Monday, December 21, 2009

The Gauva Tree Barber

Snip, snip, snip. The gentle clipping of my next door neighbor's scissors nip across hair, trimming the dead ends. Wielding her silver shears, Lydia cuts away more than hair. Her smile easily spreads across her face during her hilarious reminiscences and tales, disappearing just quickly as her clients sigh and complains about their workdays.

As a mother of four and wife of a missionary, this American is so much more than a housewife in Africa. Sitting under that guava tree, her missionary customers unwind from their stressful missions work for a few moments. Tension and trauma blow away with the gentle sea breeze as Lydia runs her fingers through their tresses, empathizing with everything they say. No judgment is offered, merely sympathy and light-hearted anecdotes for distraction.

She finishes, shaking their hair off a sheet. Sighing, they stand up from the wooden stool with lighter heads and hearts.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Big Time Theft

Tuesday our school hosted an interschool Tanzanian soccer tournament. During the long afternoon of games a theft took place. Luckily, the dangerous thief was apprehended.

The theft? A Grade 11's backpack filled with items stolen from the boys' bathroom and a classroom. The comprehensive list includes a calculator, toilet paper, toilet cleaner, and-you guessed it-a condom. While this list may seem absurd considering the many valuable computers and electronics our school holds, it is correct.

The thief? A no-good-dirty-rotton-toilet-paper-stealing-soccer-player-from-another-school.

The Haven of Peace Academy took a collective sigh when she was successfully kicked out of the tournament.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Good Omens

This is a good start to Monday morning. So far the mangy dogs that normally jump all over me on my run around the German Boarding home hills were called off by their Massai owner. Next I actually had water in the locker room to shower after my morning workout-the gardener rembered to turn on the water, as he rarely does. When I went into the staffroom for my morning coffee my favorite large sized mug was sitting, ready and waiting for MOI. Worship at assembly was amazing, thanks to the vocals of a sweet Grade 12 girl. I hope this great Monday continues... This bodes well for the rest of the week.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ethnic Stereotypes

In my Grade 12 class we were talking about ethnic stereotypes. I know they are technically wrong to perpetuate as they aren't politely correct-but so darn often they are true that it’s hard to get away from them! I mean, my Korean students generally are amazing at drawing and sketching and gifted in Maths. My British students generally have a dry, formal way of speaking. And my Aussie students, well, they are so Australian in their hearty and energetic personalities. Actually, I teach many Australian students this year and they are such bright teenagers! They stand out as some of the brightest in my English classes. My students this year are a good mix as I also have students from Tanzania, Rwanda, Germany, Holland, Guatemala, Ireland, America, Greece, and more! It is a highly international school flair each ethnic group brings to the mix.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

To Dubai

So this last weekend I was in the Middle East-Dubai to be exact-for a teacher training course for the British exam board I teach (Cambridge International Examinations). The course was useful. The time in Dubai was excellent; that was surprising because previously I was skeptical about the idea of building a megatourist destination in the middle of a desert. Absolute arrogance, I thought, mentally comparing it to the notorious Biblical Tower of Babel.

Instead I was impressed with the absolute ease of the city. The people were mainly not Arabs. Instead they were a mishmash of Indians, Pakistanis, Bangalis, Asians, all laboring together in various blue collar jobs. Hopping into taxis and conversing with the chatty Asian drivers was simple. Shopping at their megamalls with every type of designer store you can dream of was equally simple.

Even better were the souks. Visiting an old covered soul near the "Creek" (the Dubai name for their huge river) brought me back a taste of Bangladesh and I felt like Princess Jasmine stepping into an Arabian Nights tale. Men in punjabis held up beaded skirts and pashminas against me, telling my how lovely I looked. One Indian succeeded in selling me a chiffon belly dancing belt covered in jangling coins. Since coming back to Tanzania I've put it to good use with my "Learn to Belly Dance" dvd.

Another souk shop owner from Kerala, South India, befriended me and presented me with a designer Fendi wallet because he wanted "a friend in the United States." Afterwards he tried to kiss me, so I suspect he wanted more than friendship.

Overall, Dubai impressed me as the best planned and maintained city not in the West that I've ever visited. Would I go back to that Arabian fairy tale of a city? In a heartbeat!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chronicles of a Cycler Part III

Knackered. After a day spent cycling at least 25 kilometers around the city of Dar es Salaam knackered is the only word for me. Hmm…or perhaps sunburned, sandy, or dirt-streaked? All of the above apply.

But what word can I use to describe the Dar experience? The experience of seeing all different aspects of the city-include the huge variety of housing types, ranging from ultra poor stone huts to huge stone mansions? Or the variety of people, ranging from well-dressed women to scraggly kids playing with tires?

It was a long, hot, and hugely informative day. One that culminated in my squished into the back of a tuk-tuk with our two mountain bikes while another guy I biked with sat up front with the driver.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


My school's theme for this year is “Do Hard Things” and us teachers are alternatively cajoling and encouraging our students during assemblies and homeroom to choose a goal, a hard thing to do for the glory of God. This theme is based on the book by the teenage twins Bret and Alex Harris encouraging teens to start a “rebelution” against the low expectations placed on them.

My students are rising to meet our challenge. One student has decided to build a Tanzanian orphanage for his senior service learning project. Another to mentor children out in a village. Some are choosing to heal broken friendships, learn to play the guitar, or earn an “A” in a challenging class.

In my 8th grade homeroom I’ve been inspiring my students by researching together Biblical heroes who did hard things for the glory of God. Sometimes I share stories of kids who have surpassed expectations, like a 17 year old who sailed around the world. Or a five year old who raised 30 thousand dollars for orphans. Then sometimes I have my students encourage each other through writing notes or prayer.

Pushing my students to persevere, to press on to achieve their hard things is exhilarating. This school year promises to see great things accomplished by the kids at HOPAC.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Chronicle One of a Cycler

...Fingers crossed I’ll live to write many more

Now I can meet Dar es Salaam on its own terms. Now I have a bike. Last weekend I bought a UK mountain bike off young Mcfarlane, a Northern Irish student of mine. After taking it out on a main road this afternoon I am so thankful it’s a mountain bike and built for rough riding. The streets are deeply rutted and covered in sandy dirt and frequently I had to veer off the cement to avoid being hit by a rogue dalla dalla [local bus] or construction truck.

This danger added to the charm of my quest to find a Luku station [prepaid electricity for my house]. Like in all cities, I only feel engaged and truly a part of my surroundings if I’m out there on my bike, vulnerable, sweating, but very much in the city. My city experiences are typically rougher than the average American’s as they are mainly in packed third world countries.

Riding through Dar I battled a terrific sea breeze, school children loitering in my path and calling out at me, and the quick stream of traffic zipping past. With the dust blowing in my face and the uncertainty of knowing where I’m headed, I enjoyed my adventure.

I can see why some people are driven to bike across countries or even continents. Usually I have the desire to swim around places, but the lure of cycling is growing on me. My housemates were overjoyed when I acquired my bike, and now they send me off on expeditions to buy electricity or pick up bread at a duku [market stall]. However, they’ve informed me that they’ll be kind when it comes to needing juice, only asking for one or two gallons (ha ha ha).

The pictures here are sites I encountered on my foray into the city. The picture at the top is me with my new housemates.

A note on theft

Theft is more common in Dar and even East Africa as a whole than in Bangladesh. Petty theft, muggings, car jacking, smash and grabs-everyone I meet has a story about it. Tonight my next neighbor, Lydia, can over with her two of her teenagers for a game of Bananagrams (our compound addiction). While were playing she informed me they had been robbed Monday night and our guard was consequently dismissed.

Was he associated with the robbery? Don’t know. We do know he’s the only guard our compound head has a bad feeling about. We also know his buddies tend to hang out with him while he’s on duty-did one of them steal? But no matter who is the thief our guard is responsible since he’s employed to be sure no one on the compound is robbed. Tough for the guard.

