We still have snow.
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
We still have snow.
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
On my recent trip to my mom’s hometown, Narsingdi, I found these pieces of net in the brightest colors, to be used later for mosquito nets. The bright purple, neon pink, orange, and lavender are my favorites. They were stacked in a small corner shop outside, across a sweet meat shop. It was a muddy alleyway, full of the smell of melted sugar and raw beef mixed together. Lovely. It was a nice change to see these bright, pop colors on my walk.
Bangladesh’s last game of the world cup ended in the team allowing South Africa to score just fifteen points shy of 300, and Bangladesh making up only 78 of it, all out. I was at the Shere Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur for the game yesterday and left right after Bangladesh’s fifth wicket, as did many others in the stadium. Many did not even sit in their seats anymore but stood in the space in front of the gates, ready to leave once they saw another terrible play. The guards could not even tell us to go back to our seats since there were so many who could as one said nearby, “beat them up” if they tried anything of that sort. Conversation of precious time and money wasted could be overheard repeatedly as fanatics started to take off red and green pieces that they had prepared for the game from their bodies in frustration. Thousands poured out of the gates looking disappointed more than shocked by the afternoon.
Disappointment is a look I see often in Bangladesh- the look of getting your hopes up really high, because just maybe the impossible is possible as it often can be in the country, and then to have it crushed suddenly and quickly. It is a quick shot, crisp and clean. There isn’t much space for sudden reaction. And then it sinks in and people start to get emotional and use their words to get violent. It’s not clean anymore. Car windows get shattered whether it is the cricket team losing or a sudden hartal. Words are used to spread thousands of messages across newspapers, blogs, and television and in the streets.
I had talked about the fascinating way in which sports are able to unite a country and bring forth nationalism about a month prior to the start of the tournament. I forgot to think about the aftermath of it all. People are united pretty obviously and perhaps more than ever but for the reason that they are disappointed in their team and need the venues to vent. But nationalism however you choose to define it has also been obviously dazed. It is going to take some time when the signs of the world cup are everywhere in Dhaka- the lights, posters welcoming you to “our land”, billboards of painted fans, and the several enlarged cricket bats on Airport Road with signatures of thousands wishing the national team luck. While I am not a maniac fan of cricket, driving through the city last night still resulted in a bang of defeat as we passed lit strands of lights and colorful decorations made just for the world cup, and most importantly, for the national team.
Even then, hosting the cricket world cup with India and Sri Lanka for the first time in the nation’s history brought in some (hopefully) un-doable developments. It created jobs for many in the city, expanded several commercial sectors and boomed businesses who took advantage of the cup to sell products. It cleaned up the roads a bit and created some conscious among the people to maintain it as they were now the hosts of something historical (instead of stealing parts of decorations in the middle of the night to sell in the black market, for example). It got children out of the house to play cricket in their neighborhood and with other children they were able to befriend with this common interest. It created a conversational topic for literally anyone despite social classes, gender, or age. This alone is worth noting in a society where all three aspects matter more than it ever should. It illustrated the candid potential that Bangladesh has- it can host international guests, it can start building a tourism industry, it does not need everything to be political, it can market itself, and it can allow people to get along for at least some time. Thus, despite everything, it must be admitted that these are some feats for a sport to be able to achieve even if temporarily.
About five hours away from Dhaka we went early Friday morning to Srimongol, a small city in Sylhet, famous for their lush tea gardens, rainforest, tribal communities and in my opinion, a very unique dialect that I can’t seem to comprehend. More importantly, it was a chance to get out of the chaos that is Dhaka to a place far and wide, literally. We arrived in the afternoon after a slight detour and next thing I know I am inside a cute little cottage up a small hill, simply furnished with a netted patio that I loved the most but stayed away from because of mosquitoes. Similar cottages sprung up all over the small hills, part of the Bangladesh Tea Resort which also included a tea museum.
