Archive for the ‘Bangladesh’ Category

MCC picnic

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

The Dhaka MCC office family picnic finally happened!  We had heard about this picnic for a long time and how everyone was looking forward to it.  Sometimes all three offices gather for one picnic but this year that didn’t work.  So each office held their own.  We were told that everyone dresses up, there would be games, and lots of food.  All this was true!

Many of the women wear saris or beautiful salwa kameez.  Sally Jo was expected to wear a sari but was given permission to change half way through the day.  There were games for three levels of children and games for the adults (men did musical chairs and women tried to throw a ball in a basket).  And lots of food!  For about 50 people (including children), they cooked 25 lbs of rice, 2 goats, chicken, fish, kebabs, and the inevitable sliced cucumbers, carrots, and tomatoes.  It was excellent food – just a lot!

We all traveled by bus to Sonargaon, the old capital of medieval Bengal.  However, as is so often the case, we had traffic jams and it took 4 ½ hours to go 20 miles and it was hot!  Thankfully, at the end of the day, we had smooth sailing and returned to Dhaka in an hour.

One of the attractions of Sonargaon is its Folk Art Museum located on over 100 acres of land and lakes.  There are two main buildings and many art pieces located across the landscape.  There are exhibits of wooden crafts, brass, bamboo and metal crafts, painted work, musical instruments, pottery, textiles, ornaments and much more.  One of the buildings was closed but we visited the other – along with 100s of local Bangladeshis.  In fact, it was so crowded, we could barely see the exhibits.

Most of the outdoor sculptures are of the Alpana art form, an ancient kind of folk art.  One of the Bangladeshi’s that was with us translated it as “creative burst of mind/emotions.”  It may be an ancient form but it felt contemporary.

Panam Nagar, located not far from the Museum, is a former Hindu settlement dating to the early 13th century.  During British colonial rule and a prosperous cotton textile industry, Panam Nagar became home to upper-middle class Bengali businessmen in the late 1800s.  The migration of the Hindus to India after the Indo-Pak War of 1965 and Muslim-Hindu riot made Panam Nagar into a vacant community.  There are 52 beautiful houses along this one street incorporating European, Mughal, and Bengali architecture.

We all had free time to visit both the Museum and Panam Nagar.  We also had speeches and gifts.  Ron of course needed to make a speech and we both helped distributed flowers and gifts to each family.  It was fun to see spouses and children of our co-workers.

Mymensingh & Bogra office visits

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

We have mentioned before that MCC Bangladesh has three offices.  We are located in the Dhaka office and know the staff quite well.  We don’t see staff in the other offices often so made a trip this past week to visit individually with staff.  You can go to one of our first posts to see a map of where the three offices are located.  Our days were spent mostly in meeting individual staff members to learn about their joys and concerns.  So we took very few photos from that.

We did stop in on a peace training led by two MCC staff members.  This was TOT (training of trainers).  The participants will use the information as they work with young people in communities.  The group gave us a musical welcome.  (We have two good videos of the music but don’t have the software to reduce their size so that we can link them here.)  Their group work was to define “peace” and then share their ideas with the rest of the group.  Another activity was writing one’s name on a paper and passing the paper around the small group and each person wrote one good quality of that person.

We also met with another small group who run a women’s training center.  And in another office men were preparing posters for a crop training.

We love talking to the MCC staff and learning from them.  We also enjoy the many scenes along the way even though the trip is long.  (It was 4 ½ hours to Mymensingh, 5 ½ hours on to Bogra, and then 7 hours back to Dhaka!)

Saturday outing

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

We visited several spots in Dhaka recently—University of Dhaka, National Museum of Bangladesh, and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Museum.

At the university campus we visited a sculpture garden of many famous people in history and culture, including Gandhi, Tagore, and George Harrison.  There is also a sculpture of Asaduzzaman (sometimes spelled Asad), a student activist, who was killed by the police on January 20, 1969, when the Government repressed the pro-democracy and anti-autocracy movement. Some say that he was one of three martyrs of the 1969 uprising that set the stage for the liberation war.  I explain about him because the gate to Mohammedpur (our district in Dhaka) is Asad Gate, honoring the spot where he was killed.

