Guess who is interested in books now? His two favorite are My First Book of Colors and What God Made.
.. or as they say here, Ramzan. Muslims are fasting from food and water from about 4:30 am to 6:30pm for thirty days. It’s a time of year when the community pulls in tight . . and you are either in, or out. It’s the time of year when passing beggars sit down with the family and get food to eat. It’s the time of year when all the employees gather round at sunset, all sitting on the edge of a mat, and feast together on dates, puffed rice and spicy chickpeas. Schools close. Hospitals open late. And most Muslim men put on the white pray cap and do the afternoon prayers. Yesterday I watched an older man at the neighborhood well teaching an younger handicapped man how to do the oju, the ritualized washing that one does before the prayers.
For women, Ramzan is both fun and hard. It’s fun as you don’t have to cook during the day, and as manual work is almost impossible (especially during hot season) you just sit and chat. But it’s a hard time because you must get up at 3:00 am to cook the sehri meal. For rich Muslims, it is a month of feasting and family celebrations. But for the poor, they watch the food prices go up . . and for many, fasting is impossible — how does one peddle a rickshaw all day long without drinking? How does one carry baskets of cement up flights of stairs without eating?
Muslims believe that keeping the 30 days of fasting earns lots of swab (merit) with Allah. Many people spend hours reading the Quran. And many people keep the Prophet Muhammed’s teachings and give generously to the poor.
For me, while I do recognize the good of fasting — regaining control of our bodily appetites and lusts, spending time thinking about eternity . . .fasting is one of those disciplines that I find very hard to do!! Even when I wasn’t nursing, I would eat and drink constantly. I guess it’s called fast metabolism. So I am VERY glad that I am not a Muslim!! I am very glad that I follow the Lord Jesus: he didn’t lay out stringent rules on every matter of life. And Jesus’ teachings on secretive fasting really have become special to me, as here alot of people fast just because of community pressure. Some people boast about it constantly.
So . . Ramzan month for us is quiet. Last night we had a crowd of friends over to break the fast, but usually, I stay home more during Ramzan. Honestly, I just get tired of their questions, “Are you fasting?” “Why aren’t you fasting?” “Does your religion have fasting?” Good questions that I would love to talk about with friends, but not with every person on the street.
And so Elias and I are spending more time on the roof instead of in the neighborhood. It’s a pleasant place to get some fresh air. And, as this is Bangladesh, there are always friends to play with!!
This is Matty. He was born a day before or after Elias, I forget which. We don’t get to hang out with Matty and his parents much, but when we do, it’s fun!! You can tell that Elias was just getting over a bad cold that took his appetite away for two weeks. He looks too thin! But then I guess if Tobin blood proves stronger than Thomas blood, Elias will always look abit on the small and skinny side, despite papaya smoothies.
It’s a guy with a fancy scale. There is a piece of plastic covering the place where you stand. And he has a cloth covering the screen. People were walking by, and when they stopped out of curiosity, he would take the cloth off and show them how the scale worked. I watched one guy get his weight taken, though he didn’t pay anything. The owner of the scale is dressed like a wandering fakir— a kind of holy man who begs for alms and does religious teaching. I wonder if his wandering life paid too little! And I wonder why and where he got such a fancy scale . . when normal ones are available .. and how he carries it to the train station every day .. and how much money he earns off it. I’m too curious.
When the afternoon call to prayer sounds over the speakers, when the day’s heat has cooled and the daily tasks finished, then the women come out of their homes. The richer women get dressed up and go visiting, or take their kids to music or art class. While sitting in the sun, some women do errands like sewing or sifting through rice. The ladies who keep a stricter purda sit by an open window or stand just outside their door. Some of us go outside to chat and get some fresh air and keep an eye on the kids, who are noisily playing cricket, marbles, tag, or catch in the empty lots.
I’ve been here in Bangladesh three and a half years, and I have moved 4 times. The moves haven’t really helped me to get to know my neighborhood! And in the previous neighborhoods, I always had friends or family to take me around. But this time, it was really up to me to fit in. And I have to admit, I’ve been sluggish.
It’s taken months for me to get over my fear of all the new people (again!) and their questions (none of them new!) , and of the cultural rules that I might inadvertently break. (Like: Why is that rich girl hanging out with those people? Or: What kind of mother is she, letting her kid play with that?) And to go by myself, unintroduced, with no purpose other than making friends? But now that I have answered the 1,002 questions, I’m in. I’m normal. They now know that I don’t have the morals of Britney Spears and that I don’t worship Mother Mary. I now know that under all their questions, they are normal women who think about laundry and what’s for dinner and whether there will be an earthquake soon.
