Friday, August 3, 2012

Pabna, Bangladesh

Usually, driving 125 miles takes about 2 hours. In Bangladesh, a country the size of the US state of Wisconsin, it takes about 6 hours. Even though the roads are more open outside of Dhaka, you still have rickshaws, big trucks, cows, paddy tractors and some of Bangladesh's 160 million people to share the roads with. Driving can be treacherous here, but the reward by traveling outside the city, to see outlying villages, is great.

Our driver Bijoy's village of Pabna lies northwest of Dhaka. As we had been to our other house helpers homes and villages, it was important for us to take the time to also visit with his family. Two weeks ago, the girls, Mokta, Bijoy and I loaded up the car at 0500 for the journey to his village. Many people were anxiously awaiting our arrival.
(above: except for the grandmother, are village scenes on our drive)
(below: activity in Pabna, many visitors)
We arrived to Bijoy's mother (below green) who greeted us with a huge smile. She had prepared his uncle's home (below rt) for our stay. Bijoy spent the first few hours setting up a generator, as power is very sporadic here. Though there was no a/c, we were treated to a large room, indoor plumbing, a refrigerator and large fans. Bijoy's cousin followed us around for the first few hours, moving the fans in our direction where ever we went. I felt a bit like a pharaoh.
While I fancy myself a country girl and tomboy, the ginormous spider that crawled out of the bathroom when we opened the door did set me back a bit. I was happy to not find any more of his friends in our bed that night. Bijoy's sister-in-law and her sister-in-law cooked us lunch of chicken with rice and fresh mangos as soon as we arrived.

It is custom here to be somber for photos, but everyone quickly learned how I love to photograph a smile. I caught some in full laugh before they could catch themselves in embarrassment.
The kids got on famously, as always, after a few shy moments. We brought gifts, food and coloring books, so they all stayed busy. The crayons and paper were a treat here. After lunch, we went on a walk through the village, seeing the wonderful foundation of the brick home Bijoy is building, their gardens, the river and visiting along the way.

We stopped along the river, where Bijoy and a little friend took Ceiba for a boat ride. While they paddled, I walked up the hill to take photos. This sweet old couple went inside to change clothes for their photo, and here I was first unsure if I would offend them by asking. Guess definitely no offense.
While photographing, Ceti woke up from a nap and came over with Mokta to visit. Bijoy's mother brought Ceti out in the boat with Ceiba, but not before my motherly "Someone can swim, right?"
(above: the boaters and the old couple's beautiful daughter feeding chickens)
We walked further to the other side of the village, stopping at a Dhaka friend Irene's family plot and taking "proof we were there" photos for her. I enjoyed the growing herd of friends following us about our walk, as taking turns to carry my camera bag, thermos of tea and kids. The kids both had to wiggle just to get down for time on their own feet; everyone enjoyed holding them.
Ceiba and Avocet LOVED playing with the goats. I miss my parents farm especially at times like these, them not being brought up on a farm like I was. And shortly after our goat playtime, Bijoy's niece Borsha was spotted across the river (above) on her journey home from Christian boarding school for our visiting occasion. Her baby sister Jennifer (holding below left) and mother (below left, behind maroon) were especially happy to see her. She knelt at my feet and kissed as she bowed, which made me shy, but Bijoy's explained is a sign of respect and love. Her ears were wearing the coin earrings I'd sent home for her with Bijoy months before. 
(above: more visiting and our Mrs. Mokta/middle)
That night, we were honored by the visit of many friends and family. Some journeyed over 25 miles just to see us. It is rare for a foreigner, and especially foreign children, to visit here. Some would come just to smile, touch us and giggle, but several uncles spoke good English and enjoyed conversations into the night. Everyone sat on the porch, playing music and singing, stopping only for a bit to roast marshmellows which we brought. They giggled as they plumped above the cooking fire. It was surreal to be there.
As we walked through the village earlier in the afternoon, we popped in on a couple of the "grandmothers". I love how here in Bangladesh, even though not blood relation, you refer to people as family and by age, like uncle or sister or grandmother. We sat in their homes or outside, and though we spoke different languages, the maternal love showed in their eyes. There is little more beautiful than old, wrinkled hands touching the soft skin of a child. The grandmothers loved the time just to hold or touch the girls and hold my hands and talk on their bed. These women, though a couple in their 80s, were bent over and had trouble moving, but still managed to walk with us and come by later in the night to visit. One of their sons even called on the phone from Dhaka later in the evening to thank us for spending time with his mother and visiting the village. It meant a lot to them.
Our night was long, being in the 90ºs while trying to sleep without air conditioning, too spoiled I know. The girls and I shared a large bed with fans sounding like airplane turbines, droning us to temporary sleep. We all tossed and turned and usually just as we'd fade off to sleep, the power would go out, the airplane engines would stop and the night would grow still. Once, the power was out for about 30 minutes, the second time the men went out to hand pull the generator, which was outside our window. Little sleep was attained, but dawn finally came. Never did I lose sight of how we only had one night to endure, while this was normal life (though in a hut, not this nice home) for everyone else. Life here is very hard.

In the morning, we enjoyed fresh roti (like tortillas), boiled eggs and fresh mango, jackfruit and banana for breakfast. Though the villagers are very monetarily poor, they are rich in family and in their supply of food (fruit trees, chickens, cows). More visitors came and we soon got on the road, stopping by Bijoy's auntie's house on our way back to Dhaka.
We caught fish market day on our drive, all while enjoying the rural and market scenery.
(above/below: Auntie's family/village and Auntie below left with Avocet)
 (above/below: water buffalo, rice paddy, cows and jute processing)
We stopped in town for more fresh local mangos, potatoes and sweets. The big blue truck below and we had a standoff. It never ceases to amaze me when giant trucks back up for our little suv. The yellow diplomatic plates carry some amazing mojo here in Bangladesh. 
Six hours later, a near run out of gas scare, peeing on the side of the road (Ceiba), diaper changes on a gas station bench (Avocet), whining, ipod boredom, snack eating and traffic jams, we returned home.
We all sighed upon walking into our home and seeing Papa. We were fortunate to have experienced another beautiful corner of Bangladesh with loving friends and family.

I can't wait to hear the girls talk about their experiences and look at these photos as they grow older and feel happy to have experienced what they have. Extraordinary :)


  1. What a fabulous opportunity! So cool!

  2. Sounds like an experience of a lifetime! So proud to be your sister. love you guys! be safe in your travels sis!

  3. Love those photos and your dialogue. Your girls are lucky girls!

  4. Stella May Francois likes this.

    Jennifer OHearn Beautiful, Denise. This brought tears to my eyes.
    Yesterday at 12:35am · Like

    Daniel Kohl This made me smile ear to ear: "Ceiba and Avocet LOVED playing with the goats. I miss my parents farm especially at times like these, them not being brought up on a farm like I was." I remember our times on the farm... Very amazing blog, always enjoy the read.
    Yesterday at 2:12am · Like

    Corinna Padgham Knettles I so want to make a road trip to Shuspa and Suma's village but our little car is so sad I'm afraid to try.
    Yesterday at 7:16am via mobile · Like

    Carrie Read This was great to be able to read your commentary with the photos. You are an inspiration and I cannonly imagine
    Yesterday at 12:42pm via mobile · Like

    Carrie Read How challenging the trip was and just shows what a dedicated mother, adventurer, and employer you are. Of course your relationship goes way beyond employer, but they are so fortunate to work for you.

  5. My home district is Pabna, Bangladesh.

    Your photography is so nice.