentleman the heat has broken for now and the monsoon is in full swing. The monsoon beat out circle of life and books as the theme this week, so all in all the week was gray. The monsoon before was intense periods of rain in the afternoon, however, in the last week that has been replaced with a persistent cover of gray clouds that yield a steady rain day and night.
Time for your science lesson everyone. Today’s topic is the MJO or Madden-Julian Oscillation. This is a medium-term large-scale weather pattern that travels across the whole globe in a matter of 1-3 months. It is a cycle of enhanced and suppressed convection in the tropical atmosphere and is partially responsible for the frequency and intensity of rainfall. Currently we are in an area of enhanced convection in Bangladesh, however this should diminish in the next week or so. The MJO moves eastward across the pacific at about 4-8 m/s so it’s a continually moving wave of influence. Typically the MJO weakens as it crosses the Pacific, sometimes regaining strength as it hits the Atlantic and then exploding again over the Indian Ocean. Often a strong MJO wave will precede the start of an El Nino by a few months. People in California, you know how they say El Nino years have a lot of rain, well the worst rain events that last multiple days at a time are the result of the MJO; and the MJO is suppressed during El Nino years so go figure that. Those pineapple express storms that funnel tropical moisture right at southern California are directly linked to this weather pattern. People on the east coast it affects you too; hurricane formation can be greatly influenced from an anomalous wave of MJO influence in the summer months. The more you know – bah bah bah baaaah.
As for how this stronger than normal MJO affects us here in Bangladesh, it’s just rainy. But with the rain comes cooler weather. It’s been quite comfortable the last few days at a balmy 80. I am not complaining in the least bit, but it does take 3 days for our clothes to dry now… oh well.
What pairs best with rain? Books. I was able to finish book three of Game of Thrones this week. Wow, just when I thought it was going to be a happy ending for once, there had to be a little plot twist; not that the plot twist was upsetting but it ruined the total happiness I was hoping for. Jordan was able to finish book five of GOT two weeks ago. This week he was able to get half way through his book Aztec only to find 33 pages were missing ¼ of the way through. Of course Aztec is part of another five book series, guess we know what he’ll be reading till Christmas.
The circle of life made itself quite well known this week. Friday morning we lost one of our cats to some unknown cause. Honey Bunny was never quite normal and always the weaker of the two kittens but she was cute none the less. Whenever she ran she would fishtail out of control and we often found her staring at a wall for a good five minutes. Then again the people do that here too. I can’t tell you how many times we have been walking down the road and find a person standing in the middle of a crowd staring off into space. Naturally a few people stop and look in the same direction and they too just start staring. Maybe it’s the heat, or maybe I should make a foil hat just in case. Anyway, we had to get permission from the home owner (as Panigram rents the house we live in) to bury Honey Bunny. We held a little memorial for her as the rain came pouring down and we dug a hole. It was as nice a funeral as any cat had ever had at this house. At least we still have Pumpkin, our little Simba who has just started teething this week, yay.
We were able to go to an International Trade Fair this week with Naz, and we got all sorts of three-pieces for the quilt. It was a little overwhelming with all of the people, were talking huge numbers of people all crammed into a small area but it was really cool. They even had a Ferris wheel, you can be sure mom and dad we went nowhere near that death trap. It was literally a 20-foot high four-car rebar terror wheel. They packed six people into a car that should have fit four and some cars had 8 with children standing in the middle. It was amazing it didn’t fall apart. There was one International tent, for Pakistan none the less. We all got asked if we were Pakistani… we blankly stared (only for 5 seconds though as we wrapped our brains around the question). The Bangladeshi hate the Pakistani, mostly due to the war of 1971 but it’s this really odd lingering hatred that is present in some people from all ages of the population. One rickshaw driver even told Savaila to get out of his rickshaw and refused to take her “Dirty Pakistani money,” one day when he found out where she was from. It’s really strange, but it was good to see a tent for Pakistan there. Inside this tent was the most ridiculously priced clothing, they wanted Tk6,000 ($85) for a cotton three-piece, it should have been Tk800-1000 at most ($12-15). Oh well Pakistan at least you tried, it’s more than I can say for any other country that wasn’t there.
This week Jordan got to teach on his own. Last Wednesday, Nazmeen was summoned to Dhaka to work out the situation with her visa. Jordan was excited to take over the afternoon classes. Everything went great! In normal Bangla fashion Nazmeen’s visa was held up and all the officials were asking for bribes. A Panigram policy states that there will be no bribes paid for anything, this lead to a stay in Dhaka of almost a week before the situation could be settled and Naz became a legal worker once again. Jordan had the honor of leading his first full day of classes on his own. This turned out to be quite an adventure. The van left a half an hour late, leaving no time for the infamous table naps that are soo needed that early in the morning. It was a very stormy and rainy day and with these conditions we get to experience the lack of infrastructure in this country. NO POWER. The generator was turned on, but the generator only powers three fans and the projector. A dark and stormy day with no lights made it very hard to use the whiteboards and none of the students could see. To top it off, the lessons and video that were supposed to be used for the day, ended up being corrupted and would not play on the laptop. Hooray, a change of plans! Jordan ended up giving his M6 (highest level of fluency) classes the assignment of a presentation due on Sunday. “If I had $10 million dollars…” The M4s (earlier in the progression of classes) got to do a mixed review of everything that they have learned since we have arrived. All in all, after the morning issues of no power, no lights, no nap, and no lessons, Jordan was able to pull off a successful day of teaching on his own.