This makes me wonder several things. Firstly, Bengalis as a whole are poorer than Tanzanians, so why more theft in Tanzania? Secondly, how safe am I anywhere in Dar, including in my own home with a gated compound?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Africa. East Africa. Tanzania. Dar es Salaam

Looking at the Indian Ocean from one of the many wide windows of my sandstone home I have to remind myself that just across that ocean is my old Bangladeshi home. This panorama strongly contrasts with the blaring music from the bar across the street behind me. Pondering my new home, I sit here on a Friday night after my first full week of teaching in Dar. From my shaded veranda I can glimpse dusty brown feet slip by under the wall surrounding my compound as they pad along the deeply-rutted road.

Dar is as unlike Dhaka in as many ways as it’s similar. Similarities? It has poverty. It has riches. Differences? The two are unseparated to the extreme. Gated mansions are juxtaposed by neighboring shacks. Limousines cruise down streets next to beat up clunkers. Yet how can this be a poor country? People are fat here! In Bangladesh I felt huge, a towering, well-padded giant around the malnourished Bengalis. Here next to beefy African mamas and muscular men I feel like a petite enfant.

While school consumes my life figuring out the apparent contradictions of Dar is secondary. Working from the crack of dawn until late into the day makes swinging in my neighbors’-a friendly family from Tennessee-hammock more appealing then gallivanting around a strange city by myself at night. Especially a city with as many car jackings, muggings, and theft as Dar.

But, the adventurous part of me is reasserting itself and I long to explore. Tomorrow morning-Saturday-I plan on venturing out to find a local bicycle shop an Irish teacher called Mcfarlane tipped me on. I just love living the expat life where random oddities like this happen. Take how yesterday I was informed a great resource on Swahili language and culture is from a co-worker who is Greek but married to a German. Random.*

This brings to a close my first blog from the African continent. Hopefully many more follow…unless one of the many possibilities (or should I say probabilities) of a car accident, tropical disease, or worse happens to me.

Kwa heri [good bye]!

*Another bit of random African trivia. Asante sana, squashed banana” is a direct quote from Rafiki in the “Lion King”. Asante sana means “thank you very much.” Squashed banana must have a deeper meaning, but I’m still searching for it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Merely Existing in the USA

Well, I've been bouncing around the USA since the end of June, visiting family and churches as I fund raise for my transition to teaching in Tanzania.

It's been a good chunk of time since I've been in a first world country, so why am I not enjoying it as much as people tell me I should be? One teacher I worked with in Bdesh called it "the country where dreams come true." After all, coffee shops are easily accessible, allowing me to choice selections of hot lattes and iced coffees with fancy flavorings. Also, stores have options! It's not about going to buy a soda, it's what flavor? Caffeine free or caffeinated? Choices abound.

Life is too easy in America. My time feels wasted on trivial decisions like, "what should I watch tv tonight" when I spent the past two years without a tv. My time in Bangladesh was more meaningfully spent with all the time wasting activities stripped away. In Bangladesh I volunteered during my free time rather than going to the mall.

On the other hand, catching up with my family and the friends I've been able to see so far has been wonderful. So good. I loved making dirt cups with my little sister, watching my little brother open his birthday presents, and learning how to quilt from my Grandma. That time was not wasted!

Now the count down till I leave for Africa is ticking mentally away in my head. August 11th and I'll finally be in my new home-the land of the "chocolate people".

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Amanda's perspective-I Am NOT a Jungle Girl

*Again, this is a guest blog, so these are the views of Amanda and not Elaine.

We started out the morning with a relaxing boat ride over to Taman Negara. We were filled with excitement. Little did I know what would be in store for me that day. We went up steps to the canopy walkway. I was extremely nervous since it involved walking across narrow bridges suspended in the air. Heights are not my thing. The bridges swayed as you walked across. I clung to the ropes that acted as handrails, which was considerably more difficult since I was shaking with fear. I was especially disturbed when I found out that we would do this without a harness. I was proud that despite the Czech man who constantly told me how scared and petrified I looked that I made it through the entire canopy walk and this time, I have pictures to prove it. What I later found out, was that the canopy walk was actually the easy part.

Right after the canopy walk, we stopped at a vine and everyone took a turn trying to climb it. Elaine climbed up the highest. Afterwards she confessed that she just wanted to show up those ballet dancers. I got a turn too, but with my twig arms I didn’t make it very far. I much prefer things that do not involve exercise.

We began trekking up the trail in the rainforest. At first I thought about what a great experience this was going to be. I was walking around in a beautiful, noisy rainforest teeming with life in Asia. After several more sets of stairs, I began to become annoyed. The stairs were so tall, even for me. It became so much work. Later, we had to use the roots of trees as our stairs. When we finally stopped at a scenic viewpoint I felt such relief to know that I was done. Unfortunately, this was not the case, I was informed that actually there was more walking to get to the top, but it was easy and flat and would only take about 10 minutes.

So, we continued on. At the sight of the first set of steps that I was told wouldn’t exist on this part of the trail, I was beside myself. It was all I could do to keep myself from bursting into tears. I was tired and hot. I was so sweaty that I was actually leaning over and ringing my hair out to stop the sweat from dripping down my back. I decided that crying would make me feel better, but it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to lose any more water than necessary since I had already drank my two water bottles and I was in the process of sweating them all out. Elaine kept telling me it would be worth it when we saw the view at the top. As we arrived at the top, I found a bench and plopped down. I was so relieved. I refused to get up and go to the edge to look at the view. I was disappointed, exhausted and unhappy. I have to say that treacherous hike was so NOT worth it to see that view. I was miserable. All I wanted to do was crawl up in a ball after a hot shower and cry myself to sleep in a nice bed. However, that was not meant to be. I still had to hike back. I took a cold shower under a small trickle of water and passed out for a 3 hour nap on a small, uncomfortable bed with an A/C that was, at best, inefficient. It was not an exciting adventure, nor was it fun. I am glad I did it, but I am sure I will probably never do it again. I was couldn’t wait to head back to KL the next morning. I am NOT jungle girl.

Trekking in Malaysia-Elaine's Perspective

After a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Amanda and I headed to Taman Negara National Park, which is the world’s oldest rainforest and a lush, green jungle teeming with life. Our first morning there we left our quaint wooden chalet to breakfast on a floating restaurant. After Amanda watched me drink my morning cuppa joe and she had her morning Coke, we joined our guide in crossing the river on
a long, wooden ferry boat. Once on the other side of the river we trekked up to a canopy walk-ten bridges and 9 tree stands-that Amanda guesstimates was 200 meters long. But with her white face and frequent reminders to me that she was afraid of heights, I guesstimate it felt like 20,000 meters long for my fearful friend.

Afterward our group stopped to a have vine climbing contest. I climbed the highest and showed u the French ballet dancers on our trek.

Next we began the steep descent up a mountain. Up, up, we went, using the tangled root system as stairs. The jungle was so alive! Around us called the tropical birds (mainly hornbills), insects, and silver leaf monkeys. Pouring with sweat from the dense humidity, we made it to the top after only an hour’s climb. The view was priceless. Layer upon layer of vine and tree covered mountains stretched in front of us. The view also encompassed rocky formations before the steep drop into the murky river winding below. I took in the view with satisfaction at completing the difficult climb. Amanda sank on a rock and refused to budge or smile.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Amanda's trip to Dhaka-Bongo Bazar

*This is the trip to Bongo Bazar with Amanda from my perspective!

I took Amanda to one of my most favourite places to shop in Dhaka-Bongo Bazar! Crowded, close, cheap,-and best of all, boiling in premonsoon season heat. We plunged into the tiny stall-lined market to hunt for the few priceless bargains hidden in the piles of clothing. When I found a gem-say and H&M or a Mango top-I'd hold it up with glee and begin haggling. Bargaining is a procedure with rules and customs, it's a lot like Monopoly. The think to remember is the shop keeper will never sell something it's his loss-so bargain away! I excel at bargaining and walked away with cute shirts for less than two USD a piece.

We left early, though, as the heat of the afternoon and hawkers were bothering Amanda. Her normally cute face was grimly set in a tense mold.

Amanda's trip to Dhaka-Bongo Bazar

*This is a guest blog from my friend Amanda, who recently visited me in Bangladesh. Her views are not necessarily my views.

