Hey all,

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.


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