Three weeks in Reyenda

Trip Start Sep 05, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Bangladesh  ,
Sunday, February 24, 2008

Rajib: "After Sidr storm bus driver is driving on road, he knock me down...bus driver must be beat. So I go on bus, take him, and I give him beat"

Rajib is our wonderful translator and host here in Reyenda. His family owns one of the only cement buildings in Reyenda, and during cyclone Sidr, over 150 people took refuge in his families house, fearing for their lives. Our hosts are truly wonderful, and much like India our discoveries of our very obvious cultural differences are consistently comical.

So far our work here has been largely construction. In typical Hands On fashion, skills which you would need a license to apply on a job site in the states, have a 10-30 minute learning curve here. Last week we finished a house for Mr. Jamal. His families small plot of land was ravaged by the storm, and Jamal, his wife and his child currently live in an 8 by 8 foot scrap tin shack. They are lucky to have a mattress, a blanket and some collected wood. His new house required 4 of us volunteers on the job site daily for 8-9 hours each day. We were fortunate to get the dedicated help of Jamal himself for the duration of the construction, as well as some of the locals. On most of the job sites here, we seem to get daily loiterers, and sometimes, as was the case on this site, daily help. Many of them are simply shocked at the sight of a white woman sawing through a 3x3, or perched 10ft off the ground on roof rafters, but many of them are happy to put aside their cultural expectations of women and are happy to work with us. We believe that "Hammer Man" as we called him was a distant relative of Jamal's, but he was around every day to help us out. That is with any task that required a hammer. Jobs that required acending a ladder, or using any tool other than a hammer were not in his repertoire, but when it came to hamming things, he was always present and active. His one attempt at screwing in a roof screw did not go well. We had a great relationship with many other passers by and folks how simply wanted to contribute their 2 cents. Often on construction sites we run into problems that do require a bit of brains to solve , and usually a few brave souls from the healthy crowd of 30-40 onlookers play an active role. Our largest problem building Jamals house was with an incorrectly measured door, but after a 40 minute conversation of pointing and yelling "ahh" "ahh" at one another, all parties settled on a viable solution to the gap between the door and the frame of Mr. Jamals house.

The neighborhood around our HODR base is lively. I have managed to make some friendships with many of the local children. I am frequently accompanied on my daily trips to the markets by young Saddam. Conversations with Saddam are limited to
"Hello, Saddam"
"Hello, Mr. John"
"What is your country?"
"My country, America, same country as yesterday"
"What is your name?"
"Saddam, my name is John, you know that"
"Yes, what is your country?"
I repeat this conversation on a dialy basis with Saddam.

Thus far, it appears that in general, Bangladeshis are much more concerned with their immediate situation than their potential situation 10 days, a month, or several years from now. They seem to prefer to get things done quickly and efficiently at the cost of some future inevitable failures. Many home owners whom will build homes form simply want to get to "move in" day. Day one on the building site is usually tricky. The man of the house is often eagerly handing us 2x2's 1x4;s and nails in no particular order. Once a part of a structure appears to be even close to built, home owners and the crowd of 30-40 Bangladeshis rush to stand it up disregarding often obvious structural

My situation in Reyenda brings up a lot of strange thoughts. Sometimes it's the rail thing children running along side my bicycle as I race them through a dusty field. For a few days on one of my work sites, a severely ill child suffering from polio spent entire days with us. He stood there, shaking, struggling to stand on his bare feet, teeth already rotted past repair, and unable to speak more than a mumble. The highlight of his day was playing catch with a work glove of mine. I was glued to the window of our dilapidated bus the other day, watching a girl dressed in a flowing magenta salwar kameeze run through an open farm field.

With 2 days off last weekend, we made plans to get out of Reyenda in to a reasonably populated part of the country with minimum effort and maximize our comfort. We sought after a hot shower, a television, electricity, and just about anything that represents a western lifestyle. We attempted what we were told was a 1 and a half hour journey involving a bus and a motorbike ride. We should have known better. This is Bangladesh, and we in a part of Bangladesh that is so unreasonably off the map, I still don't even know where Reyenda is on a map of Bangladesh. Our ensuing trip involved the following steps:
Small Boat
Mini Taxi
Cycle Rickshaw
Cycle Rickshaw
We ended up miles from our desired destination because our chosen destination turned out to have only 2 or 3 hotels all of which were fully booked up for the national Bangladeshi language holiday. We eneded up in Khulna, reported to be the third biggest city in Bangladesh. We wouldn't have known it from Las Vegas. We reported to our room shortly after 4pm, and did not emerge until checkout the next day.

Back to Bangladesh,
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