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News from India & Bangladesh May - October 2006

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Caroline Corbould worked from 19691970 and 1971-1974 in St. Anne’s Hospital, Barisal, and also helped re-start the dispensary at Jobarpar in 1973. She worked from 1975-1977 with Christian Health Care Project at three village clinics, Jobarpar, Kathira and Santikutir, and from 1978-1980 with Integrated Rural Development Project in Sylhet.

We awoke to the sound of the Chapel bell and the Sevikas saying Matins in the Chapel. Then the girls in the Hostel were singing a morning song, and the birds calling in the trees, and I knew we were back in Jobarpar. Five years ago Jean and I had promised ourselves we would return, and here we were! The coconut palms and other trees were all larger, as also in Barisal, and the garden was looking even more beautiful. I don’t remember ever seeing quite so many butterflies, but then they had so many exotic flowers to feast on.

This time I had brought another friend, Tessa, with me, and we flew out together in mid-November, meeting Jean in Dhaka. After a couple of days in Rajshahi Tessa and I went from Dhaka to Barisal by coach, and what a huge improvement both in transport and in the roads! There used to be at least five ferries between Dhaka and Barisal, and now there is only the one big one across to Aricha which took us only half an hour to cross. And from Gournadi to Barisal the two ferries have been replaced by a new road and two bridges: so the whole journey only took us 4 ½ hours instead of a full day!

I was back in my ‘old’ room in Barisal and met up beauty and peace of the compound, especially after a few days in Dhaka! Another new experience in Barisal was finding the internet café and e-mailing and receiving messages from home. Tessa was able to send her impressions from there, including the fact that none of my previous photos had prepared her for the haven of the Oxford Mission compound, and the ‘five-star service’ given by the Sevikas!

After three days in Barisal we went out to Jobarpar in the microbus and picked upJean at the airport, as she had spent longer in Rajshahi. The flags were out at Jobarpar, and it was wonderful to see the Sevikas and dear Mother Susila again. We had the full Jobarpar welcome! It was then 35 years since my first visit there, and the following week was a wonderful round of visiting old friends and villages again.

One day we went to Santikutir, one of the villages where I worked in 1976/77 and last visited in 1992. One used to go by country boat, but this time it was baby-taxi along the new tow-path, and after crossing the big river ‘van’. This is basically a rickshaw, with a large board over the back wheels on which anybody or anything can be transported. It was a very bumpy road so we had to hang for dear life, especially as the two we were on were trying to race each other until we persuaded them to slow down! Santikutir had grown, with a lot of new buildings including a clinic which seemed to be running well. They were very welcoming, and one lady who had been there in the 1970s was amazed to see me again!

Another day we went with Sisters Jharna and Shefali to Morandi village, where I spent Christmas in 1978 and still have old friends. We had a lovely day visiting people, and Tessa was able to experience real village life. There are not so many young people now as many have left to find work in the towns. We drank water from fresh coconuts cut from the trees, and had a delicious lunch cooked by dear friends. Later Jean and I walked across the fields to Kathira, and I found one of the nurses I had worked with at Jobarpar, now living with her son and family. Kathira was also a lot bigger, and I met many more old friends. The rice fields seem lush all the year round now as they irrigate them, pumping water from the canals, rather than just relying on rainfall. Many people were planting rice seedlings, emerald green in colour. Having electricity and clean water has improved village life immensely. There is plenty of food, and generally not the poverty of a few years ago. We saw some wonderful sunrises and sunsets, all reflected in the flooded fields and recorded on our digital cameras!

Mother Susila was amazingly well, despite being unable to walk. We had time to do lots of talking and reminiscing together, and we both found it hard to realise we first met 35 years ago, when I met her off the steamer on her return to Barisal from Malaysia! And I also shared many memories with the Sevikas.During our stay the Girls’ Hostel put on their Christmas function for us. As always it was full of joy, and talent too with beautiful dancing and singing, and finishing with the story of the Nativity. It is always wonderful and inspiring to see these talents being taught and encouraged in the future generation, and much praise and thanks must go to the teachers whose patience and love instil these talents and knowledge.

Alas our week in Jobarpar flew by, as did our last few days in Dhaka after a wonderful trip to the Sundarbans. We did a tour of Old Dhaka as it was Tessa’s first visit. It was great seeing the steamer ghat again, with many memories of paddle-steamer and launch trips down to Barisal and beyond. We did pass the mishti dokan (sweet shop) where I used to buy sweets before returning to Barisal - and we did stop and have one of my favourites! We also visited the Star Mosque which is very beautiful, and the Lalbagh Fort and gardens. The old streets were still crammed with rickshaws and other traffic.

Soon it was time to pack up again, and as we flew back to Christmas and snow, I reflected just how easy it is now to reach so many beautiful places in the world - with Bangladesh being a very special place for me.


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