Thursday, February 26, 2009


A rickshaw is a bike with a seat for two or three people in the back. A wallah is the driver of a rickshaw. Normally a rickshaw costs around 20-25 takas (40 cents) for a ride that lasts 10-20 minutes. A rickshaw driver usually rents his rickshaw from an owner. He earns about 100-200 taka a day after paying the rent. We usually travel in the town. If there are two people on the rickshaw you sit side by side. If there are three people, one person sits on top of the seat with their legs around someone and their feet on someone's lap, and the other two people sit side by side. It is fun because it is not as noisy as a car. It is not fun when you have to go over big bumps like train tracks. I have seen so many rickshaws that I cannot count them. A woman has never been a wallah because women in Bangladesh have to be at home taking care of everyone, including the house.

This boy is not a wallah. He just wanted to be in the picture. Wallah's are teenage boys or adult men.

Monday, February 23, 2009

In Bangladesh

Written by Danielle, Simon and Pam while John is teaching English

We are all learning to write our names in Bangla script.
What we’ve been eating in Bangladesh

Since coming to Bangladesh we have had rice for two meals a day. We are not cooking our own meals, so we are eating Bangla food everyday. Curry is served with each meal. Most of the time there is chicken with the curry. It is spicy. Another typical dish that we have with almost every meal is dahl. It is a type of curry that looks like soup. We also have mixed fried vegetables like onions, potatoes, cauliflower, cabbage and peppers mixed with curry. Sometimes there is fish instead of chicken.

For breakfast we have roti and fried eggs. Roti is a flatbread like a big tortilla.

After eating the same thing for two weeks, it is starting to taste like cardboard.

We often eat with our hands, only our right hand. The left hand is for using in the bathroom. Don’t worry, we still use toilet paper that we bring ourselves. When eating with your hand, you mix all the different foods together with the rice. When everything is mixed together then you eat it. It is important to wash your hands before and after each meal.
We went to a wedding in Birisiri. This is the rice that was prepared for all the guests.

The only place to find pizza and spaghetti is in an American restaurant in the capital city of Dhaka. We have not been to one of these places yet. We are looking forward to going next week.

Where we’ve been staying in Bangladesh

We have stayed in three different places in Bangladesh. When we arrived we stayed in Dhaka for only a few days. We stayed at a guesthouse that is like a simple hotel. Most of our time has been in the city of Mymensingh. It is north of Dhaka.

When we are in Mymensingh we live in an apartment. We have a cook named Bipul. He only cooks Bangla food. At the apartment there are lots of kids around who like to play cricket and badminton. They like to stand and play very close to us, so we have to be careful that no one gets in our way, or gets hurt. We bought a cricket bat at a fair, and badminton raquets at a small store.

We are in the town of Birisiri, which is close to the northern border with India, for ten days. We are staying at the YMCA. It costs $5.00 at night for a room. We think maybe it would get a half-star rating. Fortunately it is not dirty, just run down. And the only bugs are lots of mosquitoes at night. We sleep under a mosquito net.

We have traveled from Birisiri to several different villages. We often travel by motorcycle. It is fun. Danielle wrote a song about riding on a motorcycle. The scenery is beautiful. We see many rice fields. We also see the hills that make up the border with India. The air is much better in Birisiri and the villages than in the other cities. However, the villages and travelling on the dirt roads is very dusty.
This is Danielle (and Simon) riding on the back of a motorcycle near Birisiri.

What we are wearing in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh all women wear a sari or a salwar kameez and orna. A sari is one very long piece of cloth that is wrapped around your body many times. A salwar kameez is a long shirt worn over baggy long pants, and the orna is a scarf you wear around your shoulders. The saris and salwar kameez come in many different colours and patterns. Danielle and Pam each have two salwar kameez.

Many men wear shirts and long pants. Almost all the farmers and rickshaw drivers wear a shirt and a lunge. A lunge is a piece of cloth wrapped around your waist like a skirt. Simon bought a lunge in the market. His is blue with white stripes.

Staring in Bangladesh

In the Bangladesh travel book it said that it is very common for Bangladeshi people to stare at foreigners. We experience this all the time. It is also very common for crowds of people to form where you are standing. Here are four questions we are asked more than once every day: “What country are you from?”, “How long are you staying in Bangladesh?”, “What is your name?”, and “What do you think of Bangladesh?”