A firetrap. That was my first thought as I entered Bongo Bazaar. If that place were to catch on fire, everyone would be a goner and done for.

Elaine had raved about Bongo Bazaar and told me it was one of her favorite places. She talked about the great deals on name brand clothing and how you have to haggle the prices. She did however, leave out a few things.. Like the fact that Bongo Bazaar is a maze or that the vendors are aggressive and constantly call out to you saying, “Madam, Madam!” to get you to look in their stall. You have to dig through piles and piles of clothing. It was nothing like I had imagined from the description that Elaine gave.

When we arrived, a teenage Bengali decided he would be our guide. He was very short and I am sure he was and is constantly ridiculed. He led us through the labyrinth of the bazaar and kept picking up things to say, “You like this?” He picked the most hideous items. When we did find an item we were interested in, he took it upon himself to haggle the price for us. He would try to discreetly tell us to walk away when the vendor refused to give us the price we wanted. Let’s just say that his idea of discretion was about as inconspicuous and Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky’s tryst or as subtle as Elaine in a crowd of Bengalis.

I felt uncomfortable the entire time. It was like being at a low-end flea market, minus other people shopping. I do not like aggressive salesmen and I was sweating profusely. Elaine seemed to be in her element. She was thoroughly enjoying every moment. She enjoys the challenge of finding something she wants and bargaining a price. I did find one shirt to purchase. It was a boat-neck pink shirt with buttons down the front. Absolutely adorable.

After Bongo Bazaar, I decided that department stores were still my shopping paradise. I love the organization, set prices (especially when they are sale prices), cleanliness, private dressing rooms, nonagressive salespeople and of course, the wonderful air conditioning. Unlike Elaine, who thinks shopping should be a challenge, I am a believer in using shopping as retail therapy to relax. I was relieved to leave that fire trap and I look forward to my next therapy session when I return home.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Perfect Love

My spiritual mother descended
On the wings of the Spirit
Into my deeds-driven life.

Casting aside the superficiality of
Popular Christianity,
She lived and breathed His
Glowing love, pulsing, radiating
From her heart out.

Through His strident love she
Wove tiny threads of patience, truth,
Faith, and hope to fashion an
unbreakable, undying bond with me as
her daughter.

Monday, May 25, 2009

With All Your Heart

"...Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment." Matthew 22:37-

This is a verse I shared with my 6 of my 14 year old girls after school today. We went out to a coffee cafe for iced coffees and strawberry milkshakes so we could have some time together before school breaks up for the summer.

After our fun drinks-my iced latte was so artsy looking one girlie took a picture of it with her camera phone-I shared some thoughts on how we girls need to give our whole hearts to the Lord, as that is the most precious gift we can give Him. I encouraged them not to think of themselves as untalented or not pretty, but to know Jesus wants them just the way He created them because to Him they are perfect gems. Then each girl shared a little about what she was worried or stressed about in the coming summer and school year. These girls face so many deeper, bigger problems than the average western girl as they live as foreigners in unique, often difficult circumstances in a third world country. We finished with sincere prayer.

It was beautiful to catch a glimpse of their hearts, though, as they opened up in ways they never have at school around their guy classmates.

Spending this afternoon with my sweet girls was truly a blessing.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Four bus accidents in one day

Frankly, as I write this I can barely keep my eyes open. School today was too adventurous for my taste, which is a shame because my day started out so nicely with an early morning run and a yummy bowl of hot oatmeal.

What actually happened was pieced together after it all happened, and I am still shocked by it. Pretty much, one of our school bus drivers went crazy.

On the drive to school as he picked up students he crashed into a parked car, making him late to pick up me and my students to take us to swimming. On the way to taking us to the pool he got into another “incident.” While we were at the pool he picked up the next swim group and took them to the pool, getting into another accident on the way. After I was done teaching the first group their swim lesson he collected us again to take us back to school. His driving was erratic and he was talking nonsense to the student closest to him, so already I was nervous and keeping a wary eye on his driving.

When we got close to school he sped up through an intersection and broadsided a brand new fifteen day old Nissan. He actually accelerated into it. No emotion on his face, no shock or apologies. He kept driving, but Phil, a teacher on the bus with me, jumped up and ordered him to stop. We quickly evacuated the students from the bus and I walked them back to school while Phil stayed behind because now the driver of the Nissan had pulled his car in front of our bus. He was angry. We were afraid a riot would start amongst the crowd, so I got the students out of there as quickly as possible.

This man actually turned the bus around and tried to go pick up the last swimming group still at the pool, but the Principal called and ordered them not to get on the bus with the crazy driver.

I am in shock that the driver would put the lives of so many students in danger in order to save his face and his job. Where is his value for human life?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Chameleon Girl

I left my living bubble and ventured to the other side of town-Mohamedpur-yesterday afternoon after a woman's conference. My destination, the home of a couple, one from the Philippines and one from Germany, who have worked with Pakistani refugees at a camp for the past eleven years. Since I arrived at my friends' house a few hours too early for dinner, I went out on a shopping adventure with their daughter, who is one of my students. This eleven year old girl I'll just call by the oh-so-creative pseudonym "Girl." She took me first to Source, a handicrafts project run by the Eastern Mennonite Committee. We had fun digging through the fun homeade paper gifts, like cards and paper lanterns, and fingering the bright fabrics. Girl bought a little box covered in random images of dinosaurs, dancing ballerinas, and fire trucks. She also took a strong disliking to a paper mache bowl decorated with fruit that I wanted. She convinced me not to buy it.

After Source she led me to a bazar so we could look at beads, Girl's obsession. She's my new decorator, since she just made me an anklet and then last week made me a cheerful pair of dangly blue earrings that I adore. Next Girl mentioned she knew where to find fresh mint leaves in the fruit market, so we walked past the symmetrical piles of oranges and apples and the baskets brimming with mangos and litychees. On the way I explained to her how to cut up a star fruit and how they are perfect for neat looking fruit salads.

On the way through the fruit market Girl remarked on how it is so boring for her to shop in Germany (where her Mom is from) because people shop in boring supermarkets.

"That's true," I agreed wholeheartedly, "people push their little carts around and pull boringly packaged products off the shelves. Bazaars here are open air and so colorful!"

"Yeah," she said seriously, "here people are always doing things and so much is going on."

Her attitude was so fresh compared with some foreigners, who tend to view their home countries as superior to underdeveloped Bangladesh.

Next we went into a funky shop filled with oddities that you'd never go looking for, but once you see them you have to have them. Like coconut shell totem heads or huge peacock feather earrings.

By that time it was late and we had to catch a rickshaw back to Girl's in time for dinner. But I couldn't help but love watching Girl morph into yet another person once we stepped back into her home. She does a wonderful job of doing that, of adapting to whatever situation she's in, be it on the street with local kids, at school, or at home. She's like a chameleon, easily slipping between speaking German, Bengali, or English.

Friday, May 8, 2009

"Where one or two are gathered in my name."

On Wednesday evening I gathered in an apartment with 12 or so expatriates for a night of worship. The power was off in one of Dhaka's many rolling blackouts, making the air heavy and still in the room. Sweat dripped tiny paths down our foreheads and I could feel my jeans sticking to my legs in the humidity. As we reeled through the songs, belting out praise and worship above the deafening generators in surrounding buildings-we were not lucky enough to have a generator in our building-we came to this Matt Redmond song:

When the music fades
And all is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that's of worth
That will bless your heart

I'll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the ways things appear
You're looking into my heart

I'm coming back to the heart of worship
And it's all about You
All about You, Jesus
I'm sorry Lord for the thing I've made it
When it's all about You
It's all about You Jesus

King of endless worth
No one could express
How much You deserve
Though I'm weak and poor
All I have is Yours
Every single breath

I'll bring You more than just a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You're looking into my heart

I'm coming back to the heart of worship
And it's all about You
All about You, Jesus
I'm sorry Lord for the thing I've made it
When it's all about You
It's all about You Jesus

Its all about you

In the States I'd adored this song and it's lyrics were beautifully meaningful to me, especially this part:

"Though I'm weak and poor
All I have is Yours
Every single breath"

I gazed around the room at each person in turn. They really were bringing more than a song to their Savior. We all were bringing our hearts, our lives to Jesus, even though we had to traverse half the world to get here to Bangladesh. We'd given up our old lives in favor of Him.