Now that we have been here for almost a month, we are starting to be recognized. The other day after the international festival we were in an easy bike on our way back and the guy sitting by me leans over and says you live in that blue house and work for Panigram, right? I had never seen this guy and was a little unnerved, but quickly I realized I do stick out like a sore thumb. His name is Regin and he applied for the English teacher position but didn’t get it because English wasn’t his first language. We now see him around town all over, usually with our friend Babu the soda vendor by the railroad tracks. Babu gives us a great deal on 1 liter of coke, Tk50 or about $0.75. Whenever, we pass by he waves at us, it’s nice to have people wave at you. It’s even more noticible in the small village we work in, on market days if we need help translating all we have to do is look around and someone will see us and come to our aid. I am really making progress on my Bangla, I’m nowhere near conversational but I am starting to string words, albeit with terrible grammer, but it helps a lot in terms of public relations. If there is time this week I’ll post a list of numbers, foods, and common phrases.
The girls and I found out that Rajesh, the landscape architect, was planning to have some organic farmland on the resort grounds. This is perfect for our organic farming project as it’s a highly controlled atmosphere that already has space reserved. I have a phone call with him on Tuesday to talk details. I am looking forward to talking to him, as the last week has had little movement in physical progress of the project. We have plans to start our quick compost Monday, keep your fingers crossed that our friend Sumon was able to coordinate 32 kg of cow manure and 16 kg of rice husk. Yup that’s right, 70 lbs of cow poo; and it all gets to be mixed by hand, Yay, more poo!!! I swear. Oh, speak of (you knew deep down it was coming), we have successfully avoided pit toilets until this week when Jordan tackled that problem at Union Council head on (ha, get the pun?). He said it wasn’t bad, but was glad it was a private pit toilet as opposed to the more common communal pit toilet room and that he was really glad there was T.P. available.
Wish us luck as this week we have a full schedule, cow poo, land coordination, a soccer match in Chowgatcha (look it up its actually on a map!), 4th of July dinner (tacos, kraft mac & cheese, fruit salad, and something else) on the roof, guests at the resort, and a supposed hartal on Wednesday. Have a safe and happy fourth everyone. Miss you guys at Svecia, launch a bottle rocket for me, and good luck to everyone in the boat regatta. The Jessore Jet is bound to put up a fight, or fling poo... something that will leave a mark (hehe).
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.
First off Happy Father’s Day! Wish you were here to experience a wild ass day with me pops, but I figured a long blog post would be the next best thing.
What a week. The theme Poo. Yup you read right, poo. This place has a totally different spin on sanitation. Not to say the world is covered in poo here but that’s pretty close. It’s in the street, it’s on their hands and therefore every surface they touch, it’s on the cat (until I gave it a bath which was quite fun), at the school yard (the herd of 24 cows didn’t help), propped up against houses to be used as kindling, formed into patties on the sides of trees, in the river, I assume on all fruits and veggies until they are washed, in essence I am now one with the poo. I’m not pleased about this but for some reason the universe is telling me its time to deal with poo. So now that you have heard the “p” word 5 times in 2 min. You can thank the lovely people of Bangladesh for bringing you back to a state of second grade giggles or repulsion.
The girls and I had an extremely busy week prepping our report on the state of the fruit and vegetable market in the greater Jessore area. We even enlisted the help of Jeena’s cousin who lives in the great city of Dhaka in the acquisition of prices from the capitol. What we found is produce here is dirt cheap, potatoes are about 7 cents per pound. In all honesty though that’s about on par with what we pay given the difference in wages earned. In essence it’s like transporting ourselves back to the early-mid 1900’s in terms of purchasing power of a penny. In fact I bought three Mr. Mango lollypops yesterday at a grand total of 10 cents; so ya candy prices of 2-3 cents each.
We have tried all sorts of new foods this week. Many of them, ehh, but some were quite amazing! We tried a fruit called Taal in Bangla or Ice apple in English. It comes from a palm tree. The whole fruit is similar to coconut but more round and with two to three sacks of semi-translucent meat with a juice center. It actually looks strikingly like lychee but without the giant seed in the middle. It’s full of Vitamin A, B, C, Riboflavin, Iron, potassium and some other stuff. It tastes like nothing, literally nothing. No sweetness, no bitter its kind of strange like water flavored grape innards. We also tried Bel, or Wood apple in English. Ding Ding Ding we have an amazing fruit my friends. Muslima took one fruit that weighed about one pound and made four glasses of juice from it. Wow! It’s tastes like cantaloupe, guava, and apricot combined. It was amazing. I am writing specialty produce that they must carry this fruit it would go gangbusters at farmers markets and high end juice bars. We also tried green starfruit, talk about sour, for some reason this country is infatuated with eating fruit that isn’t quite ripe yet. In fact I found out that papaya, or pepe in Bangla, is not allowed to mature all the way. Now I’m not the biggest fan of papaya but when you’re in the tropics for some reason it tastes amazing and when there’s none to be found it’s a little frustrating seeing a papaya tree out your window every day.