Everyone we have met has been very nice to us. They tell us how happy they are that we have come to visit their country. Everywhere we visit we have to sit and drink tea and eat cookies. The tea is very, very sweet. Simon and Danielle have drunk more tea in Bangladesh than they have in their entire life. They like all the sugar, and they like the cookies.
Not many people come to visit Bangladesh but they are missing a country with beautiful people.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Day at Elephant Nature Park

by John

You've heard a few snippets about Elephant Nature Park (ENP). I'd like to give you a general idea of our time there.

A typical day was:

7:00 - Breakfast. After our long days this required several alarms each morning.
8:00 - Chores. Scooping oxen poop, elephant poop or cat poop.
9:00 - Project. This could be cleaning the oxen poop from the elephant mud pit; building a fence for a poop pit (do you sense the theme here?); or some other project. One morning we went to a local school and tried with limited success to entertain them with some camp songs.
11:00 - Feeding the baby elephant.
11:30 - Elephant feeding. Feeding them bananas, squash, corn from a large platform.
12:00 - Lunch. A huge buffet of Thai food and fruit.
1:00 - Elephant bathing. A walk to the river to splash and scrub the elephants.
2:00 - Project. This was cutting banana trees for food; vanishing a bamboo house; or, hiking to Elephant Haven/Heaven.
4:00 - Afternoon feeding and bathing.
5:00 - A video or talk or some free time. Almost all the bits of free time we had the kids helped out making elephant food, husking corn or de-seeding pumpkins.
6:30 - Dinner. A scaled down version of lunch.
7:30 - A talk, a cultural activity, a Thai massage or a bit of school work.
9:00 - Lights out after a look at the stars.

As an added bonus to the week there was another family at the park (from Denmark) and 13 children from an orphanage on the Burma/Thailand border. This is the most children they have had at the park and they did well to accomodate everyone.

During our time there we heard the stories of many of the elephants (there are currently 36 at ENP), got to know the behaviours of the elephants and gained a good understanding of what ENP is trying to do. Our time here was rewarding and educational, and affected our outlook on animal treatment.

Saving a Tree

by Simon

In the picture I am saving a tree in Elephant Heaven. The Elephant Heaven was made by Lek before Elephant Nature Park (ENP). Lek and every other staff member's goal is to stop elephant trekking, begging and circus acts, and to stop the cruel way they train elephants for these things.

We want to save the trees because when people cut them down they are destroying the elephants' habitat. By destroying their habitat they will make the 600 wild elephants in Thailand decrease in number by more each year.

The crazy thing is that there are also 1500 domesticated elephants. That's like three time as many as wild. Many of them used to be involved in logging until it was banned. Now these umemployed elephants are used for trekking and other tourist things.

The robes that you use to save a tree come from a Buddist temple, and they have holy water on them. The reason you can't cut down a tree with a non-faded robe is people believe cutting the tree will give you bad luck for the rest of your life. The reason I say, "non-faded," is because if it is faded you can cut it down and not have bad luck. We saw trees with several old and new robes on them.

I really liked Elephant Heaven but I only got to stay there for one night. I stayed at ENP for seven days minus the day in heaven.

My favourite things to do at ENP was feeding the elephants and cleaning their mud pit. We fed them corn, bananas, winter melon and pumpkin. Two times a day you feed them by placing the food close to their trunk, then they grab it by curling the end of their trunk around the food and putting it in their mouth.

The elephants like to play in the mud pit after having a bath in the river.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why I Didn't Ride an Elephant in Thailand

by Danielle

Everyone thinks that Thailand is famous for riding elephants. I thought so too! So, I was looking forward to riding an elephant at the place we stayed called Elephant Nature Park (ENP).

At the Elephant Nature Park they rescue badly hurt elephants and treat their wounds, and give them positive reinforcement. Lek is the founder of the place and she would do anything if it meant saving all the elephants in the world. She even already changed her family name because her family did not agree with her.