The Finish girls my age had left their beautiful homeland, Finland, where I've heard "their language is that of the gods."
The Australian had left her well-paid job to labor in a literacy and Bible translation office on a scruffy Dhaka street.
Another woman had left her family and friends in Vienna to sweat in this third world country with her missionary husband.
A Brit had left her London home to minister to prostitutes from South Asian brothels, although she'd kept her posh British manners and accent.
I'd left my old life and loving family in Florida in favor of dirty, loud Dhaka.

Our skills, our serving, truly what we few diverse individuals have to bring to God is worthless, but it is so much "more than a song," it us our very essences, our lives.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Things not talked about

A woman, Bengali but married to a Dutch missionary, popped into my apartment this evening so we could sweat together in the humidity, sip iced tea, and talk about what many missionaries don’t talk about.

Earlier today an American missionary man who’s worked in Bangladesh most of his life and grew up here ambushed me to rant about the same subject.

Last night I had dinner with an American doctor and a New Zealander and I blurted out that I was overwhelmed with this.

It is such a relief to talk about a taboo subject that rarely is discussed among missionaries, yet really should be.

Both the missionaries I talked to struggle with the same issues I do. But, here’s the important bit, I’d never have guessed it if they hadn’t come out and told me.

A beggar covered from head to toe in boils, chanting and wailing on a filthy street.

Children with distended tummies running half naked between racing buses and cars.

Disease, garbage, poverty.

We pour out hearts into working in this country, working to help these people and the issues that are very much a part of their lives. I’m exhausted from laboring in this country for two years and I’m only 24. These missionaries are twice my age and are still struggling with how sometimes it’s just too, too much. All of it-all the problems, all the hurt- it’s too much.

We need to talk about it, to express our feelings to each other and to God, as that’s the first step to letting God handle the multitude of sorrow we feel when we look at the country around us.

Monday, April 27, 2009


Things I've had happen for the first time this week:

1. Wash my hands with water running brown from a tap.

2. Tell my students not to use the classroom bathroom sink as it is spouting sewage.

3. Tell my students not to flush the toilet after they pee as the school building doesn't have water.

4. Have the most popular conversational topic in the staff room be whether or not our apartments and school have water.

5. Plan my evening around guessing when the electricity will be on and off.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A few pictures from my slum

Here are some pictures taken last Wednesday at the slum I work at. I had to photograph the beautiful children I see every week.

Monday, April 20, 2009

My Heart is Your Heart

Only after fully, truly
Giving myself
Over to God and surrendering my
Heart to the
Baptism of His Spirit was a raw, new
World of emotion
Revealed in all its splendor-filled
Beauty and pain.
My words flounder and fail to
The absolute fulfillment, yet heart-wrenching
Of this joining of my heart with
God’s heart
for the Bengali people. A world where a
Seated at a street corner causes my chest to
Full and let loose a flood of tears and prayers
for this desperate
Piece of humanity. My prayers never ceasing,
Never easing for a corrupt country tearing
The heart-strings of its Creator.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Ballad of an Unfortunate Knight

This ballad tells of the epic quest
Of one man’s journey to Bangladesh.

In Dhaka is his tale’s beginning
For here with Bangla language he began equipping.

Alas mayhem and mishaps did begin a deadly sequence
As poor Sir Josh did face Dengue’s pestilence.

Recovering, He forged on to Kumarkhali
Avowing from his ministry “nothing can keep me.”

Though beset by a multitude more of trials
This brave lad evaded the Devil’s wiles.

Viruses, diseases, even an injured knee,
Sir Josh labored on for the sake of CDP.

Now his year’s long quest is coming to a close
As from his challenges victorious he rose.

Assuredly Bangladesh thanks ye for thy labor and pain
And a so long, fare thee well from Lady Elaine.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Retreat of Silence

My weekend retreat of silence was perfect. Friday I arrived in Srimongol on the train at 3:30am and bargained with punk CNG taxi driver to take me to the Tea Resort, which is outside of town and surrounded by tea plantations. My room was on the crest of a hill and looked out on a swimming pool, so I began and finished my days with a dip in its warm waters.

The first morning I wandered amongst the tea bushes and waded up a stream banked with burnt orange clay. I wasn’t entirely alone, as I talked with the half-naked little boys washing their brown skin clean and women in petticoats washing their sarees in the creek.

The second morning I hiked in to the rainforest and found a secluded hill to sit on and listen to the many different rainforest noises. Even the rainforest of Bangladesh is filled with life! Not the endless human bodies crowding other parts of the tiny country, but insects, flies, bugs, birds, monkeys, and even snakes crawling, flying, and calling out to each other through the dense foliage. Not all were pleasant, as flies landed on my arms, bugs bit my ankles, and an at least five foot long and four inch wide snake sent me running.

This morning at work I asked Becky if she knew what type of snake it was.

“Hmm, it could have been a python. Did it have any markings?” she enquired thoughtfully.

“Uh, I don’t know. I didn’t look for markings since I was too busy running in the opposite direction.” I admitted sheepishly.

I also saw five or six white-spotted dear at the Tea Resort, and they were surprisingly unafraid of humans. But the highlight for me was the tropical plants and flowers popping up in random nooks and crannies. They reminded me so much of Florida, especially where I lived in the Keys. I saw bougainvillea in salmon, watermelon, and white shades; brilliant red and pink hibiscus; gardenia bushes; elephant ears, many, many amaryllis blossoms, mahagony; different types of palms (sago even!); and jack fruit trees.

Oh, and I tried jack fruit for the first time on Saturday and loved it! Some people claim it’s disgusting, but Bengalis adore it and have made it their national fruit. One of my students told me it tastes like banana flavored bubble gum, which is pretty darn accurate, although I’d add it’s slimier than bubble gum. Jack fruit is kind of slug slimy and even resembles a slug, so probably I wouldn’t have tried it on my own, but a woman from Hong Kong staying at the guest house took a liking to me and brought me a huge plate of it.

My afternoons in Srimongol ended with me heading out to a suitable hill to watch the sunset over the tea gardens. I made friends with a local dog, so I usually had company in my sunset watching.

Last weekend was the perfect escape from life as a teacher in this crazy Dhaka city.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

An Afternoon in a Slum

Yesterday as I was cycling through Badda Bazaar slum to my Assemblies of God church, I noticed that they were finally redoing the terrible road. They were only halfway finished smoothing down the dirt and rocks, but already it made a difference and I didn't feel like I was off-roading, even though the narrow street was still filled with onek [a lot] foot traffic and rickshaws.

When I got to the slum compound, which are a few small homes around a central two roomed building for church and school use, I squatted down to chat with a friend, Sheila, who was washing her clothes at the water pump, while I waited for my adult students to show up. As they suffer from chronic late syndrome, a diease genetic to most Bengalis, this turned into quite a long wait.

One woman was cooking rhoti [it's like a moist flour tortill] while trying to quiet her screaming son. I picked up the little boy and he stopped crying, so I took him for a walk and we bought a chocolate bar. The woman thanked me and I asked her if she would teach me to roll rhoti properly. Currently I adore rhoti-it's my staple food- but I've been struggling to master the art of rolling each piece into a perfect circle.

The perfectionist in me wants to be able to roll each piece with the finesse of Bengali women, who flip and roll the dough with easy flicks of their wrists. Watching their hand motions is like watching a dance, a dance I'm determined to master someday.

Finally a student of mine showed up and my cooking lesson ended, but not before the local ladies told me to come back next week for another rhoti rolling lesson.

Still, my English class never took place as my students wanted me to help one man (he's about my age) write a message for the Good Friday service.

While part of me feels so sorry for the conditions these Bengali believers live in, I don't sense that they are unhappy. They have a strong, sincere church and spiritually they are well grounded. Their homes may only be one cramped room, with no running water and undependable electricity, but their families are close-knit and their neighbors friendly. Yesterday I envied the simplicity of their lives and faith.

