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.”

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Today I Had an Everest Moment

While jogging laps around a semi-picturesque park in DOHS Baridhara, I noticed a new addition to the play area. A thick thirty foot rope dangled temptingly towards the ground.


Without stopping to think, I jogged over to the rope and pulled off my trainers. Quickly I grabbed the rope and shimmied to the top.

“Gotcha,” I tagged the top.

As I slid down to the ground I noticed half the people in the park had froze and were staring at me. Oh shoot, I forgot, girls aren’t supposed to do things like that in Bangladesh.

I grabbed my shoes and sat on a bench to lace them back on. Looking up, I saw a man grab the rope and attempt to climb it like I just did.

He fell.

Why did I climb that rope? Because it was there.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Romance of Dhaka

After living in Dhaka for a year and a half, I can finally look past the pollution and poverty to the more romantic aspects of the city. Riding my bike from Upper School to the First School for a staff meeting after school today, I was struck by the unique South Asian feel of the city.

Keeping well out of the way of dilapidated local buses barrelling past, I cycled past towering building blocks, all so similar in blunt design, yet individual in their intricate metalwork on their gates and barred windows.

Coming down Gulshan Avenue I passed the crowded market, filled with stalls of fruit and spices. The hundreds of oranges stacked in pristine pyramids caught my eye and my mouth watered.

A boy chased me, waving bunches of fresh roses the colors of the sunset.

"Madam, madam! Only a hundred taka!" He called as he ran after me.

At the traffic light I halted with the other cars, buses, rickshaws, and CNGs, not because we actually ever pay obey the red light, but because a uniformed guard was directing traffic. A legless beggar dragged himself over.

"Baksheesh," he intoned over and over, proffering his wrinkled hand.

The traffic cop waved his baton imperiously and I continued on my journey, passing men with lungis wrapped around their bony waists balancing baskets on their heads and children playing in the streets. I passed a few women, most fully covered in elaborately patterned and sequined shalwar kameezes, but a few neatly wrapped up in burqhas. Their dark eyes followed me as pedalled past, and I wondered what they were thinking.

Dhaka does offer an Asian mystique, although it is polluted by western influences and Bollywood. So far the city I've found most like in Asia is Siliguri, in North India. It is ironic that I'm beginning to love this impoverished city now that I am preparing to leave for Africa.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Priestly Blessing

"The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace." -Numbers 6:24-27

For sure someone prayed that blessing on me this morning! Why else would my day have been so uplifting? Even now I can't stop grinning.

Let me count today's blessings, name them one by one:

1. My dedicated group of prayer partners is forming, all committed to praying for my transition into teaching in Tanzania this August.

2. I glimpsed a brilliant purple dahlia the size of a softball growing next to a brick building.

3. I just stuck a chocolate cake in the oven. Those of you who know I gave up refined sugar(whoa, hold up, just for a year!) as my New Year's resolution may be tsk tsking and shaking your heads, but hear the rest of my story.
My students and I are enthusiastically planning a weekly bakesale to raise money for local street children. We are taking them on a trip to Dhaka Zoo-what a treat for those little Dhaka ruffians! What is even more exciting for me-if that's possible- is how involved my Homeroom students are in the fundraising, as I've been pushing them to get more involved in community service.

4. My Mom's birthday present to me survived the hazards of Bangladeshi mail and reached me this morning. Quite possibly it's the best present ever. A Michael Phelps Beijing 2008 t-shirt. Let's have a moment of silence in respect of the one-of-a-kind Michael. May I be like him.

5. David Robinson, another teacher, laughed and chatted gaily all day at work. Probably because he is going back to his own parish in Australia this summer.

Yep. All those things happened to yours truly today.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

News, News, News

A good friend of mine, who already has a jam-packed schedule out in the Kustia District studying Bangla and working on community development projects, decided he didn’t have enough on his plate.

"Look! I still have seven free minutes between 4am and 5am," he noted. So he challenged me to read the Bible with him in 90 days. Never one to turn down a challenge, I readily agreed.

A few days into this intense venture I was leading a class assembly for my 14 year-old homeroom students.

“How would you guys like to read the entire Bible in 90 days?” I was expecting a less than enthusiastic response, but surprisingly 4 of my students were excited about the challenge.

