LETTER from BOLLOBHPUR
Sister Gillian Rose OSE trains nurse midwives at Bollobhpur Hospital. She is partly funded by the Oxford Mission. These are excerpts from her latest journal-letter:
Sunday 14th December 2003, and a beautiful sunny autumn day; and the date reminds me that it is high time to begin a Christmas letter to you all it brings our greetings and gratitude for your continued caring and sharing with us over another year, as we try to show the love of Christ through our life and work in this small corner of Bangladesh. We need your prayers and your interest and your caring and concern. It supports and upholds us in all that we do, and I am deeply grateful. May God bless you all, each one, at this special time, the beautiful season of advent, with all its expectation and joy, and at the joyful Christmas festival and into yet another New Year.
And it is a beautiful time of the year too. Chilly nights, clear blue skies and sunshine during the day, the run-up to the actual winter season. Beautiful for us who have warm bedding in reserve, and cardigans to put on in the chilly evenings, but no fun for the hundreds of thousands who have no warm bedding or extra winter clothing, and who rely solely on the sun for warmth and comfort. And now as winter draws near, the longed-for warming sun rises from bed much later than in the summer months, indeed his light and warmth are often veiled by a thick mist until after midday, and he retires to bed early, leaving the country in pitch darkness by soon after 5 p.m.
So life becomes miserable for the many, especially for those in the north of the country, where the winds blowing straight from the Himalayas produce a biting cold that paralyses normal life and creates a wretched apathy and inability to cope. The temperatures never fall to freezing point, but the low 40s Fahrenheit is cold enough for those with flimsy housing and no decent clothes to put on. The newspapers show people huddled in miserable groups on the roadside in the first sun, or crouched around a makeshift fire of whatever is available to be burnet. It makes one feel so helpless just thinking of their plight and being unable to do anything about it. In the hospital we have stitched together the bedding for each bed into one thick, heavy covering to try to overcome the high incidence of theft, as bedding is a costly item and we cannot replace it...
January 1st, 2004 and we began the year in our beautifully-decorated parish church together, for the glorious first celebration of Holy Communion of the New Year, and we all received the sacrament together and dedicated our lives afresh to Gods service As last year, we have had police protection throughout the whole week of Christmas activities, a sign of the Government's strong commitment to curb religious extremism, and to allow all to worship freely despite it being a Muslim state. We are grateful for their presence. But to recap:
November and the first three weeks of December passed by busily with examinations for most sets. First Year examinations completed, and all are awaiting the time when they will get the coveted orange Second Year stripe for their caps. The Senior Midwifery group sat and passed their hospital final examinations and await the results. The Government Doctor who carne to take the Viva seemed pleased with them all, which is good. Their immediate juniors did not fare so well in the half-year Midwifery examinations, and will be re-sitting the papers in January, anxious to obtain the Third Year red stripe for their caps. The group due to leave at the end of the year gathered together from the various clinics for the last time to sit the Medicine and Community Health examination together. And al1 to a background of singing and playing and laughter, as al1 rehearse together for the Christmas play and show, and cut gaily-coloured paper to decorate wards and departments.
And on 16th December, Victory Day for Bangladesh, we were treated to a special musical competition that two of the seniors had arranged between our girls and the girls of the adjacent school hostel, the Home of Bethany. It was with great pleasure that we judged the excellent entrants, with difficulty too as all were so good. Then there were prizes for all to add to the enjoyment. The mothers were all there watching too, babes on their laps, also any other of the patients mobile enough to be there, and al1 their relatives enjoyed the evening together. A great pleasure indeed, and I always love to see the girls utilizing their many gifts.
But on a more sober note, our Doctor Khisa has just telephoned from Dhaka that he will not be returning to work here. He left suddenly with his wife on November 21st, having received a warning that morning that a gang of people were coming to insult him over some issue unknown to us. We reassured him, called in the Management Committee who also reassured him, and even stayed until the specified time had passed without any untoward event. But despite our reassurances he went off to Dhaka soon after to consult with Bishop Michael, and has not contacted since. Now a sudden call to say he wil1 not return. A blow indeed, as everyone knows how difficult it is to get a doctor willing to work in a village situation. A Committee meeting has to be cal1ed, and the tiresome process begun all over again. In the meantime we continue doctorless with a very busy hospital. Please keep this great need in your prayers.
