I remember having the need to write this in September. There have been so many reflections I have wanted to write about. Time has escaped me really. I have been on a holiday with my husband and children and want to inform everyone of my experience.
I had not been to Bangladesh in eighteen years. Visiting it as an adult with my own children allowed me to go down nostalgia lane. It is strange how our experiences are different as children and now as adults.
This was a unique experience for the children. The lack of the internet encouraged them to think ‘out of the box.’ The rural landscape was somewhere for them to explore. Being restricted in resources made them use their imaginations. Don’t get me wrong I love the internet and believe it has advantages but I do think its a convenience that is in a way stemming childhood. No I am not judging anyone’s parenting style or skills but children should and need to engage and experience things away from the internet too.
I guess I was drifting away from the reflection there. It was the rural area that really made me reflect and think about a lot of things. It was the basic living that really demonstrated that real humility does still exist out there. We live in an age of convenience. As much as we have we are still isolated I feel. The interaction is no longer there. I am not against advances in any such way but there is benefit in moving away from it every now and again.
Of course I like things done quickly. I love saving time but there is a blessing in slowing down and just looking at the scenery sometimes. It was nice to walk along the village. It was not how I remembered the villages with long verandas and open doors. Houses had been built up and were encased with grilled windows. Women still wore the cotton sarees and carried the baskets upon their heads but farming had certainly decreased.
As a child I remember people needing cows but now with modernisation a lot more machinery was used. Both my girls did benefit from seeing the cows grazing in their grandmas village.
Cooking was another fascinating experience. The women prepared the stove with pieces of a plant and lit the fire there was no way to control the flame as we have here in the UK. The large pots were placed on the mud stoves and the process would begin. I did attempt to cook but the heat from the flames combined with the heat from the sun was a bit to much. However, I did attempt to stir the onions once in a while. In our village women still used a slab of oblong stone and a mortar to make pastes for the curry. Observing this was fascinating for me as we are accustomed to using electricity.
How I had a new found appreciation for electricity. In the heat the electricity would go and it was stifling. It was in these moments where I thought how easy it was to press a switch. In England I rarely thought about the power going down. In fact I never think of the power going down! In Bangladesh the electricity would simply just go off. For me however I remembered visiting my mums village in 1993 and not having any electricity at all. Certainly was a testing time to say the least especially when ones child wants to be carried or held.
I also rationed my usage of the internet but was extremely grateful to have access to it especially residing outside the suburban area. To me everything had improved vastly. From the roads used for transport to the views people held. This is also to do with the fact that now I was seeing Bangladesh as an adult who was not limited in what they could and could not do.
Visiting Sylhet was another great experience. The city had evolved to say the least. One could purchase whatever one desired (within reason of course.) It was busier than I recalled and the streets filled with street food carts, rickshaws and motorcycles. I took in the sites of the city first in our C&G (a three wheeled vehicle with no windows.) Men pedalled their rickshaws in the heat only resting for minutes until another passenger required transport. We visited Sylhet a number of times throughout our stay in Bangladesh and I still did not become familiar with the routes. However, I did notice that Sylhet was somewhat ‘up and coming.’ The city was filled with hotels and apartments available to rent for those coming from the UK. Even if there was a power cut there was a generator in place in order for the fans and lights to keep working. There were areas of commerce and retail. We dined in restaurants that provided great Bengali cuisine as well as cuisine for the Western tastebuds (that would be chips for me!)
It was the small open markets that I enjoyed frequenting. Dresses, fabrics and sarees hanging from the ceiling added so much colour that one could immerse oneself in. There was silk, brocade, chiffon and organza. Wedding attire for brides and grooms. The intricate details on the sarees were exquisite. There was cotton ideal for the humid weather (needless to say I wanted it all.) The retail assistant would provide seating for you and ask another to get a cold drink. This was in hope that you would purchase something. I meandered through these places simply taking in the array of garments on offer.
Once outside one was met by beggars on the street. This was something that made me contemplate deeply everyday when I was there. There were elderly men and women. There were children of all ages. There were disabled people too. It was humbling to see people in this state as well as saddening. In our village we were often greeted in the morning by someone who was in need. At times we would give money, other times we would give food.
Speaking of which mangoes and oranges were a must at the breakfast table. The Jack fruit (the newly discovered superfood) must not be forgotten also. This would be accompanied by a pilau rice dish (yes for breakfast), vermicelli, asian pasta or home made parathas. These fruits had been freshly grown. Lunchtime was also a time to make the most of the crops of our land. From the rice grains to the vegetables grown on another part of our village. Most of all I thoroughly revelled in having a good of tea. Once in the morning and once in the evening. This would be accompanied by listening to our nephew singing Islamic Gazals which even now brings a smile to my face.
However, it is the lack of opportunities the country has to offer that disappoints me personally. Of course this is related to its history of war, immigration and other factors. I do know it is improving slowly but surely.
Overall the experience has taught me that despite my initial reservations about the heat and length of time, I had a good time as did my children: whom I was worried about. I came away with renewed confidence and motivation. Being away from life in the UK allowed me to focus on things I had not been able to before. Meeting my in laws in Bangladesh allowed me to form a relationship with them. Prior to this visit we had always stayed in Sylhet so I had never really had the opportunity to live in the villages and see farmers cultivating the land or the huge expanses of agriculture. Most of all my two blessings were happy there and thats what made it worth it.