“Yeah, we’ll do it!”

“Maybe they’ll realize how time consuming it is, or get bogged down in the boring parts, and quit,” I worried. To keep them on track, I got their moms on board with the idea and I daily harassed my lil' kids to keep at it. I also asked friends in Dhaka and back in the States to pray that they perseveare.

Now it is almost a week into the challenge, and they are still going strong.

No, more than that.

They are coming excitedly into homeroom to tell me things they’ve discovered in their reading.

This morning Charles eyes grew wide and he waved his arm enthusiastically after I asked my typical, “Sooo, how’s the reading going?”

"Ooh! Ooh! Listen!" he proceeded to tell me the significance he’d found in numbers in the Old Testament so far, like how the numbers seven and forty are special because they’re repeated over and over.

Neat, I can actually see the prayers of my friends at work in my students' diligence and excitment.

Other exciting news is that I'm moving to Tanzania this summer to begin teaching at another Christian international school, called, are you ready, Haven of Peace Academy. Now who wouldn't want to teach at a school with that lovely name? To top it off, it's located directly on the Indian Ocean, so I can swim in real water everyday. Mmm. It'll be wonderful.

Asia to Africa is a big move, so I'm feeling the need for more prayers from friends and family, but this time for me and not my students. If four or five friends would volunteer to be my prayer partners, that would be amazing. Hint, hint to all you blog readers.

Really, I covet all your prayers at this particular transition time in my life, so let me know if you are interested in becoming my prayer partner.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Syhlet Trip Part II- H.'s Toilet

Thursday night we arrived at what H. termed her "village," but what we objected was too grandiose a term for four houses grouped into a compound. They were more propserous country homes with tin roofs, as H.'s Mum in London sends money back to her family in Syhlet. We were taken inside and given a cup of milky cha [tea], then taken on a tour of the dark compound. Lanterns illuminated the shadowy figures of cows and chickens occupying prominent parts of the huts. Cows seemed to be valued more highly than the many children running around, who H. gestureted at vaguely and called her cousins. It was pitch black as the electricity was off because the family hadn't paid their power bill, but in typically Bengali fashion they assured us it was "coming." I wish I had a taka for every time a Bengali has ressured me something is "coming."

"Does that mean coming in five minutes or five days?" I was half serious.

Eventually the electricity did power on, allowing H. to takes us to a small room off the side of the kitchen to see her famous toilet.

This famous, or maybe I should say infamous, toilet also happened to be a thorn in H.'s existence.

It was a modern western commode that flushed with remarkably good water pressure. It was nice. In fact, it even had a brand new rool of neon pink toilet paper perched next to it.

"Purchased specially for the visiting bideshis?" I ventured, as Bengalis don't typically use toilet paper.

The story of this porcelein novelty was a source of great amusement for Chelsea, Joel, and I, but of great embarrassment to H.

The Tale of H.'s Toilet

H. and her Mum visited their Syhletti when she was seventeen, where their family promptly introduced her to a cousin she was told to marry her so he could take her passport and work in London, sending his wages back to Bangladesh. Yes, she was told this directly- no beating around the bush with her family. Yet this honesty is natural in Bengali culture, as marriages are arranged and frequently kept within the family. To seal the deal, her family took her to the back of the house and threw open the latrine door.

"See!" They cried exuberantly, "we built you a toilet, now you have to marry Kalique!"

Horrified at the thought of living in Syhlet, H and her Mother had refused. Technically Delwar, her older brother, was her guardian, but he was a modern thinking Cambridge student and wanted her to choose her own husband. Consequently, H.'s family was upset with her and persisted in telling her to marry her cousin, Kalique.

Soon after we arrived, they produced an old photo of a teenaged H. and Kalique standing solemnly side by side on a dusty road. The photo had been magnified to poster size, then laminated. Her family proudly passed the photo around before propping it obviously up on the mantlepiece.

Their innuendo was anything but subtle.

Kalique smiled shyly at H. and sat down close to her, his shoulder brushing her's.

The rest of the evening ticked by slowly, with H.'s aunts, uncles, and cousins grinning at us and claiming, "we like you, even though you are so quiet!"

