Map of Bangladesh

Map of Bangladesh
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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

In Sickness and In Health (plus introductions to some friends here)

(written at night on June 8)

One quick thing...
I realize this may prove to be the longest blog post of the entire summer.  I certainly will not attempt to beat it because I fully realize there is value in conciseness, but much of this had to be said- plus, much of it is only pictures, so don't be too intimidated.  Thank you.
Now for the longer part...
We did some traveling on Monday.  We went on a tour through a tea factory, visited a Catholic family where we were served homemade biscuits, and went to a wedding in a tea garden village (a “bagan”). Like many events here, the wedding was not on time, so after some lunch we ended up sitting in a hot room for a couple hours with the beautifully adorned bride.

at the tea factory (from left: random worker, Fr Michael, Manager of factory, yours truly, Kev, Supervisor at factory, Sr Shilpi-Holy Cross Sister)

the kids welcome us to the wedding

in the hot room with the bride

Whether it was the heat or the food or a combination of factors, I soon grew very uncomfortable and had to stand up.  I was just about to go out and get some fresh air when I felt my insides gripping my throat.  I needed to throw up.  This is less easily communicated than you would think, especially when one is scared that talking will force the fluids out and when one is surrounded by Bengalis.  Fortunately, translation from my hand motions, to Kevin’s words, to Father Michael’s brain was just fast enough to get me outside, around the corner of the building, almost to the outhouse.  I threw up a few times on the ground and cleaned myself off, but I was deemed unfit to stay at the wedding.

The ride home was uncomfortable, but I made it 90% of the way home before throwing up out the window here in the town of Srimangal.  My prediction of an easier road after the teaching clinic was not entirely true, but the priests did give me the rest of that day and most of yesterday to rest.  Today was a day off as well and I finally got to play some futbol with the hostel kids.  It has rained all day, which has had its positives and negatives, but mostly the former- the air was cooler, life always goes a little slower on a rainy day, not many people were there to compete for field team on the futbol pitch, and the mud on the field made for a fun afternoon. 

During the only dry part of the day, Kevin and I got to take an unescorted walk out to the southern limits of town.  Many people, including a few young kids who were selling even younger birds, confronted us along the way, but the main reason for me relaying this story is what it did for Kevin and me.  Previously we had spent the vast majority of our time in four places: our room, the dining room, the classroom, and the chapel.  Today we got to break out of that daily mold and spend some time exploring on our own.  It was also good for us because we got to talk alone about things that were not purely teaching business.  I got to hear about his similar strolls through London and his thoughts on the economic situation around us.  I got to share some of my concerns about living here in Bangladesh, as well as my questions about studying abroad in Dublin in the fall.  Throughout the whole trip so far, this time on the road was when I have felt closest to Kev.  Hopefully we can remember this and incorporate more walks into our life here, so as to capitalize on and continue this positive trend.

My body has felt almost entirely better today, but I am having some odd non-corporeal feelings.  I am not comfortable.  I have not decided whether this is good or bad yet, but obviously part of me does not like it.  Tennessee Williams’ essay, “The Catastrophe of Success,” makes the claim that no one should ever have a prolonged period of life without struggle, implying the necessity for some sort of discomfort. Maybe he is right and my discomfort is good.

I believe some of my discomfort comes from not being able to communicate with many of the people here besides the sisters (whom I will introduce to you) and priests.  Furthermore, I am teaching, enjoying time with the kids, traveling the country, and learning about the culture, but there still seems to be some barrier(s) that I have not crossed- I don’t feel entirely integrated.  As I reflect, this discomfort is partly what I asked for in this summer experience.  I told my interviewers that I wanted to be pulled out of my comfort zones back home, in order to learn about myself and to grow.  I said I wanted a separation of variables, where I was the only constant.  I am certainly getting the chance to see myself and the world in a new light- no unmet expectation here, just a nearly forgotten one.

Not everything is uncomfortable though.  I will introduce you to some of my friends in the pictures below.  The sisters here are wonderful.  There are four orders of sisters in Srimangal, all of whom spend some time here in the parish/school compound.  I have been blessed by the presence of spectacular women religious throughout my life, from the Sisters of Jesus Our Hope in pre-school and kindergarten, to Sr. Lisa and one or two more at Immaculate Conception in Somerville, to Sr. Anne (and sometimes Sr. Clare) every morning at the St. Joe’s communion service in high school, and now here in Bangladesh.