We walked through some lovely flower gardens on campus and talked with some friendly boys.

Recently the Hindus celebrated Sarasvati, the goddess of knowledge, music, arts, wisdom and learning.  We saw the big statue created for this celebration on the campus of the university and we saw some of the smaller statues used that day.  Nearby was a statue of Buddha.

We visited the National Museum of Bangladesh.  We were impressed with the exhibits of history and culture.  Very well displayed – but no photography allowed.

We stopped by to see a monument to Mishuk Munier, Tareque Masud, and 3 companions who were killed in a road accident in 2011.   Munier was a famous cinematographer and Masum a famous filmmaker.  Their van was hit head-long on the road.  (We hear of too many of those accidents here.)

We visited Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Museum.  Sheikh Mujib Rahman is considered the Father of the Country.  The museum includes the home where he was assassinated on 15 August 1975.  Historically interesting—but again no photography allowed.  We are learning a lot of Bangladesh history!

Botanical Gardens … and more

Friday, October 7th, 2016

We spent a wonderful morning with an MCC office colleague.  We often complain about the noise and chaos of traffic and people here in Dhaka.   But this time we were in the Botanical Gardens far away from traffic noise and among the tall quiet trees.  Our morning included a few other places.

Bangladesh is getting ready for the Hindu festival – Durga Puja.  We stopped first at a Hindu temple where we saw several of the gods.  However, the main god will not be unveiled until later in the day.  An interesting encounter was with the man who explained the temple; he knew MCC!

We then went to the Gardens.  Our colleague is a bird watcher and knows Bangladesh nature.  He told us the names of birds we heard or saw and the plants/trees.  Fascinating.  However, we don’t remember all the names.  We have only one photo of a bird (we didn’t have our long lens) but we saw beautiful woodpeckers and orioles, along with more common birds.  We also saw and heard a colony of bats.  Huge bats – wing span of a meter

We then went for a ride in a small boat/canoe on the river.  Fun

We traveled from our flat to the various places by CNG, the 3-wheeled “box” — if you could reach through the window grates, you could touch the vehicles beside you.  (CNG stands for Compressed Natural Gas – their fuel.)

Trip north (2)

Saturday, September 17th, 2016

From Bogra we drove to Mymensingh.  (See map of previous blog.)    We met with the leader of Pobitra, an organization we had previously visited.  Pobitra works with 20 women (former sex workers) for a year in helping them learn life skills and trade skills.  We are not allowed to show faces so only have photos of the “teachers.”  Sometime I hope we are there to see the women at work.  In the evening we took a walk along the river front in Mymensingh—the Brahmaputra River.  There were many people socializing and relaxing and/or taking boat trips along the river.

The following day we drove to Baromari Catholic church.  Again we were welcomed by singing, dancing, and beautiful flowers.  MCC has partnered with this church for many years, especially through the Global Family program.  We visited the school and Ron had fun at the blackboard in their math class.  We also visited the girls’ dorm and talked with them briefly.


MCC is beginning a new five-year project in this area which will focus on food security and health and peace education.  We drove to one of the communities where a women’s group is just being formed.  They gave us a grand welcome with singing accompanied by various musical instruments and flowers.  The group told us how they are organized, what they hope they learn, and some of their concerns.  After the formal meeting, Sally Jo asked to see the harmonium.  This instrument is often used here in Bangladesh but we have never had a chance to see it up close.  That led to the women singing more traditional songs and dancing.  (You may have seen the Facebook post of Sally Jo dancing. )


The women also showed us some of their water pumps.  There is a problem with water in this area because of a rock bed.  The water pipes need to be drilled to about 50 metres or more because shallow pipes can bring up water which contains arsenic.  They also showed us a homestead where elephants have come and damaged their crops.  At this point we were only 1 or 2 km from the India border and elephants don’t seem to understand international boundaries!  We missed taking a photo of the “Watch out for elephants” sign!

We drove back to the Catholic Mission for a hike and lunch.  We were accompanied the whole day with four armed policemen for security.  We didn’t ask for the protection, but it is their job to make sure foreigners are safe.