It didn't seem to occur to them that we were quiet because they spoke only Syhletti, which is different from Bangla.

I did manage to get sari wearing lessons, with H.'s aunt to teaching me to put on a sari all by my lonesome. Now I don't have to ask my ayah to dress me.

At bed time H., Chelsea and I climbed into one bed together, while her family, continued to stare at us. My last sight before the lights were turned off was her elderly uncle smoking a cigaratte and peering at us through the mossie net.

The next morning I was greeted by the same sight, and had to resign myself to three little cousins watching me change my shalwar kameez and brush my teeth.

"Why not?" I thought when they refused to let me dress in private. "It's not everyday these kids get to see so much white skin."

Monday, January 12, 2009

"The Friendship Divorce"

by E.G.B.

I sit on a miniature chair, the
Wooden back digging into my spine.
Fingerpaintings and bright posters
Cover the classroom walls.

I see two serious faces,
one molded into hard lines.
Coulors of the classroom fade
And suddenly I am in a courtroom.
Her lips crack their mold and the
Trial begins.

Grievances are listed-accusations
Against the core of who I am-
All uttered in Her flat voice.

It's over. I'm expected
To speak, to defend myself.
My mouth is dry, my tongue
Unable to form words. The words
To express my value of a friendship
She ruined.

My faces closes, a mask drops to
Hide my pain. A hard lump fills my
Throat and I am gasping for breath.
No words come.

She is the judge, the jury. I am
The unrepresented defense. Satisfied,
She delivers the verdict. I escape
The courtroom, where my tears erupt
Over a treasure lost.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

East Bangladesh Trip Part I

Purpose: Three friends and I travelled around Syhlet and Sri Mongol for a few days this week to visit H.'s Syhletti family, see the "sites" (although it's doubtful they're nice enough to warrant that term) and ultimately plan out the Year 8 and 9 five day school field trip in February.

Missionaries abroad are some of the most interesting people I've met. They've travelled a good deal and have endless fascinating stories about their travels. In Bangladesh, missionaries are also some of the most patient people I've met. This blog is about one such missionary.

Chelsea, a companion on this Syhleti adventure, works for Food For the Hungry (FH) and hails from Wisconsin (Yes! Finally! a fellow American for company). Yet this girl has abandoned her rural mid-western habits-except for wearing long underwear under her shalwar in winter- in favour of Bangla living. She lives on Bangla food. She speaks Bangla fluently. She is, in fact, the whitest Bangali I've met.

At the start of our trip we picked her up in Banani an hour late, and all she calmly asked was "who's fault is it?"

H. ducked her head guiltily, as she'd rolled over and went back to sleep after I'd knocked on her door to wake her up that morning.

After picking up Chelsea, our van set off for Syhlet and I thumbed through the Bangladesh Lonely Planet, looking at vague maps and planning our trip timetable. A pain throbs in my forehead as I unsuccessfully attempt to ring tea gardens and guesthouses, all places I need to check out for the upcoming field trip. Predictably, all the numbers are out of service.

"The Bangladesh Lonely Planet is rubbish," Joel mutters several times.

We stop and use a toilet in a family's home alongside the road, as public toilets are virtually non-existent in this country. Joel comes out of the toilet mumbling about Hepatitis, but the muddy-floored toilet winds a 5 out of 10 on my rating scale, as the smell is bearable and there are working electric lights. I step out to find Chelsea easily squatting next to the lady of the house, who's sitting on her haunches plucking a chicken. Predictably, Chelsea has already befriended her.

"Obviously my planning has to be done in person, not over the phone," I note as she straightens up to her full tall height. "we'll have to just show up and hope we find these places."

Chelsea shrugs nonchalantly, "No worries. People in the villages will direct us once we get there."

Deciding to follow her laid back attitude, I follow her back to the van, where I curl up on the seat and sleep for an hour. Sleeps mellows my worries further, and I spend the rest of the trip gazing at the endless honey-coloured fields dotted with cows and brown Bengalis sliding past my van window.

Forgotten is the Lonely Planet.

Chelsea, ever serene, does the same.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

“I am come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly.” John 10:10b

Dashed off this poem about John 10:10 quickly last night, then woke up at 4am and thought of the ending four lines. After that my fingers finally stopped itching to write.