The RNDM sisters, or the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions, wear tan and brown habits and work mostly in the parish office.  Two of them were the first Bangla sisters I met.  Sr. Gakon and Sr. Sukriti are lively, but focused women, and they are so generous with their time, their mangoes, and their space under the fan (you can’t understand how much difference a fan makes until you spend time in humidity without Air Conditioning- kinda like our house in New Jersey).


Fr Subul, Fr Pongkas, Sr Gakon, Kev

Kev and I giving a demonstration

Fr Michael (departing pastor, right) and Fr Dominic (new pastor, left) get in the ring

Sukriti and Gakon duking it out after some instigation from Kev and me

The SMRA sisters, or the associates of Mary, queen of the apostles, are the sisters who work in the health clinic (mostly for pregnancy and deliveries) within the parish/school compound.  They wear white and blue habits, much like Mother Theresa’s missionaries of charity.  I went to them briefly after Monday’s episodes.

The Holy Cross Sisters live in the hostel with the girls here at school.  They wear many different colors, but usually one solid color at a time.  Sr. Jumona and Sr. Shilpi are the Holy Cross Sisters I know so far.  They are incredibly friendly people.  I can’t get enough of their joy, light-heartedness, and love.

Enough of the sisters for now, though I am sure they will enter these blog posts again. Moving on to a religious brother.  Brother Marti Enrich is a Marist brother from Catalan, Spain.  The founder of the Marists was Brother Champagnat, whose feast day was on Tuesday, so we had a big celebratory mass.  Brother Marti is maybe in his later 50’s and has served in Bangladesh for the past three years, including the last year and a half here at the school in Srimangal.  He is a very dedicated, loving, intelligent man, who has not lost touch with his inner child.  Just yesterday he was out with the boys playing futbol, helping the weaker team to a victory.  As a side note, whenever he tells a story, he invariably gets his hips involved.  Every description of slippery terrain or of how to handle a tricky situation or of the way a boat moves or of modern fashion, is accompanied by the famous Brother Marti hip gyration.

He lives next door to our room in the house and he speaks pretty good English, so many of our longer conversations have been with him.  Many of these conversations turn into lectures about the unjust distribution of wealth in the world and that much “successful” business is simply robbery from someone else.  He calls himself “a little communist” and some of his ideas are fairly well-founded, but many cannot be acted upon in society as a whole.  For example, one of his complaints is that professional athletes make so much money.  They make money beyond their needs because of the market value of their skill.  He believes that everyone should be given money according to his or her needs, and no more.  Ideally who can disagree with him? But we do not live in an ideal world, so is it not more logical ask questions about how to improve the real situation? Regardless, it leads to good discussions and maybe in a month’s time we’ll have all the economic problems of the world sorted out.

Clockwise: me, Sr Jumona, Br Marti, RNDM sister, Sr Anny, Sr Gakon, Sr Sukriti, Kevin, Father Pongkas

By the way, I seem to have sorted out one of life’s dilemmas.  The best way to get clothes clean, when your washing materials are fairly limited or primitive, is to wash them as soon as they come off your body.  Kev and I have gotten better and better at washing our clothes in a bucket.  We no longer perpetually smell like sweat and curry (unless we’re just getting used to the smell).

Oh and for those wondering, here is the picture of the bug that jumped out of my shirt in the last blog post and would go for 2 takha in the market.

Hope life wherever you are is going well.  Laugh, Love, Live, and don’t take people or circumstances for granted.


P.S. We will spend the next two days with primary school children in a nearby hostel (we expect them to know almost no English at all, so this will be interesting).

Starting this coming week we should have a fairly regular teaching schedule in the school here, besides an occasional trip to a meeting, a wedding, or to visit Andrew and Leo (the other two American boxers) in Mariamnagor.

My Bangla is still elementary, but I know a few words and sentences, including the entire Pronam Maria (Hail Mary).

Lastly, we have a wealth of short videos that are really good, but I will not be able to post them with our current internet speed (these pictures took more than an hour to load), so I will post them when I get back to the states.  These videos include but are not limited to:
·         The “Bengal Bouts Shuffle”
·         Boxing with the kids
·         Our students singing American nursery rhymes
·         Our car rides and bus trip

me teaching

Kevin teaching

All of our catechist masters from the teaching clinic those first four days

the overturned truck from our crazy bus ride to Srimangal

just a fun performance by some of the catechist masters (we couldn’t understand a word of it, but I think it was making fun of a rain dance- tribals here like to make jokes and skits about more primitive people)

1 comment:

  1. Jeff,

    Im glad your feeling better!
    It must be challenging to teach people who don't speak english. Best of luck with it, I know you are an extraordinary teacher.
    Looking forward to hearing about your next adventure, and once again you remain in my prayers.