From my journal, 8/24
So I'm writing this from inside a mosquito net, on a hard bed with pink and brown striped sheets, sweating in the stillness. The electricity went off again so our fan is not running and I am writing by the screen of my phone. The only sounds are the deep breathing of our interpreter in the bed across the room, faint music from somewhere in the village, and sporadic voices from the guys in the other room. I am in a branch office five hours outside of Dhaka, on the eastern border where Bangladesh meets India. It has been a long day -- starting at 7:30 in the lobby and then piling six of us interns plus two interpreters plus Shameem, our coordinator, into the minibus to head for the village. Two hours later after some of the worst Bangladesh roads I've seen so far, we dropped off the first group at their branch. Shameem asked if we had to use the facilities before we kept going, and assuming our branch was just 10-20 minutes away, we said no. After we started driving, he said we had 3 more hours! We passed bright green rice fields and houses on stilts and so many people and villages and bumpy roads full of potholes and mud and standing water. Finally we turned onto this narrow strip of land, surrounded by water on either side, that winds out to an especially rural village.
We met the local branch manager, saw our sparse accommodations for the next week, and had a lunch of rice and lentil soup. Then Shameem left us to head back for the branch, and it felt like my only piece of familiar was leaving. The two other interns, Dimitre and Shinji, weren't ones I knew well and they both liked to smoke; our room was small and a little dirty and I couldn't tell if the sheets were clean; I was the only female around except for our thirty-five year old interpreter, who was married with two kids at home; I wouldn't have internet or a way to contact anyone for the next week; lunch was small and plain and unfamiliar; there were two rolls of toilet paper set out for us and the only toilet was in the branch office since the locals don't use either. I got nerves for a while, as I always do when put into uncomfortable new situations, and started questioning whether I could really do this for the next five days. We then had an hour or two for ourselves, which was exactly what I needed. By mid-afternoon, when we met the branch manager to walk through town, my spirits had picked up and I had realized, as always, that I can handle anything for a week and God will be with me the whole time. It's just the scare of the unfamiliar that makes me want routine and familiarity, but these experiences always end up good so I'm glad God puts me in them.
We took a tour through town: the branch manager, Laizu, our Bangladeshi interpreter, Dimitre, Shinji, and I. We drew a crowd of kids that followed us along, curious. We tried puri, a fried street snack, and then watched the futball game that was clearly a town favorite. We, however, were almost of equal excitement as the game, receiving stares of wonder and puzzlement and amusement as these villagers have probably seen fewer than 10 or 20 white people in their entire lives.
Back at the branch office this evening, the branch manager and other bank workers were rearranging the beds for us (so Laizu and I could have one area with doors to close off from the boys' area) when the power went out. It made for an amusing sight: four local men struggling to fit an iron bed frame through a narrow doorway by cell phone light. Then they stacked the rotting old pallets on the frame before laying a thin cushion on top. The branch manager stepped on my bed frame to fix the mosquito net on top and his foot went through the pallet! I said I would put my head on that end and sleep lightly. Laizu, who is a bit heavier than I am, said she was worried about her bed even holding up! In the dark, by candle light, we had dinner: rice, lentil soup, vegetables, and chicken curry; all the same yellowish color, and a little unappealing.
And then it has been a hot but nice evening in the dark (no electricity). Unconnected. Just reading by cell phone light.
Day two in the village. We got to sleep in today and then had breakfast of ruti (fried naan bread), eggs, and dal (splicy lentil paste). Then we took a CNG to a center meeting to watch the loan disbursement process and then went to some borrowers' houses to ask them questions. Later, Dimitre and I had a long conversation about him being interested in the medical field and also being a smoker (I may have pointed out the irony of that), which turned into responsibilities of people in leadership, and then of ministers, and then religion in general. Convictions, doubt, who is God, is my God and the Muslim God the same?, are some people "wrong" about what they believe?, what is my role in reference to them? .... it was a very good and challenging conversation. Dimitre is a very deep thinker, saying openly that he believes the world had to be created by a God but doesn't believe in heaven or hell. He is someone I would have never connected with outside of this program and this was yet another time God had me share my faith with someone so outside my comfort zone. And it was so good for me.
