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!