Brain out...near project completion

Trip Start Sep 05, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Bangladesh  ,
Sunday, April 6, 2008

A man reported to be a professional carpenter hung around our latest jobsite where we are building a house for Mr. Hamazuddjin and his family of six. He frequently points out the numerous things we have done incorrectly. Sometimes he is correct in his assessments of our shortcomings, we are in fact not professional carpenters, we are of course unpaid, unskilled volunteers. However, in typical Bangladeshi style, he often fails to look or think beyond the most basic and obvious situation, alerting us to things which we will clearly attend to when it is time to attend to them. As we built our second side wall on the house which is intended to be 9 feet high, 3 feet higher than the short wall, he kindly pointed out that one wall was in fact larger than the other. We could use a handy volunteer onsite who is in fact skilled, so I attempted to ask this man through our translator Jamil if he would be willing to work with us for the day, for free as a volunteer like us. Jamil replied in top form as he usually does, "if you ask this man to work with you for free as a volunteer, he will make a marathon race away from here!" We were forced to carry on as the unskilled free labor that we are.

The highlight of the past couple of weeks has been without a doubt building a playground in an even more remote area of Bangladehs between our base here in Rayenda and the bay of Bengal. During the assessment stages of the playground project, when asked what the teachers and children imagined as a "playground" the unanimous reply was without fail; a cricket pitch. People in this part of the world do not know what a playground is, they have never seen or heard of one. When we drew pictures of the playground we intended to build them, it was as if we had shown them fire for the first time. I was the team leader for a team of seven volunteers, installed for a week in a remote part of southern Bangladesh, ironically in a cyclone shelter. Our living quarters were in a large cement structure, two stories off the ground perched in open countryside on the grounds of the school where we build our playground. We were surrounded on three sides by fields where the few locals made an extremely meager living growing cabbage and potatoes. The communities made an immediate impression on us with the kids and locals surprisingly respectful of our work space, and extremely helpful and useful when we asked, or again because of our lack of skill, clearly needed some help. Some things were different at the playground build such as the incredibly respectful community, but some things were the same, like the irrational and excessive usage of megaphones. For three nights, a megaphone man blasted unintelligible Bangla readings of the Koran and occasional songs well past midnight. Standing on the roof of the cyclone shelter, overlooking the surrounding countryside with no concentration of homes, or market gathering area, I found myself wondering just who the megaphone man was addressing so loudly and for so long. I also found myself amazed at what we referred to as the "posh toilet" which consisted of an outdoor squat latrine wrapped in an orange piece of tarp. There is nothing quite as exciting taking a dump while Bangladeshis walk by in droves smiling and nodding at you. I didnt think to hard about these things though, after all, this is exactly the kind of thing that becomes completely normal as life goes in southern Bangladesh.

I have also managed to make some inroads in Bangladeshi cooking. A local favorite restaurant that we call "the Hajj" run by a man called Al Hajj serves up a limited varity of Bangladeshi fare, but delicious none the less. In this part of Bangladesh, locals are amazingly conformist in their food choice, work choice and clothing style choice. Certain foods like shingala (a small vegie stuffed fried bread) Mogli (a pan fried bread filled with veg and egg) are only served at certain times of day. If you ask for a Mogli at 10 am you will undoubtedly be unable to get one at the restaurant you are at, or at any other restaurant in Rayenda, or southern Bangladesh. If you ask at 5 pm, you will be able to get all the Mogli you could possible eat, but don't ask for Shingala or Dal at that time of day, you will be out of luck. If you and ten of your friends asked every day for roti ( a simple baked flat bread) from a roti shop at the market that makes nothing but roti at mid day you would be turned away day after day until the end of time. Who would be crazy enough to want that at mid day anyway? Approaching the Hajj at the proper time, I asked Mr Hajj if I could help one of his cooks make the evening Mogli for his hungry customers. The sight of a white man in the street huddling over a huge wok of hot oil, throwing mogli dough over his head in typical form was enough to bring the house down. That was as close to celebrity status as I will ever be in my life. I managed to maximize the entertainment for the crowd when I rushed the process of getting the raw mogli into the hot oil which actually requries a bit of experience and finesse. I managed to splash a significant amount of burning oil onto my leg which send me leaping into the air, as the crowd of a hundred or so gasped, fearing my immanent collapse. The Hajj himself was extremely alarmed as well, ran for a bucket of water and began indiscriminately throwing water on me. When all was said and done, I got out of there with home made mogli and only minor burns on my leg. Who would have ever considered to perils of cooking traditional bangladehis fare?

The project comes to a close on the 18th of April, at which point I will by cycling to India from our front yard here in Rayenda. My cycle is a typical Bangladeshi bhen pronounced "van" which consists of the front half of a bicycle with a wooden flatbed and two wheels at the rear. I'm considering doing this as a fundraiser for Hands On, so I would love you hear any feedback from you all. If not, Ill do it anyway, it will be an adventure.
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ddriscoll225 on

Captain Obvious strikes again
That carpenter guy was Capt. Obvious. He's been following us from site to site, obligingly pointing out to us the obvious.

- Dave D.

* Good luck with the ven. I'm comforted by the thought that you already have experience driving one.

hancocjb on

Im considering going to SEA, but first I have to find my way by cycle rickshaw from Bangladesh into central India. DUnno about battling the 105 degree heat with a fat white man on the back of my rickshaw over dirt bangladeshi roads in the middle of nowhere in southern bangladesh. If I make it to India, then I dont know what to do next. Im sort of in a position to wait until Hands On rolls out to another disaster. But where to wait??

SEA, thats possible. Im not really into traveling at the moment, im kind of travelled out.

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