Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sustainability in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is no doubt a developing country. At the time of this writing, it is the 9th most populous country in the world. Imagine a population half that of the US all crammed into Iowa. There is virtually no tourism industry here. People don't come to Bangladesh to visit. Why? maybe because there are other countries close by with well known tourist spots and amazing beaches.

 The thing that amazes me about Bangladesh however, is their level of sustainability. Here, there is very little infrastructure for waste management. There are not trash trucks that come around and collect garbage every week (maybe in Dhaka, but not in the villages). There are no trash cans as you walk down the street or even in most buildings. The people here seem to make very little waste and have an amazing ability to reuse things. The main waste that they do have is from imported items packaged overseas. Often when I have made purchases the bag that my items come in is made out of someone's homework. In addition, Bangladesh does not use plastic bags. They have been banned here. Instead they use jute bags. These bags not only save the environment as they are biodegradable but they also promote the local jute industry.
This looks like a recycling station, but no...This is someones
shop, and these items are for sale!

This is not to say that you will not see trash here. In fact, at first glance it seems dirty and the littering is a huge problem, however, the fact that these people are able to reuse so much without having recycling bins and recycling management programs is truly amazing. 

Two boys bathing (or maybe just playing) at the river. All
that "stuff" in the water is water hyacinth which helps
keep the river clean.
In the larger cities you will find many concrete block style houses (like the one I’m living in currently) which are very unattractive and uncomfortable. However, in the villages, many houses are made from mud. These houses are very attractive, stay cool in the summer and warm in winter and are therefore also very efficient not to mention sustainable. In the Hindu villages you will also find very neatly organized sticks of cow manure. This is what they use for cooking fuel. Villagers bath in the river, or use a bucket bath system. Both methods save a significant amount of water compared to a western shower or bath. 

For a developing, poverty stricken country, Bangladesh sure has a lot to teach the Western world!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Bangla Lessons and Corporal Punishment

About three weeks ago, I finally got the Bangla lesson I'd been waiting for. Although my lesson did not come from the person I expected it from...

One morning I woke up and the house was pretty much empty. I went downstairs to request breakfast and get some tea. At the table were Muslima (the maid), Nazma (the helper maid), and Rafiq (the guard). Usually I ask for breakfast and then go back upstairs and wait for it. Today, Muslima told me to stay at the table downstairs, so I did. Apparently Muslima doesn't like playing charades as much as I do, because she began teaching me Bangla. I ran into one of the offices to grab pen and paper. I was so excited I was finally going to be able to communicate with people here! 

I love Muslima. The first thing she taught me was "Ami mas monksha keina" which means- I don't eat fish or meat. She then proceeded to teach me to say the things I would eat- rice, bread, dal and egg... To which I replied "Ami deem na!"  I don't like egg!!!  Muslima started laughing and asked "no egg?"  I was able to communicate to her that I didn't mind having an egg for breakfast everyday but that I no longer wanted them at lunch and dinner too. She understood and somehow this whole thing worked out amazingly for me because when she stopped making me so many eggs, she started giving me bananas!!! I love bananas and we had all been wanting more fruit. Angela and Nazmeen were a little pissed off when I started getting bananas and they didn't, but they quickly figured out where the bananas were hidden and helped themselves
Dahl and Ruti- no egg!

I have consistently only been served one egg per day since that day! In addition to food things Muslima taught me how to say I need something which is different depending if you need a thing or a person. She helped me with directions to guide my rickshaw drivers and common prices for rickshaws so now I can go places on my own, no problem!

Since then a couple of the girls in dance class (the three sisters who helped us get ready for our performances) have continued the lessons. They have taught me "Tome Kamon Achu?" How are you? "ami valo achi" I am fine. "Tomar nam key?" What's your name? and "Ami tomake valobashi" I love you!