I forgot to mention that in the middle of all the busyness the interviews have been held for next year's intake of student nurses (the 'girls'), and a total of 28 selected to come in two groups, l4 in January and the other 14 in July. This is four more than we intended, but it happens that way! Twelve are due to leave at the end of the month, and they al1 have work awaiting them. No girl remains idle no matter how many we train! And as they all come from poor backgrounds, it is good that they are able to help their families after the training. Thank God for this little service that we are able to give. And I think I mentioned before that these girls go on to earn far higher salaries than those who are training them here!
Christmas Eve, December 24th, and a busy clinic at our Kejura centre, where four new baby boys were born during the clinic time! We left Nomina with the girls there to look after the clinic during the next few days, while Benuka and Kilon take a few days off with, their family at Bol1obhpur. We detour to visit Karpasdanga clinic with our Christmas greetings to Sevika and the girls there. Sevika, with the assistance of new Staff Nurse Hannah, is holding the fort while Lakhi and Hebal spend five days with their family at Nityanandapur. On to visit Ratanpur clinic, where Aduri and Manimala, two of our senior girls, are proud to be taking responsibility while Pascolina visits her in-laws at Karpasdanga for a week. Husband Aparesh is too dutiful to take a proper holiday, returning to the clinic each night to keep an eye on them all. I thank God again and again for each and al1of them and the wonderful way they man the clinics day and night all the year round.
Back to Bollobhpur in time to hear the church bell reminding everyone to get ready for the first services of the Christmas season. A handful of girls remain to man the busy hospital wards, and the rest of us are soon in church for the joyful service of light, and soon we all issue forth again, lighted candles held high, to bring the light and love of the new-born Christ-child out into the darkness of the night. Finally we head back to the beautifully decorated church, gay with flashing lights without and within, for the glorious first celebration of Christmas.
We receive our communion together, then return, the girls to sing carols around the hospital compound before disappearing to the kitchen to prepare their Christmas breakfast of fried breads and lentils, and me to take responsibility for the hospital and relieve all the trained staff for Christmas Day. The girls man the wards on Christmas Day with me in the background to be called as necessary, and they are proud to do so. In their off-duty time they visit their families if this is possible, while the girls from distant parts of the country cook curried goose and rice (the geese they reared themselves) and enjoy themselves together. Those off duty return for the early Christmas morning service in a packed church, and there is midday service of song and prayer for those unable to manage the early one.
And already, around the playing-field, little stalls are springing up in preparation for the week-long Christmas Mela (fair), which starts on December 26th an is a special feature of Christmas at Bollobhpur. The girls too have another week of freedom to join in the fun, and the classroom remains closed Sports football and cricket matches, handicrafts competition, flower, fruit and vegetable show, classes for poultry, goats and cattle, and every evening a two-hour time of worship, prayed praise in the church, led each day by a different group. A happy time indeed for everyone, and our girls especially enjoy the little stalls selling heap knicknacks, and spend ages going around them!
And not to forget their own carefully-prepared program which they performed for the patients and their relatives in the evening of December 26th. They began with a Christmas song, followed by a simple Nativity play, the baby borrowed from one of the watching mothers, and the shepherds bringing rabbits rather than lambs! Then they launched into a medley of song, dance and several side-splitting comic sketches. And it was a joy to watch, and we all enjoyed ourselves immensely. In this way we try to bring the message of Christmas across to our mostly Moslem patients and their relatives.
Friday, 2nd January 2004 and back to routine again. Dr. Bappy is here for the monthly Dental Clinic and Yunus Ali for the weekly Eye Clinic, both having braved the thick fog to come from Chuadanga. And there is still no sign of the fog lifting though well after midday. The trees have mostly shed their leaves, but my hibiscus bushes continue green, and their brilliant blooms brighten he wintry scene.
On the home front, our dog has seven puppies, and the Ratanpur clinic dog four! My cats can be found curled up in a heap together on top of my mosquito net, or lying in some sunny corner when the sun is out. Our 'senior' cow is in calf again and the garden full of winter vegetables as we step into the New Year.
So from a wintry Bangladesh this brings our greetings and thanks and warmest wishes to you all. May God be very gracious to you all.