By the way, two days ago I finished my 90 day Bible reading in 89 days. Two of my students showed me up by reading the whole Bible in jus a month and a half-way to go them!

Monday, April 6, 2009

An oh-so-real life chapter

Amazing events need to do be marked, so I'm recording last night. Right now I'm seeing my life like each new happening is a chapter in my life story. The past couple of weeks have been leading up to last night, the pinnacle of my current chapter.

The morning was the first day back to school, and I was peppy enough welcoming my students back to the last term of the year. But by evening I was tired, exhausted spiritually. My spirit was so heavy, it almost felt a like a physical weight was pressing down on me. Finally I was crying and couldn't stop the tears from pouring out of me. It so unnatural for strong me, two tear storms in the space of a couple of weeks (I lost it one day in Nepal), so I knew I had to finish with it once and for all.

I ran to my prayer protector, the Kiwi woman who has been guarding me with her continual prayers. She held me and began to pray, to pray bold, strong prayers that I would be too timid to pray. Her prayers held real power as she asked God to win the battle in me spiritually, to let her faith be strong for me. My body gradually relaxed and calm took over. I slumped against her.

"You are strong," she reminded me, "look at what you have done in the past two years. You ride your bike in a Muslim country, you started the charity sale from scratch months after arriving in Bangladesh, and you are still so young."

Her words of wisdom continued to pour out.

The past few weeks I've withdrawn from people and placed myself into the presence of the King through constant Bible reading, prayer, and reading stories about heroes of the Faith. It is becoming more intense and I know that after last night God has won the battle going on inside me. Now He is drawing me exclusively to Him to build up my strength, to give me the power I'll need in future years.

Alone. I desperately need to be alone with the King. This weekend I'm going away for three days to the rainforest of Eastern Bangladesh. I'll trek into the rainforest and have the complete solicitude with my God that I crave.

This season of drawing near to God is exciting me, filling me with incredible hope for things to come in future life chapters.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Just Me

Me, the core of who I am-my identity- is not where my body is. My body may physically be back in Dhaka, but mentally I am still in the cool waters of Nepal's Phewa Tal lake.
My heart is sheltered in the cupped palm of my gentle God.

My spirit is roaming, soaring unrestrained to country or city.

I can just be.

I am me.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Yesterday morning we drove from Pokhara back to Kathmandu for our final afternoon in Kathmandu and today we flew back into Dhaka.

We spent our final afternoon yesterday exploring Durbar Square, which is located in the old, traditional area of the city. We wandered around the three squares that make up Durbar and are filled with temples and pavilions. The cobbled streets were crowded with Nepalese going about their business, a surprising amount of foreigners on holiday, and cows wandering aimlessly about. Little Hindu shrines were decorated with crushed red powder and garlands of fresh and dried marigolds garnished low-hanging stone doorways. As we breathed in the heavy incense and the hustle and bustle of life surrounding us-laborers hauling burdens, hippies wandering, and children scampering about- two priest suddenly appeared in front of us.

We were ambushed.

Not bothering to ask if we particularly wanted red-spotted heads, they grinned wizened smiles at us and stamped our foreheads with red dye. Ah, but nothing is free in Asia, so they demanded boksheesh for their blessing. Hmm, now where have I heard that word before? Boksheesh! Of course, beggars only pester me for boksheesh every day in Gulshan, Dhaka. But these priests requested money gently and their blessing was genuine, so the generous Est gave them some rupees.

A crack of thunder filled the square and a heavy downpour began. Laughing, we backed into a silver and brass metal craft shop to avoid the downpour, where the friendly shopkeeper announced this is the first rain since August. We spent a pleasant twenty minutes with the man, mainly discussing the interesting Hindu and Buddhist mix of religions in Kathmandu.

The rain lessened to a trickle and Est and I began the trek through the maze of streets back to our hotel, arm and arm under an umbrella. Our blessed foreheads brought us no luck, as the rain soon picked up again. Soon the icy drops drenched us and by the time we negotiated the twisting, narrow streets to our hotel, I resembled a wet kitty. The doorman started laughing uproariously at my mud-covered legs and Est, a few feet behind me, began laughing, too.

“What?” I demanded, still feeling like a disgruntled kitty.

“Sweetie,” she gasped, the dye of your headscarf ran and you have blue-streaked hair!”

Three washings later, I still have periwinkle-colored curls.

Now that our trip-or maybe I should call it an adventure- is over, I have several recommendations for when visiting Nepal. One thing I recommend doing in Kathmandu is getting yourself caught in the rain with a good friend. One thing I recommend avoiding is Nepali quality fabric dye!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Not a City Girl

Today I remembered that I am a strong woman, today I got my water fix and was me.

BFF and I breakfasted outside our simple cabin, breathing in the view of the Annapurnas from our mountain perch. BFF was still not feeling a hundred percent, so we opted for a row boat instead of a kayak and I rowed her across the fairly large lake. We found a secluded outcropping of rock and BFF seated herself in the temperate sunshine, while I dove into the cold water and swam along the lake banks. I swam for an hour or two, stopping occasionally to climb the bank paths before diving in again and taking off through the water. The fresh water was so cleansing, so energizing compared to the chlorinated water I've been using in Dhaka to quench my water obsession.

I cut through the easy current back to BFF and stretched out on the rocks to dry, letting the sun ease the cold from my bones and the wind blow my hair dry. Lying there I realized how loud the "silence" of nature could really be. In the distance the birds quietly called to each other, the waves gently lapped against the shore, and the wind swished by. But these were soothing sounds, so different from the cacophony of noises ever present in Dhaka.

A couple of men in a kayak ruined our peace, making kissing noises at us and pestering us with questions. To put them off I pulled some clothes over my swimsuit, then rowed us off further along the lake. We came to the base of an 1100 meter mountain, with the World Peace Pagoda at the top. The next couple of hours we trekked to the tippy-top and soaked in the awe-inspiring view of the Annapurnas from the stupa.

On the way back BFF helped me row and we reached the shore tired, but exhilarated.

Now I am content. I've gotten my water fix and have had an amazing day enjoying life in it's simplest form, sans buildings, cars, and the city.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Rest and Reflection

It's twilight, too light for candles but dim enough to mute the bright red gingham of the tablecloth under my journal. I'm sitting in Pokhara, waiting for my hot thukpa and momos to arrive while sipping my, ahhh, coffee. Est laughed when i informed her that she is very lucky indeed that I haven't been in a black mood all day, as I only had one small cup of coffee before dawn.

We arrived late this afternoon-late in more than one sense as our bus was two hours late due to traffic standstills. But almost two years in Bangladesh has taught me patience in traffic, plus I actually really needed that restful bus ride to sort things out in my head.

Our 9 hour ride was fairly peaceful-except for the young boy in front of me who threw up everywhere while I dozed unaware behind him. Peaceful seems to be a theme amongst both the tourists and locals, as they are friendly and their genuine smiles come easily. I love that when the shopkeepers and kids on the street smile at me their grins reach their eyes. They're very real people, the Nepalese are.

Real is what I need at the moment.

I spent the bus ride wondering-among other things- at the variety in town and rural scapes. Bangladesh lacks variety in it's endless paddy fields and identical towns, but each of Nepal's towns are as unique as their countryside is. Around each bend of the twisty road I found myself wondering what would be revealed-a paddy field or barren steppe? Cabbages or banana trees? Green-blue mountains or a rushing set of river rapids?

My Bible stayed open on my lap and I read through bits of the Gospels. My stream of consciousness was confused, a jumbled stew of emotions and thoughts flitting through my head after yesterday. Verses jumped out at me as I read, and I wonder if they're God speaking to me.

"My body also will live in hope." Hope. Hmm. What should I be hoping for now?

"You have made known to me the paths of life." Paths of life. Hmm. I'm walking the path God has for me now, but I can't rush Him into revealing the road ahead to me. Step, step. One step at a time is all He's showing me. Right now that's comforting to the raw inner me.

