A FATHER ON A TRICYCLE VAN - LETTER from ST PAULS BROTHERHOOD, BARISAL
Greetings Father, where did you come from? asked a modest Christian villager in a marshy area. Oh, just from the heaven. Well, would you like to go to the heaven? I replied with a smile, and went on, saying You know, you would be dead first before you get to heaven. OK? The conversation stopped for a while and well-wishers hung around waiting silently until someone said hesitatingly that OM might be a heaven somehow as it is a place where so many Fathers and Sisters had spent their lives praying and working for the Church and the people. Anyway, we proceeded on to visit the next rural Parishes and homes of our students in the vast marshy areas, covering more than fifty square miles our late Fathers used to visit by country boats, the only means of communication in those days. I am very interested and delighted to go to these areas often and at any time.
Recently, the Revd A L Jones from England was visiting Bangladesh, after the SIDR cyclone, and he asked me about my daily work. You see, I explained, it is a kind of supervising work, looking after the 9/10 sections of the OM, but specifically the Epiphany Church, community prayers and the Fathers side areas of the compound, with some other little job in the local Parish. I felt that Revd Jones might have wondered what part my role plays in the smooth-running administration? Well, we have one manager, therefore I must be doing some kind of supervising work over at least half of the compound (the Fathers side), the work that the previous Fathers used to do (including hospital and clinic visiting) and playing regularly is a must!
On the SIDR night, I was sitting on a chair with all the lights on (thanks to the generator) to avoid any robbery attempt. At 2.00 a.m. the cyclone stopped suddenly. In the coastal areas it was devastating, the wind speed was over 280 km/hour with a 15-20 feet high tidal surge; our area was hit by a wind speed of over 220 km/hour. Most of the big trees were uprooted, it took one day to clear the paths inside but the main drive was closed for 3-4 days. Most of the living quarters for staff members were damaged, St Marys home roof, the Managers storehouse and the meeting room roof were partly damaged, banks of some tanks (which protect soiled water from outside) were seriously damaged, and so on. I was brought up with cyclones, storms and floods from 1961 70, much more severe than this one. I always accept and enjoy our natural calamities which are common and regular in our country, as it lets us enjoy, as part of our normal life, riddled with numerous problems and crises, this mysteriously wonderful world. Thereafter, I paid visits to all the village homes of our students for seven days and considered them two months fees. In the meantime, our repair work has been going on for some months.
Indeed, we are so grateful to the donors of the OM for their timely assistance. However, we are at a loss with managing our budget, mainly with buying rice, the price of which is Tk. 1000.00 over our estimate per quintal; 80% of the budget for rice is spent in one term of the year.
Ours is a land prone to all sorts of natural calamities from time to time. So, I regularly visit those areas. And consequently, a Father with grey hair and white beard riding on a tricycle van is a familiar sight to the villagers. At the same time, we come across plain-clothes policemen and respond to their queries by saying that, side by side with emergency rules, our constant meditation and silent prayers while travelling around the areas is also needed for the well-being of our people and our government.
Very recently, six Old Boys from Dhaka paid a courtesy visit here, one is studying in Australia, one studying chartered accountancy, one technical engineering, one working and studying for a Masters degree and the last one is married. They shared their lives with us and categorically mentioned in their speeches that the OM is very different compared to outside, which you only realise when you leave the compound. It is like heaven.
FATHER FRANCIS ST PAULS BROTHERHOOD, BARISAL