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.