On the first day at ENP we saw a movie about why they don't ride elephants at the park. They don't ride elephants because when all elephants in Thailand are 3 or 4 years old their owners put them in something called a crush. It is a small wooden box and they put nails on the end of a stick and poke the baby elephant for 3-7 days. The crush is part of the training of elephants for riding, painting, logging and street begging.

Lek says elephants can be trained with love. Pom was the second person to work with Lek. She can get an elephant to kiss. It started when Pam put some cream on her leg and the elephant liked the smell so it gave her an elephant kiss.

I loved giving the elephants a bath two times a day. And I even liked the elephant kiss.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Saying Goodbye

Our time in the Philippines has come to a close and we’ve had to say many sad goodbyes. We experienced the hospitality of the Philippines and the kids said they did not want to leave because they’d met so many special people.

Apart from visits to the hospital and seeing sights, you may be wondering what we did during our time here. We spent time doing school work, hanging out with our new friends and some volunteer work with CRWRC. The children were able to volunteer at a Christian school similar in size to the one they attend at home. For several mornings they worked with the kindergarten class – reading, teaching some games, and helping with learning activities. Pam met with several local churches to talk about how they identify service opportunities in their communities, similar to the work she does back at home. John made a trip to the south of the Philippines (Butuan in Mindanao province) to visit a number of projects and made some comments on environmental issues.

Our time here gave us a good perspective of what CRWRC is doing in the Philippines. Joe Lamigo is the team leader and we have history with Joe that goes back 15 years when we all worked in West Africa. He has faithfully worked to develop partnerships and networks that are doing great things. One of the projects John got to see was a peace building group. They have amazing stories of brokering peace in an area near Butuan. This is being followed up with community development that offers people hope and opportunities for a sustainable livelihood.

White Beach and Pagsanjan Falls

Sorry - the computer we're working with today doesn't have enough muscle to let us load pictures. We'll update with photos soon ....

We love to be on, in or under the water. The Philippines is an archipelago of 7000 islands, so you can imagine there is lots of water around to enjoy. We’ll share with you two experiences – one involves beautiful white sand and clear blue water at White Beach; and, the other involves muddy brown water that cascades and flows out of the hills in the southern part of Luzon island at Pagsanjan.

Our trip to White Beach started with a bus ride in very windy weather. There was talk of a typhoon coming but when we got to the ferry in Batangas the seas were relatively calm. And the water was fairly calm for most of the trip but our little outrigger did take in some water, and there were some green looking people when we finally arrived at White Beach.

It is a small community, basically a small strip of restaurants, souvenir shops, dive shops and more restaurants along the beach. We stayed in a small seaside chalet and ate every meal with our feet in the sand. John took an introduction to scuba diving course and spent a full hour under water exploring a reef. As a family we snorkelled at a coral reef and around some huge oysters (unfortunately we do not have a waterproof camera so you’ll have to imagine the photos). Danielle got her hair braided and Simon managed to escape without a tattoo.

The area surrounding Pagsanjan Falls is considered the “Hollywood” of the Philippines. Many people will say that you have not seen the Philippines if you have not been to the falls at Pagsanjan. There are several falls set in a lush ravine and boatmen paddle and pull you up the river and then steer you back down. We travelled there with a group of students from Dordt College who were filming in the area. The falls were nice and all but what has caused the most discussion in our family was the pressure to tip. When we paid for our tickets we were told what an appropriate amount for a tip was. The whole way up the river the boat men would huff and puff and make a dramatic scene of the effort they were expending along with comments about “hard work ma’am”. There was no other discussion or attempt to be a friendly host. Just a lot of talk of the hard work and need for a good tip. For me a tip is expected in some situations (i.e. a restaurant) and sometimes can be considered a wage (i.e. airport porters) but a generous tip (i.e. a bonus) is for work above and beyond the call of duty. In the end our tip was deemed inadequate by our boatmen. That was OK by me and I think there are many other situations that we have come across more worthy of tipping.

PS – we had a great time hanging out with the Dordt students for a few days. The CRWRC people helping them out organized a Balut Night (Google that if you don’t already know). Pam and Simon had a little taste (but not the whole thing) but we certainly couldn’t keep up with the students – some of whom had more than one. For what its worth we did eat the durian and enjoyed it. Durian is a fruit famous for its bad smell.