We got news from Dhaka that there was a formalin scare with food again. This was news to me, as I had heard about these things but thought they were something that occurred in the past and the governments had cracked down on this behavior. Well I guess about 2 years ago a bunch of produce and meat vendors were putting formalin in their foods to preserve them. Formalin is pretty much formaldehyde and can cause death if ingested. It seems as though almost all fruits at some grocery strores had Formalin this last week, Yikes! Thank god we buy our produce from local farmers and not grocery stores. It looked like lychees were the worst of the fruits and I think the boss may have had a formalin batch. She came to Jessore and had been feeling not so great for a few days and had eaten a bunch of lychees the few days prior to coming. She should be fine but it’s a very bad situation in Dhaka right now.
Yesterday, June 15, we had two guests come and stay at the resort as part of the Panigram Apprenticeship Experience (PAE). They got to stay in a bungalow and help experience various parts of developing the resort. The best part was one of them was the wife to the European Union’s Ambassador to Bangladesh! I got to hob knob with an ambassadors wife, she was so cool. Her sister came to visit from Houston, TX and they man did they ever love the program. They were laying mud bricks, went for a cow cart ride, tried to milk a cow until it was scared away, ate with their hands while sitting on a mud plinth, helped with English class; haha it was great. We went to go eat lunch at a local villagers house (amazing food) and while we were there a calf was born! We got to see its first steps, it was so cute… oh village life. They were one of the most fascinating sister-pairs I had ever met. We talked at length about traveling and their ex-pat status and when I inquired as to what their pat was, I was surprised to find out it was nowhere. The older sister was born in Germany and then moved to Tanzania when she was only a year or so old. That’s where the ambassadors wife was born and they lived there for a while, then spent a lot of their childhood in South Africa. After South Africa it was a whorl-wind of countries they listed off including Tanzania, Ethiopia, Italy, Greece, Bangladesh, USA, Uruguay… and I’m sure many others that I lost track of. I was able to score her email address as she wants me to ID some butterflies that come to her rooftop garden. You can bet I’m going to keep that relationship going, maybe we can get an invite to a fancy ambassador party… oh la la.
Jordan and Naz gave their end-of-module exams to the students this week. I was able to help Jordan give the oral portion of the exam, so in essence we had one on one conversations with about 80 students of varying fluency. We asked them to answer questions on some different cue cards but we were also able to talk to them about their families, favorite foods (one guy loves mango so much he has about six every day!!!), and sometimes for the good ones where they want to go in the world. We found it so interesting that here critical thinking and abstract imagination isn’t encouraged in school. As impractical that I thought primary school creative writing was in the real world I now know it trains your brain to be able to plan for the future even if it isn’t a practical plan. When we asked if you could go anywhere in the world where would you go an overwhelming majority said they would go to the neighboring town, or maybe Dhaka (280km away). Only two out of my 40 students said they would go outside the country, one to the Taj Mahal, the other to Las Vegas. It also amazes me how many Bangladeshi want to go to Vegas, I guess it’s the glitz.
After English class the other day while waiting for the van to come get us Jordan, Naz, and I went to Rotan’s hut (or something like that) to have tea, and gorga! Not sure if I mentioned this stuff last time but it’s worth a second mention. It’s like a churro and brisket mixed together rolled in sugar after it has been fried. We went and hung out with some of the students on this bamboo platform thing under a huge grove of teak trees and chit chatted about anything and everything. The tea was so strong! For some reason they call just straight tea red tea or “lal cha” tea with milk is “doot cha” (doot is also the term for boob) and tea with sugar is “chini cha.” While it technically is street food the water used in the tea is sanitary as its pretty much boiling when they serve it. Even though they reuse the glass mugs they actually sterilize them really well by rinsing them with water from a kettle straight off the fire. The tea is amazing, but the gorga is better. Jordan had the best idea, he wants to get the recipe from this man and recreate it when we open our coffee, beer, wine, and tea café and sell it with 10% of the proceeds going to Rotan. This man has no idea how amazing his creation is. In fact the theme of the restaurant may have to change to coffee, beer, wine, tea, and gorga. It may be hard but I think the two of us combined may have the charisma to get this man to divulge his secrets. Start sending the good vibes so we can make this for you when we get home.
The only thing that weirds me out about water is the Arsenic (Ar) problem they have here. Bangladesh is actually part of history’s worst poisoning event that’s happening right now. Back in the day they used to use surface water but that was resulting in a lot of people contracting cholera and other diarrheal diseases. So starting in the 40’s there was a big push to drill wells to utilize ground water that didn’t have these disease causing bacteria and viruses. Well they didn’t know that the ground water here has dangerous levels of Ar. To give you an example of just how bad it is the US lowered the maximum Ar level to 10 parts per million (ppm) from 50 in 2006. The WHO says safe drinking water is 50ppm. Jessore has 53% of wells testing at 500ppm, and some areas of Bangladesh have 800ppm. What does Ar poisoning look like? Well after about 10 years of drinking this stuff you start to grow weird warty looking things all over your body. They start to go away when you stop drinking Ar water but they are just terrible looking. In Bangladesh 1 in 10 people will develop skin, lung, or gastro-intestinal cancer or get nasty liver damage and die in their life from the Ar. It’s really sad to think that large scale water purification could solve this problem but the country is so far from being able to implement this kind of infrastructure that countless numbers of people will die before it happens.
