Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 7, 2007

A couple of weeks ago my friend Farah said that she wanted to go see a school in Dinajpur. Farah is studying at the AA School of Architecture in London. She is back in Bangladesh for a few weeks to see her husband and to collect data for her thesis project on sustainable architecture for garment factories. Coincidentally, the school in Dinajpur that she wanted to see was designed by my friend Anna Heringer, an architect based in Austria. Since I was also interested in seeing Anna's school, Farah invited me along. Her husband, Borhan, and his friend, Saif, also joined us.

I had an excellent time even though Farah kept teasing me about how many men were staring at me (because I am a foreigner.) Apparently I even caused a rickshaw accident one morning when two rickshawalas were staring at me instead of watching the road! It is funny, I have gotten so used to people staring at me that I don't notice it as much anymore...

Below are some snapshots of Dinajpur.

Dhankket (Rice Fields)
The view on the way to the school was gorgeous! The rice fields were like plush green carpets that you want to roll around on. (Though I don't recommend it as you would get very wet!) We took a tempo (pickup truck-like-thing with the back covered -- similar to a Thai songthaew.) I think it would have been much better if we had rented bicycles, however, because the tempos are not very comfortable and we were breathing in the gas fumes all the way there. Unfortunately, Farah doesn't know how to ride a bicycle!

Anna's School
Here is a exterior shot of Anna's schools with some of the students. Isn't it gorgeous?! It is all made from local materials - mud and bamboo - using local labor. I love the blue doors...

Interior of the School
Here are a couple of pictures of the interior of the school on the top floor. The bamboo creates beautiful light and allows the air to flow through the room. The school does not use any fans or air conditioners. Farah measured the temperature both outside and inside the school and it was ten degrees Celsius (18 degrees Farenheit) cooler inside.

Another Interior Shot
I particularly loved the kids' drawings. They were so colorful and tropical!

Kantanagar Temple
The first day we went to the Kantanagar Temple. This is a Hindu temple building in the 1700s that is elaborately decorated with sculpted terracotta plaques.

Mom and Baby
At the Krishna temple next to the amazing, but extremely dilapidated Rajbari (literally "king's house"), I saw this mother with her baby. The red in her hair and the white shell bracelets indicate that she is a Hindu and is married.

Bangladesh Starbucks
This guy was selling tea in front of our hotel. (The Starbucks cups belong to Farah and Borhan.)

Two Men Relaxing
We saw these guys next to a tea stand outside of the Krishna Temple.

Only Daughters
September 3, 2007

Today’s conversation in my Bangla class was about a poor man from the villages who was smart and ended up marrying his boss’ daughter. Apparently, parents who have only one daughter and no sons want their daughter to continue to live at home with them even after they are married. (It is traditional for wives to move into their husband’s parents’ house after marriage.) Consequently, often wealthy families with only one daughter will look for poor, but smart young men. They will then pay for the education of the man so he becomes a doctor or engineer or something and then marry him off to their daughter. After the marriage, the father gives all of his land and property to the husband, so they all live together in the wife’s parents’ home.

Apparently this arrangement is also not uncommon if a wealthy family has a daughter who is (according to my Bangla teacher!) fat, ugly, or physically/mentally handicapped. Although dowries (or jotuk) are illegal in Bangladesh, this sort of arrangement still occurs.

Dallying in Dilipur
August 17, 2007

Today I went to visit Hamida’s village home, Dilipur, in the Tangail district. It was a three hour bus ride from Dhaka. Hamida took her oldest son, Aliph, with her to visit her two youngest sons who are staying in her mother’s house. I got to meet Hamida’s two younger brothers, her parents, and her in-laws’ family.

Hamida’s family lives in a traditional village house, though it is made of CI sheet instead of mud. There are two rooms (or separate houses) on either side of a central courtyard. The open, outdoor kitchen is on the third side which is next to a small pond. A storage shack closes off part of the fourth, entrance side. Most of houses in this area are built just off of the main road which is elevated about eight feet above the surrounding area which is mainly comprised of ponds with small houses built on the edge.

Hamida’s village was affected by the floods. A mud line about two feet from the ground indicated where the water was. It is easy to see how the houses in this area would easily be flooded as they are built right next to the water and are not raised on stilts or plinths as they often are in other parts of Asia. When the houses are flooded, many villagers sleep in small shacks they construct on the road which as I said is several feet above the water level.

On the bus ride down, I learned some interesting new things about Hamida. First, she is 23 years old. (I thought she was about ten years older than this.) She was married when she was eleven years old and had her first child at thirteen. Her parents arranged her marriage to her husband. Fortunately, was only five years older than her (often the men are 10 – 20 years older). While I knew that women here got married much younger, I was shocked to learn that marriage at eleven is quite common in the villages!

Below are some pictures I took in her village.

Rickshaws in the Rain
It was raining when we arrived in Tangail, the main town in the district where we transferred to another bus which took us to Dilipur. Fortunately when we arrived in Dilipur the rain let up. It was a pleasant half hour rickshaw ride to Hamida’s house.

Amar amra bhalo lage!
This guy is selling amras by the side of the road. It kind of has the taste and consistency of an unripe apple. Very yummy!

Young Fisherman
This boy is catching fish (perhaps illish mach, the national fish?) in a pond near Hamida’s house.

Dilipur Countryside
In this photo you can see how the road is raised several feet from the surrounding waterway. Two boys are fishing and jute (one of Bangladesh's main agricultural products) is stacked by the side of the road.

People Parade
I was the main attraction in town that day. All of the neighbors came out of their house to see me. I had a little parade of people behind me as we walked from Hamida’s mother’s house to her in-laws’ house. It was most amusing…

Hamida’s Family
Here is a photo I took of Hamida’s family: her, her two younger brothers, her parents, and her three sons (plus a few neighbors who just did not want to miss a photo opportunity!)