Sorry for the lack in posts the last two weeks. Things have gotten a little crazy. The week of July 8th was very, very, busy. We had a bunch of projects that we were all working on. Savaila and Clark had a lot of manual labor with the organic plot requiring them to drink about 2 gallons of water each one day and downing a few packets of ORSaline (oral rehydrating salts).  I had a bunch of lesson plans to prep as well as a solo day teaching English class. In addition to all the work Ramadan began. This is quite an experience for both Clark and I as the number of Muslims we know is very small and the number that actually fast during Ramadan comes in at a grand total 0. During Ramadan the people that fast become lethargic, stores are closed, food is scarce and expensive, and tempers run high. Of course a summer fast doesn’t help the situation. Right now the fast is almost 15 hours every day. Therefore, the theme of the week, ORSaline for the save OR Ramadan the omnipresent limiter.

Islam really is a fascinating religion. I am very open to religion but it has been quite a shock to me to see the sheer number of people that follow a religion so closely. While many Christians follow their religion very closely, going to church every Sunday, volunteering, going on mission trips, etc when it comes to the tithes due and sacrifices asked during Lent many are very lax with the requirements. Yet when Islam requires people to stop eating food and drinking water from sunrise to sunset people are devout to no end. In addition to the fasting during Ramadan many people do all 5 daily prayer sessions, and if not all five they do the lunch time and dinner time prayers often. In each prayer session the number of prayers varies between two and four different sets. In addition to these required prayers many people will say up to an extra three sets of prayers that act almost like brownie points.  The evening prayer with all the options takes at least 15 min. Now there is definitely the analog in Roman Catholicism with the Rosary but ask yourself how many Catholics that you know do the Rosary every day. Not only is there fasting and prayer but there is also a general rule to abstain from anything sexy and violent. So in general the next month of our life will be a generally pure, food scarce version of what we have become accustomed to.

The cook we have that makes our meals is actually Catholic so he still makes us lunch, and a few of the Muslim workers aren’t actually fasting this year; so food is still available. Outside though many restaurants are closed and many of the tea stalls have put up curtains to shield the gossiping eyes on the streets from seeing who is breaking fast. It really is amazing though to see how scarce food has become especially in the village. One on occasion last week we were supposed to have eggs for breakfast yet no one in the entire village was selling eggs that day until later. Normally, people would buy a dozen, keep them in the fridge and when they needed more they would replenish the supply, but because of the unreliable electricity (average power outage in the village – two hours, two times a day) and the cost of a refrigerator, the food supply is typically very sporadic.

Over the past two weeks, we have each fasted one day. I tried fasting the first week and was successful save the one cup of coffee that saved the students lives, as you all know, Jordan without coffee is a beast to be avoided. I didn’t think it was too bad and would like to try a full fast on a day off, but when we had Iftar, the large pre-dinner snack at sunset, I was a happy man. Clark experienced his first fast about a week later when we had hortal. He made it without even a cup of coffee, but we all stayed away from him, because he gives the notorious Austin/Omera looks and Clark with low blood sugar is just as bad as me without coffee. It is customary to break your Ramadan fast with dates. Many nights Clark and I join that day’s fasters for Iftar, as usually this is a communal meal, but at Panigram for some reason, individual plates are created. As we have been told, this is unlike any experience anybody has ever had. We have dates, a few pieces of mango or pineapple, chop (some mashed potato patties that have been deep fried), piaji/bora (lentil paste with onion and deep fried), Jalopi (funnel cake soaked in simple syrup), cucumber, jal sola (kind of like garbanzo beans mixed with spices and onion), morgi (puffed rice), sometimes french fries or eggplant wontons, and tang. It’s a lot of simple sugar, carbs, and fat; but man does it taste great. Dinner usually follows about 2 hours later so we end up eating at about 9:00p. This past week we have had hortal due to the verdicts being released from the International War Tribunals that were setup to bring justice after the Independence War in the 1970’s and the organic farming plot was being put on hold.

Even though the last two weeks have been racked with hortal, Panigram has still been able to carry on with PAE (Panigram Apprenticeship Experience). Two weekends ago Panigram hosted three travelers, two guys hailing from Switzerland and one lady from Vietnam. They boys, Edi and Stephan, had just finished a three month internship in India centered on hospitality, while Janice works in the finance sector in Singapore. Just before visiting us they spent a full day in Dhaka and welcomed the pastoral relaxation surrounding Panigram. We had a jam packed few days where the guests were able to participate in a wide variety of activities.

