We spent the weekend in Sylet, a region known for its tea plantations, pineapple harvesting, national forest and more importantly, monkeys and spotted deer! It was beautiful albeit it rainy, which was not unexpected because this region is known for its rain (think Seattle).
It was a long trip for two days, but we had a really nice time hiking through the national forest at dusk seeking monkeys. The sounds of the forest were like listening to a symphony of wildlife. You could hear frogs, monkeys, insects, birds as well as the rustling of bamboo trees. It was pretty nice. The guide tried to find us some monkeys, but it was getting dark, and we were unable to get a great picture of them.
Big Spiders in the forest
However, he did take us to a village that only fifteen years ago was completely isolated. It was small and considered to be a first generation village. Interestingly enough, it was found by Christian missionaries who converted the people, which put them in the minority in terms of religion here. The village had a church.
After spending a glorious evening in air conditioning, we made our way on Sunday to learn about how tea is made and then to the national waterfall, about three hours away. This place was great fun. Unfortunately, there would be no elephant sighting. But it was cool to see everyone swimming and splashing around near the falls.
We then embarked on the long seven-hour ride home to the hotel and didn’t arrive until almost 4 am. In arriving at this time, it gave us a chance to see Dhaka at late night, something I hadn’t seen before because we have a rule to be in the hotel by 10 pm nightly. The roads weren’t nearly as busy but there was a fair amount of people out – just living there. There wasn’t a block that we didn’t see someone walking, sleeping or sitting on the curb. Some sat around in groups perhaps for safety reasons, others slept next to each other. On one corner we drove by, there must have been eight people sleeping on the sidewalk side by side together.
Everyone sat quietly in the van, just staring at the scenery. Many rickshaws sat next to those sleeping, indicating that these people, who have jobs, just don’t make enough to put a roof over their heads. I saw two children on separate blocks sitting on the curb and holding their soccer balls. I found myself thinking about the rainy season here only months earlier and wondering where all these people sleep during May and June. I also couldn’t help but to be angry on behalf of these people as their government chooses to ignore these people or consider their basic needs. I also wondered if the Grameen model could work in such a populated setting (Grameen is only allowed to set up shop in the villages).
It was a sobering way to end our trip. While this trip has been really fun and extremely educational for me for the past five weeks, people every day and everywhere continue to suffer and struggle for many of the things we take for granted daily – clean water, a place to lay your head, etc.
Bangladesh has come a long way in its 39 years, but there is much more work to be done – a statement that could easily be echoed in countries throughout the world, including my own. However, if this trip has taught me anything, it’s about having an idea that could be a possible solution to a societal problem and having the guts to really consider such options. Sometimes it’s the easier thing to avoid examining life’s tougher questions and claim there is nothing that one person can do to change the way things are. I, of course, disagree. I have seen firsthand what one man – Professor Yunus – has done, just by taking the risks needed to better his country. He didn’t turn a blind eye but instead investigated the issue and developed a strategy to combat it. And he succeeded.
“My greatest challenge has been to change the mindset of people. Mindsets play strange tricks on us. We see things the way our minds have instructed our eyes to see” – Professor Mohammed Yunus.