So, finally catching up and filling you in on the last day of Srimangal last weekend: Saturday. We woke up and had breakfast after our restless night of sleep: eggs and paratha (a fried, tortilla-type bread) and potatoes. Afterwards, we headed to the trailhead of the forest. On our way we stopped and our tour guide went into a little store to pick up a small bottle of powder. It was disgusting smelling powder made from tobacco and some other ground up ingredients that you rub all over your shoes and socks to ward off leeches and keep them from climbing on your shoes and biting you and sucking out your blood. Ew. We actually stuffed our pants in our socks, which was a pretty hip look. But hey, it’s better than leeches latching on to your skin.
As we headed in, the rainforest was really pretty. And it was actually pretty cool in the dark shade of all the trees. I will try and add pictures soon! The problem is they are impossibly slow to upload and sometimes just won’t. You might just have to wait until I return to America and its speedy internet to see most of my pictures. But we headed in to the forest and walked down a brick/dirt path until we got to the bottom of a hill with a visitor center and little shop on top. We kept on going and saw some trails starting to lead off in different directions. We started heading down one, stopping often to look around in silence if our tour guide heard noises that might be animals. I guess there are fewer animals to see in the summer when it’s so hot, but we ended up getting really lucky. We had actually stopped on the way to the trail to get out of the car and see a group of monkeys. There were a bunch of them, small and brown, swinging from trees to trees, fruit dropping constantly as they did so. A few of them had little babies clinging to their stomachs. It was very entertaining just standing and watching them move around. They didn’t seem to mind us at all and our tour guide was saying how the bigger ones can actually get aggressive and come at you. Depending on how deep you go in on the trails, you have to carry a stick to ward off monkeys and other animals.
Ahh, so I know I am already forgetting the names of some of the animals we heard about and/or saw. Our tour guide told us about a few different types of birds. And told us how there are wild boars in the forest. And some sort of tiger, like a small one. I COMPLETELY forget what it is called! And they have black bears. I guess this particular park has a black bear who lost its mate a couple years ago because some local people killed it after it attacked someone. And now the black bear is constantly looking for a companion and is much more aggressive with finding and following people. They are like the Bengal tigers in the Sundarban (the southern, mangrove forest of the country) in that they target and will pick one person in a group and then follow and track that person/group and wait for the perfect time to come out and attack. The Bengal tigers are notorious for this and have killed a lot of people down in the south. This is part of the reason they are having such a hard time conserving the endangered species. The local people want to kill them as revenge and to protect their people from being attacked and killed, but then wildlife organizations are trying to come in and protect the tigers. It's a conflict of interest.
Anyway, the rainforest. So an endangered primate species, the gibbons, lives in this national park. I think this and one other place are the only areas they are still around. We didn’t expect to see any but we got lucky and saw a family of them! A male, female, and a baby. The male was black and I guess comes swinging out first anywhere they go to scope out the scene for danger. Then we saw the light brown female with a baby clinging firmly to her belly as she swung from branch to branch. They were so neat to see and we hung around for a while just watching them. We also briefly saw one other type of primate species, but again, I completely forget what it was called. Sorry I am useless on the names here. But that one swung out of view pretty quickly. Overall, it was a nice morning just being outside in the cool shade, walking around and seeing all of this wildlife we wouldn’t ever normally see. Oh also, because I forgot to write it in my last post and it was so cool, there were these amazing little plants in the pineapple and lemon plantations. They call them “shy plants” because when you touch the leaves of the plant, the plant curls, folding in its leaves flat against each other, like its an animal responding or something. It was absolutely incredible to see! I couldn’t even believe it. And they were so fun to play with and poke.
After trekking, we headed to a village where they weave cloth. The walk there was sort of longer than I expected and through the blazing sun. Not used to so much movement, mixed with the heat and already a few hours of walking in the forest, I was pretty tired. We headed down a path with rice fields on either side. Cows and goats were scattered throughout the fields and we passed people tending to them and one man constructing a bamboo fence to build for a plant nursery. It all seemed sort of surreal, like we had been picked up and plopped down in a National Geographic picture. Upon arrival in the village, we sat and watched one of the girls weaving for a while. The loom was a very large contraption but she was quick and comfortable maneuvering it. Her mother brought out a stack of cloth—mostly scarves, fabric for skirts, and tablecloths—and we picked out a couple of things to buy and take back with us.