All three were quite interested in construction techniques here at Panigram and really got into mud brick construction. They even were interested in the preparation of the mud mortar and insisted on carrying some of the mud on their heads like the locals do. Janice even tried driving the flat bed tricycle that is used to carry the mud bricks.

The guests were very lucky this week when they toured the pottery village as one of the potters decided to show them how different types of jars are made. During the rainy season pottery making all but stops as the rain generally doesn’t allow the finished product to dry properly. Everyone was thoroughly amazed at how fast one of the villagers was able to make five jars and a money bank, it only took him about 15 min.

On the second day, again the PAE guests were invited back to the pottery village to watch a cow milking demonstration, and Janice even got a few squirts out herself. Clark tried and wasn’t so successful. He blamed it on going last. After the cow milking the guests were all invited to a local villager’s house to have a traditional Bangladeshi meal served on banana leaf plates. Edi, Stephan, and Janice really enjoyed this, and one of the little girls in the village even brought Janice flowers. It was a fantastic end to the boy’s trip, and Janice really enjoyed interacting with the locals. PAE is always such a great adventure, SO WE THOUGHT… This past weekend, we had the opposite experience. After a weeklong hortal, we were anxious to get out and interact with people. Not only were we having 4 PAE guests for the weekend, but we were having Mr. Roqib and two of his colleagues come to site to start making plans for the bio-gas generator that will be used to power the kitchen. The PAE guests all arrived on Thursday night and were all originally from Spain. They have all been living in Dhaka for some time now and one would think that they have become accustomed to the ways of the Bangladeshis. This was not so.

Mr. Roqib’s visit went flawlessly. It was not only productive, but informative and a lot of fun. Mr. Roqib, explained each and every step along the way to us and even provided us with information for ways to possibly implement a biogas generator at Svecia or in Guatemala at the Catamaran Island Resort. We definitely made a good friend and invaluable contact. Our friendship was cemented when we were all sitting around the office table and the monsoon came rushing in. Instantly, for the first time in over a week it started to rain. Roqib had just finished telling us about his former intern from France who loved the rain and toward the end of her internship experienced a sudden downpour while they were out on a project. She began to swing around and dance in the rain. (Just as I am writing this, the infamous monsoon, just arrived. It just got very dark, the temp dropped below 80 for the first time all trip and rain!) While Roqib’s intern was out on site, the villagers started to join her and Roqib couldn’t resist and joined in with her. The timing couldn’t have been better when the monsoon arrived and Roqib suggested that we should all go dance in the rain. Clark and Roqib spent the next 15 minutes playing in the rain and mud while I just looked on. I did not participate, because for the first time that day I had finally been dry. I wasn’t wet from rain all day, but from sweat. I was not about to go voluntarily get drenched again. Roqib eventually finished his work and spent the rest of the weekend tagging along with the PAE guests and participated in the activities we had planned. For as good as Roqib’s trip was, it was hard to believe how bad the Spanish ladies’ trip went.

The ladies were the most culturally insensitive people we have met yet. They gave all Westerner’s a bad name. They were demanding, rude, insensitive, and at times verbally abusive to the staff at Panigram. Remember guys, Panigram is a construction site. PAE is an apprenticeship experience, which is very clear about the condition of the resort and the program that is established. These Spanish ladies obviously came with the intention of going on an all expenses paid vacation to a 5 star resort. We knew they were going to be a handful when they demanded that meals be prepared to the Spanish timetable and not the Bangla timetable. We all know that the Spanish are more relaxed and enjoy their meals at later times, so we made it happen without a fuss. PAE is used to breakfast at 8, lunch at 1, dinner at 7. It gets dark by 7:30 and people are asleep by 9. Having a request for dinner at 9 is a really demanding on these poor Banglas who have been fasting all day in 110-115 degree weather.

