It has been several months since we have sent out a blog and personal update, and much has happened. We had a wonderful visit from Nishant’s parents, an MCC All Staff Workshop, Christmas celebrations, and a trip back to Canada. Therefore I have not been able to sit down to reflect and write until now.
We recently returned home to Canada for my younger sister’s wedding. It was a wonderful day filled with love, and we were blessed with moments spent together with our extended family. During this trip back, I was diagnosed with a thyroid condition and have been on medical leave since. With increased fatigue and getting used to taking a daily medication, I have had a slow but steady recovery. We were very thankful to have been home during this time to get the support of medical professionals and our family. We have now returned to Bangladesh and Nishant is back at work while I remain on medical leave for a few more weeks. During this time I have regrettably not been able to reply to emails or messages as I normally do, so thank you for the notes and I will respond slowly as I continue in my recovery.
Home; our home is in Canada, and it is a place very familiar to us. We enjoyed our recent trip back as we got to spend time with our family and friends. Home is a place we dearly miss when we are far, yet our idea of home has changed over the years. Home has come to be defined by a variety of things. Our idea of home is where we are invested and where we are rooted, where we live and share our lives with those around us.
For the last two years while Nishant and I have been living and working in Bangladesh, you may have heard us reference a few different cities amongst our travels. Dhaka is the capital city of Bangladesh and where our head office is located, where we did our language studies, and now where we often come for meetings. Mymensingh is a ‘small’ town of half a million people, where we now call home (or ‘basha’ in Bengali), and where we have grown to love our local community.
There are many differences to these two places, and I wanted to share some of these contrasts of where we live and work that have been amplified for me recently.
When in Dhaka, we are often attending meetings, and for me this is most often with my colleague on the HIV team as we have been developing a new project focusing on adolescent health. After working together on this over the last several months, and with the help of people like Nishant, our Country Reps, as well as Nishant’s mother who took care of Eli, this project was approved for the next three years. In Dhaka is where I also participated in the Palliative Care Conference back in September 2015, and also where I taught Nursing at a university in the fall of 2014.
When in Mymensingh, my work focusses on supporting the social businesses that we partner with, primarily through supporting the women they employ with a variety of their health concerns. During my visits I check blood pressure, monitor weight gain and loss, as well as give basic health advice (like explaining their medications). I love this aspect of my work as I get to walk alongside and encourage the women as they struggle with chronic health issues and as they care for their families.
I also spend time working on developing training material for some of our programs, like Pobitra (meaning ‘holy’ in Bengali) which is a yearlong rehabilitation and training program for women that have decided to leave casual sex work for alternative employment and a better life. I have also developed our First Aid Training program which is an annual training for all MCC staff and some partners. Recently I have switched to working part time so that I can care for Eli, and my colleagues have been gracious to come to our apartment in Mymensingh for meetings when needed.
Our home and family life is different depending on where we stay. In Mymensingh, we have settled into our apartment and feel at home. We live only ten minutes from the office, so we can easily walk, bike, or take Eli in the stroller back and forth. We have gotten to know our neighbours well and this Christmas we walked around handing out ‘Canadian’ Christmas ginger bread and sugar cookies that we had baked to celebrate the season. There are several different shopkeepers that we have gotten to know in our neighbourhood and so we always greet them as we pass by; Eli has also become very popular here! On Friday mornings in Mymensingh, we enjoy a breakfast tradition of pancakes that Nishant makes.
After Eli turned six months, I started going back to the office in Mymensingh for a few hours so that I could focus on some of the work that I have. While I am out, an MCC staff member takes care of Eli, and we look forward to seeing how Eli grows to love and cherish their relationship. He already knows her voice well when she comes each morning and eagerly greets her.
While in Dhaka, we stay at MCC’s guesthouse. The guesthouse is an older building, so we often have to ‘deal’ with cockroaches, but these are the memories that we are creating while living in a tropical country. We enjoy coming back to Dhaka as we get to connect with friends we haven’t seen in a while, and we enjoy the perks of being in the ‘big’ city where we can go out to nice restaurants.
In both cities, we enjoy spending time as a family, especially in the evenings as we can spend more time together. Eli enjoys playing with his new Christmas toy, a small ball, and he loves jumping around in his Jolly Jumper. Bath time, regardless of where we spend the night, is a highlight for him as he winds down the day and prepares for bed.
Depending on our location, the style of worship service we experience greatly varies. In Dhaka, we attend an English speaking international church that has music and a preaching style that we are familiar with. We have become thankful for this community whenever we are able to attend as we get to fellowship together with friends we don’t often see. With the recent security concerns and the implications of being able to safely gather, we have been reminded about the sacred gift it is to freely worship.
In Mymensingh, we have become part of the Taizé community and attend their prayer services and community lunch on the weekends. Taizé is an ecumenical monastic order that originated in France but now has communities around the world, including here in Bangladesh where they are deeply involved in various ministries in the community.
At Taizé there are three prayers services each day, but we mostly attend the lunch time prayer on the weekend. This is a communal prayer time with silent meditation, Bengali singing, as well as acapella repetitive choruses that are often in English. We are also part of a small bible study with a few other foreigners in Mymensingh. As this is the only English speaking worship community that we have access to in Mymensingh, we often compliment this with listening to sermons online from our churches back home.
Our experiences of rest and relaxation also vary between cities. In Dhaka we have the opportunity to attend different events, like the Dhaka Literature Festival this past November. Here we got to hear speakers from around the world discuss topics ranging from the role of science in literature, and Gandhi’s influences before returning to India. Nishant was also able to attend the Bengal Music Festival showcasing the best Indian classical musicians. In Dhaka we get to spend time going out to restaurants and coffee shops with friends, and when invited, we get to go to some of the international clubs to enjoy amenities like swimming pools. For foreigners these clubs provide a comfortable environment, away from the congestion and pollution, and where children can play openly. With the weather being hot and humid most of the year, we have really enjoyed the opportunity to unwind and cool down. Eli has also learned the joy of spending time in the pool!
In Mymensingh we enjoy a quieter pace of life. When the weather is very hot, we tend not to spend as much time outside, but we normally like to spend our weekends walking by the river on our way home from the prayer service or sipping a cup of tea at the river side. Our office compound in Mymensingh also offers green space with a beautiful garden and pond. In the winters, Nishant plays badminton after work with some colleagues. With each badminton season, his skills are increasing!
So, next time you hear us talk about our homes in either Mymensingh or Dhaka, you now have a better idea of our places of work, family life, fellowship, and what we do for recreation.
PLEASE BE PRAYING THAT:
1. Erin would continue to recover well.
2. The work we partner in continues to be successful. Last month the government of Bangladesh awarded MCC a first place award for building farmers’ capacity. This was for a project Nishant has been working on to teach farmers improved agricultural practices, and then help them sell their pesticide free vegetables upmarket.
3. Bangladesh continues to enjoy a season of peace and stability.
Erin, (Nishant and Eli)
Check out the full album at: November 2015
Check out the full album at: December 2015
Check out the full album at: January 2016