After walking back to the car, we returned into town. We went to our tour guide’s father’s homeopathic medicine shop. It was wild, and felt like stepping back in time. It was a shop like the others we’d seen—mostly an unofficial structure that was very tiny and one side was open to the little road. He had a customer sitting in there when we came in. The room was full with almost no room to walk or stand with an old wooden desk in the middle and walls lined with dusty, dark wooden display cases filled with hundreds of tiny old-fashioned looking bottles. We didn’t learn too much about it, because his father didn’t really speak much English, but we learned that most of the medicine came from Germany and people in the area tend to prefer this type of homeopathic treatment over modern antibiotics. The reason, they told us, was because these were quicker “treatments,” while antibiotics you had to take for a whole long prescription. Sort of an unsound argument, I’d say, but I guess that’s there thinking here. While we sat in the shop, we had some street snacks and tea. One of them is a snack we have in the office a lot and I SHOULD know the name by now but I feel like everyone has been calling it different names. Regardless, its sort of like a samosa—it's a round ball of potatoes and spices and sometimes carrots and onions mixed in, wrapped in flaky, presumably fried, dough. They are DELICIOUS. We also had another little pastry thing I had never seen or tried. It was a sweet, doughy outside, with an even dough-ier, sweeter inside. Yes, that is a weird, pretty poor, explanation but that’s sort of all it was. Dough on dough with LOTS of sugar. I wasn’t a huge fan of the texture (think bread dough—sticky), but I was hungry and still ate it.
After our snacks and town, we headed to one last village. This was a village of indigenous people, and it was in a very remote, hilly, forested area. We asked the difference between indigenous people and Bangladeshis, and I guess it is in their appearance but also their culture and way of life. We had to drive for a while to get to the village, but it was on our way out of town. This village specialized in producing bitter leaves and was apparently very well off because of how popular bitter leaves are here. The point of the leaves wasn’t explained that well, but it sounds like people chew on them like they chew on tobacco. They pack it in their lips and/or chew it to get a bit of a buzz. The village was very interesting though, and did seem really nice. It was on a hill and cement stairs led us up the hill, winding through cement/brick, colorful buildings. What looked like hoses brought water to many of the structures. All of the buildings seemed very sound and well built. Also, it was a Christian village. Some missionaries had come through and done a lot of work there and a Presbyterian church was the first building to be seen when entering. We stopped in the temporary school (a new one was being built) and learned about their education system. The school had three teachers and 120 students. The teachers explained how they could really use more, but it was a government school and the government had just hired three for the village. Apparently this village really emphasized education and the students did well and worked hard. For indigenous people, it sounds like there are a lot of higher learning opportunities and posts in the government and other high up positions in the country. However, many students return to the village even after getting higher education to work and live there, since the bitter leaves industry brings in much more money then some of these other available positions.
Walking around more, we also saw a few groups packing the bitter leaves. They sit on the floor with leaves scattered all around them and they quickly pick them up and stack them and then tie three stacks together with a natural-looking rope/vine. This is how they are packed to be taken into town and sold. It was overall a very interesting village to see and much different than the last one we’d seen—or really any areas we had passed on the roads coming in.
After the village, it was time for use to leave. Actually, we were originally going to stay another night, but we decided to head back to Dhaka. We wanted to ensure a good night’s sleep after no sleep the night before and we had already packed in a lot of activity—it would be nice to have a quiet Sunday. Also, traffic is WAY worse on Sunday (it’s the country’s Monday equivalent) and so it would be quicker to head home Saturday night.
The drive back was as scary and crazy as the drive there, but we got back in pretty good time and had a lazy and absolutely delicious dinner right at the hotel. We took hot, much needed showers and went to bed early after a long couple of days.
Sunday, I don’t have much to report other than it was a great day. We had a lazy day--hung out by the pool and read and relaxed. It felt just like vacation. My Dad headed out that night and I stayed in the hotel just one more night and got to have one more delicious big breakfast before returning to my apartment and heading to work and back to the regular routine.
Luckily, the boys came back! They got back Monday night and have been here all week. It sounds like they had a great but hectic two weeks. They spent the whole time traveling through the northern regions staying in each place just for a few nights before moving on. They were overseeing a survey for farmers, trying to learn more about their production and seeds used and some other information that will be useful and used in other studies and by other organizations. While my internship is more centered around data and intervention design they have more of a field/survey-based internship based on their project.
Not too much else to report on this week, but it’s been SO so nice having company again. They may be doing another much shorter field trip in the next few weeks, but I’m hoping it’s not for a while! And hopefully it will actually just be a few days! Ugh, it’s just so much nicer to not be on my own. Anyway, it’s Friday, so we are going to try and do some exploring. I think we are going to head down to Old Dhaka, which is the southern-most part of the city and home to a lot of historical mosques, buildings, and a big fort. There is also a restaurant there that apparently has delicious biriyani, so I think we will go for lunch. It’s currently pouring rain, so I’m not sure how that will affect our plans, but we shall see. Also, it’s almost noon and the boys are STILL sleeping! So, I am just hanging out for now. I will post later about how the day/weekend all goes! I do need to keep up better and after finally catching up from my crazy weekend last weekend, I will be sure to keep the blog more up to date! I’m off, though, I’ll post more later.