Abundant Life
by E.G.B
Is it possible I will stop living
my life so intensely?
Will sensations cease to
seem so very real to me?

The tangy smell of chrysanthemums
on my dining room table; the nutty
flavour of peanut butter on my rhoti;
the melody of Est’s thick Irish brogue?

Will my craving, yearning to read,
no, to absorb scripture die away?
Gazing into my students’ eyes; relating to
their ideas; empathising with their feelings?

I wonder if my heart-to-heart discussions with
intimate friends will ever feel less fulfilling;
if a certain girl’s eyes filling with tears
will cease to tear a corner of my heart?

That sense of completion when
finishing a novel; that remorse
when a song ends that seems to
be written for me alone?

No!” Christ’s assurance, His Holy Word,
crashes across more than two thousand
years. He gives abundance to living,
life that overflows into Eternity.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Journey into the deepest,

My past two days were spent travelling in remote villages near the Jamuna River [Blue River] helping Steve and Jeannette, who work with the non-government organisation Symbiosis, with what Steve cleverly termed, “a bell curve, as it was a uniform distribution.” Translated from Australian into American this means formally presenting navy and white schools uniforms at Bengali schools near the Jamuna sandbar.

These schools are tucked away in out of the way villages surrounded by farms growing a variety of rice; mustard seed; vegetables like chili peppers and squash; and what Bengalis grow best, people. We may be as remote as you can get in Bangladesh, but Bengalis are liberally sprinkled everywhere.

This country is insanely populated.

As we walked amongst the paddies I nibbled on green chilli peppers and stared back at the villagers who dropped their plowing to gawk at the bideshis [foreigners]. Jeannette responded by stopping abruptly in her tracks to snap pictures at whatever local striked her fancy. Quickly I noted her unpredictable walking and learned not to walk behind her, so I walked next to Steve and laughed at his stories.

Steve responded to the curious stares by ignoring them. He was fascinated by the tropical Bengali plants, like the tall, spare barinda trees, which grow seeds that can be dried and squeezed for oil. He gathered a few to see if the oil is usable as a petrol alternative. I stopped to admire the barinda trees with him, but only because their leaves are beautifully shaped.

We took an ancient looking wooden boat along the cloudy river for an hour before landing and hiking up the grey shore, which was rough and uneven because of flooding during the monsoon season, to the first school. It was the dry season and the sand stretched long and dry up the banks. When we reached the JRDP (Jamuna River Development Project) school the sun was glaring on a hundred or so children lined up painstakingly in rows. I wondered if they’d been waiting in the heat for hours, and their orderly rows reminded me of a Nazis concentration camp. The headmaster greeted us and blew on his whistle, initiating a complicated series of half exercising and half dancing movements from the students. They didn’t stir from their positions, but saluted, stomped, and waved their arms in uniform movements. A young boy beat a drum, repeating the same thump, thump, thumping rhythm over and over till the beat ingrained itself in my head. Obviously the students enjoyed this homogeneous production, although it bothered me that their individuality was stifled. Again my western perceptions interfered with my appreciation of their collectivistic culture.

After the rhythmic performance, Jeannette spoke to the children, empowering them to stay in school as long as possible. She realised what a struggle it is for the boys and especially girls have to continue their educations. For the next couple of hours Jeannette presented each student with a crisp new uniform her catholic school in Australia donated.

I stand on the outskirts with an urna covering my yellow hair, which earlier that day I braided tightly out of sight. The evening before Jeannette requested I not wear any of my “gorgeous sarees, as it will steal all the attention like it did in Kumarkhali village at Christmas.”

My plan to be invisible works for the first hour, until I started chatting with a local villager wearing a brightly woven saree. Her strong, handsome face fascinates me and I struggled to find the right words in Bangla to find out more about her. I gazed at her two nose piercings and she examined the gold and silver bangles on my pale wrist. Quickly a crowd circled around me as men, women, and children gazed at the ghost-like foreigner. Steve sauntered up and laughed at my entourage.

“I wish I knew some tricks to entertain them,” I lamented, “like how to juggle.”

