Four of us from the team (Lynette, Frances, Lynne & Bronwyn) left for the Bangladesh border on Thursday 24th November. We encountered many road works at the border and at one point we were surrounded by at least 4 or 5 vehicles all traveling in different directions. After trying to jump the immigration cue, we were put back in our place and waited to sign exit documents which were all written by hand. It took 3 hours to travel 200 meters’ to enter Bangladesh. Our luggage was dragged across the dusty no mans land with plenty of aromatic smells; we were missing our lavender bags.
After a 45 minute drive through the lush green rice fields, the beautiful fields of mustard and past purple water hyacinths we arrived in Brahmanbaria at the Baptist Mission Compound. We were given a very warm welcome by Martin Nath and introduced to Issac who was our personal guide during our stay. We also met David the general manager of the Hospital and Joi who was in charge of the laboratory. We were treated royally because of their fond memories of the missionaries who had established the work many years before. There were also many enquiries about Ian & Joy Brown, Raewyn Garwood, Delcie Guy, Olywn Halder & Doctor Don Dalziel. It was so great that Lynette knew all these people and was able to make this connection. This year the Baptist Mission Compound celebrated 100 years since their establishment.
We were shown to the guest house which over looked the fish pond located in the centre of the compound. After a settling in period we were invited as guests to an annual football match between the hostel boys and staff. The prize for the match was a large golden trophy. We felt very important, Bronwyn even got to kick off at the start of the match taking out one of the hostel boys in the process (oops).
We barracked for the hostel boys and whenever they scored a goal all the boys on the sideline charged the field with whoops and shouts, chanting “Hostel! Hostel!” In the evening we were invited to the Christmas programme that the hostel boys were putting on. They had decorated their study room and all the boys sat cross-legged on the floor for an HOUR & a HALF (even the five-year-olds). For the first half of the programme they had readings and speeches and we were given gifts. For the second half the boys sang songs and did drama’s. We also sang them a song in Bengali that we’d learnt back in Calcutta. After the programme, dinner was served in the open air hostel dining room (they are currently raising money for a new dining room!). Lynette was able to sit with Jeson (a child she sponsors) and with the help of Issac had some conversation, although Jeson was very shy.
The next morning Lynette got up early and enjoyed the comings and goings of the people in the compound. Issac introduced us to Kusum & Liton Halder who are the hostel parents for the 50 boys who range in age from 5 – 17 years (what amazing people). We very much enjoyed the meals that we had at Kusum’s house! That morning we had a tour of the hostel and gatecrashed the boys’ study session, which was cancelled for the morning. Lynette was able to give Jeson some gifts she had brought. One of the gifts was a game of snakes and ladders which was spread out across the desks and played with great enthusiasm and watched by many boys. Some other boys took the map of New Zealand off the wall and talked about the different animals and features they could see. Frances was able to show them where we lived in New Zealand. The boys produced a list of their sponsors and were eager to ask us if we knew them. Bronwyn knew one sponsor and had a photo taken with the boy. THEN… there was a MASS photo session, everyone wanted to be in it. Frances and Bronwyn learnt how to play Garan with the skillful and enthusiastic help of the boys, it was obviously a favorite game.
At lunchtime we finally discovered why Issac always arrived much earlier than expected to collect us. He was on Bangladesh time while we were still half an hour behind on Indian time. We had not realized that the 300m walk had taken so long!
After lunch David showed us around the Medical Centre and Hospital. The hospital is used extensively by the local people and there were many queues. They mainly specialize in Maternity (delivering an average of 5-12 babies per day), family planning, immunizations and gynecological procedures. David (Isaac’s brother) has recently qualified as a doctor with a post-graduate certificate in pediatrics. There are only two doctors and a surgeon on site and they badly need a relieving doctor (hint, hint anybody know of anyone, please pray). The tour also included the nurses quarters and we were presented with flowers by the Christian doctors who were in the middle of a meeting. Lyn and Frances were especially touched by this gesture as it was the first time they had ever received flowers from a doctor (photos were taken of this momentous occasion for the benefit of all the Thames doctors). We all enjoyed meeting the mothers with their new babies who usually stay in hospital for three days.
Kusum invited us to the woman’s prayer meeting which is held weekly at 4:30pm. This was all in Bengali and we were made very welcome. They even prayed for us about 3 times (we were so blessed). We enjoyed a hard-boiled egg, a sweet biscuit and chai just before heading out for dinner. We were invited to David’s house which is about 300m outside the compound in a gated apartment block. We were introduced to Mary (David’s wife) and Raj (their son). They were very proud of him at 16 months of age and there were many LARGE photos of him on the wall. The menu was AMAZING and SUMPTUOUS. We ate at a table in the bedroom as David & Mary normally eat downstairs with their extended family of 17 who live in other apartments in the block. David & Mary waited on us, but did not eat with us, they reassured us that they would eat at about 10 or 11pm after David had picked up his brother. We walked back to the mission compound and could eat no more (until the next day…).
Saturday morning we finally synchronized our watches and were almost ready when Issac came to fetch us. He took us on a tour of the school on the compound. The head mistress introduced us to each class and they each sang us a song – often in English. The class sizes were up to 70 children. The children were actually in the middle of exams which was quite embarrassing, but no-one seemed to mind. These classes were for the younger children who had school from 7:30am-10:30. The older students have their classes in the late morning (11am-1:30), while the senior students attend high school off campus for the afternoon. After our tour the head mistress gave us chai tea and delicious food.
Following this Issac took us to meet his family including Dipa his wife, his daughter Justina and his mother Sara. They rented a home on the compound. We then had a fast and crazy drive in an auto rickshaw down into town to get some money from the ATM. It was such a novelty to see a few shops with glass windows. We were well protected in the ATM by a security guard, who kept sticking his head in to see if we were finished!
It was then back to the compound to meet Martin Nath’s family including his wife, their son Elvis and Martin’s mother who had suffered a stroke 3 years ago and could no longer speak. Her eyes were very expressive and she gave us each a firm grip with her good hand. We were again served chai tea and sweets. Lyn commented that we would explode if we had anymore food and we still had to have lunch.
Once again Lyn & Lynette interrupted an exam and Lynette was able to see Jeson in the classroom to say goodbye. This teacher seemed less impressed by the interruption; she coped, however. Meanwhile Frances and Bronwyn drew up a map of the compound for future reference.
Finally we were invited back to the hospital for a lunch in the board room with Martin, David and Joi. We had a lovely meal of fish, rice and chicken…we were very full! They also presented us with plaques commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the mission compound. Through out the morning we had given token gifts to a number of people as we really appreciated their hospitality.
After lunch we just had 10 minutes to spare before our driver whisked us back through 45 minutes of skilled driving. We passed 2km of trucks parked nose to tail while our driver attempted a skillful but scary passing maneuver with a large truck heading towards us, PHEW! Luckily he was blasting his horn. We got back through immigration much more quickly this time as it was a quieter day. We were disappointed at being over charged for our departure taxes, but what could we do?
On arriving back in India we were taken on a different route to the immigration building as the previous one had been bricked up (how much changes in just 2 days). By the time we emerged from completing our arrival process our van had been blocked in by a rather large front end loader. However this obviously did not faze our driver who blasted his horn and proceeded to drive straight toward it…amazingly the loader retreated.
It was so great to see the team already back from Jampui again and we realized how much we had missed everyone. We were greatly blessed by our time in Brahmanbaria and hugely enjoyed it.