When you travel do you ever run into something really strange that makes you want to do a double take? That is what goats on the roof was for me. That strange occurrence where you can’t exactly be sure if that is what you are really seeing and yet at the same time it feels completely normal. Nothing out of the ordinary, just drove past and was like, “Hey there is a goat on that roof.” It makes sense knowing that many people often participate in rooftop farming; and yet it was unreal actually seeing a live goat staring at you from a roof as you drove by. This brings up lots of question for me. For one, why do I find incidents like this strange? How can I make an impact in international development when I enter a country to help as a complete stranger? How do I appear walking down the street; am I someone else’s goat on a roof?
As the team travelled today from Dhaka to Mymensingh district to visit the Bangladesh Agricultural University I mulled over these questions. The trip is about 3-5 hours depending on traffic so we left very early in the morning in order to avoid any possible trouble with the ongoing blockade. It was nice to be able to travel a little out of the capital in order to explore the country more and understand how more rural universities operate.
As soon as we entered Mymensingh I fell in love with the city.
It reminded me a lot of parts of Freetown and Cairo. Small streets with mainly rickshaws, motorcycles, and CNGs operating. Little shops covered all open sidewalk space and despite the few precious inches of walking room vendors set up more tiny street stalls and food carts. The constant sound of honking, yelling, and bicycle bells filled the air and I loved every second. It’s that feeling when you get somewhere that tells you that you belong there. When looking at colleges, everyone always says that you will know you belong on a campus. I never felt that way about a place until Cairo. When I got to Caro it felt like I belonged there. There have been a few other cities where it felt like I fit, like I was part of that place; Copenhagen, Stockholm, Istanbul, Kisumu, Krakow; and now Mymensingh.
This afternoon we decided to visit a museum that contained the works of Zainul Abedin.
He was an artist from the 1930s until the 1970s and his sketches of the famine in the 1940s were viewed worldwide and he is considered the father of Bangladeshi Art. His sketches were very beautiful and it he included plenty of different perspectives and variety of angles in his work. The grounds surrounding the museum were gorgeous as well with gardens and flower patches scattered around and flower trellises hanging off the front arches.
Following the museum we decided it would be interesting to take a boat ride on the Brahmaputra river.
This is one of the three major rivers in South Asia and is truly a life force in the region for agriculture. In the middle of the river is a large sand barge that has been claimed as farming land by a variety of different people. This farming would not be possible in the sandy soil without the water from the nearby river. It was peaceful to float down the river and watch as other groups of students relaxed in the sinking afternoon sun. As someone who has always lived close to water I don’t think I could go for very long with seeing a lake or a river, it just seems to have a calming effect on one’s disposition.
As we docked on the sand barge we found what Hill has termed “Farm of Cuteness.” He was very accurate in that name, there were baby goats, sheep, and chicks that were just begging to be oohhed and awed over. Hill even got to hold one of the baby goats.
However, we quickly stopped all notions of him bringing it back to CIPA. After exploring past the farm we vised a Krishna temple. I was shocked at the warm reception we received. The priests greeted us and provided us with a small snack of a dried milk sweet cake, apples, and oranges. One of the practitioners that spoke fairly decent English was more than willing to explain the practices of the temple and the challenges they had communicating with the city.
Before heading to dinner the team decided to explore the BAU campus before our meeting with the Vice Chancellor in the morning.
While there, Calvin proved to be the star of the show as students asked to get pictures with him. However, myself and Hill also got to star in some of our own photos.
After meeting up with some of Shamir’s friends we were able to walk through the gorgeous botanical gardens on campus that are used for research purposes by the faculty and students.
As the day ended, I think the answers to my questions I had asked myself at the start were beginning to form. Despite past travels, each new destination for me will be unique and bring about challenges in and of itself. Just because I have travelled to developing countries before doesn’t necessarily mean that I have the experience needed for a new culture. I need to keep my mind open and be willing to learn new things. Going into development work I need to rely more on local contexts. Instead of immediately finding fault in a practice I need to take the time to understand what is happening and to look at the consequences that can come to a local community from development. It is a challenge and will involve constant innovation and reflection but it is necessary for sustainable development.