On our first day, we visited a tribal village where I got to experience a Bangladeshi tribe for the first time. The village was set upon another hilly area, within a forest where you saw the typical man made homes, goats, and “village people” with their children and equipment. There were also signs of BRAC, and various British NGOs and their banners hanging about various projects. It almost felt like a planned village where they were used to foreigners coming and looking around and making their observations. So then, is this really a representation of a true village? Are the handlooms and nicely placed huts all a show for what tourists want to see rather than how they live? Maybe these are unfair assumptions but I just felt as though I was in an environment that was not true to itself.
That night, we also randomly stopped at a Kali (or Shema) puja celebration on the main road. Upon a well lit venue sat musicians playing and children singing beside the Kali puja statues, as others passed by to pray upon it. When we stood at the entrance to watch, half the eyes in the crowd turned to us rather than the stage, as I guess we do kind of make a scene with our very foreign attitudes and looks. The music was lovely, especially how the very young children at past ten at night were singing well rehearsed pieces, all decked out in their child makeup and sparkly clothing. I enjoyed it a lot even though we were only there for a bit, because we stumbled upon an aspect of the city rather than having a planned visit.
Hiking in the Rainforest…Never doing it again.
So the one thing that I feared in the entire trip was leechis or Jog as they are called in Bangla. It was the one reason why I did not want to go hiking at 6 am at the Lalwarcha Rainforest. But of course I get tempted to go because I have this thing about not having regrets and trying everything even if only once. And I was urged to go sd the weather was more dry these days. So I went, waking up at 6 am and driving 15 minutes away to the rainforest where we were guided on a one hour trail.
The entire hike was not exactly enjoyable for me because I worried about leechis the entire time. Also, it was definitely not dry- I suppose I should have recalled my years of learning geography. After all, it is called a RAIN forest. It was wet, and narrow, and spider webs sprung their beautiful webs everywhere, though the spiders themselves were not that pretty. We were ducking and twisting to avoid the sudden webs and throne-filled tree branches, fallen trunks of trees, and wide, wet leaves. We went up and down and across steams in broken wooden bridges. I wish I had more courage to look around me and enjoy the scene but my fear prevented that. I made the person following me to see if anything got stuck on my body and luckily Matt who was in front of me had great reactions to spider webs (with his over six feet frame) so I selfishly used that to avoid them myself.
At the end of the trail I was congratulated as I made the most fuss about Jogs. And just when I wanted to celebrate I look down and there it is, on my right ankle something unfamiliar. I did not even look at it closely and just started screaming as Matt came closer to have a look and Laule’a reached and pulled the tiny Jog off my ankle. Even as I write this I can feel my body shivering because the fright of the Jog was too much. My screams turned into tears and there I am crying as my ankle is treated with savlon and band aids. Matt later told me that a truck full of laborers stopped on the road to watch me because I made such a fuss. Our guide, a tribal woman could not understand why I was reacting so violently. I could not believe that the one thing I wanted to avoid this entire weekend happened to me.
Thus I have concluded that I am not going to be hiking in a rainforest ever again. I love nature, and having grown up in Arizona, by no means am I a completely urban being. But that hour or two, I would have preferred to be in smog filled Dhaka traffic.
The Famous 7 Layer Tea
We stopped at the famous Nilakhando Cha Cabin to try the seven layer tea. It was a pretty site, though the taste is questionable. It was good, but not one I would want to drink obsessively, like for breakfast everyday. I think I enjoyed the site more than the taste. It was a lot like Thai Iced tea (which I do love and would have at any point), but the layers were distinct from one another so it was an experience of several moments combined. You have the layer that tastes like diluted tea, the layer that is strong, another that tastes like lime and then finally the honey and sugar. It takes some time to make and costs eighty taka which is pretty expensive for Bangladesh. I in fact liked the special cha better, with its milk and tea brewed together and topped with cinnamon.
We did go back to this place the next day, on our way back to Dhaka to have the tea one more time. I think something like this would be very popular abroad (Starbucks?) but I like that it can only be found here, and the recipe has never been given away. Makes the whole experience a bit more authentic…