On my recent trip to Bhola, I had a new traveling companion who had decided to visit Bhola before going on to India. His name is Peter and I think he enjoyed the experience very much indeed. The children loved him, of course – and not only because of the wonderful bags, caps and pens he produced from Surrey Cricket Club, as you can see from the photograph. He is also rather good at cricket, so he and Ali became quite competitive – and he even got me batting! At the farewell, Peter said he had intended to stay only a couple of days but he had stayed two weeks and didn’t want to leave. Watch this space!
Because we had a new visitor to Bhola, Ali and I tried to show him as much as possible. At our first roof meeting we picked 22 of the smaller children who had never been to Barisal, and set off at 6 a.m. a few days later. I warned Peter that my previous trips, involving two ferries each way and some low tides, had always lasted considerably longer than planned but this one went swimmingly – even if we did have to park right behind a small truck with a cage containing at least 500 extremely distressed chickens with a similar one next to us. I will spare you that photograph, suffice to say it has put me off eating chicken. Otherwise we had a lovely time, did a scenic tour of Barisal Centre Ville – of limited cultural interest – then visited various relations of Ali for lunch, followed by the usual Childrens’ Park, before just catching the two ferries home (someone had given us the wrong times but we persuaded Ali to get there early, just in case!).
We had a splendid picnic on the second Friday. Everyone, together with food and water toys, crowded into the tractor trailer and minibus and we drove to the Meghna river, the other side of the island from Barisal. There we jumped – or, in my case, was helped – into a battered motorboat which already had a couple of calves on board. We had a brilliant picnic on a small island of 10,000 inhabitants, after which many of the children swam and played in inflatable boats, carefully guarded by Ali in his rubber fishing clothes. It was an exciting journey home in that the tide was low. We had to walk through the mud and then wade through thigh-deep water to get to the boat. As usual, the older girls had dressed to kill in their best saris, but I firmly wore my oldest salwar kameez! Reaching the boat, I was presented with very steep, very narrow and very slippery gangplank up which I flatly refused to climb. Luckily we had a small wooden classroom chair with us, which we set down on the river bed and I could clamber aboard in a rather undignified manner, to the cheers of family and strangers alike although I don’t think the goats were very interested.
That day was Ali’s birthday. We had ordered the cake and icecream so, after a quick shower and change, off we went to collect the goodies while the staff decorated the room. This was the third birthday Ali had actually celebrated with me – he was in the orphanage till age 17 – and the children really enjoy the occasion, but it was a long day. Peter and I were very pleased to pass on supper afterwards and crawl up to the third floor for much needed vodka and cokes!
Our final major outing, on which we took another variety pack of children, was to the very southern tip of Bhola on the Bay of Bengal. On the way we passed a sixth form college where classes had just ended so they were happy for Ali to talk to the students about disability and how to prevent it – part of his awareness programme. Afterwards we reached the coast, along 3 kms of the worst road I have ever driven, where we gazed out on the choppy sea. Remember that Bhola lies between two large rivers so, although they had seen plenty of water, this was the first time many of the children had seen the ocean. No swimming this time, but a good picnic of hardboiled eggs and other goodies purchased on the way.
The new tailoring building is almost finished and is fully occupied. Apart from Asma and her tailoring classes, all the married staff are in residence including Shathi and Dipak with their gorgeous baby girl Nabanita. Six of the older boys and single men live in a couple of rooms and there is still space. We will be taking on new staff so it is good to have such accommodation to offer.
As far as I was concerned, the high point of the visit was taking five of our brightest deaf children to register in the local primary school. We undertook to send a teacher with them every day – school is mornings only – so Susucki and Masuma are taking turns. Ali tells me the children, two girls and three boys, are loving school and several of the slightly younger children want to go too, so it looks as though one of my dreams might be coming true.
Rozina and Supia telephoned almost daily from Rishilpi, where they are happy and learning their physiotherapy. I hope I will see them when I go back in the autumn.
It is always sad to say goodbye to the children, especially at this time of year since I will not be returning for so long. But I know they are well and happy.