Monday, March 19, 2018

A Belated Update from Bhola

Rather belated New Years wishes.  The children and I hope 2018 will be a peaceful and prosperous year for us all.   Yes, I spent New Year’s Eve with the children and we had a great time. The boys decorated their room to welcome me and everyone was in festive mood, with a large bonfire and music from Zakir’s friend Faisal and his group, who travelled down on the launch with us from Dhaka and stayed on for several days.   My New Year’s gift was a new auto-rickshaw, the Philip Westbury sadly having had to be sold.

Dinah with the boys

Fahim and Sibbir
The Dhaka boys, four at the deaf school, four in the training centre, and Hasnur who is now in an excellent school for the blind, came home and all holidays were postponed until after my departure.  So we were a full house of 31 boys and 27 girls.  We celebrated gold and silver medals in the Special Olympics, the boys will be in the finals in Dubai in 2019.   It is always a joy to see the older children playing with the young.   It reassures me that we really are a family, always our dream.  Whatever happens in the future, I pray that this ethos of Bhola Garden will be preserved. 

We are giving a much-needed coat of paint to the hostel building before the monsoon.   There has been discussion about our original  buildings which are in dire need of repair, so much so that lessons now take place in the dining room.  We have an estimate for the total replacement of both flat roofs and, since my return, I am delighted to report we are well on our way to finding sufficient funds for this.   My own parish church, Our Lady of Grace in Chiswick, has made Bhola’s Children part of our annual Lent Project.   I spoke for a couple of minutes at the end of all 6 Masses on the second Sunday of Lent and am thrilled to say that the money is coming in.   Many, many thanks to my generous priests and fellow parishioners.

Picnic on Eunus's Farm
Back to Bhola and my January visit. We did all the usual things. Kind Eunus  allowed us to have our picnic on his beautiful farm and paid for all the food and drink. We also had our traditional excursion to the river bank at Valumia, but this was a bit more of an adventure than usual:  Iqbal was only able to find one boat to take all of us who dared and who were not too heavy… I still can ‘t believe they got me into the very flimsy leaking motorised craft, that we survived the jaunt and somehow they hauled me out.  I had visions of the headline “50 protibondi and old white woman drown in the Bay of Bengal”.

Zakir and Kamal have reluctantly decided to stop growing vegetables in Valumia, since they are constantly washed away by the monsoons.  Instead we have planted hundreds of lemon trees and hope to sell the produce. Thanks to Eunus, we have been able to rent the triangular strip of land in front of the boundary, which will give us more security and  space to grow vegetables.

Physiotherapy is going well and it is wonderful to see the improvement it makes to several of our children.   
Nervous passengers on a very small boat

A  welcome addition to our family is Ismail. He was previously our part time accountant and is  now fulltime, living in the boundary with his wife Samira and Abdullah,  6 months old. Ismail is a great support to Zakir and the office they share, on a corner of the tailoring building, is  a triumph of tidiness and efficiency – the first time I’ve said that of any of our offices!  Ismail speaks good English and is working well with Sandy.

Zakir’s wife Neera and daughters Sara and Nora were with us all the time, and are a great joy.   The girls love being in Bhola, and I only wish there was decent education on the island so they could live with us – although Neera would miss the Dhaka shops! Zakir has friends in Bhola, including the Mayor who invited us to a barbecue in his vegetable-storage factory, very cold! but its lonely life for him much of the time.

The boys in their decorated room
And yes, it was cold! The coldest in 50 years, by late afternoon we were fetching socks and jackets, and it didn’t warm up till nearly 11 in the morning.   Not a place suited to cold weather, although it was pleasant sleeping under two blankets rather than a mosquito net.   And I blessed Jet Airways for their sleep suit which I put on every evening under my salwar kameez! If I go again, it will be late January!