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 firstname.lastname@example.org). Jordan's Facebook is somehow linked to both our Instagram accounts so check Jordan's Facebook page for pictures.
Until our next update.