Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Home, Away from Home, Away from Home

(view from the roof where I stayed in Nepal)

Nepal was just a few hours behind us when we entered a slum community in bangladesh. As we approached the outskirts of the vast community, I noticed we were ironically encircled by modern high-risers, the workplaces and homes of the nations wealthiest people. The slum conveniently located in this position to serve the domestic cleaning and hard-labor jobs of the wealthy. After the work of the day, it was as if the city divided itself into economically bi-polar communities.

From across the river, I saw little tin and scrap wood shacks help up on stilts hovering precariously above the polluted riverbed. My mind was plagued with questions... "Would a muslim slum be as hospitable as the hindu slum I just left? A month without bengali study, will I remember how to talk? Will this be a good experience for my 2 friends on their first night here?"

We descended into the narrow lanes, where the moonlight could no longer guide us. Tin walls lined the path as we stumbled over rocks and debris, side stepping around boiling pots of food or scattered ditches. Each doorway revealed a different story. People chatting on the floor of one, children playing in the next, a tired woman cleaning, a group of men playing cards after a long days work.

Within the first minute, just as I I began to wonder if our presence might not be welcomed, a woman stepped out of a doorway to greet us. Her name was Mukta and before I knew it we were sitting on her bed sipping tea. In homes this small, the bed is not only a place of sleep but fulfills the role of a kitchen table, a living room couch, a desk, and many other uses. She told us about her husbands illness, likely a case of TB, and her 8 year old son whom was mute, from a high fever years ago. All this was over plain conversation as we exchanged the details of our own lives with her. Surprisingly, my Bengali freely flowed out as if just yesterday I was in Sonagacchi. And somehow this tin shack felt a tinge like my India home. The walls and people were new, but the warm hospitality was exactly as I had remembered. The time passed easily, along with the tea. As conversation wound up we thanked Mukta and took our leave.

As we trailed out of the slum, to my surprise, a woman grabbed my arm and pulled me into her home. Startled and confused, we both burst into laughter. She quickly offered that I stay for dinner. Clearly subdued by her offer and or perhaps the hilarity of the situation, I pleaded that she go invite my friends to join us, whom were still walking ahead unaware of this pleasant kidnapping. Soon the five of us sat on the bed as the rest of the room filled with spectators. We spent the hour receiving bengali make-overs, eating rice and vegetables, and giggling at the spectacle we created. I left that night once again blessed by the generosity and kindness of the poor.

For the next month I am studying bengali 5 hours a day, an intensive effort to gain some much needed grammar and literacy before returning to my home in India. The school I am attending is called HEED (Health, Educated, and Environment Development) and does amazing work throughout Bangladesh. Check out the short video below to see a bit of HEED's work and how our daily lives in the west can help prevent natural disasters and love our neighbors better overseas.

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