At the mission the Catholic Sister said to follow her.  She didn’t really say where we were going or what we were doing.  We ended up hiking up a hill following the fourteen “Stations of the Cross.”   (It was a good hike—more exercise than we have had in the last three months!  It also was extremely hot and humid.) At the end of the hike we saw the huge statue of St. Mary which was created by a Muslim artist.  At the end of October, about 10,000 people come to pray and celebrate in this area.

The following day in Mymensingh we visited Sacred Mark Enterprise (SME) which is a business begun by MCC but now is a private company.  They make seven varieties of soap and various recycled sari products.  (We had visited them on an earlier trip but at that time were unable to see the women at work.)  The owner was part of MCC for 20 years and helped to develop the soap.  The women are mostly former sex workers who have previously spent a year with Probitra.  At first she was worried about taking on the leadership because of the harassment of employing these women.  However, she was encouraged by family, friends, and MCC and is now “family and counselor” to the producers.  She has 33 fulltime workers and about 50 part-time.

We also visited Shanti Mitra “Friends of Peace.”  This organization began in 2007 and is sponsored by MCC and the Taize Brothers.  They work mainly with young people.  (The group of young people meeting when we were there were talking about social media.)  The organization does a lot with interfaith dialogue and peace education through creative art, drama, music.  It is important to work with young people but it is also important to work with the religious leaders who have great influence over the youth.  Shanti Mitra tries to invite these leaders to meetings and dialogues.  (We had also visited here before but each time we learn more.)

It was fun to introduce our International Program Director to some of the projects here in Bangladesh.  This was his first trip to the country.  We think he also was inspired – just as we are every time we visit projects – at what MCC has done, is doing, and hopes to do.  But we also all learn of the challenges.

Scenes travelling

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

As we travel we see so many fascinating things along the road.  Sometimes we can get a quick photo and sometimes we can’t. Here we have added photos of a few sights from this trip.

On the first day we saw two elephants walking down the road ahead of us.  Even though it was pouring rain, we managed to get a “sort of” photo as we drove alongside it.  Elephants are not very common in Bangladesh except in the border areas with India so it was surprising to see one when we did.

It was interesting to see the change in the rice fields from when we traveled a month ago.  Then we saw mostly newly planted rice.  This time we saw fields of bright green growing rice — beautiful.  We even saw the hills of India!  (The first time we saw any elevation in Bangladesh.)  In one area we passed large areas where they were drying rice.  They usually spread it out on a large concrete area and often walk through it to stir the rice.  They then rake it in to long rows before bagging it.

One day we saw a bookmobile!  What a joy!

When we returned to Dhaka, we were in time to see all the women leaving work at the garment factories at the end of the day.  As you may see from the tags on clothes in the US stores, many clothes are sewn here.  It is a huge industry.  It was reported in a recent article that in 2015 the garment industry accounted for 82% of Bangladesh’s exports.

We saw rivers which were low because India had closed a dam (all rivers come though India.)  And we saw rivers in other places where the water was very high and the brick kilns were surrounded.  In other areas sand was being dug from the river for concrete.

And sometimes we just see interesting things!

Trip north (1)

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016


We recently spent six days “on the road” with our Area Directors and the International Program director from Winnipeg visiting several projects.  There were many hours on the road between projects, but that is the reality here.  This map shows where we went.  The red stars are the towns and the green circles are the approximate location of the churches.  We spent our first night in Bogra.

Our first stop was at a Catholic Mission.  We were welcomed by singing and presentation of flowers.  We found this wherever we visited—singing and flowers.  It is a nice welcome!  The St Francis of Assisi Church of Dhanjuri was established in the 1940s.  It’s a beautiful church.  Attached to the mission is a leprosarium and a hostel for disabled children both of which we visited.  We drove down some slippery narrow roads until eventually, we needed to get out and walk to a village.  There we visited a Peace club meeting and one woman who had been given a cow and had bettered her life.  The peace club includes community members of diverse faiths, mainly Muslim, Hindu, and Christian, who meet regularly to discuss common concerns. We spent the night in Dinajpur.  We had a delicious supper of fresh chipatis and chicken kebabs.

