I’m a guest in Bangladesh, visiting my aunt and uncle who work in a variety of AOB projects by Memorial Christian Hospital. I enjoy the people, the scenery, and the food. And yesterday was a wonderful time of immersion in the Bengali culture.
One of the families here has the kindest woman hired on their staff. I call her Didi (Big Sister). I often pass her as she walks to work, and we chat a bit. Though I am beginning to pick up Bangla, there is still so much I do not understand. This woman is so kind and with a smile explains things in great detail, until I can get the gist of what she is talking about. I so appreciate her friendliness and patience with me!
Well, she invited me to her home this week and I just got back from an eye-opening, cultural and friendship-gaining experience! I was welcomed in to a “morning snack” that was basically a full lunch meal at 9:30 in the morning. She served me rice, dal, beef, shrimp, and a spicy mashed potatoes and onions dish.
Normally when you have guests it is a time to serve them, so the rest of the family was absent while Didi and I ate and talked. However one of her sons came out and began to fan us for part of it. They live in a simple but spacious mud home with several rooms, and some lights with electricity but no ceiling fans. Many Bengalis use hand-fans, if they do not have fans or if the power goes out and they need a way to cool down. These fans are tied on in a way that they can spin around the bamboo stick. It really creates quite a breeze!
After eating she told me she wanted to take me on the scenic route home. As we walked out the door, she grabbed a few umbrellas. Now the sun was high in the sky, so why did we need umbrellas? Bengalis often walked under umbrellas no matter what the weather. I had assumed some did it because they did not want their skin to darken in the sunlight. This is part of the reasoning for some people. However there is a much more practical reason for carrying an umbrella. When walking down a path in the hot sun, having an umbrella is bringing your own portable shade with you. Shade this time of year is a life saver. I really appreciated the wisdom of these people bringing their own shade wherever they go!
My new friend wanted to show me the rice fields and salt flats that were just beyond her village. There is a desolate beauty out there. As we were exploring, we gained a little crowd of followers. They were excited to join us for the walk and were eager to point things out such as little crabs and birds.
Our first big adventure included walking across a bamboo bridge. However about 3/4 of the way across, the railing part of the bridge began to collapse. The kids in front of us made it across at a crawl, though one child fell in! The water wasn’t too deep, and an older boy came out to help her get back to shore. I was about halfway across the bridge at this point wondering what I had gotten myself into. Thankfully the older boy found a long piece of bamboo which he brought out for Didi and me to use to stay balanced for the remainder of the crossing.
Then we were back on dry land. The path we followed was sometimes wide and sometimes narrow. But one time the path disappeared entirely! When that happened, the kids were eager helpers. They immediately began collecting clods of mud to create a path. I think they were both excited to help and also to get back into the water on this hot day! Isn’t this ingenious?! Sadly the mud was quite wobbly and slippery, and I still ended up calf deep in the water. But it was a kind thought and a fun adventure all the same.
The path once again widened out, and we ended up at the salt flats. Here people pump in the ocean’s salt-water and let it evaporate on top of sheets of black plastic. What remains is sea salt. I think it is so amazing how God has put different things in nature for us to use! I am also impressed with the work ethic of the Bengali people. The men working out in the flats were out in the full heat of the day with no shade. Yet they were still working hard.
Well, to return home Didi did not want to take me back over the mud path and bridge again, so we walked around a longer way. This trip brought us to a little hut with a water pump available, so it was time to get clean. But just because we got clean didn’t mean the adventure was over. On our way back the boys readily jumped back in the water chasing fish and crabs. They even caught a few. Don’t worry, the fish and crabs weren’t out of the water long. Someone brought along an old soda bottle and filled it with water to take them home in. We also got to see a water buffalo and her babies!
Instead of going home at this point Didi decided it was too hot and we had been walking too long, so she took me to her house again to rest. The shade and fans were definitely helpful. She then called me back into her ranna-ghor or kitchen area. She was frying an egg for a snack and wanted to show me how she did it. Everyone loves to cook with oil here, so we had oil boiling in the pan. She then whipped up an egg in a bowl, stirred in a little sugar, and then fried it on both sides. It was definitely more of a desert than your typical fried egg but quite yummy. The kitchen is in the back of the house and has a water pump, a cupboard, some shelving, and a clay oven in it. It was so neat to watch her light the grass which she put in the clay oven to heat the pan above.
I feel so blessed to learn from the women here. The Bengali people are amazing at being resourceful and using what is available to live well. After our snack I came home. Her son gave my aunt some of the fish he had caught, to put in her fish tank. I will say it again, the Bengali people are so kind, generous and welcoming, and I truly feel blessed to experience this culture!
Submitted by Aubrey McQuade