A bright spot in the health of Bangladesh though comes from the dregs of Dhaka, yet also goes along with this week’s theme of poo. There is a hospital there lovingly known as the Cholera Hospital, the world’s preeminent research area for all things diarrheal. They have a motto that if you arrive alive you leave alive, with like 90-95% of people leaving “cured” within about 12 hours. One of the doctors there invented oral rehydration therapy, it’s like Gatorade but without as much sugar and is credited with saving millions of lives. In fact Jordan and I take one of the forms of this therapy every day, Orsaline. America we need this stuff, screw Gatorade this stuff works magic. Have a headache, feeling a little dehydrated, pound a shot of this salty water stuff then a half liter of water and boom your good as gold within 5 min. Anyway back to Dhaka. Their specialty is dealing with Cholera. Ok, gross yet mind blowing factoid warning. When a person has cholera it isn’t uncommon for them to expel between 15 and 20 liters of “excrement” per day! That’s like 4-5.25 gallons! They even have a record of a some poor man that expelled 35 liters in one day, 9.25 gallons. Yikes. If you remember the terrible Cholera epidemic that Haiti had after the earthquake a few years back, the fatality rate here is like 4%, much lower than the 30-40% Haiti experienced. Bangladesh has two cholera epidemics, one at the start of the rainy season, this year that was before we got here, and one at the end of the rainy season, supposedly September. You can bet we will be far from Dhaka by September.
I was invited to Huda’s house this week to meet his wife Minu and his daughter Manica who is 3.5. We took a rickshaw for a while to the other side of Jessore. It was actually a nice ride although a bit jarring as suspensions here are a foreign concept. Manica watches Bollywood movies so she is learning Hindi as well as Bangla, and Huda is teaching her some words of English. It was so fun once she started bringing me books and toys to share. It is really interesting in that there is no living room or parlor or anything to entertain guests here. Many of the well-off people have a two bedroom house, such as Huda’s, but the second room is bare. I was ushered into their bedroom and was told to sit on their bed. Last time I mentioned how interesting it was that many close friends are very touchy with each other, to the point of making a westerner cock their head in confusion. Well let’s just say if I wasn’t prepared my head would have pulled an Exorcist status rotation but pivoting around my nose not neck. In the west you would only dare change in front of you most intimate of friends and even then that is a rare occurrence, here however Huda changed into his lungi right in front of me. It was a middle school style gym change with putting the lungi on first then taking off his jeans but it definitely caught me off-guard. Then later after he showered the opposite happened. I guess it was just a clear reminder to me how conservative our culture can be about some things, and yet blaringly liberal about other things.
After Huda’s house we went to visit a woman who does embroidery work that was amazing. She was a very nice older woman who made scarves, blankets, saris, and pillow covers. Everyone that works at her shop is a woman and she is a very generous boss. Every kind of cloth was there too, cotton, silk, muslin, I can’t wait to go back and place an order. Today we went and looked at silk at a vendor and wow, talk about overwhelming selection. I have never seen some of the colors we saw today; in short it was a fabric-gasim.
Jordan was invited to Tazul’s house (one of the English students, and z’s are pronounced as j’s) to celebrate his good exam grade. He was able to meet his brothers and nephews and tried his first sour mango. He reports that he likes sour mango, but not as much as sweet mango of “mysti am” in bangla. The both of us were invited into Ikram’s house (yet another English student) to have cake and sprite after exam day. Again we sat in a bedroom. The people here have nothing, yet are so generous with their hospitality it really hits home. Something as simple as offering a soda and cake can make a foreigner feel like everything is right in the world and we all have to look out for one another. Strange and a stretch I know, but this man didn’t even know us, yet welcomed us like old friends. And to top it off, sent us home with 10 mangos he had picked that day. In the spirit of generosity that we had experienced that day we gave a mango to each of the kids that helped us load the van with the school supplies. So in essence we left the village with 5 mangos. It was excellent after dinner snack. Just to remind you no one in the English classes is under 18, and in fact the age range is from 18-42 so were not creeping on some 10 year olds.