As the youngest of the three girls, Lima (approx 13-14) was helping me with Bangla, she took my phone to type in the words (apparently I was doing it too slowly and she couldn't handle it anymore) as she was trying to type one of the letters in she kept skipping past it (this is an old school phone where each key has three letters and you have to go through all the letters to get the one you want). About the third time she had missed the letter she wanted she said "oh shit!" and I totally lost it. I was laughing so hard. Here is this girl who barely knows any English but she can swear perfectly in the language and even used it in the right context. It was hilarious. I was laughing and she started laughing and her sister was laughing while the third sister was dancing with some of the other girls. A couple of the teachers looked at us and with no clue what had happened, they started laughing at us laughing. I thought she was such a smart girl. I mean after all, everyone knows swearing doesn't count when it's done in another language. She had the problem of having a native speaker of the language she chose to swear in sitting with her.

Lima- the potty mouth! How could you hit
this pretty face?
When it was my turn to dance I got up went through my routine and when I returned to my seat Lima was scowling on the bench. I asked what was wrong and she wouldn't tell me. Her older sister Poly informed me that she had been slapped by one of the teachers! Now I was livid. I had given workshops on alternatives to corporal punishment in South Africa. I couldn't believe that here in this dance class that students pay to come to and have fun, corporal punishment would be an issue. I never got a full translation of what happened but all I can gather is, one of the teachers came over to find out what was so funny and when she told him what she had said he slapped her. He explained to her that shit is a very bad word in America and she should not be talking like that.

I went home and spoke with my colleagues to try to find out if this was a common occurrence in Bangladesh. I wanted to find out more about cultural norms before I got on my high horse and started lecturing about right and wrong. After explaining the whole story to them they agreed that the punishment seemed harsh for the behaviour, especially since I was not offended about the language AT ALL.

I composed a letter and had one of my colleagues translate it to Bangla for me. I gave it to the master teacher the next evening. The letter basically told him what had happened and explained that I did not feel the punishment was appropriate and in fact that I though this girl was very smart for swearing in such great context. I went to explain that I also did not want the young teacher to be punished (as that would just encourage the cycle) but rather that I just wished our master teacher would understand and explain to his apprentices why hitting these students is wrong. He read the letter, smiled and thanked me and I saw him speaking with the culprit later that evening. Hopefully it won't happen again, but I'm afraid it just won't happen while Angela and I are there.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Meditation with the help of the Bangladeshi Army

I have been trying to practice meditation regularly in Bangladesh. There were a couple weeks that were too cold for me to get out of bed in the morning, so I slacked off. Now I have been slowly getting back into it.

As any meditator knows, meditation is difficult. The goal is to try and calm or still your mind. The problem is our minds are constantly racing. For me, my mind often wanders to an idea for a new blog to write, or what I need to accomplish that day/week/month. There are so many things to think about and so little time to think! Yet, I know that when I can accomplish even a few minutes of meditation in the morning before I do anything else, my days seem to go much smoother. I am more ready to face other people, can accomplish more work and just tend to have happier, calmer days.

There are so many different techniques for meditation. Sometimes I will try to sit for short periods, multiple times throughout the day so that I can try different techniques. I usually start my morning with a chakra cleansing meditation. This morning I chose to focus on my breath. I used a form of pranayama where the exhalation is twice as long as the inhalation: 4 sec inhalation= 8 sec exhalation. This allows you to completely rid the lungs of all the stale air before bringing fresh, clean air in. As you slow the breath, you also begin to notice the heart beat slow down and the mind becomes calm.

I kept with my breath pattern and began to clear my chakras. About the time I reached my heart chakra I noticed the sound of an even drumbeat at about 1 beat/second. Rather than getting annoyed with this potential distraction, I allowed the beats to help me stay in tune with my breath and complete my meditation practice. Had I been a bit newer to meditation, I might have allowed those drum beats to annoy and agitate me bringing me out of my meditative state. However, as I have progressed in my practice, I have been trained to focus on sounds only as sounds without attaching to them or being distracted by them. In this way, the drumming actually helped my meditation by matching the pace of my breath counts.

The drums belonged to the Bangladeshi Army who was practicing right outside my window. We live in the Cantonment area and are right next door to the Army base here. I have a feeling this may be a regular occurrence and I happily welcome it in to my meditation practice.