Thursday, April 23, 2009

More Languages!

It has been an exciting couple of days! Everyone has been extraordinarily welcoming and helpful, and to my great relief, have a sense of humor that I understand. Most people in the office speak at least a little English, but with a heavy accent to which I am slowly becoming accustomed. I am also learning to adjust my accent and vocabulary so that my spoken English is easier to understand. It has been challenging, but in the best of ways, as understanding how people speak and explain words that they do not know is an extremely helpful guide to culture and process.

However, not everyone speaks some English. The cook and other "office assistants" as they are called (the drivers, the men who bring tea mid-morning and afternoon, the woman who cleans), speak only Bangla. I should note here that the Bangla they speak in Sylhet is different than the language spoken in the rest of Bangladesh, and as Dr. Daniel explained to me today, is infused with Hindi and Farsi as well as a local dialect. About half of the people working in the office come from outside of Sylhet, and so it is that the words that I am learning are partially one kind of Bangla and partially another. I would rely more on sign language, but hand and head motions here are completely different than at home. For example, when someone waves in what I consider to be a "come here" wave, it means stay, or shut the door. It's like learning a whole new sign and body language on top of it all.

I have been trying my very best to get to know everyone from whom I am learning, studying the list of staff names that was given to me, and trying to have a conversation with those that I can. The cook, Kahala (which means "auntie") and I bonded when she came into my room last night to help me put up my misquito netting. She looked around, adjusted her head covering, and went about reorganizing my things. When she was done, everything was placed in a way that made a lot more sense. I don't really know how to explain it, except by compairing it to a permaculture design method, that is, note access and circulation routes and then map around them. I had placed my things as though my room were a closet, whereas she placed them as though my room was a house...if that makes any sense. Anyway, something about having another person create your personal space is helpful to forming a relationship. I was also rewarded for enthusiastically eating the (fabulous) dinner that she laid out for me, with fresh bananas. These were no ordinary bland store bananas. These were the sweetest, most fragrant bananas ever.
Rashed left yesterday, leaving the timid, yet very consciencious Rajib as his stand-in. Rajib has been very kind, giving me an excellent briefing, in which he told me every thing that I had read in the project briefing and during which I learned a great deal about how he thinks and prefers to interact. He gave me a bunch of reading to do, which has all been fascinating, and invited me to come to a Community Health Workers (CHWs) training in the afternoon. I also had a meeting with Ahmed Salahuddin, the project manager, who invited me to his home tomorrow for dinner, to meet his wife and four-year-old daughter.
Here, Fridays are the only day of the weekend, but the CHW training will continue through Sunday, I believe. I had an absolutely wonderful time at the afternoon session today (they were learning about family planning methods, specifically the pill) and had the opportunity to meet several of the women staff. I was very excited to be invited back for tomorrow's sessions by Training Officer Tamanna and Dr. Daniel. In the interest of time, I will elaborate more on the characters I meet in later posts as I go a long. Obviously I could not understand every thing that was going on because of the language, but it allowed me to carefully observe how everyone was acting. Since this was a room of women being trained in leadership roles, it had a very different atmosphere than I have previously been in here.
It is raining again outside, which is doing little to cool the air, but making a very soothing sound as the big drops hit the roof. It is summer time here, which means the season right before the monsoons. Mostly it rains in the late afternoon and at night, and though I knew this, I was not prepared for the ferocity of the thunderstorm last night. As the thunder died away, the call to prayer from the mosque took over, and I lay awake in the humid darkness noticing that it is only in the wee hours that there are no bicycle horns to be heard.

No comments:

Post a Comment