After school on Saturday we had about 1.5 hrs to kill before the van came to get us for a terrifying ride back to Jessore. They don’t use headlights and there are pedestrians, bicycles, tractors, rickshaws, motorcycles, easy bikes, trucks, and cows all over the roads. And when they do use their headlights it’s the brights to signal to someone move over or I will hit you head on. Anyway back to the village, we took a brief tour of the town seeing the primary school and high school with a full on soccer game between the two, and then headed to Toideul’s (toy-dull) house to meet his mom, sister in law, aunt, niece, and dog Norman. Nazmine had a hand in naming the dog I think. We tried a new fruit called a hog plum, ya it’s a hog plum because it is only fit for hogs. Tart and with no sweetness, they say adding salt helps but then it’s just salty tart. Nazmine hadn’t seen Norman in a few weeks and man that puppy was waggin’ his tail and crying for a good 5 min. It was really cute. We also learned a new Bangla word, ay. It means come here. It’s kind of strange to hear people calling animals ay ay, it’s really nasally like Fran Dresser from The Nanny, or the seagulls from Finding Nemo.
We had our first Hartal here this week too. Nothing major happened here in Jessore but there was some things that happened a distance away and in Dhaka. They weren’t kidding when they said if it’s Hartal you don’t leave your house until after 6p when it’s over. Again we were perfectly safe and actually enjoyed the lack of horns blaring. The Imam in the center of town was particularly audible that day and it was really nice sitting on the patio reading a book and listening to a prayer in a strange language being broadcast to everyone.
We got Bangladeshi cell phones this week too! We’re not sure what our phone numbers are, as they are like 50,000 digits long (really only 10 I think), and have no clue if they can call out of the country but we have them none the less. It was nice being without phones for a few weeks, but it is nice to have a little safety line in case we get lost or are in trouble.
It was a busy week, hopefully next week will be just as full of adventure. We have the professor from ULAB University coming to help with the organic farming, and Jordan and Naz with be starting new programs with the English students. Follow either of us on Facebook or Instagram to see photos we update bca5 or jrgascon are our instagram handles.
This place is amazing. Talk about a contrast of culture, the adjustment has its moments of bliss and hardship. Hygiene here is like transporting yourself back to the middle ages in Europe. Garbage in piles by the side of the road, open air meat markets with as many flies as meats, they wipe with their left hand and then just give it a rinse (no soap), they eat with their hands (they say its more intimate, I think curry and fingernails are the worst combo ever).
But in contrast to the truly disturbingly disgusting there are some amazing advances these people have made. There are very few private cars due to the cost, but if you have money you will most likely own a motorcycle. For the rest of the people a bicycle, rickshaw (peddle power), vangari (rickshaw with a wooden flat bed to haul people or produce), easy bike (electric rickshaw that fits 5 or 6 or 7 depending on everyones size), or a CNG (death cage! like an easy bike but runs on Natural Gas with metal mesh doors) are the normal modes of transport. Natural gas has barely formed a market in the US yet is more efficient and less polluting then gasoline. Yet here its the primary method of transportation energy. Everyone honks, all the time, the rickshaws have bicycle bells that ring non-stop, its enough to induce a headache of epic proportions if your in the city for more than two hours. The highways are akin to one of those little red roads you see on the maps at home, two lanes, no more, yet they fit 4 lanes of traffic, plus rickshaws and easy-bikes too, along with cows and goats grazing on the side attached to a tree via a leash. There is almost no crime, the things you hear in the news are all centered around the protests that occur (more in the paragraph below). The social structure here is very integrated, if people have to turn to begging or stealing they are the lowest of the low. Families here tend to be very large with extended family living very close to one another Dipu the cook has five brothers and two sisters an thats normal. All of the money that a family makes in a month is generally put into a big pot and everyone looks out for each other. Its very functional as people almost always have three meals a day that include a little animal based protein. Its almost like the Midwest was during the pioneer days but with cars and not wagons.
It is an election year this year and the two major political parties are duking it out though the use of Hartals. These are strikes that are targeted at specific cities that one party calls and all services stop for the duration. Currently in three districts somewhere in the country there is a 72 hour Hartal in progress. When I say all services stop they entire city stops, banks close, shops close, rickshaws are nowhere to be found. The people that still try to go to work are the ones that generally are the subject to violence as the members of the political party that called Hartal will attack anyone trying to go on with life. It's a very strange and ineffective system in my book. The city we are in, Jessore, would be similar to maybe a Souix City, IW back home. Large'ish, with most of the things you need, but very much centered around the regions agricultural bounty. There have been three separate Hartals since we arrived but none have been in Jessore. Part of me looks forward to the first one as we are actually staying within the confines of Bangladesh's version of West Point we will be very safe and we get a day off to sit around the house and read or catch up with the outside world as long as the power stays on (there are about two or three short blackouts every day).
The people's attitude toward foreigners is amazing/strange/unnerving/empowering. We are the most exciting thing to happen in the last few months so everyone stops and stares as we walk down the street. For many of the people we meet we are the first Americans they have ever seen. When we go shopping it isn't uncommon for about 6-12 people to follow us for about a block just watching from a distance. Most keep an appropriate distance but a few take the cake for experiences you can only have traveling on the path less traveled. The other day we were shopping with the English teacher, Nazmine, that also lives in our house (she's a really cool lady from Yorkshire England that converted to Islam about two years ago) and an older woman came up to us. Now when I say she came up to us she was a scant foot from Nazmine's face, gave her the once over, than again, turned and spit, then the once over again. Muttered something, then turned to Jordan, did the same thing, and then to me. We moved on as it was slightly unsettling to have this woman visually examine us from a foot away, but we all had a good laugh about it for the rest of the night.
