Sunday, February 24, 2013

Hill Tracks Visit (Tribal Villages)

Holly and I had a great opportunity this weekend to make it out to the Bangladesh hill tracks to visit a couple of villages.  In recent years the hill tracks have been closed to most foreign workers, thankfully we were able to apply for a tourist permit that was approved for this one day trip.  It was great to get away from the compound for a day and visit villages that we have been hearing of and praying for. The drive is incredibly beautiful through the hills, as all the roads follow the mountain ridges, which makes the trip very scenic. (All the hills are made of clay or sand so very unstable so if the road was cut along the side of the hill it would be quickly covered over by mud and debris in the next rainy season).

(Holly and Jon out in the Hill Tracks)

The first village that we visited had just recently had a fire that devastated nine homes.  Village homes  are typically made of bamboo and wood so extremely flammable during the dry winter months. Once one home starts burning due to a stray spark from a cooking fire it quickly takes off then spreads to nearby homes. Our group was able to drop off some clothing and goods to the families that had lost their homes, their few precious possessions, and their supply of rice for the year as they had just harvested a couple months ago. House fires are a very common issue in the hills as highly combustible materials are used for construction, while they still use an open cooking fire inside their home.

(Villagers waiting to receive their supplies and some medical attention)

(Holly was entertaining the kids, they liked to have their pictures taken so they could see themselves and their friends on the camera screen)

The next village that we visited houses a hostel for young Mru Tribal children that is overseen by our organization. Their homes and villages are too far spread apart for these children to travel each day to school. The purpose of the hostel is to provide a place for these children to live, have access to healthy food, and obtain an education. Unfortunately most tribals are illiterate so they cannot teach their own children how to read, write or speak in Bengali (there are many tribal groups in country most of which have their own languages, but without speaking the common language it is very difficult to go to market to sell goods, or to get any further education).  Though the children are young they still learn about sustainable farming, agriculture, nutrition, etc. Many parents sacrifice a huge amount to be able to have their kids attend as they realize that their way of life is not sustainable (slash and burn agriculture), with the loss of much of their best land to wealthy land owners that are now growing tobacco and other cash crops. It is our hope that all these children would have sponsorship so that they would be able to continue with the program. Any children without sponsorship typically cannot afford to stay with the program very long. Programs such as this have had huge impacts on these young people, many of whom have grown up to be the teachers, agricultural educators and pastors in these same villages. There is also a number of projects that are currently exploring more sustainable agricultural products and practices.  Out of this entire group in the photo there is only a handful that have full sponsorship.

(Photo above: The children were extremely well behaved sitting on the floor for the entire program. They did some songs and dances, followed by us saying something about ourselves to the children, some gift giving, and an award ceremony)

(Chris - white lady - is a doctor in the US who is here working at the hospital, she is a major supporter and fundraiser for this elementary program and a high school program in another village. This is the first time she visited with her sponsor children and those of her friends and family - in photo.  The teachers/program director are also pictured) 

(The children seeing us off. We had a full load of 13 people in our truck on the way back)

The road to these villages started out well kept and smooth, but as we progressed it turned into brick roads then to very bumpy/steep sand/dust roads, then up the river bed that is only accessible in the dry season by four wheel drive. These areas are not accessible by vehicle in the wet season.

 Holly doesn't typically get overly carsick, but this trip finally broke her 14 year streak of not throwing up. (Right: Our return trip followed the river bed)

Additional photos uploaded to our Gallery.

(Followed by very dusty, steep and bumpy single lane road)

(Once we clear the dirt roads we were on bumpy brick roads)

(The winding, twisty, bumpy, dirty, hot roads finally had their toll on Holly after 12 hours - everyone else in the truck did not think I was very sensitive when I was looking for my camera when Holly was on the side of the road puking)

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Bazaaring here is just a part of daily life. Thankfully we arrived in the dry cooler winter months which is the garden season so there is typically a decent amount of produce available in the local bazaar. 

(Local Malumghat Bazaar - the boy weighing the kilo of tomatoes I am buying for 12 taka)

We are starting to stock up on some produce, such as freezing the broccoli, bell peppers & beans from our garden, as well as having 25kgs of tomatoes bottled this week as we are told that fresh produce gets scarce during the rainy season.  Although the garden produce may start to dwindle then, that is when the Fruit season will start to ramp up. We are very excited for that right now since the only local fruit we have is Banana (the apples and oranges we have are imported from India/China).  We are very excited for mango & lychee season.

(Dhaka, DIT 1 Market - Has many products we can not get locally - broccoli, bell peppers, etc. as well as a good amount of out of season produce - not to mention decent chocolate)

Marketing for meat is another challenge in itself.  The local bazaar only has cows butchered two times a week so to get something fresh we have to know what day and to go early while it's still fresh. With this being said we have actually not purchased any beef since we have arrived in country. Chicken is always available as they sell the chicken whole and alive - we just have to kill and clean. Thankfully we have house help to make some of these things a bit easier. Fish is also typically available locally, the quality goes from excellent to very questionable.

(Photo: Meat Market in a larger city about 2 hours north)

(Holly with 25 kgs of fresh tomatoes ready for bottling)


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Girl's Soccer (Football)

Holly has been hoping to teach some of the school girls soccer ever since we arrived here in Malumghat.  For the most part there are very few females that play any sports so the vast majority do not even know how to kick a ball.  Last week Holly had the opportunity to get some girls together to work on soccer skills. It turned out to be a great success as there were about 80 girls that showed up.

Holly is now planning on getting together one time a week to keep working on their game. One major item that they were missing however were soccer balls.  For the whole group they only had two, the one ball from the sports field and the one Holly received for Christmas.  Needless to say they just used every ball that was available (volleyballs & basketballs) and still had a great time.  We feel like we can do better, so today we went to the next closest town (Charinga) and were able to pick up another 10 footballs.

It will be interesting to find out how many girls will want to consistently come and play. It is a great opportunity for Holly to work with some of the local girls in many ways.


Friday, February 15, 2013

Contractor/Engineer Malumghat Visits

We have had several good meetings with some of the design engineers and potential contractors through out the past couple weeks.  The gentlemen completing the specification, BOQ (bill of quantities), and electrical design for the new hospital project came to Malumghat to see the existing hospital and review their progress.  We we happy to see that a communication barrier regarding the electrical design had been overcome and positive progress had been made.

While reviewing/editing the specfication (details on scope of work, payment, materials requirements, etc.),  I found a few amusing typos including this one (I think pants was meant to be parts):

"The contractor shall be responsible for providing at his risk and cost all labors, materials, tools and pants and everything else necessary for the work in accordance with the terms of the contract documents..."

As you can imagine, it is interesting reading a 90 page document prepared by native Bangali speakers.  Here is another excert that had me scratching my head:

"The bricks to be laid shall have the free and buttered thickly and then shaved on the mortar bad pressing hard against the previously laid bricks in the same course so that the horizontal and vertical joints are completely filled flow of exposed surface of bricks shall be meticulously avoided/ cleaned. "

As we are finalizing the bid package for tender we are also meeting with contractors to discuss the project and to find out more about their qualifications and experience.  In the photo below,  the group is standing in the location of the new hospital and discussing what building footings should be started first.

 (Digging a test pit to test for the water table depth. We may create a fish pond to harvest some fill from other places on the campus.)


(Some new photos uploaded to our photo gallery)