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.