We have made some very good friends in the village where the project site is. Sumon (pronounced Shoe-moan) and Sagor (pronounced Sha-gore) are both 26 as well and are eager to learn about where we are from. Sumon's English is pretty good, he can understand what you are saying and given enough time can communicate back, albeit with a very thick accent. Both Sumon and Sagor are in Jordan's English classes but Sumon is at level 5 and Sagor is level 3. Most people know hello, where are you from, how are you, but beyond that your lost in translation.
Another bizarre thing about this culture is the prevalence of arranged marriage. We went to Sumon's village last week and met his uncle who reads palms, and his 22-year old sister who was in her new Sari and let me tell you she was stunning. The family is in the process of arranging her marriage to a man in Singapore. If he says yes she will leave for at least 18 years and the only way the family could see her is to fly to Singapore. If this happens it may be the last time many of her family see her as flights to Singapore are about three years wages for one person. It's quite sad actually to think of the permanence of this decision. After 18 years she can choose to come home and live in the village while remaining married to the man or she can stay in Singapore. She has mixed feelings, and was very difficult to photograph, I'm still holding out for a good one of her before we leave.
Sagor on the other hand just got married about 6 weeks ago to a 14 y.o. girl, and here that's totally normal. Normally I would cringe at that, thinking the man is a total slime ball for allowing something like that to happen, but Sagor is so nice and kind-hearted I feel differently. Huh, strange. I still have yet to meet his wife but I am looking forward to it.
Before I forget the woman and child featured in the photo above was in a small village set aside for disadvantaged women by the government. We went with the boss lady to test their embroidery skills so they can make pieces to sell at Panigram when it opens. The people here love having their photos taken, thank god as I need some portraiture practice. The dot on the baby's head isn't a melanoma like I first thought, but rather a traditional Hindu way to disguise the child from evil spirits. The thought is that if you change the outside of the body from what it really looks like the evil spirits wont recognize the child if it were try to steal their soul. Check out Jordan's Facebook page for more photos of our visit to this small village where we learned how to play cricket and made friends with a herd of children.
A few days ago Sumon took us to his village again, a short 5 minute vangari ride from the project site along dirt country roads with cows and goats on leashes and children playing in the river. His village is Hindu, something more common in western Bangladesh as we are only about 15 miles from the Indian boarder. They have a temple to one of the many Hindu gods that is set under a huge Banyon tree. It was amazing, so peaceful with just the sound of birds and cows and chickens; No cars, trains, planes, civilization, just bucolic serenity. His village is the local pottery village, however, during the monsoon they cant make new pieces due to the humidity and rains. We have photos of the village on Jordan's facebook, if you aren't friends with him yet go ahead and send him a friend request as the internet is so slow here we are posting photos to my instagram account to make them small and then they post to his facebook page (just in case his last name is Gascon, although I think we just figured out how to switch what facebook these photos post to today!). After his pottery village we went to see his Aunt and Uncles handicraft village across the dirt road, there we were invited in for fresh mango and to look at the embroidery his cousin does. I have never seen anything so intricate yet so simple. He specializes in Hindu gods and goddesses but he also does some very nice patterns. He is studying for his entrance exams to university and may not have time for us to commission him to do anything but I am keeping my fingers crossed.
We were expecting to be the only interns this year but Kristin (the boss) was able to find two others this year. Sayeeda Jeena (Jeena for short) and Savaila. Jeena is from the second largest city in Bangladesh, Chittagong; and Savaila is from Kashmir Pakistan. Its nice to have someone fluent in Bangla with us as the language is very hard to learn. I'm making steady progress but it's going to take a while. Savaila is fascinating, she speaks nine languages! Five local dialects from her village, as well as Urdu (Pakistani), English, Hindi, and a little Bangla. She invited us to stay at her house any time, we told her we have to wait until our government and Pakistan's are a little friendlier. It really is amazing how meeting someone from a country you are taught to despise through the media can totally change your mind. Not saying all of Pakistan is good all the time, but the people of her area are the thought of as the model for the rest of the country. They have a 90% literacy rate that's equal among men and women, a well funded education system that sees almost all finish high school, many dislike fundamental Islam in preference for their own mainstream interpretation, and they live peacefully with India, China, and the rest of Pakistan. Her village is thought to be the inspiration for Shangri-la in James Hilton's Lost Horizons
published in 1933. From Savaila's front porch she has a straight on view of K2 the world's second highest mountain! Can you even imagine such a sight?!? Google Hunza, Pakistan I think you will agree its one of the most striking landscapes you have ever seen. One of the things I like most about the girls is their friendliness but also that they wear their cultures' traditional clothing. Savaila has some of the most beautiful embroidery on her camisas (shirts in Urdu), and Jeena has some very nice patterns and amazing silks. They are proud of who they are and where they come from, just like Jordan and I. I guess some things cross cultural boundaries and are truly human qualities.
