Monday, 13 April 2009
What should we do on Easter Sunday morning here in Bangladesh? Well, go to church of course! What a stroke of luck that on our first day here we met a guy who was a Christian: two years ago he had been part of the local Hindu population, but he and all his family converted to Christianity. There are only two types of greeting that Simon and Jon hear around here, being the only westerners and therefore standing out like sore thumbs: from the beggars and people on the make, it goes: “Hello! Hello, hair-low… hair-low.” (With the verbal stress on the ‘hair’.) As they say this, they approach you with an outstretched hand and blank gaze. The second greeting, from almost everyone else on the streets is: “How are you?” spoken quickly, in an up-beat way, with the most massive grin possible. Quite frankly, the people of Bangladesh are warm, open and happy. They all have two follow-up remarks before the language barrier hits hard: “Which country?” and “What is your name?” We spend hours each day in this form of communication, but it’s great. Smiles all round! But Michael (his name at baptism: his original name being Suronjit) immediately came across as being more interesting, for his follow up question was: “what religion are you?” And so here we are, going to a small mission church with him and his family to celebrate Easter. Simon would have preferred a Catholic Mass somewhere, but here in a Muslim country, that might have been asking too much? And in any case, this guy actually found us, so let’s go with the flow. At 7.30am here he is at our hotel room to take us by rickshaw into his home part of town, a part of town that no intrepid traveller would ever find, and to the little church they have established there with about 30 worshippers. The area of Cox’s Bazar where they live is called Ghonar Para, and the small church family is called Bethany Baptist Church.
The service had lots of enthusiastic singing, the usual balance of non-conformist readings, prayers and long, enthusiastic preaching. And a Baptist version of the eucharist with small slivers of bread and some grape juice. Of course we took part, partly to be in communion with our fellow worshippers here in Bangladesh (where, incidentally, the funky young guys all call us ‘brother’) and partly to connect us to the global church throughout time and the risen Christ at Eastertide. And still no Delhi-Belly!
For us the best part of the lengthy service was the bit that featured us! Jon gave a presentation about the Cornish flag (which coincidentally resembled the banner at the front of the church) and talked about himself and his home life, to give the congregation a glimpse of life in the developed world.
Simon taught them all to respond to “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” with “He is risen indeed, alleluia.” The shouts of ‘Halleluia” were very enthusiastic. After the service, we were given a snack called Shingara. This was possibly the most awesome food we’ve tried since the early morning chilli pakora back in Deshnok, which seems like years away now! We had another Shingara, just to make sure that the standards were uniform! They indeed were! We had no luck in getting a third one though.
Michael then took us for some exploring around Cox’s Bazar. There is a belt of five-star hotel development, which distorts the balance of this third-world community. But away from this fairy-tale world is another reality. At once grim and shocking, but also homely and proud: the REAL Cox’s Bazar is a reminder of what life is really like in this country. The open sewers and mass of rotting garbage seems far worse than in any Indian settlement. But the narrow maze of winding streets is also captivating and sometimes hopelessly beautiful, particularly the night-time market stalls lit by candles and oil lamps. Couple this with the openness and warmth of the people, and you just can’t help loving Bangladesh!
We returned to the church for lunch: a massive feast prepared communally for all the church members, with us being honoured guests. We ate in traditional Bangladeshi style, with the fingers of our right hand, of course! There was bhat (rice) with dahl (lentils) and shobji bhajee (mixed vegetables), whilst the highlight was a goat bhuna. We were tremendously impressed with the powerful tastes and wonderful textures, and had seconds. And thirds. Did Jon have fourths? The whole experience was really fantastic: to have immersed into a real Bangladeshi community in a favela. The pastor here is interested in some sort of financial aid for the children. Perhaps when we return to the UK we can arrange some form of link with Mevagissey. But this needs to be done with care: it’s important to make sure that any funds raised actually DO make it to the children we met. Misappropriation of funds is rife in South Asia. Still wouldn’t it be nice to do at least something for them?