“Oh no,” chuckled Steve, “you just have to stand there.”
After a long day of travelling we headed back to the Symbiosis Jamuna River Branch Office for a “cultural evening,” (yes, the Bengalis actually termed it that) where the national staff sang Christian songs and a midget with an amazing sense of rhythm danced for us. In return we taught them the old western Sunday school song “Father Abraham.”

That night they dragged a wooden bed into the dining room for me to sleep on, and I sat in bed reading a New York Times bestseller while Jeannette uploaded her two million pictures from the day. Okay, maybe it was more like 400 pictures. Men wandered in and out the room on various errands and we laughed that this is the only time I’ve worn an urna [a scarf worn over clothes out of modesty that covers a woman’s breasts and head] to bed out of necessity.
We went to sleep exhausted and I awoke the next morning at 7:15. I looked at the dining room table in front of me and immediately noticed my backpack is gone.


Startled, I clambered out from under the mosquito net and examined the floor. My tee shirt and books are scattered on the cement, but my backpack is definitely missing.

I headed for the door to the Noolans' room, before remember Steve’s command that I not wake him before 7:30- he needs his beauty sleep. I balanced on the edge of my bed to wait till 7:30.

Five seconds flick by.

“Wait a minute,” I decided, “this is an emergency!” I skipped into the other room and quietly announced. “I’ve been robbed.”

Steve was alert in an instant and stirred the national staff into action. Soon my bag was discovered outside of the bars of my window and I searched my possessions to see what is missing. Predictably, my money, phone, and camera are missing. In the back of my mind I am pleased that my second favourite kameez and second favourite knickers weren’t stolen. Hmm. At least that’s something.

I noticed that weirdly the only non-valuable item stolen is a pack of tissues and I create a mental profile of the thief: an impoverished Bengali man with a bad cold. That narrows it down to how many million people.

Apparently the thief pulled the tablecloth to the window with my bag on it, than slipped the bag through the bars. Shivering, I imagined a burglar watching me sleep.

“Maybe it’s the man who followed me last night when I went walking. He grabbed me. He was muttering things to me and stalked me until I made it back into the lighted area of town and several Symbiosis staff found me.” I pictured the shuffling man in his lungi.

The staff were upset by the theft and one of them formally apologized to me. The others had drawn faces and refused to look me in the eye. I made a point of smiling at them.

“It is my fault,” our translator blamed himself, “I should have told you to put your bag on the floor.”

“It’s okay,” I assured him, “it was nobody’s fault.”

It definitely wasn’t the fault of the staff, and I don’t like to blame the thief, who maybe was a poor man driven to robbery for survival.

But dang it!

This trip was supposed to be all about Jeannette and her seeing the final product of her fund and awareness raising in Adelaide for the ultra poor schools. This was supposed to be her two days. I’m exhausted by my burden on Jeannette and Steve. I’m only too aware that I’m a single female who in the past week has had a scary experience on a rickshaw, been felt up on the street, and now been robbed.

They don’t complain.

Romans 8:28 says, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God,” and I am glad this experience has happened, as it gave me the opportunity to prove I trust God to care for me, not just think it. Here God has protected me with the Noolans and the Symbiosis staff.

Oswald Chamber reckons, “It is only the faithful person who truly believes that God sovereignly controls his circumstances.”
Jeannette, Steve, and I smiled-the national staff looked like they were about to burst into tears- and our trip went on.

The rest of the day continued on as normal, with us journeying to a preschool and a primary school. The children stared at us grimly, refusing to smile for the 300 pictures I was commissioned to take of them by Jeannette, but I understood that was merely cultural and they were actually pleased to own such sharp new uniforms. Their old clothes are brilliantly coloured, patterned fabrics, yet worn and hole-filled.

At the end of the two day journey we arrived back into Dhaka covered in dirt, sweat, probably a sprinkling of goat and cow dung, and smelling of the aromatic fragrance of rural Bangladesh.

“Are you happy with how the trip went?” I queried.

“I am,” Mrs. Noolan states with a satisfied smile.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Chepati of Life

My scripture reading has been straightforward for the past 8 or so years. While deeper Christians choose to do fancy topical Bible studies or use a Bible study manual, I merely open the Bible at Genesis and proceed to read straight through till Revelation. When I hit the end of the O.T., I flip my old Bible over and begin again. Consequently I've read completely my Bible through many times, which may seem boring to some people, but I like to read what's in the Word for myself.