The food is very interesting. Lots of sugar in their desserts, like lots and lots of sugar; simple syrup covers everything. Very little animal protein is eaten here, as its very expensive. Almost every meal has rice and dahl. Now when I think of dahl I think of a thick lentil based mush, here its like a very thin soup with a few lentils and maybe a sour mango, sometimes thick though. Which brings me to my next point, sour mango. Its strange, its the consistency of a potato, with the bite of vinegar (without the taste), and the faint hint of sweet mango flavor. The sweet mangos they have here make our mangos back home taste like a bad peach. The mango is almost orange in color and they eat them like they will never see them again, which is partially true as mango season is only 6-weeks long. Jordan found out the hard way that mango skin and sap has the same compound as poison ivy and he now has bumpy lips and a big ol' welt on his arm. The area around Jessore is considered the bread basket of Bangladesh, so we are spoilt with fresh produce every day. They are a very superstitious culture though. No water for thirty minutes after you eat an apple or mango, but a liter of water after eating a jackfruit (like a banana and bubble gum mixed together and kinda weird gloopy texture). Cold water is not good when your hot because your body isn't used to it... Dumb. Sometimes I just want to shake them and say your wrong! But then again I am a guest in their world so I'll just stay quite and use all the cold water for me ;)
We are making very little by US standards but here we could live like kings on our salary. We found out that most people make about 2,000 Taka (Tk) a month, that's $25. We are making Tk15,000 so you can imagine the buying power we have here just from our salary. If we were to live here, we could have a four- bedroom house, maid, cook, driver, eat out most meals (although you wouldn't want to do that), have a motorcycle, and buy pretty much anything we could need. University professors make about Tk1,000,000 a year, and with that you are truly a rich person. Don't worry there is no way I could ever live here, three months is going to be the perfect amount of time. Also they have no coffee!!! The closest we get is Nescafe instant coffee... its a sad state of affairs here. On the plus side when we get home coffee will never taste so good, and who knows maybe I'll be an instant coffee connoisseur. To make matters worse they don't drink milk, all they have for the instant coffee is sweetened condensed milk, blah. Oh well when in Rome, right?
So far it has been a fantastic adventure, one I am so glad I have a friend to keep me company and remind me of home. I know this place will change me, and I can't wait to see how. But I do know I respect home so much more than ever. Never did I think I would yearn for the orderly traffic jams that move at 10 mph, or soap in a bathroom. The US is great but the world can teach us so much and we seem to forget at times how good we have it. The drive to improve ourselves can be lost on everyone as we focus so hard to accumulate material wealth. That exists here as well, but the happiness these people achieve with so little would put even the most robust American in a depression few could get out of. The world is a great place, the humor that comes with trying to communicate through charades can connect opposite sides of the world in ways we never knew. The key to a smile can be as simple as learning how to nod hello, here you tilt your head to the side, where at home you generally nod (that gets blank stares here). I can't wait to see what this summer has in store, and I cant wait to come home and share everything we learned.
Sorry for the lack of blogging, but Internet access isn't that easy. After traveling for a total of 45 hours, with a stop in LA, Tokyo, and 17 hours in Singapore we finally arrived in Dhaka, Bangladesh where our senses were abruptly assaulted. We both agreed that it would be okay to never have to step foot in this city again. The smells were horrible, the overcrowding was unnerving, the morning call to prayers at 4:30 broke up our first horizontal sleep in 2 days, and the noise of the traffic was horrendous. The traffic in Dhaka made LA, DC, and/or Miami at rush hour look like a country road on a Sunday drive. Our first experience out of the airport was actually standing and waiting for our car while being stared at by everybody at the airport (no smiles), then on the ride to the office/ apartment that we were sleeping at we were along side a bus with a woman horribly vomiting out her window and down the bus. Needless to say, we were both thinking, "oh my god! What did we get ourselves into?" As the day progressed and we waited for our flight to Jessore we had lunch at a very nice restaurant so we could get a taste of "street food." Street food is off limits to us and we are not allowed to try it, as it is a guarantee that we will get violently ill due to lack of sanitization. The food was delicious and afterward we got our first taste of "pan." Pan is spices, beatlenut, and lime (stuff used in concrete), wrapped in a leaf that you chew. We obviously did not have lime in ours, as the thought of eating something with a ph of 14 brought back memories of Mr. Yuck stickers. After lunch we were served dessert of a huge bowl of lychees and mangos. American lychees and mangos don't taste anywhere near as good as these. Then it was off to the airport. We arrived just in time to walk through a metal detector, drop our bags through a scanner, grab our boarding passes and get rushed to the plane. We boarded and were off the ground no more than 10 minutes after arriving at the airport. Talk about security. Lol. Did you know passenger planes exist without A/C? Well they do. Luckily it was only a half hour flight, bet we were dripping sweat by the time we landed. We arrived in Jessore to see that this place is nothing like Dhaka and were pleasantly surprised and relieved. We can do 3 months here, no problem.
