I’m back in Dhaka now after a great weekend in Rangamati. It would be difficult to put everything I did and experienced onto paper, but I’ll give it a shot.
On Saturday I took a walk around the Moanogar complex with BudhaDatta, who is one of the Buddhist monks on the Moanogar executive committee. It’s a big complex, over 15 acres. The school has over 1000 pupils, with 600-ish of them are residential, so there are various dormitories for the boys and girls. Only a few children where around, as most had gone back home for the New Year celebrations. They are all seriously cute and I had a chance to show just how bad my Bangla is. This weekend was definitely the short, sharp kick to the kidneys that I needed to up my Bangla game. Smiling and hand gestures can only get one so far. Which turns out isn’t that far at all.
(Unfortunately the view above is from the boys dormitories and not the view from the little house on site. But this does show what the surrounding area looks like)
On Sunday we took a trip out on the Kaptai lake, which is beautiful but steeped in a very sad history. When it was built in 1961 (for hydro electricity) over 40% of the indigenous people’s tribal land was submerged, and lost forever. Little or no compensation was provided for the loss of land (can tribal land really be compensated for anyway?) and tribal people have been struggling ever since to regain some form of secure livelihood. We visited a remote Chakma village of 12 families, and I got to buy some of their traditional cloth (soon to be made into a skirt). There are over 13 tribes here in the CHT, with the Chakma tribe being the largest. (One day I’d like to put something up here on the various tribes and history of the CHT.)
On Sunday we took an early morning walk (6am) out to a Taungchengya tribal village, about a 1.5 hour walk away. It was great to get out and stretch my legs a bit, as walking in Dhaka is unsurprisingly not so popular. Sunday was the main day of the 3 day Baisabi festival (called Biju in the Chakma language) so we were invited into every house to eat some food with various families. It also proved impossible to leave without having a very large shot of rice wine. Interesting at 8:30am. We also got to see the traditional waist loom in action. The women below are wearing the Chakma traditional dress (looks a bit like a kikoy I think)
In both villages the people were the most hospitable I think I’ve ever met. Even with so little to their names, it still would have be unheard of for them not to invite you in for food. Actually in Rangamati town I was invited by everybody I met to celebrate Biju at their houses, every single person I met. Sunday night I walked around town with one of my collegues and his wife, to celebrate in the traditional style of visiting family and friends in their homes. At each house I was served food, and as it’s considered rude to not eat at someone’s home, I ate a lot. In the end I could only manage a few pieces of watermelon in the houses, plus the odd glass of rice wine or two. My transport back was on the back of a motorbike. My first time ever, at the age of 33. Helmet-less and side saddle (I don’t like corners). Shameless that I’ve never been on a motorbike before, still not sure if I’m supposed to lean into or against corners. Maybe my new motorbike friend will tell me next time My short visit has 100% validated my decision to come to Bangladesh, and to the Chittagong hill Tracts specifically. It’s a truly remarkable and unique part of the world with an amazing amount of cultural diversity in a relatively small area. There are many tribal communities that need support and I’m so excited to get out there and start working. I can’t change the world, but I can make a difference. Only one more week in Dhaka then I make my new home in Rangamati.
PS – I also met my first smoking monk. It was quite the sight, had to take a photo of him.