Then we took a walk into town so the guys could buy longhis ("loon-gees"), the skirt-looking thing that rural men in this country wear. It is basically just a sheet that they wrap around themselves and tie in the front, so it is bunched up in the front and I really don't know how they don't fall off. Laizu and the branch manager were very amused that the boys wanted to buy them, and I'm sure we will get stares when they wear them! Then we got milk tea and puri again on the street. It's such a fun afternoon culture here, to sit at a tea stall and drink your sweet tea with the hustle and bustle of street vendors around.
We went walking outside the village past some rice paddies, and I soon had a merry group of little followers eagerly watching me and my camera. I showed them the photos I had just taken, and at the screen they were mesmerized. Soon they were posing and wanting pictures of themselves, of their friends, of their brothers; each time seeing the screen, reacting with more glee and excitement. It grew to a good sized band as we walked the uneven cement path past swamped fields and towering palms, the air as thick as ever. I felt more helpless than ever with our language barrier, and had to rely mostly on smiles to communicate. The kids chattered to me in Bangla and we communicated a little through gesturing -- our names, and simple words they taught me by pointing -- sky, rice. They knew (or learned) "camera" in English pretty quick, and then would say "camera" and point to themselves, stepping aside for their own picture. But before I could push the shutter, bunches of other eager faces would jump in until the frame was full of their little bodies. The way they ragged on each other and laughed and exclaimed over the photos was a blast. Later, I asked the branch manager if he knew their families and could get them the pictures if I sent them. He said yes.
Laizu has been fun to be with as well -- a Bangladeshi woman of 35 with 2 kids at home and a husband who works for Oracle. She has been a Grameen Bank translator for 15 years. Very down-to-earth and tell-it-like-it-is, she has a whole-body laugh that we hear frequently -- like when she heard the boys' plan to buy longhis. She's been such fun to be with, and very relaxed. Plus she's used to air conditioning so she's sweating more than the rest of us, who've been a tiny bit acclimated from the un-air-conditioned Grameen Bank office for the past week. (All of the other floors in the Grameen Bank building have air conditioning, so we're thinking they skipped our floor so it would be tougher for us interns. ;).
This evening the power's been on and off. At 9 pm, Laizu finally said we should just have dinner anyway, so we lit candles and started our dinner of rice, lentil soup, Bangladeshi spinach, and chicken (I've stopped eating meat here because it is strange and full of bones, plus there isn't much of it and the boys are happy for more). This is the poorest and most culturally real food I've ever had, and it makes me realize our abundance in the states, and also the disparity in tastes the world over. Laizu, Dimitre, Shinji and I compared typical breakfasts today, since we are all from different countries and continents, and the traditions are so different. I cannot imagine eating noodles and soup every morning, or spicy lentils like we do here! The power flickered on for about five minutes of our dinner and then went off again. The worst part about no power is no fans also. Plus it is a little sketch to eat by candlelight because the candles attract bugs and you can hardly see what you are putting in your mouth.
Still, laying here in my hard bunk, reading, nothing else to do, is kind of nice. It is only day 2 and I'm thinking I should take an internet hiatus more often.
The other thing I want to remember from today is how emphatically I told Dimitre about the necessity of church in a believer's life -- for support, for stability, for learning, for growth. He doesn't believe in religious institutions and I wanted to express how totally and completely important they are. I told him how being here for so long makes me long to be back with people who understand me, believe how I do, and support my walk with Christ. Having time for just me and God is wonderful, but there is something about worshiping with fellow believers that you just can't replace with anything else. And no matter how much good you can do in another country, none of it matters if you lose yourself and your faith in the process. This makes me think of the words that an older brother-in-fatih told me before my first time away: he said that nothing was more important than my salvation, and if I ever felt like I was in an uncomfortable situation, I should just get on a one-way ticket home. There is nothing in this world worth losing your salvation over. And that is a wonderful frame of mind to have, wherever I am: God is the ultimate priority and from Him will all my life be directed.
I'm a twenty-something from the Pacific NW making home in new places as I follow where God leads.
My intent is to show Christ's love to the world and use business to solve some of the social problems we face: hunger, illiteracy, healthcare, economic hardship. For now, I'm in a stage of learning. A little adventuring, a few books, some good friends, and a whole lot of prayer and life runs on.