Well, I do know what tomorrow's path is for me. Definitely water! Tomorrow I'll spend the day kayaking and swimming around the lake, Phewa Tal for some quality water time. Just me, my God, and the water, sun, and enormous sky.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Brokeness from Beauty

Today Est and I flew into mellow Kathmandu from Dhaka for Spring Break. Our arrival was on time, our visa application a breeze, and customs effortless. Our driver promptly picked us up and drove us through the rolling, narrow streets to Hotel Manang.

Once we checked in, sick Est ran for the toilet and I pulled open the curtains, screen window, and glass window of our room to sit on the narrow ledge of our fourth floor room. I gazed at the mountains creating a smokey backdrop to the staggered, many layered city buildings. My feet dangled above a rooftop garden and a Nepali woman gathering laundry stared at me curiously.

The beauty of the vague bulky shapes of the mountains overwhelmed me and for a moment my chest ached. Two tear drops wound slow paths down my cheeks, then I was sobbing, shaking. My auburn haired friend emerged from the bathroom and squeaked, shocked probably at the sight of me crying on the edge of a steep drop. She climbed gingerly through the window and perched next to me.

"Isn't it amazing to think that God can move those mountains if He wants to?" She gently squeezed my shoulder.

"I know He can," I whispered through my tears, "but why doesn't He seem to move mountains for me?"

My heart felt-still feels- like someone pulled it from the deep proetective layers I've carefully buried it in and dropped it unprotected off the ledge of our hotel.

Friday, March 20, 2009

My Mustard Seed Faith

I’ve been carrying around heavy heart this week and finally allowed Someone else to take it from me. Reading the Matthew 11 words, “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Money. Money, money, money. I’ve been praying, albeit praying half-heartedly that my money to move to Tanzania in August will come. But gosh darn it, my prayers haven’t felt sincere, haven’t felt real to me. Yeah, I know God can provide that money with a twitch of His little finger, but for some reason I’ve been feeling that He might not choose to. Maybe that’s because I’ve secretly been wishing something else would happen in my life, something that probably won’t. It further saddened me to remember that verse stating whoever has faith like a mustard seed can command a mountain to move, and move it will.

So does that mean I don’t have faith? But I do, I know I do! So why isn’t God providing?

He could have any number of reasons that He’s choosing not to tell me. So right now I’m quitting my doubting, quitting my worrying about money, and letting God carry my worries. Kiwi suggested I pray specifically, to put names to my prayers for money. While I’m going to keep up her suggestion, I’m also going to broaden my prayer.

I’m going to concentrate on furthering God’s kingdom. I’m going to pray that His will be done in my life this year.

Last November BFF and I frequently discussed this idea of God’s will for our lives (not a very original topic, I know, but it felt like an original discussion at the time). We both agreed that we may have varying states of contentment, but overall we are more happy teaching in Bangladesh than we ever have been in our lives. It’s obviously not because Bangladesh is the ideal country to live in-far, far from it-but because teaching at Grace is God’s will for our lives.

Allowing, accepting, enjoying God’s will in our lives truly made us happy. So my prayer for the next few weeks is simply, “God, let your will be done in my life, whether that be living in Tanzania, or anywhere other country in the world you decide to stick me.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Insh’Allah [Lord willing]

Consider the rickshaw waller.

When crossing a crazy, crowded Dhaka street with unpredictable local buses and beeping cars whizzing by, you’d expect him to stop-or at the very least pause-look both ways, then carefully pedal across the street while dodging traffic. But no, looking neither to the left or the right, the typically response is to drop his head and slowly cycle across. Usually this causes cars to swerve, buses to honk, and blood to boil. But the waller doesn’t appear to consider changing his street crossing methods. After all, it’s Allah’s will that controls his life, so if Allah wants a rogue bus to hit him and his passenger, then looking both ways before crossing won’t save him.

The rickshaw waller could in fact be one of the best illustrations of Muslim Bengali fatalism.

Maybe this explains the mindset that frustrates me endlessly, the Bengali lack of initiative in improving the situations surrounding them. Why bother fixing things-say pot-holed roads-when it’s Allah’s will that controls their final state.

This lack of accepting responsible for what happens around them bothers me, a confirmed believer in free will, but at the same time teaches me a key lesson. My last blog was a rant about my decline of punctuality, but perhaps it was actually me coming to the realization that since I cannot control everything around me, it’s best to plan as well as I can and accept it when things go wrong. Especially considering that I live in Bangladesh, where things inevitably do go wrong.

Cassius says in Julius Caesar, “men at some time are masters of their fate.” In the of ill-fated country of Bangladesh the words I’ve learned to note are “some time,” as my best laid plans frequently do go awry.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Plans Going Awry Make for Nasty Impressions

The oft quoted Burns said, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Really, this overly used cliché was overly true of my life this past week.

I’ve prided myself in the past on my conscientious timeliness and organisation. I’m the queen of planning out my days down to the hour and sticking to schedule with what some friends find annoying precision. Late for a meeting or a dinner? Nope, never me.

I’m losing my exactitude.

JMPH’s folks’ first day in Bangladesh and I invite them to the Club for swimming and dinner. JMPH’s neglects to reply to my invite and I assume they’re not coming. Later that night I’m goofily dancing to Britney Spear’s newest single in BFF’s livingroom.

Ring, ring.

I answer my phone to discover they are at the Club, ready and waiting for me to sign them in.


30 minutes later we make it through horrendous traffic and I splutter excuses and apologies.


I’m lying on my sofa reading, too tired from illness the day before to move.

Ring, ring.

It’s Phil at the park with Micah and Nathan, waiting for me to show for our scheduled run together.

Whoops. Again I splutter excuses and apologies, thinking this was getting familiar.


My chance at redemption! I’m supposed to pick up JMPH’s Mum at 10am. I meticulously tell BFF to be awake, groomed, and beautiful by 9:30am. 9:15 rolls around.

Ring, ring.

“Gimme an extra five minutes to get ready.”

By 9:40 I’m tapping my foot outside her door as she wanders about vaguely looking for her shoes. 9:45 and we’re finally out the door. Unfortunately my directional abilities aren’t as finely tuned as some, like say a geography specialist, so I get us lost enroute to the guesthouse. Finally we give up looking and ring JMPH, who gallantly guides us to his waiting Mum.

But wait, there’s more. Last week I was late to a baby shower, an English tutoring session, BFF’s, not to mention that I didn’t even make it to K2.
My carefully made plans are going awry, leaving nasty impressions with my friends.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Nourishing Soil

It’s 6:30 in the morning. I sit under my open window where a gentle breeze creeps in and surprises me with its coolness and soothes me with the familiar noises it carries. The chattering of a multitude of birds (where do they nest in this treeless city?), the brisk sweeping of the street cleaners’ brooms, the occasional deep calling of a train’s horn: all these noises are familiar, are comfortable.

Time for me. My me time relaxes my spirit and fills me up so I can share my peace with others. Not just peace I share with my sensitive teen-aged students, but recently a friend has been having difficulties and needs my support.

I’ve just read Isaiah 61 and phrases pop out at me, arresting me with their promise.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me...”
Many times I feel anointed, like God specially pointed at me and commanded, “You, Elaine, go to Bangladesh!”
Why else would I randomly work in this hurting, frustrating country?

“He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted...” My discussions with hurting friends and class devotionals with students spring to mind.

“To comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair...” Am I allowing God to work through me, to truly help those surrounding me? Could it be as simple as the chats I have with hurting friends over coffee?

“For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up.” My me time is over now and hectic life awaits, but this tiny slice of the morning with just me, God, and my old Bible feel like the soil nourishing the sprout. Now if I can just share this with my friend.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Past Field Trip Journal Entry

February 24, 2009

Trekked in the rainforest this morning and then visited a bird sanctuary hidden amongst lakes and rice paddies this afternoon. But the highlight of today was playing sardines in the dark with my students. This is because one character took creative liberties with his “it” status.

Sometimes I’m unsure whether or not I should laugh or chide him and his tendency to push the envelope, but this was definitely a time to laugh-and laugh hysterically.

