Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Visit to the Hills

Yesterday, Dr. Salahuddin invited me to come out with his family and Neela to do some sight-seeing in Sylhet. At first I thought he meant the city, but in fact he meant the more rural area of the district that is well-known for its natural beauty. Dr. Salahuddin and his family are extremely nice people. His wife has a big friendly smile and his daughter is super cute and very shy. Rajib's mother also joined us, and I gather that the two families are very close. His mother, who everyone just calls Auntie, also smiles warmly at me, and her unusual green-grey eyes crinkle nicely in the corners.
The ride in the mini bus was longer than I expected, but oh-my-gosh so beautiful. Some of the area we went through was almost jungle-like, and every once in a while we drove through the middle of a bustling market scene, honking repeatedly at the masses standing around in the road. After about 20 minutes, hazy blue hills became visible in the distance. Neela said, "Look Natalie, that is India."

We went by field after field, following a very straight road going north (I think). Trees had been planted all along the roadside, and people squatted in the shade next to bundles of grass. The light became yellower as the sun began its slow desent, and soon we were passing huge piles of beautiful light-colored river stones. They were sorted out into piles according to size, and some were being ground into fine gravel. Sylhet gets a lot of its wealth from its stones, natural gas, and tea.
As we came into the low foothills, we began to see the tea gardens. Tea is grown a lot like coffee on hills as an understory. Neela said it is beautiful to watch the women pick tea, because the carry this basket on their back and as they go, throw the tea over their shoulders, like a type of dance. It is not the time to pick the tea, so I did not see this myself, but the tea plants and the hills they populate are gorgeous.

The first place we stopped was the India-Bangladesh border. You cannot cross without a visa, but we wandered around and took pictures in no-man's-land for a while. I felt bad for the bored soldiers standing around, they must have been really hot in their heavy uniforms.
The next place we stopped was a sweet overlook across the valley into an Indian town. It was fortuitous that we had arrived as the sun was getting low, and everything seem to glow.

Lastly, we stopped on a hill overlooking a river. It was swarming with boats and people, and the orange sun was blazing. We collected stones and watched as people tied up their boats to go home. We were in an area where stone is collected and brick is made, and the people were all thin and muscled. This was also the first place that I saw many women working, and they were working very hard.

Driving home in the dark in Bangladesh was an exercise in self-calming techniques. Because only some vehicles have headlights, and most of the traffic on the road are people and animals anyway, we were constantly almost on top of someone or something before our (very skilled) driver swerved smoothly around them. I was interested to note that though it felt as though we were going very fast, a glance at the spedometer showed that we were only going about 35 km per hour (there is however, the possibility that the spedometer was not accurate).
It was a grand adventure, and the pictures I got were lovely.

After coming back to the office and to "get fresh myself", I joined what seemed like the whole office at for dinner at what must be one of the nicest restaurants in Sylhet. We could have been anywhere in the world. It was a rooftop restaurant called Spicy, with strings of lights, and a view of the whole city. The food and tea were delish and I had the opportunity to learn ALL about cricket from the four men sitting around me. At my comment that it appeared to be a lot like baseball in some ways, everyone shook their heads (what a silly American) and explained that it is considerably more complex, and besides, it can take a whole day to play a match.

Tomorrow I am thrilled to have the chance to observe a training specifically for Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs), I think this coming week is going to be absolutely awesome, with three Field visits and many interviews scheduled.

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