Bye bye Bangladesh

Every morning at the CRP I’m woken up at 5:30am by the morning call for prayer at the mosque that’s located next to me room. As much as I don’t like waking up that early in the morning, I have to say that the low rumbling of the voice that is chanting away is preferable to the usual high pitched shrieking alarm that usually starts my day.

Showers are something of a novelty as well, as there’s no hot water showering is tipping a bucket (or several smaller buckets) of cold water over your head. This usually feels better in the height of summer when I’d probably take several showers a day but it’s not that bad with the weather as it is. If nothing else, it definitely gives you the equivalent wake up that about six espresso’s would.

When I found out I was going back the CRP for a couple of days there were a couple of things that I knew I was going to have to do. Just outside the entrance to the CRP is a street vendor selling some of my favourite Bangladeshi food, choputi and fuska, so I was happy to see that he was still setting his little cart up there every day at 6 o’clock. He’s a friendly chap who quickly becomes a favourite with volunteers visiting the CRP, cooking the food in front of you and giving you a couple of pieces while you wait.

Fuska are bite size crispy dough shells that are stuffed with potato, peas, onion, chillies, coriander and a few local spices and with a plate full for 30 taka (30 pence) you can’t go wrong.

After the ASCON conference had finished CRP had a new visitor. David Constantine founded the charity Motivation back in the early nineties when he set up a metal workshop here at the CRP so that they could supply patients with low cost suitable wheelchairs. Twenty years on and Motivation is now helping people in developing countries the opportunity get mobile and stay active in their communities by offering wheelchairs and sustainable peer training programmes.

David is here recording a video for Motivation, looking at the impact that the CRP and the wheelchairs from the workshop he set up are having on people’s lives. We took a trip to another CRP centre about 15 minutes away called Ganakbari, originally a residential property for women to get trained with the skills to work in the garment industry, with jobs being guaranteed by Marks and Spencer. Ganakbari had recently expanded and now included the metal workshop producing wheelchairs, special seating unit for children, the wood workshop and the paper recycling facility.

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to sit in on an interview that was being done for the Motivation film with a woman called Mina, who had a spinal stroke that left her paralysed. Since her husband was working out of the country at the time, the family of her husband asked Mina to get a divorce therefore allowing her husband to marry again without paying her a support allowance; she was kept inside her in laws home and tortured both mentally and physically. Mina remained resilient and was eventually rescued by her family. Knowing that she would need to bring in money to support her young son, Mina started vocational training at CRP to fix damaged rickshaw/wheelchair wheels and now works in the metal workshop at Ganakbari. The wheelchair provided by the CRP mobilised her through the journey that she had undertaken and without the wheelchair she knows it would not have been possible.

After the interview and taking a look around the facility I decided to go for a wander down the street, looking at all the stalls that lined each side with the fruit, veg and fish covered in flies – all the time working my way through the crowd while navigating over the rough terrain and keeping an eye out for the passing rickshaws and cars. I stopped off for a tea a local shop with our Firoz who had been our guide for the day before heading back to the compound to get a ride back to the CRP. Our transport arrived and it was a pickup truck with rear doors that were clearly too small for me to get into so I jumped on the back of the truck, took my chair apart and enjoyed the ride back to the CRP al fresco.

Today was the final of the basketball tournament that had been run to coincide with the ASCON conference. Three teams had entered and India had taken an early exit leaving Bangladesh and Nepal to play off for the top spot. These two had played each other earlier in the competition where the Nepalese had dominated, Bangladesh would have to pull something special out of the bag if they wanted a different result today, the seventy point win they had on India since that game was sure to give them a confidence boost but would it be enough? Right from the whistle Bangladesh were proving to be the team in control, playing calm and collected, along with a good passing game and making their shots count. Nepal on the other hand were playing sloppier than they had in the previous game, making wildcard shots from outside of the key and rushing their play.

Despite the early lead, by half time Nepal had pulled it back to fourteen all. There must have been something said to the Bangla team at half time because they came back out fighting, putting ten points on Nepal in no time. Watching the game, I could only imagine what the players would be feeling. In a country where disability is still looked down on, they were here getting cheered on by an elated crowd of hundreds of people, tonight this was their stage and they were the stars of the show. The final whistle blew and Bangladesh had won 32-23. The crowd went wild and stormed onto the pitch, gathering round the sporting heroes of the night. White bubbles shot up into the air to celebrate the victory; in a dry country this was more than likely to be 7up which seemed to be the accepted champagne substitute for the occasion. The medals were handed out and there was a real sense of sportsmanship between the teams as they applauded each other on a game well played.

My friend Al Amin had invited me to his home; so far I hadn’t managed to find the time but had planned to tomorrow morning. His little brother Riad came and found me when I was eating at one of the local restaurants (that does a great omelette), telling me that Al Amin was asking for me. When we finished our meal, Riad took us for a five minute walk going through some dark side roads leading us to a big metal gate, behind which were a number of buildings, one of which Al Amin lived in.

Each property had shared bathrooms and kitchens, Al Amin, his brother, mother and father had one room in here which had in one big double bed and at the foot was a single bed where Al Amin was lying. He wasn’t wearing a t shirt and it was worrying how thin he was, rib cage clearly visible and protruding elbow joints. There was a huge scar on his side where I assumed a pressure had got infected. He started talking about how he had learnt to use a computer after I had given him an assistive device to hold in his mouth last time I was here, he spoke of how he wanted to get a laptop but his mother interjected reminding us all that they had no money. We had some freshly cooked rice pudding and a banana, there was more food on offer but that was all I could stomach after having dinner not long before. Riad went through his envelope of photographs showing us various stages of rehab from CRP, with a much younger version of myself appearing from my last visit. Before we left Al Amin asked me to choose one of his mouth paintings to take with me as a present. An exceptionally kind gift from someone who has so little.

This brings me to the end of my visit to the CRP, I’ll be flying to Bangkok to evening and while I’m sad to be leaving, the prospect of somewhere new is exciting. I’ve had a brilliant short stay at the CRP and there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be back here again at some point.

2 thoughts on “Bye bye Bangladesh”

  1. Sounds like you’re making the most of your time there. Enjoy the next phase of your journey. We’re off to Mexico tomorrow so I’ll be catching up on your blog again when we get back.

  2. Great to hear that David Constantine is still very hands on with Motivation. First met him in the early 1990s, very inspirational and such a self effacing guy.

    Love hearing about your travel adventures.

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