7up-the taste that has taken over

If you ever visit Bangladesh, there are a few things you should know:

 7up

When you go to a restaurant outside of Dhaka, you often have two choices: water or 7up. If you are in Dhaka, Pepsi—or in a very rare occasion—Diet Pepsi might be available. They will also ask you if you want your water or 7up “normal or cold.” The drinks, including 7up, are often room temperature. Once you realize that 7up is all you can get, you will start to love 7up. You will rejoice when you find out the restaurant sells cold 7up. If you find a diet coke, it is a rare occasion. My advice is to buy all of them.

Roundabouts

Dhaka loves roundabouts. These are the circular traffic patterns used instead of four way stops. Keep in mind that the traffic lights probably mean nothing (there are a few intersections where people pay attention to them, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason why). If you need to turn, your driver will just dodge traffic around the roundabout. Sometimes a policeman with a long, skinny stick directs traffic and beats cars.

Doreos

It is not always easy to find chocolate bars or cookies. If you go to a store and they sell Doreos that look on the package like Oreos, do not buy them. I repeat DO NOT BUY THEM. They are not good. In fact, when we played card games the loser had to eat a Doreo. Hence Tim Delaney’s new nickname “Doreo Delaney.”

 Sitting down

Everyone in Bangladesh wants you to sit down. If you say that you would like to stand, they will take this to mean that you just don’t like the chair they have brought. One or more people will then go get more chairs for you to choose from—sometimes it is the exact same chair you said you didn’t want to sit in. No matter. They want you to sit.  My advice is to just sit the first time you are asked.

 Eating

Bangladeshis love you to eat. No matter how much you have eaten, they always believe you are holding out on them when you say you are full. They just know that you can fit a few more bites of rice into your stomach. They will continue to offer food to you until you leave.

 Tea

Drinking hot tea in 100 degree weather seems crazy, but it is what you do in Bangladesh. Our group adapted quickly and also began drinking tea in all kinds of weather. Somehow, it does not make you hotter. Also, Bangladesh people love sugar. At least one teaspoon of sugar is put into each small cup of tea.  You won’t find artificial sweetener anywhere in the country. Don’t worry, though, because it tastes great.  We’ve gotten used to having tea after every meal. I wonder who will serve me tea after lunch and dinner in the states?

 Sweets

Speaking of sugar. Bangladesh has the most wonderful sweets. Make sure you try the blackberries. The name is deceiving. There are no berries involved. It is a soft oval doughnut (no hole) submerged in a krispy kreme-like glaze. It is heavenly.

 Eating times

It is a good idea to pack snacks. You eat when you get up, 2 p.m. and 8 or 9 p.m. We also quickly adapted to this schedule. Although it is so hot, you don’t want to eat anyway.

 American food

If you absolutely need American food, hit up American Burger (several locations) or Coffee World (in Bhanani–they also serve pizza).  Coffee World grinds the beans and makes a plethora of coffee drinks, including just plain coffee.

 Bangladeshi head nods

There is a hole language of head nods that you need to know: yes, no, maybe, thank you, etc.  Our interpreter Younus was  nice enough to demonstrate each of these nods. Lynne Ausman is posting the photos and an explanation. Make sure you check out her blog.

Snake charmers!

Today we went to Ghuradia–a village full of snake charmers! Almost everyone in the village is a snake charmer. Ghuradia is near Savar in the Dhaka division. The people are known as Badhi river gypsies. We were warmly welcomed and everyone was willing to give us a snake show.

What we saw was amazing. I am now a believer in snake charmings!

Madhabkunda Falls

After visiting the tea estates in Sylhet, we had the opportunity to visit a beautiful waterfall called Madhabkunda Fall. We walked through a picturesque tropical forest when rain started to fall. As we approached the waterfall, it started to come down harder when the massive waterfall was revealed.

After the waterfall, we had lunch then hopped back into the car for a long drive back to Dhaka. We arrived in Dhaka a little before 4 a.m. The next morning I had the opportunity to meet with the Yunus Centre executive director and discuss a project I will be working on regarding best practices for social business.

We then caught up with Younus (our intrepreter) and had two packed days which included a snake charmer! That will be the next post.

Ganges River excitement

I had a wonderful trip yesterday to Utrail. It is where Dr. Choudhury’s family has a vacation home. We took a two hour ferry ride to get there and then another boat ride later in the day. Seeing village life along the river was so beautiful.

I really love Bangladesh and its beauty. I am sure you can tell that from my posts. I do have to post about something that happened on the way back.

We were late to the ferry, getting there around 10 p.m. The ferry was already taking off so they stopped it and there was a three foot jump from the dock to the ferry. The boys jumped it but there was no way all of the women could do it. So the driver said he was going to quickly put the ferry up to the dock and we need to go through the gate.

The problem was that it happened too fast. Dr. Ahmed, her mother in law, Beth and Lynne made it through the gate (though not easily because the ferry was picking up speed). Anna, Marianna and I were left on the dock. So we ran after the ferry and jumped over the side which was about a four foot drop onto people who were sitting. Have I mentioned that the ferry is five floors and there there about 200 people watching this happen. They were apparently yelling at the ferry to slow down.