This boy swiped a lungi [a cloth men wear wrapped around their lower half] and a woman’s chadr [shaw] from the kitchen, bent over a walking cane, then hung out with the guards near the buses whilst chattering away in Bangla. He put on a terrific show, even slapping the bus drivers on the back and hacking raucously like an old man.

Unwittingly we ignored him, shining our flashlights around the tree covered hills and peering around bushes and buildings.

Angela did remark at one point, “Why does that old man have running shoes on? That’s kind of odd.”

Jason also wondered aloud, “Is that a man or a woman?” as he gestured at the lungi and chadr.

It wasn’t until we gave up looking for him and trooped indoors for hot chocolate that he through off his cross-dressing disguise and revealed his true identity. We couldn't help throwing back our heads and laughing when we found out where he'd been hiding!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Frustrating Mindsets

Granted I haven't made a thorough scientific or researched study of it, but last week I realized one of the most valuable lessons I've learned in Bangladesh about development in third world countries is that NGOs and governments need to effect change that's self-sustaining. It can't be created with the western mentality and organizational structures, but should be formed taking the culture of the countries is into account. After seeing what is happening to Rishilpi in Jessore, along with my own observations of other things in Bangladesh, it's my opinion that projects will decay once the organization pulls out.

Sad, I know, but true nonetheless.

Examples of Bangladeshi thinking that frustrates my western mindset:

Giving up when the set formula doesn't work. Proof of this is my old Aussie housemate who worked in the ICDD-RB research hospital. She complained that doctors would give up when the prescribed set of meds and treatment wouldn't work on a patient, whereas Australian doctors would experiment with alternative methods until the ailment was cured.

Ayas, cooks, and house help. They rarely bother to go the extra mile to do something when not told to do it. not necessarily out of laziness, but a lack of initiative. This means that at another time it has to be done at your specific instructions or by someone else, which is inefficient and just a little silly if you take a step back and look at the whole situation.

Maintenance. Buildings throughout Bangladesh are generally moldy, peeling in paint and filled with cockroaches, rat poo, and other unpleasantness when a little maintenance, could keep the nastiness in check. Take the bungalows we stayed in last week. Easily they could be quaint getaways nestled in the paddy fields and tea gardened hills of Srimongol. Instead, they're border line sanitary cement buildings. It told my girls that our cabin could be adorable with a coat of bright-not-tacky-Bangla-paint, gingham curtains at the windows and a couple of cheerful throw rugs scattered on the floors.

I don't have a perfect solution, just a suggestion. Perhaps change should be either through education or changing of mindset, or through innovative organizational structures that take the mindset of the culture into account.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

More of Scenic Srimongol

Yes, this is what it looks like-my feet.

Stacks and stack of Syhletti fabric and yep, I did buy lots!

One of our little bungalows in the hills. Us students and teachers took up three total.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Field Trip Pictures- to give you a pictorial "taste" of the trip!

MUTINY NEWS: Thursday, just after we left the compound we were staying on in Syhlet shooting between the BDR began just outside. Thank you, God, for getting us away from there before it began.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Tea Plantation Visit

Last Monday afternoon my students and I visited one of the many tea plantations surrounding Srimongol. The stepped-hills were layered with neat rows of tea bushes; dotted here-and-there were stick-thin Bengali workers harvesting tea with sickles. Their withered skin was dark-almost black- from lives spent bending bending over tea bushes in the tropical sun.

My students and I wandered among the leaves of varying shades of green while a guide told us about the gardens. The tea was harvested then sorted by quality. The leaves were packaged and exported far beyond Asia to westernized parts of the world. The workers labored 12-16 hours for 30 taka a day.

30-THIRTY-taka a day. Forty-five cents. Twenty-five pence.

The journey back to our lodging was sober as my girls pondered this startling information.

"Ms. Baker," reflected one twelve year-old, "they said the workers are told their wages were fair and that if they leave they can't find other jobs. Their whole family has to work to survive."

"Also, those tea laborers don't get an education," I pointed out (I had to since I'm an English teacher).

"Ms. Baker," said my girl earnestly, "I'm going to make people around the world aware of inequalities like this someday. I'm going to write about them someday. Someday, I'm going to change the world by writing."

That, my friends, is an earnest heart who I believe will go out and change the world by writing.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Traveling in the Hills of Syhlet

Mutiny drama update: apparently the mutiny is over. For now that is.

Now I can gab away about random stories from our school field trip this week. One random mini tale from our oh-so-exciting-trip:

Sunday evening five of my girls trekked down to the dining hall a couple of minutes ahead of me. I followed, passing a cluster of punk men.

"Hello m'am, how are you?" they queried politely.

"Fine, how are you?" I replied, a little suspicious of their overly polite manner.

Reaching the dining hall five of my girls approached me nervously.

"Ms. Baker, those men outside were calling out at us and calling us "sexy" and "baby." They looked scared, so I slammed down the bag I was carrying, marched out side, and chewed the men out.

Apparently the men knew I was a teacher, so I was moved from "sexy" to "m'am" status. Another chaperone told me I should beat those men up, yelling, "you think I'm not sexy!"

Thursday, February 26, 2009


After 5 days in the Syhlet Division of Bangladesh on a field trip with twenty -five students, I’ve returned to an uncertain Dhaka. On the long bus ride back this morning I kidded with my students that we should have spent our field trip training for hostile resistance situations rather than traipsing around Lawacharra Rainforest observing its ecosystems. Once we got into Dhaka I warned them to cover their heads with urnas so we wouldn't be targeted as foreigners. Superficially I was yanking their chains, but a little part of me was serious.

Here's the juicy story: The Bangladesh Rifles (India border patrol) were negotiating contracts yesterday and mutinied after the meeting didn't result in their getting higher pay benefits. Shooting broke out in Dhanmondi, which scarily enough, is only 5 or 6 miles from where I teach. The BBC reckons 50 were shot, while a parent of one of my students- who filled me in on the situation as she gave me a lift back home- alleged newer reports estimate closer to a hundred were killed, among them two higher up officials.

Consequently us Dhaka residents are facing possible curfews, cell phone connection cutting, and who knows what else as the government struggles to control the situation. Apparently Sheikh Hasina offered amnesty to the BDR and was refused, so she is threatening to bring in the army.

We shall see what happens.

What I was planning on blogging about today was my spectacular field trip out in the scenic tea garden and paddy covered hills on Srimongol, complete with rainforest trekking (we saw Gibbon monkeys!) and wadding in a waterfall with my middle schoolers. Instead I’m relating sensational news from a developing Bengali drama-unfortunately it’s reality; not an afternoon soap opera.

Stay tuned for further updates from the Never Dull Country of Bangladesh.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


The weather has been gentle and breezy these past few days, so early this morning I woke up before dawn slipped downstairs for a jog around the pond.

Hidden from my sight in the bushes and trees, the birds called and chattered to each other as I enjoyed the early morning peace. Rounding a bend I passed the mosque, filled with men in Islamic hats and punjabis at early morning prayers.

The precise moment when night slips away and the sun pokes its head up over the edge of the earth is a moment I usually miss; this morning was different. A small gasp escaped me as the fiery sun broke over the tops of the towering block houses, across the tree tops, and illuminated the path ahead of me.

This morning scene was worth the few minutes of missed sleep.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Africa Angst

Half the time I'm euphorically excited to move to Africa, the rest of the time I'm terrified.

Logically I realize Tanzania is a relatively secure, stable country, so sure, I'll be safe there. Right? Then I look at maps and see that Uganda- where the Lord's Resistance Army mutilated women and kidnapped children- borders Tanzania in the north. Then there's Rwanda, with it's recent Tutsi genocide, close by the other side of Tanzania. Then there's the Sudan. Yeah, I don't even want to think about Sudan.

Yet I can't go back to the States to teach. I can't go to a sheltered life where the scariest thing that happens is walking by myself at night in a dark parking garage.

Perhaps God is building me up gradually to, I don't know, hmm, something that requires bravery. I've spent the past 20 months in Bangladesh and other parts of Asia in semi-safe areas. Now I'm moving to Dar es Salaam, which I'm told by my new school is more dangerous. What's God planning for me after two years in Dar?