Jessore is a fairly large town of farmers and shop keepers. Green as far as the eye can see. Our accommodations are actually at the Panigram office. The office is downstairs with 4 bedrooms upstairs. We are sharing 1 room, the two girl interns (Savaila from Kashmir, Pakistan and Jeena from Chittagong, Bangladesh) share 1 room, Nazmine from Yorkshire, England is the English teacher and has her own room, and the other is Kristen's (CEO and Founder of Panigram). We all have our own bathrooms with Western toilets, a rarity in Bangladesh, and balconies and we share a common sitting room, dining room, and larger balcony. We are considered "badeshi" or foreigners anywhere we go and are placed on an elevated level. God forbid that we have to stand when meeting or talking with people. Lol. We are treated very well by the Panigram family. We have a maid, Muslima, a chef, Dipu, a couple drivers, and a "security guard," really just any guy that works for Panigram that knows a little English and can communicate for us.
The temperature has ranged from 90-100+ degrees with humidity around 70-90% 24 hours a day. Luckily sweat is a good body cooler and fans really help. We were told that we should be drinking 5L a day and we thought Kristen was crazy. Well she is, but not in regards to water consumption. Yesterday we each had over 6.5L of water and probably could have had more.
The Panigram Resort site is still under major construction as they are using only native construction methods and only local villagers to do the work. Let me tell you, Bangla time is way worse than Mexican time or even Guatemalan time. There is never any rush to do anything. This could be the weather, but the work ethic is pathetic. While Kristen is in town, we will get to stay at the site at least one night each time. The site is on a river and the mango, jackfruit and other trees provide a wonderful canopy. The temperature is at least 15 degrees cooler on site than in Jessore.
In regards to our work, we have began the process of setting up organic farming in the village around Panigram. A pricing report and analysis has begun which includes American and Bangla names, growth seasons (there are 6 seasons here), prices for both Banglas and Badeshis at each level of the chain, farmer->middleman->store owner-> consumer. We held a meeting with 20-25 local farmers to inform them of the project, share the benefits of organic farming, the concerns of "regular" farming, and we have asked for volunteers to let us use part of their land as a test plot. We are working with a professor who specializes in organic farming at ULAB university. We will be creating a commercial to give information to the farmers about the benefits of organic farming, then starting the test plot, and toward the end, compile a full video about the entire process.
Jordan will be helping the rest of the interns part time, but will be focused on helping Nazmine in the classroom teaching English. The English program is part of the Panigram Apprenticeship Program which is designed to teach anybody in the villages who wants to get a job what it takes to be employed by a 5-star resort. Obviously, English is a must. The skilled ones are already working with engineers, designers, accountants, hospitality trainers, and food and beverage trainers. The English program has been full swing for a year and some of the classes can ask, "Would you like coffee or tea? Would you like your tea with milk of lemon? Do you take sugar? Would you like milk or sugar with your coffee?" We gave them a pop quiz the other day and stopped by the school and had them take, memorize, write down, and then return the correct order to us. The success rate was probably around 10%. We have our work cut out for us.
Panigram is the largest employer in the greater area and has many projects going on. Luckily in our first few days we have been able to experience quite a few of these. In Clark's free time he will be helping the conservation group by making a key of local insects and birds. Hooray! A tall white boy running around with a homemade butterfly net. Don't worry, be already enlisted some of the workers to catch some too. Another project is working with the disadvantaged women's village to create a handy craft market. Yesterday we recruited women who were interested in learning embroidery and Muslima gave them a crash course. We let them practice for a few hours and then went back and tested them. They were amazing. This was mostly a task for them women, so we got to have some down time and our job was to distract the children. Well, you know how when you are watching the discovery channel and movies when a Westerner goes into a village and everybody comes out to see them and the kids chase after them? This actually happens. This village hasn't seen any Westerners before. All the kids love getting their pictures taken and then seeing it on the screen. Clark was good here. Jordan sat with the boys and tried to learn Bangla and shared our pictures of our family on his phone. Then it was time to learn how to play cricket. We all took turns learning to bat. Jordan was best and ended up playing with the boys as long as he could. Also while waiting on the women, we observed the older men fishing. They were catching "mas silva."
On another project, which involved scouting routes for bike rides and vangari rides, we got to GPS the roads. This area of Bangladesh has never been mapped by anybody and we get to be cartographers! How cool is that, the western world has never mapped the area! While out and about we stopped at a Hindu pottery village. It is the home of Shimon, one of Panigram's golden children. His family is in the process of arranging his sisters marriage to a man in Singapore and when we arrived she was wearing her formal sari. She was gorgeous, in fact that word is too mundane for how she looked. If you could combine stunning, gorgeous, and breathtaking together maybe you would be close. While waiting on Shimon to arrive to give us a tour of his village, we sat with his family and an elder read our palms. He was dead on! He shared some advise, told us personality traits, gave us insight on our bodies, and told us a couple things about what's in store for our future.
So far our experience has been filled with nothing but kind and gentle people. The food has been delicious and we can't wait to see what else is in store. Like we said, Internet is pretty lousy. Instagram and Facebook seem to be pretty reliable, but this sight is impossible to update with pictures. You can follow us on Facebook on our linked page or on Jordan's Facebook (Jordan Gascon or email@example.com). Jordan's Facebook is somehow linked to both our Instagram accounts so check Jordan's Facebook page for pictures.
Until our next update.