I’m sitting on a bus from Dhaka (capital) to Srimangal (village) and the scenery just keeps getting more and more picturesque- luscious green areas, dotted by garment factories and brick-making towers. We just passed an overturned tractor trailer in the middle of the road. At times I think our fate will be similar, but time and time again the driver of this miracle bus proves me wrong. We weave through towns and people and traffic like a torpedo through a coral reef. I will never understand where these Bengali drivers get their powers. Seriously, this is a more exhilarating adrenaline rush than any amusement park I’ve been to (and for a better price). Saint Christopher, patron of travelers, watch over us and over this entire country!
Since my last blog post we’ve spent time throughout a good chunk of Dhaka. We traveled down to Old Dhaka, which is the Hindu section of the city. There, we got the chance to walk down some beaten down and smelly (squatting and relieving oneself on the side of the road is a common event here), but appealingly lively and colorful alleys. I loved it because, due to its narrow streets, it was impassable to cars and their frequently blaring horns (those car, bus, and motorcycle horns may prove to be the worst part of the country to me). Old Dhaka was born about 400 years ago and thrived as a Hindu center for centuries. Idols and shrines to different Hindu gods still exist there as testament to the area’s history and as nourishment to the modern Hindus who still live there.
We also got the chance to visit Notre Dame college, the most prestigious college (equivalent to our high school) in the country. It is run by the Congregation of Holy Cross and one of my favorite aspects was that 10-15% of the acceptance spots are reserved for young Catholics from the tribal groups and villages. These are people like those whom I will meet at the end of this bus ride and whom I will teach. At the college we had an hour or so of free time, which we used in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat some students in barefoot soccer. By the end of the game, there was a sizeable audience of workers from the metal-working and other vocational trade shops on the college campus. At dinner that night I got to meet a living legend, Fr Dick Timm, whose autobiography I read this past semester. I was unaware until recently that he was still alive.
On our last day in Dhaka yesterday, we played basketball with the seminarians. The team for whom I played lost (I’ve had a losing record throughout the trip so far), but we all got to enjoy dinner and a community night together afterward, as well as the birthday party of the seminary house’s Rector, Father James Clement Cruze, a now-45-year-old Bengali man. All weekend, we four boxers had been preparing a song, based on the famous Chicago Bears’ 1985 “Superbowl Shuffle,” which we finally performed during the community night festivities. It went very well, aside from a mishap in my beat-boxing during the third verse.
A serious issue which has plagued me in Dhaka (as well as in cities in the United States) is giving money to beggars. Giving money seems a bad way to encourage dependency and uncomfortable attention for wealthy people. Denying money seems a heartless, selfish crime. Most often I have compromised by giving food or drink or offering to purchase something of such practical value, but what can one do when those offers are refused or not possible?
I have been reading a beautifully written book, My Life with the Saints, written by Jesuit James Martin. Two chapters that pertain especially to this concern for the Poorest of the Poor (as Mother Theresa called them) are the ones about Mother Theresa (whose Missionaries of Charity we visited in Old Dhaka) and Dorothy Day (who happened to be my ND Vision model of faith last summer). Their lives of complete humility and service, driven by their love for the poor, are inspiring. A total yes is easier, if not in practice, at least in principle, than the more common balancing act in many people’s lives. I still have not decided in what capacity I feel called to serve, but I know it will always be important (hopefully central) to me. I will never belittle a person whose life is given to service of the poor, even extremely or to the detriment of that person’s worldly life.
Remembering this commitment to service and acting on it always proves more difficult when not confronted daily by struggle or pain, so I pray and I ask that you pray for me, that I not back down from whatever I am called to do.
It’s difficult to reconcile logically the fact that in four months I will be studying abroad in Europe, spending a couple extra thousand dollars to travel to Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, London, and possible more cities, whereas this current trip is, at least nominally, dedicated to serving those less fortunate, teaching English, and developing relationships with beneficiaries and friends of the Bengal Bouts. Some would say that not all are called to love in such radical ways as mission work. Some would say that leisure and sight-seeing are important to development of the whole person. Some would say that one needs to take care of oneself before presuming to be ready to serve others, but I can’t say any of those sentiments entirely satisfies me.
Oh and for those wondering about that cockroach we had in our sink. We named him Harry and kept him as a pet all weekend until releasing him to new life in the wild last night. You’re free Harry! You’re free!
Thanks for reading. I’ll write again as soon as I can- and more pictures (and maybe even videos, like the one of the Bengal Bouts Shuffle) should be coming if the internet connection allows it.
(sorry that there is no picture with this blog post. I will post some more ASAP)