I don't want to know. Not yet anyways.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

On first reflection my past week has sadly been lacking in quality blog material, mainly because I've had zero creative energy for writing since my days have been crammed with meetings, writing student attainment targets, teaching English to my slum school students out in Badda Bazaar, orientation to the SIL/Wycliffe offices out in Uttara, and other such unblog worthy material. My time is scheduled down to the minute, meaning I leave my house before seven each morning and don't get home until bed time, when I collapse tiredly on to my bed.

My original excuse for neglecting my blog was lack of interesting writing material as no one wants to hear about staff meetings and the like, but this is untrue. As Joel pointed out a few weeks back, it's not about having something to write about, it's about putting an interesting spin on everyday occurrences.

Granted, my everyday Bangladeshi occurrences are far from mundane for most of my western readers.

Let me prove his point by giving a taste of random happenings from my work-filled week.

Tuesday: As usual I cycled to school, passing one of those bicycle pulled caged-in-carts that take neatly uniformed Bengali girls to school. I make it a habit to stick my tongue out at the girls when I pass by, but this morning one girlie beat me to it, peeking at me between the bars and sticking her tongue out at me.

Wednesday: During a heated game of soccer with my Grace International School students, I was up against the other team's striker, attempting to steal the ball. His method of distracting me was to invite me for a hot cup of tea later that day. The next morning he asked why I never showed up for the tea.

Thursday: Mary Poppins blew into Dhaka today with her huge black umbrella. Despite it being the dry season, Dhaka citizens awoke to breezes and small rain showers. When it first started raining my Y7s shouted "let's go outside and play in the rain!" and were genuinely surprised that I didn't halt English class to let them.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Uniquely Y9

My head ached.

Walking into my homeroom at this morning for class assembly, I saw my students crowded around one 14 year-old and his electric guitar.

“The school bell rang; that amp and guitar should be put away!” I felt like a broken record, yelling this every week. But by now the musically inclined boys in my class knew the rules and quickly stuck the instruments in the storage room.

If only my head would stop aching.

My students shuffled to their seats and I pulled out my Bible to begin class assembly.

A. suddenly blurted out, “ask H.S. to play the song he wrote!”

The opportunity to snap, “Nope, it’s time for our devotional, so sit down and be quiet” flashed through my throbbing brain, but luckily I squashed the cranky part of me.

"What ever crushes individuality is despotism, no matter what name it is called."
-John Stuart Mill

The next 15 minutes were spent with two boys singing and strumming songs they’d written on the guitar. One was a group effort, with C. singing a heartfelt “goodbye” he’d written for a girl who’d moved back to Canada last summer, accompanied by H.S. on the electric guitar and O. beating time with drum sticks. The students and I all loved this impromptu concert.

Each of my Y9s is unique, with varying talents, be they musical, athletic, interpersonal, etc.

Ouch. How am I going to say goodbye to them and head off to Tanzania in June?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Her laugh bounced off the walls
With the volume of a megaphone
As her red-gold mane shook,
Reflecting the sunshine pouring
Through the open window.

Her speckled, milk-white arms enveloped
Me in a hug of love. A free,
Unconditional gesture-no strings attached.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Hey Girlies- Here's Some Girl Empowerment!

The results from a fundraising swim I swam in last Friday morning just came out, and after a month of hard training I feel the need to brag a bit about the results.

It was a 60 minute swim where 40ish people swam as many laps (25 meters a lap) as they could to raise money for an AUSAID affiliated program working to prevent drownings in Bangladesh; the number one killer of young kids here.

Most swimmers couldn't handle swimming the whole hour, so they were in teams; but 10 others-including me- swam the whole thing. Here's were my shameless bragging starts.

I came in third and was the fastest female, swimming 124 laps, or 3,100 meters.

My next post will be ultra humble and uber spiritual to make up for this prideful boasting.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Uniquely Bangla Church Experience

Yesterday morning I attended the Assemblies of God Church down in Moghbazar, which is open to nationals and expats alike, but conducted in English.

The worship was fulfilling as the band lead songs that spoke right into my open heart. My eyes were moist after "As the Deer" and "God of Wonders," either because I was exhausted from an intense swimming competition earlier that morning or because the people surrounding me and the band were so sincere in their heart-felt singing. I'll let you decide which it was.

After the worship, I headed towards the bathrooms, which are located near the main room that functions as a sanctuary, and passed the kiddos headed to their Sunday school in another room. The hallway had an open area where 5 or six goats were being slaughtered then hacked into chunks. Each little child was walking across the blood covered floor and staring wide eyed at the butchering.

Hmm. An animal slaughtering is definitely not something I've seen in any western church.

Moving on.

After the service, I walked over to the water fountain to get a cup of water. As I sipped my water two Bengali men approached me. Here's our bizarre conversation:

Man 1: Excuse me, may we speak to you?
Elaine: About what?
Man 1: Where are you from?
Elaine: America. Where are you from?
Man 1: [Laughs uncertainly] Bangladesh, of course. Er, are you studying?
Elaine: No.
Man 2: I am his brother. Do you have any hobbies, like collecting bottles or stamps?
Elaine: No.
Man 1: What about reading?
Elaine: Nope.
Man 1: Do you have any friends?
Elaine: [Pretends to stop and think] I think I have one friend. Do you have any friends?
Man 1: [Stares at Elaine] Yes, of course.

Again, conversations like this have never happened to me in America, this was a uniquely Bangla church experience!

*Yeah, I do realize I was harsh on those two men, but it was all in good fun.

Monday, January 26, 2009

This Skin of Mine

Beep! Honk! Beep, beep!

Engulfing me in their ceaseless cacophony, the traffic noises of Dhaka where in full force last Friday morning. My rickshaw waller halted at a busy intersection, where a Bengali traffic cop was struggling to control the chaos. Two women beggars limped barefoot up to my rickshaw and I noticed three or four raggedy children peeping out of the brightly patterned saris wrapped around their thin bodies.

“Madam, baksheesh,” they implored of me, holding out their wrinkled hands for money. “Money for our babies.” The deep brown eyes of one lady searched my eyes pathetically.

Suddenly, her hand sprang out and she grabbed my arm, stroking my skin with her brown thumb. She began to speak intently to me, gazing all the while into my eyes. I struggled to translate her Bengali words into English, and when I did, shock hit me.

“Madam, your white skin is beautiful, very pale and beautiful,” basically she was saying. She rubbed her own chocolate colored skin and continued, “my skin is not good, it is dark.”

“No, no!” I vigorously shook my head. “Your skin is beautiful, your skin is lovely!” I said in Bangla.

She refused to listen to me and repeated herself over and over.

“I am not pretty, I am not pretty.”

Memories from my teenage years filled my mind, and mentally I flashed backwards in time and place to when I was in high school in Florida. Saturday afternoons my girlfriends and I would pile into my little green car and head for Cocoa Beach. Once at the beach I would head for the waves while my friends would slather themselves in tanning oil and position themselves directly under the burning sun. At the end of the day we’d head for the showers, where we’d peel off our swimsuits and exam our sun-baked bodies.

“Check out my tan!” my friends would yell exuberantly to each other. My fair skin, however, stubbornly refused to brown, preferring instead to turn a crispy shade of lobster red. My girlies would recommend different types of tanning oil- “try coconut” one would say, while another would advise “nah, try Banana Boat brand.” When none of those oils worked they gave me sunless tanning creams.

Still no luck.

Eventually I gave up, content to body surf and splash around in the ocean with my ghostly white arms and legs.

Now, here I was in Asia where pale is beautiful and brown is ugly. What a complete reverse of viewpoints. I’ve traveled through Bangladesh, India, China, and Thailand, all places where women spend gobs of money on bleaching and fairness cosmetics. I’ve also traveled around America and the United Kingdom, where girls spend loads of cash on tanning products.

“How heartbreaking,” I thought as I looked at the beggar, beautiful with her skin the color of brown sugar, “that girls can’t be satisfied with the looks they were born with. God created us to look just the way He wants us to look.”