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Archive for January, 2010

what a catch!


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In Honor of Hasina

A song by Rabindranath Tagore

This is my prayer to thee, my lord –
strike, strike at the root of penury in my heart.

Give me the strength lightly to bear my joys and sorrows.
Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service.
Give me the strength never to disown the poor or bend my knee before insolent might.
Give me the strength to raise my mind high above daily trifles.
And give me the strength to surrender my strength to thy will with love.

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“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” –Marcel Proust

I have just learned to say, “How are you?” in Bangla, and I practice on a young Muslim woman dressed in black from head to toe. “Balo, balo” she says energetically smiling at me. I sit down next to her on a cement wall along the road. I ask for the name of the very young baby in her arms. “Aki” she says. From other gesturing I gather that the baby is only one month old.

Caleb, Sanjoy and I continue our walk up to the lake, enjoying a pleasant stroll and a beautiful view. On our way back down, I spot the woman still sitting with her baby and hand her a small sprig of marigold flowers that we found along the way. She starts talking to Sanjoy, who translates that she has invited us to lunch at her house. (more…)

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In Chittagong, we decided to do things a little differently and take a bit of a leap of faith. As we are leaving the Buddhist temple in the city, a young man approaches us and introduces himself as Sanjoy, a student who rents a small room in the temple complex as he pursues his studies in English Literature. His home is in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, a Buddhist and tribal area where we want to visit. He says he works as an occasional tour guide for the region.

Although we usually are hesitant to use guides, there is an immediate positive connection with Sanjoy; his sincerity is palpable when he says he felt close to us as we were sitting in the meditation hall. We have lunch and plan with him, he helps us get permits, and a few days later we are on our way to his stunning, hilly home town of Banderban. (more…)

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Tell me about Bangladesh: How is it different from India? This is the question that everyone from home asks me. In our first destination, Sylhet, we find that the lungi is deeply in style, and this combined with the pervasive stares makes us feel like we are transported back to Tamil Nadu. A new development, however, is that whenever we stop to do anything on the street, a crowd of 10 or 20 men gathers within moments to watch. Look, the foreigners are trying to buy water at the store. Look, the foreigners are arguing with a baby-taxi driver. Look, the foreigners are drinking tea, are visiting a tailor, are admiring a shop full of saris and lungis.

These crowds are unnerving for sure, but deeply benign. A disagreement over price can be easily resolved when people from the crowd intervene on behalf of fairness. A language barrier in rickshaw directions can be overcome when the crowd member with the best English steps forward to interpret. (more…)

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Caleb has proudly purchased a lungi, which is a skirt-like garment (usually plaid) that men wear in Bangladesh and parts of India. A simple rectangle of fabric, it is a truly magical garment: adjustable in length according to climate, loosely fitting (favored by rickshaw drivers and construction workers), and shrewdly addressing some fundamental logistical problems associated with using squat toilets. (more…)

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This is just a quick sketch of one out of countless weird situations we have experienced on our trip. From tribal Shillong, Meghalaya, we crossed into Bangladesh via Dawki, a small border town that is rarely visited by foreign travelers. To my chagrin, there were a couple moments along the way in which I thought it would be suggested, for convenience sake, that we become part of the problem — that is to say: pay a bribe.

Indian coal trucks waiting to cross into Bangladesh.

As we dropped into the local police station with our packs, in the dark, we were asked to take a seat. We needed to be there in order to procure permission to stay the night in the “Inspector’s Bungalow,” the only accommodation available for guests in Dawki, and we were unsure of what this process would require. (more…)

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