Sometimes I do vary off my straightforward path to chase little rabbit trails. For four days now I've been reading John chapter 6 during my quiet times. I read it once, think about, then read it again. Each day I read the chapter a different aspect to Jesus' words pop out at me, and sometimes the same words hit different chords in me based on my mood.
Hmm. A curious effect.

I've been so eagerly looking forward to my study times, wondering what the next re-reading will bring, that finally I decided to memorize the verses that haunt my thoughts the most, verses 26-40. Now that I'm too afraid to leave my apartment alone at night, I have plenty of leisure time for memorization.

In John 6, Jesus repeatedly asserts that He is the bread of life. This is a simple analogy to me, but His discussion on the topic seemed too much for some of His disciples and some deserted Him. Was it the content that was too hard for them to accept, or did they truly not understand His message?

I've heard tales of the Bible being translated into tribal languages with the word "bread" changed to whatever the staple food of that tribe is. Like the sweet potato of Papua New Guinea. Roti [bread] is common in Bangladesh, but their staple food is bhat [rice]. Jesus is the rice of life.

For the past month my staple food has been chepati, a round, flat food akin to a tortilla. Claiming Jesus is the chepati of life is proclaiming Him to be all I need to be filled.

Knowing that Jesus is the most satisfying, the most fulfilling should be comforting, as it surely is for me. So why did it scare off the disciples? After my re-readings, it hits me that often it's the simplest ideas that confound people.

In the western world the simplest answer isn't the right answer. To be happy, you need as many entertainment possessions as possible: flat screen TVs, entertainment systems, Blackberries, laptops, these are the essentials. Maybe that's why I'm not content to live in America. Probably I'm the most happy after I hop out of a hot shower and can smell the creamy scent of coconut conditioner in my hair. Or when I hear a workman in my building singing a melancholy opera tune.

Simple things for simple minds, you may say. But I'll readily admit, it's the simple scripture verses, like "Jesus is the bread of life," that intrigue me the most.

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer." -Thoreau

Halima, Joel, the Jennings along with their crowd and I step onto the 14th floor at the Dhaka Regency Hotel. It appears to be the world’s worst party and for the first couple of hours, it actually is. As music pulses through the room, men with apathetic expressions stare at the empty dance floor, brilliant with whirling lights.

“Rich Bengali men,” fumes Joel. “Can’t stand them. On the way in I saw one making a fist to beat a rickshaw waller.”

In reality maybe it’s the 5:1 male to cute single female ratio that actually annoys Joel.

A nasty man with a cigarette poking out of a corner of his mouth offers to buy me a drink, and I decide smiling and pretending to be interested in his job is worth a free tequila shot.

Later the party warms up as the dance floor fills up with gyrating Banglas- each boogieing to the beat of his own mental drummer. My group dances in a circle and I bounce along energetically to the Asian pop. Unaccountably I’m proud of myself for recognizing the popular songs that regularly blare from shops and cars on the street.

Dancing’s the only reason I come to these things.

“Want to learn how to Hindi dance?” Asks a man in our group whose name I’m 50% sure starts with an “M”. After a slight nod from me he takes me aside and shows me a slow, rhythmic set of foot steps-the tension is all in the hand movements.

A tipsy man next to us suddenly drops to the floor and break dances.

Joel's dancing is endearing, limited to fist bobbing until Halima lectures him on proper dance rules. There must be feet movement or weight shifting.

Fast forward hours. In the elevator away from the clouds of cigarette smoke Beth complains that the drinks were expensive and you even had to pay for the water.

“Not uh, I didn’t pay for the water,” I counter.

“It was 200 taka, so obviously they like you.” She gazes at me steadily.

“Didn’t you have men buying you drinks, too?” wonders Joel.

“You just have to smile at them,” I say to Beth helpfully, then realize I sound like a flirt and shut my mouth.

“You wear glasses. You wear your hair in a bun. You are the Upper School librarian. You are a secondary English teacher,” mentally I remind myself.