Clay, Real & Metaphoric

It is a quiet Friday afternoon, two months into living in Bangladesh, and I sit down to write a short reflection on the last several weeks. We continue to experience many new things including language classes five days a week at our language school in Dhaka. The curriculum focuses on learning the script of Bangla, a beautiful language to speak, read and hear.

Bengali is spoken by approximately 220 million people, ranking it the fourth most spoken language in the world. As well as being the official language of Bangladesh and the Indian states of Tripura and West Bengal, it’s also spoken by large communities in North America and parts of Europe and the Middle East.
(Lonely Planet Phrasebook – Hindi, Urdu and Bengali, 2011).

We have the opportunity with MCC to spend three months of focused time learning the Bangla language and culture. In addition to language school, we are also meeting with a tutor one-on-one each day to work on concepts that we are having difficulty with. We are also trying to put this all into practice as we listen and speak with new friends and colleagues in Bangla, travel across the city on public transit, and shop in the market.

Quotes 23Some days are harder than others as grammar and verb conjugation becomes complicated. Motivation to do our homework to help instil concepts we have learned in class also sometimes lacks, but we recognize that as we put time and effort in now, the affect will be felt over the next three years. Communication is essential to get to know others and their personalities, and it will also be essential in the work that we will do here. Part of us wants to start working now and we feel torn as we have to sit down and learn a new language, but recently we have been feeling a sense of peace knowing that there is a right time for everything.

Recently as we have been walking to catch a CNG (also known as an auto rickshaw) each morning, I have been struck by the overwhelming positive sense of being in a new country. I have really enjoyed getting to experience the newness of Bangladesh in all the different foods, peoples, and places. Although I continue to feel the tensions of living in a new country and the desire to be with family and close friends at home, I am so thankful that the transition here has been coupled with a sense of true joy as I enjoy the newness of where we are living.

One day this past month we took a day off of language study to visit two villages not far from Dhaka. We were invited by Suraiya Chowdhury who is the head product designer of Prokritee, which was an enterprise started by MCC that is now an independent entity and partner.

Prokritee (meaning “nature” in Bangla) is a service based agency that provides managerial, product design and development and marketing assistance to organizations in Bangladesh. Prokritee manages 8 Handicraft Enterprises and helps other groups to sell their products in local and foreign markets upholding Fair Trade standards.
(For more information about Prokritee, check out: Prokritee: About Us).

During our visit we met artisans at a pottery village and a bronze/brass village, and we spent the day learning about how they create beautiful handmade products. At the pottery village, we saw how MCC/Prokritee’s 20 year long relationship with the artisans provided employment for a small minority group. Here the master potter, Anil Chandra Pal, demonstrated his skills which have been honed over many years. The results are impressive and there is a wide variety of products ranging from traditional designs sold locally to modern designs with traditional characteristics that are exported.

We then had the opportunity to travel to the second village where a family is working to preserve the ancient art of lost wax casting through producing brass and bronze handicrafts with local artisans. The manager of the business, Shukanto Bonik, gave us a tour of the workshop and described how the time consuming and detailed work produces unique, one-of-a-kind products. We were particularly impressed by an exquisite chess set which took artisans months to create, with each individual piece taking up to 45 days to make. This work is extremely intricate and sometimes monotonous, so the artisans are regularly given different projects to preserve the product quality and their creativity. Prokritee has worked with these artisans to export some of their products, but Shukanto also aspires to create a local museum and café in the workshop area so that the rich heritage of metal work in Bangladesh can be preserved and future generations can be educated.

Quotes 24As I reflect more on the time that we spent traveling to see the different work that MCC is involved in, I am so grateful to see a parallel with how God has intricately made each one of us. Just as a handcrafted product is painstakingly made with great attention to detail, the work that God does in our hearts and minds is also with great attention. The constant changes that I have experienced over the last several months have taken an emotional toll on me. I find myself easily annoyed and not fully able to express my emotions effectively especially in my closest relationships. I have experienced the truth of God’s working in my life as I face with my own selfish desires that often become overpowering. My ability to be kind and compassionate to those around me quickly decreases as my own selfish desires and insensitive attitudes grow, but I know that God is working on my character, molding me in to the person He desires. Through regular support and encouragement from those at home and a strengthening devotional time with Nishant the Lord has been faithful. Isaiah 64:4-9 mirrors many of the emotions that I have been experiencing recently.

4 For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him! You welcome those who gladly do good, who follow godly ways. But you have been very angry with us, for we are not godly. We are constant sinners; how can people like us be saved? We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind. Yet no one calls on your name or pleads with you for mercy. Therefore, you have turned away from us and turned us over to our sins. And yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand. Don’t be so angry with us, Lord. Please don’t remember our sins forever. Look at us, we pray, and see that we are all your people.

1. We would be constantly reminded of God’s sovereign plan for our lives as He is the potter and we are the clay and that through the difficult process of being refined we would become more like Him.
2. We are able to stay focused on language learning as we complete another month of full time studying.
3. We get clarity in terms of roles within MCC and how to be effective agents of change as we work within this organization.
4. Our work permit comes through. We are currently on a multiple entry 3 month NGO visa.

Erin (and Nishant)

Picture Banner 2
Check out the full album at: March 2014

Prokritee (meaning ‘Nature’ in Bangla), is a partner of MCC that provides design, managerial and marketing assistance to numerous fairtrade handcraft enterprises, including the following clay and bronze/brass workshops.

In this video,  Anil Chandra Pal, a master potter demonstrates how to make a basic clay bowl.

In this video, Erin attempts to make a clay bowl with the guidance of the Anil Chandra Pal who is a master  potter.

The first step in the lost wax casting is to create a detailed replica of the final product in wax.

This wax figurine is then covered in layers of clay that will create a female mold cavity once the wax is melted.

After the clay is cured in a kiln, the encased wax figuring melts, thus creating a detailed female mold cavity that can be filled with molten metal which will take on the shape of the original wax figurine.

Once the metal cools and hardens, the clay mold is broken revealing a metal (bronze) replica of the original clay figurine.

Finally, many hours must be spent filing, sanding and polishing the unfinished metal.

In this video, Shukanto Bonik, the manager of the workshop demonstrates how the clay mold is removed in the lost wax mold process to reveal the bronze figurine within.

In this video, skilled artisans carefully finish bronze figurines after they are removed from the mold.

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