The following day we visited another village.  This time again, the car could not drive all the way to the village but we rode a flat-bed rickshaw for several kms.  We stopped to visit a community training meeting where the women were learning about growing vegetables.  The lesson was on recognizing good and bad seeds.  MCC does not provide seeds but does a lot of education so that women can grow better crops.  Even though MCC has a group of women that we work with especially, the trainings are for anyone who wants to attend.  Men also sometimes come.  Afterwards we stopped at one of the homes of a woman who was given a bull and has been successful.  We learned that though it is culturally inappropriate to own a bull, she is willing to do so. She also has begun to raise rabbits, chickens, grass for her animals, and does composting.

We stopped at Peace playground initiated by MCC.  This one is quite large and is close to a school.  The children said they like to play there.  In one of the rondavels a small Peace club was meeting; they have been meeting for about three years.  Because of what they have learned they are doing things for the community.  They have gathered clothes to give to those poorer than they.  They have helped fill potholes in the road.  They are planning activities for the community for World Peace Day.  It was good to see such an active and excited group.

We had lunch at the Catholic Church with whom we partner in this area.  Again we were welcomed by singing and flowers.

On our way back to Bogra we stopped in Saidpur to see a company called Action Bag.  It was started in 1991 by MCC but is now privately owned.  The owner is doing a worldwide business and has just moved into a large new building.  They were in the process of filling a large order for jute bags for Ten Thousand Villages.  They also make various types of bags from recycled saris.  And they are beginning to do some screen printing.

We took a side trip to visit an 18th century Hindu temple, Kantaji Temple.  This beautiful temple is dedicated to Krishna and his wife Rukmini. It was completed in 1752.  It has beautiful terracotta architecture.  One website describes the terracotta this way:

Terracotta Decoration available in every inch of its wall surface both inside and out depict flora and fauna, the exploits of Krishna, the stories of the Mahabharata (Mahabharata and the Ramayana), favorite pastimes of the landed aristocracy. The amazing profusion, modeling have seldom been surpassed by any mural art of its kind in Bengal. One can observe here a carefully arranged thematic scheme at different levels and spaces on the temple wall.


Bronze artist

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

We visited a brass maker using the “lost-wax” method of producing bronze figures. Fascinating!  These are not mass-produced products; each one is individually created and moulded.  Briefly, the process requires a person to create the object out wax.  (Here they use beeswax and paraffin.)  They then cover it with three different layers of clay.  The first is very thin and is painted on the object.  The second is thicker, while the third is even thicker.  Two air pipes are created in the piece.  The object is then left to dry.  The object is baked in a fire; the wax eventually melts and runs out through the pipes.  At the appropriate time, the object is taken from the fire and the hot metal is poured in through the air vent from which the wax flowed out.  The object cools.  When completed the outside clay mould is chipped off.  It is then that the artist knows for sure what the object will look like.  Various things may go wrong and the artist may lose his creation!  But if the moulding is successful, an original, unique object has been created.  The artists produce mainly Hindu and Buddhist objects.

Beside the captivating process of the art, the story of this Hindu family is also interesting.  The man who is now the owner is the fifth generation brass maker still working in the original home.  However, there have been disruptions along the way.  During the War of Independence (1971), the family had to flee to India.  The mother told of the journey which was mainly by walking and by boat.  She had 6 year old and 25 month old children.  They often walked at night—completely quiet—to avoid conflicts.  They hid during the day.

After the war was over, they returned to their home only to find that their Muslim neighbours had taken over the house and destroyed much of it.  Through a legal process, they were able to get their home back.  However, many of the villagers are still not friendly, and they do live in fear.

They have an additional problem now—selling their objects.  It is very difficult to export because of regulations.  He said that recently, it took 1½ years to get a permit to export a shipment of 100 pieces.  This is original art and is not inexpensive!  They rely a great deal on tourism.  However, since the recent terrorist acts, tourism has dropped dramatically.  They are unsure of their future.


