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Published: August 9th 2017
Geo: 24.7418, 90.4037
Is it possible to love a country after only being there for a few hours or even one day?
For me, Bangladesh was this place, an underrated country, an unknown country and a forgotten country where the glamour and allure of India dwarf its smaller neighbor.
My previous trip to India and the desire to go back had helped me from the moment we arrived. Just like India, Bangladesh has many attributes that I had forgotten; the traffic, noise, smells, sights, colours, religions, weather and people reminded me of this amazing culture. Within hours of being in Bangladesh I was falling in love and I already couldn't wait to experience a unique opportunity thanks to fate and love.
Where to start? Well we were invited to help volunteer with a group called Taize who have been housing and providing fundings for university to a number of boys who come from disadvantaged and poor families.
Our role within the two weeks was to help with street kids, help with disabled kids and adults through L'arche and occasional English classes. Our busy schedule was managed by Brother Frank, one of four brothers that have been in Bangladesh for over 25 years. Within the schedule we
managed some trips to local villages and schools and attend a music festival all while living in our own little apartment and immersing ourselves in the local culture.
The city we stayed in was called Mymensingh, about a 3-4 hour bus ride (depending on the traffic out of the city) north of the second worse place to live in the world, Dhaka. We were picked up from the airport and had to adjust to the hot and humid weather. Bangladesh is not an easy country to travel around, nothing is really in English and the English language is seldom spoken by many of it's people.
We were lucky to always have someone with us for the whole time.
Bangladesh is also a very poor country, even compared to India, but it's very cheap as we only had 50 Euro between the two of us for the two weeks, but then again we had our food and accommodation all provided for us.
The brother house is set away from the main street along the river bank and nestled in a jungle like surrounding. We arrived in time for lunch where we met some of the boys, most of whom Anna had met when she
was here three years ago.
We were lucky enough to have an apartment which was close to all the places we needed to go to. Our daily routine would involve prayer in the morning at 6.30 with singing instruments, followed by breakfast, attending one program, then prayer and lunch from 12, a few hours rest then attending another program and finishing off by prayer and dinner from 7pm.
I found prayer time awkward at the start, particularly as it was all in the Bengali language. Adjusting to sitting crossed legged all the time was tough too and eating curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner with the hands was all part of life at the Taize house.
At the Brother house there are four brothers, Brother Frank, 78, Brother Jean Jacques, 63, Brother Guillaume ,60 something and Brother Eric, 49, all different with a different personalty but most have been in Bangladesh for 25 years or more and most speak fluent Bangla.
The work they have done over the years and the stories I heard were incredible and inspirational. For example Brother Guillaume has spent years visiting jails and managed to release many people who had been imprisoned for no reason.
In Mymensingh everyone
was friendly, we were never hassled to take riskshaws or tuk tuks or even hounded by beggars. We were able to talk to locals without them asking for money or to buy something, different to India!
People would come up to us to practice their English or to see which country we came from.
Many of the people would stare as we passed by but in a non threatening way, more of a curious way. Here in Bangladesh the religion is mostly Muslim with a little dash of Hinduism and Christians. Frequent Muslim prayer calls would wake us at 4.30 am.
Here the fashion for men is to dye their beards and even hair red. Exercise is a popular sport along the banks of the river from all ages as soon as the sun rises.
All the boys at the Taize house were really nice, most of them are ending their time at the house after numerous years there. As the days passed the friendships grew and both cultures were teaching each other. We would give them English lessons and they would teach us to climb trees, write our names in Bangla and ride rickshaws. My favourite was playing football with the
boys on three different occasions on the large field next to the house.
Most times it seemed that it would rain heavily the previous day making each game muddier than the last. The boys showed me how it was done as the heat saw me drenched in sweat after 5 minutes.
We attended a music and dance festival for one of the afternoons, treated to a number of performances from different people including two of the boys. It was really nice to see but sometimes annoying with one of the worst journalists in the world and a few other people standing in front of the stage taking photos which blocked the view for everyone else.
Bangladesh is a country that is slowly catching up to the 21st century and what some people are doing for this country is amazing. Despite lots of problems with poverty, jobs, an ever increasing population density and the fact that Bangladesh people need a visa to pretty much every other country, the people are proud to be from Bangladesh and they love their country.
I feel lucky to have gone there. Thanks to Anna, I have experienced a different style of travel, one that has touched me deeply
and educated me immensely.
The people that we met and helped, the places we saw, the experiences we encountered and the knowledge we gained was all part of what was an incredible trip.
I guess Bangladesh is not for everyone but then again this is Bangladesh.
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