PAE, as you have learned, is filled with a lot of activities that are hands on and has to do with the local village and village life. The women refused to participate in the set activities because they did not like that wherever they went a crowd gathered (just like in those National Geographic documentaries, the whole village does come out to stare and sometimes interact with the bedeshis). They didn’t feel comfortable. I don’t know where in Dhaka that they are living where this doesn’t happen, but from our experience, this happens everywhere around here. They refused to learn how to make pottery because they didn’t want to interrupt the man’s business day. They wanted the pottery making materials brought to their bungalow. They didn’t like the village experience because, “we can go anywhere in Bangladesh and see this.”  The directors of the PAE program went above and beyond and tried to accommodate these women, but nothing they did was good enough. I stepped in on Friday morning when I heard what was going on and organized an itinerary based off of what they wanted to do. We made all of the plans and when it came to the time to do these activities, they changed their minds and refused to participate. It would be one thing to have Panigram change plans if it was all internal, but it is not, all of the activities include villagers or families in the village. They really interrupted families’ lives this weekend. To finish up their experience, they demanded a 1/3 discount. Clark was asked to witness the interaction between the women and the directors in order to “shame” them. This didn’t work. The women were so rude and verbally abusive that Clark came away literally shaking in anger. Thankfully, they are gone now and we can move on, but what a horrible experience and a complete 180 from the experiences of the European ambassador’s wife and sister a couple weeks ago and that of Edi, Stefan and Janice’s visit the week prior. Same program, completely different outcomes. Oh, and as we found out yesterday, they stole an antique lock and key. Those women really were something else.

Other than PAE the last two weekends, hortal has really interrupted our daily lives. No English classes, no farming or advancement of plans, we have just been stuck inside reading and playing cards. Every night we rush outside to grab a Coke, Sprite, or go to Café de Light to get ice cream, just so we can get out of the house.

This past week we had two great experiences. First, we made a trip back to the fair and brought along Savaila and Jeana. Savaila was extremely excited when she saw the Pakistani Pavilion. Within minutes she made friends and the next thing we knew, Clark and I were being summoned to the Pakistani tent. We arrived a few minutes later and were warmly greeted. We entered and were told that we had been invited to iftar with them. The pavilion closed up shop and we were asked to sit behind the tables where we were served an assortment of fruits and vegetables and all of the traditional iftar foods. We were introduced to a new drink, it was fruit syrup mixed with milk, water, and sugar. It was delicious!  Then to mix things up, half way through, 7up was added. Who could have guessed a milk drink and 7up would be good? We sat around and chatted and made friends with everybody and after we were all given gifts. It truly was a great surprise and experience.

Also this week, we celebrated Tazul’s (Ta-jewel)26th birthday. Tazul is one of my M6 students who has become a good friend. We go to tea regularly after class or we go back to his house to meet/interact with his family. Most of his family doesn’t speak English, so it is a lot of charades. Anyway, Clark and I bought him a T-shirt which we found that said Pipeline, California and new soccer shorts. Tazul is the captain of his village’s soccer team, which just won their “tri-sectional” championship a couple weeks back. Nazmeen also got in on the celebration and bought Tazul a birthday cake. We invited Tazul to our house in Jessore to have lunch with us since he isn’t fasting. After lunch we surprised him with the cake and gifts. It was his first birthday cake, first birthday song, and first gifts he has ever received. From what we have learned, birthdays really aren’t that big in the Muslim religion to begin with, but in Bangladesh, where people are living day to day, a birthday is just like any other day. For the first time since meeting Tazul, he was speechless. He had no idea how to react. At first, we weren’t too sure if we committed some awful cultural faux pas. Tazul literally sat at the table for 5 minutes without speaking a word, looking confused, contemplative, and generally aloof. He got out his phone and started fidgeting.  Even Nazmeen didn’t know what to think. It turned out that he was texting me thank you and how honored he was to spend his birthday with us. Phew!! He just couldn’t verbalize his thoughts. It was a moment I will remember the rest of my life.

Ok, sorry for the long post, but two weeks leads to a lot of experiences. To finish off this blog, here are some interesting facts/things we have learned thus far.

Starting a new portion to the blog every week: Interesting facts/things for the week

In Bangladesh they sell rope by the kilogram not by the meter.
In Bangladesh all food has bones, because bones add flavor.
In Bangladesh you do not eat pineapple after drinking milk.
In Bangladesh you do not drink water after eating fruit, but you must drink at least a liter after having jackfruit.



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