So while Elias is chasing the goat and waving sticks around, I am learning about who lives where and is related to who. I get to listen as my new friends talk about the coming election, and what they really think of girls whose dresses are cut at the knee, or who walk out of their own neighborhood to talk to the boys. I get to taste guavas growing in private gardens . . and hear the wise Aunties teach the young girls about how to treat their husbands.
One day I went about two small blocks from home and somewhat self-consciously talked with a lady who I had seen once or twice. The next time I was in that area a few days later, the lady was there again, with her friends. She introduced me around, and then someone handed Elias a little bitter red fruit. He proceeded to get it ALL over his face and his clothes and my clothes. Everyone had a good laugh at us. With the ice broken, the lady opened to the door to her house. “Come in!” she said. “You were just an acquaintance, now I am making you my guest.”
Life is so much less lonely now.
We celebrated four years of marriage on the 14th of August. It’s kind of becoming tradition to be in Kolkata then, which was where we were on our first and second anniversary. The first anniversary, to pick up my parents who were coming for a visit, and the second year, we were on our way back from taking Tushar to Hebron. But this time we went to Kolkata with the big job of just celebrating, seeing Hosanna’s parents, and having some time together. That lofty goal was successfully completed, I think!
We went to Kolkata on the Moitree Express, the new train that runs between Dhaka and Kolkata. It was a very pleasant trip, taking about 13 hours from start to finish. The border crossings were very smooth and efficient — though Jacob and I wondered if the amount of guards and officials were really necessary for the small number of passengers! There were less than 100 of us on the train, and we all were carefully directed all the way to the taxi stand in Kolkata. The border control guards had boxes labeled “GRENADE”! But despite that, all the officials were very happy to serve, even buying us bananas when we were not allowed to get off the train to by them ourselves.
We enjoyed breakfasts at Flury’s, the pool at the Hindustan, good dosa and momos, and all the great bookstores. We also had lunch at the roof-top restaurant of Lindsay Hotel, exactly where we had celebrated our anniversary three years ago.
Quite a view — yet too hot to really enjoy for long.
My Mom and Dad had dropped off the girls in Chennai and then came to Kolkata to be with us for a few days. They enjoyed their grandson!!
We were walking around Kolkata, trying to find that famous mishti (sweet) shop where the first roshogolla was created. I must say, I liked the walk better than the sweets that we finally did find, though the shondesh was very good.
One rainy morning we stopped by a museum, and were pleasantly surprised by the quality exhibitions. They had some good Bengali artwork on show.
The end of our time coincided with India’s Independence Day. Right near our hotel, their set up a stage and all day long there was live music and speeches. Flags were everywhere, parades marched down the streets. Elias and I took a walk and saw a man with two monkeys on a chain. I refused to give him money, but he made his monkeys dance for Elias anyway!
Here the crowd is sitting on New Market, listening to the concert.
Daniel says that I should put some videos of Elias here. Now let’s see if this will be successful . .
It’s local election time!! A few years ago, at election time, corruption was so rampant that the military took over. They have been putting thousands of corrupt government officials and others in jail. The mayor of Rajshahi is even in jail. And now, true to it’s word, democracy (at least at the local level) is back.
The town has been in an uproar over these elections. Bengalis love politics. They love marches. So several times a day now, for weeks, there have been large and small marches past our houses, with men arm-in-arm, chanting the name of their choice. Hyper teenagers dance. Little kids yell. Banners are flying!
As large meetings are prohibited, people are going door to door with pamphlets. They are voting in a ward commissioner for each neighborhood, a mayor, and a woman. As you can tell from the bottom pamphlet, there is affirmative action for women to get elected, though from what we understand, the “woman” position is rather ambiguous! And as alot of the population is illiterate, each candidate has a picture, or “marker” to help people remember them. There is the ladder, the tiger, chicken, ink pot, ladder, elephant, among others.
Another part of the campaigning process is the “miking”. In the back of a rickshaw or an auto-rickshaw there is a man with a mic and large speaker, repeating their party’s slogan. The normal rhyme goes something like this,
All you voters, we want your votes
All you people, we want your blessing
Some people really come up with unusual rhymes or tunes, but for the most part, the miking is loud and repetitious, and rather uninformative!
There has been some signs of corruption, even though the government is on the look-out. One of Jacob’s friend’s uncle is running for a ward commissioner position. He told us how one candidate was asking for people to swear on the Quran that they would vote for him, and then if they swore, he would give them money. This party lost favor when the candidate’s daughter refused to eat a snack made in the slum.