Marianna and I looked at each other and said, “we are going to have to go over the side.” So Marianna grabbed my shoulder, I shouted “move” to people who couldn’t speak English sitting below and we jumped over the edge. Anna’s foot got caught and someone from the dock pushed her up over the wall while someone else pulled her onto the boat from the other side. A man grabbed me and pulled me and Marianna held onto my shoulder and jumped.

We were all fine and it was really funny and exciting. Considering that probably most people on the ferry had not seen many foreigners and here we are jumping onto the boat as it is speeding away, we must have looked crazy. I am sure it is on youtube somewhere!

Grameen Shikkha

I met the most wonderful sari maker. He works out of his home while also attending school. His name is Arju and the intricate detail he employs is some of the best I have seen.  I think it is because his hand are so small.  Arju is ten. 
Arju works fro 6 to 9 a.m., goes to school from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and then works from 5 p.m. to ten p.m. He works six days a week and has Friday off. When you meet him at school, he seems like any child. He laughs and smiles. I could tell he was mesmerized by my pen. I had a soccer ball pen and I traded him for his orange pen. The soccer ball lights up and he watched it turn off and on. He then passed it around to each child in the class so they could turn the light on and off. 
Arju lives in the Mirpur slums. He is expected to work. Grameen Shikkha is a vast education program by Grameen (http://www.grameen-info.org/grameen/gshikkha). The slum program takes school to the child’s neighborhood. If not, he or she would never be able to attend school. No one at Grameen bats an eye as Arju takes us to his home and shows us how he makes saris. I believe it is a necessary evil to them. If they scold the parents, the parents may not let the child come back to school. I am sure it is a struggle for Grameen–at least it would be for me. 
There are 20 slum schools that house 20 to 25 children. The grades are one to five. Arju’s English is very good and he tells us that he studies Bangali, English, math, science and religion here. His favorite subject is English and he would like to be a car engineer one day. I hope he can. 
Another boy in the class boasts that he makes 900 taka a week making wedding saris. He is 13. Another young girl shows off beading that she made on the shirt and scarf. She is not as talented as the other boy and is considered unskilled so she only makes regular saris at 150 a week (a little more than $2). I would like to know who is buying these saris. 
I believe child labor is wrong but a person I met here says, what are the parents to do if they also do not make enough to feed their child? There are no programs to help the family. 
How do you feel about it? Each time I think of Arju’s smile, I can’t believe that child labor is the answer. 

Street children

Many of you know that I work at a nonprofit simply because I often ask for donations of items for the kids where I work.  After seeing street children in Bangladesh and meeting some of the people that work with them, I am once again completely moved.

It took me along time to figure out how to write this post. While I have enjoyed Bangladesh and its beauty, there is also a darker side that greeted us immediately after we left the airport.

We drove by a dried fountain where naked and dirty children were sleeping in the middle of the day.  I have not been able to get the image out of my head and it still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it.

Street children are a major challenge in Bangladesh. Some are beggars, some are part of begging schemes, many are addicted to drugs. We found out that some are victims of organ harvesting and trafficking.

Two days ago, we visited a place where street children greeted us with smiles. The significance is that for a brief moment, we were able to see them as children, enjoying the songs and dances of childhood that every child craves. There is an organization that is related to Grameen that does similar banking work in Dhaka (Grameen focuses on villages). The organization is called Padakhep and they also have a program called PCAR-Protection of Children At-Risk.

Here, street children come to live until age 18. They are given an informal education and as they grow up are taught trade skills (I put a few photos of what they have made in the blog). The average age is eight years old when they come to PCAR but some are younger.

Most importantly though, was a feeling of love that can only be scene by symptoms of smiles, joy and an overall feeling of being free. It seems that when a child can have a moment without worry, it is because he or she does not have to think about the food, money or worse that they must earn or do. Instead, someone is taking care of them. I think this is childhood.

The capacity of the location is 40. Right now, 25 live there all of the time while ten children come to stay during the day because their families cannot fully provide for them. The worker that we met has been there for ten years. Like so many of the social workers at home, it is a passion for her and not a job.

I am hoping to find a way that people can send donations to PCAR. After being so moved by the image of the children at the fountain, I found relief in the smiles at PCAR. There is a young man who was particularly passionate aobut singing and dancing. I think you will be able to see who he is.

Learn more at http://www.padakhep.org/

Banbareia Government Primary School

While in the village, we visited a primary school. I mentioned before that there were 4 teachers for 304 students. The school is 1st through 5th grade. The government pays for students to go to school until 10th grade.

We found out today that across Bangladesh, there is almost a 100% enrollment but a 60% dropout rate in primary school (this is not for this school-this came from someone in Dhaka).

At this primary school, the mothers are very involved and have an organization like a PTA. All students must also wear uniforms and most cannot afford them so there is a village fund to pay for them.

The school welcomed us and even did a performance for us. The kids practiced English with us. “What is your name?” “How are you?” “What is our favorite color?” “What is your favorite food?”

They kids also spent a lot of time visiting us at our bank branch. I included photos of some of wall coverings they use  learn, too.

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