Young people

Monday, August 29th, 2016

One of the joys of our work in the various country MCC offices has been to meet young people who have been or are going to different countries/cultures.  Recently, we were part of the sending of two young Bangladeshis—one to Ohio, US, and one to Jos, Nigeria.  We held short orientations for them before they left.  We visited both of them in their homes with their families.  The parents are happy for this opportunity for their children but sad to have them leave for a year.

Pr is with the IVEP program and working in Millersburg, Ohio.  We had a short time with her parents and brother the day before she left.  She had never traveled outside of this country.  It will be fun to meet her again in the US.  (The only photo we have of her family is blurry, but we included it anyway.)

T is with the YAMEN program (MCC/MWC combined program) and is working in Jos, Nigeria.  She is the first YAMEN person to go from Bangladesh and all of MCC was rooting for her, even though we had a difficult time getting her visa.  We were able to join a prayer service for her in her home with her pastor, family, and friends which was followed by a meal.  Several days later we went along to the airport with her.  She has come through some difficult times recently, losing her father in April.  Because of this loss, her mother, especially, felt the anxiety/headache of her daughter’s departure for a year.

Old Dhaka (2)

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

(continuing our historical tour)

In Mughal period, Sheikh Enayet Ullah, a landlord, acquired a very big area and built a beautiful palace.  Around 1740 A.D., the son of the Sheikh sold the property to French traders. The French became very wealthy doing business here in competition with the English. However, in the English-French war, French were defeated and all their properties was captured by the English. For the next 40 years the property switched back and forth between the French and the British several times.  Finally, in 1830 the French were forced to leave subcontinent. They sold all their properties in Dhaka. A trader, Khwaja Alimullah purchased the property.  After his death his son named the property “Ahsan Manzil” for his son Ahsan Ullah.

In the evening of 7th April, 1888, a great tornado/cyclone hit Dhaka city causing great damage. Ahsan Manzil was greatly damaged and abandoned. After the death of Khwaja Ahsanullah in 1901, the glory of Ahsan Manzil was ended. His successors couldn’t maintain it.  They rented different parts of the palace to tenants, who actually made it a slum. In 1952 the goverment acquired the property and in 1985, Dhaka National Museum made it a museum.

We were not allowed to take photos inside the museum.  There are beautiful vaulted ceilings, large wooden stairs leading to the second floor with carved bannisters, marble rooms, and colourful ceramic tiles on the floors.  While we visited inside a downpour arrived outside and we were unable to visit the grounds.  Our guide and none of the websites I read, could explain why the palace is painted pink.  It is—and so is commonly called the “Pink Palace.”

We walked to some places and in one area the school children were lining the streets forming a “human chain against terrorism.”  There were several hundred children.  Our photos only show the boys’ line but later we also saw girls forming a “human chain.”

We explored what is known as Hindu Street. Hindu Street has been inhabited by Indian artisans for nearly 300 years.  The street looks like any other in Old Dhaka; narrow, packed with people, and dirty.  The buildings have been inhabited by the artisans for centuries, are in serious disrepair, and appear not to have been renovated for just as long.  Lining this street of weathered facades are shops selling traditional instruments, jewelry made from conch shells, and bouquets of marigolds.  Along the street at various places are Hindu temples where worshippers gather in front of ornate statues.

Sadarghat River Port, on the river Burigangais (Old Ganges), is one of the most vibrant places in Dhaka. Here, the Sadarghat Launch Terminal is one of the largest river ports in the world. About 200 large and small passenger launches depart and arrive at the terminal every day. According to the officials at the terminal, 30,000 people, on average, use the terminal for departure and arrival daily. Visiting this place was pandemonium.

The River Buriganga, though smelly and muddy, is the lifeblood of Old Dhaka. There are large river ferries, overladen with people and local produce, with loading and unloading activities to ramshackle warehouses on the riverfront. Triple-decked ferries are docked along the side of the jetty while small wooden boats ply their trade in between.

Among all the large ships are the tiny wooden boats which cross the river with their single oarsman standing at their bows.  We were scheduled to ride one of these boats, but because of the rain and the lateness of the day, we did not.  There are some very luxurious launches and steamers here. These are the commercial transport to the southern part of Bangladesh.

We travelled to Old Dhaka by car from our home but then rode rickshaws between most of the sites.  Chaos!  Jams!