20 October 2008

back on this side of the globe

neighborhood streets • our transportation • beach

Well, I got back from Bangladesh last Tuesday, and am just now beginning to get into a state of wanting and knowing how and what to even say about the experience. I am sure that words will never be able to express the feelings and life-changing moments that happened on this trip...but I do feel an obligation to at least try and give a bit of news. 

I will probably write about specific events throughout the next month or so on this blog, but for my first post back, I'd like to give a small summary...And where words fall short...hopefully images (photos and video) can begin to fill in the gaps.

street kid with a citrus rind hat • tea room helpers • women & children from a beach village

After a nice 3-day stopover in Italy, making the rounds to see many friends, enjoy the food, and even take in a few hours alone in the rose garden overlooking Florence - I arrived in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh. My friends picked me up and since Eid (the festival after Ramadan) happened to be during my few days there, my flight was delayed even more and so I enjoyed some holiday celebrations in this crowded city, before finally heading down to Cox's Bazar on my 4th day in the country.

The first few days were spent jumping right in with the team from Surfing the Nations, who had already been working there for a couple of weeks. Over the past 4 years, this group has helped established a surf club (where no one had even seen a surf board before), and through that are teaching the boys responsibility, appreciation for all classes of people, and giving them a hope that wasn't in them before.

visiting a family in a grass hut • outside the hut • surf club

Even as I write this, I'm on the verge of erasing it all and not even trying to put this down, as I know I'll never give it what's due...as the impact this was having on the community was unmeasurable. It never occurred to me what a deep influence that something as simple as a surf club could have on a place like Cox's Bazar...but being there for a couple of weeks, seeing the growth in the kids, and feeling the irreplaceable relationships building - it is undeniable.

at the surf competition • surfers with their boards • me with some of the girl body-boarders

There were so many individual stories happening in and around the surf club as well...like a homeless boy who was hit by a car, that we met begging on the streets, was taken in by the group, and daily taken to the doctor, found a new home to live in, and two of the local surf club boys were taken along everyday to oversee the help given to this small boy. I saw such maturity and a new appreciation for all people grow in those boys over the weeks, that I know not only was the homeless boy's life changed, but so were those of the surf boys. Countless stories like this were encountered everyday, plus we were able to visit several villages and a refugee camp to distribute clothes, food, and basic medical supplies.

faces from the Burmese refugee camp

This year, we put on a surf competition which gathered so much attention, that over the entire time I was there, 2 Al-Jazeera news crews came and followed us around, the BBC, 2 Bengali news reporters, a team from Lonely Planet, and even a few independent photo-journalists found and interviewed the team for stories. On the day after the beach competition, the police called our team leader in for questioning (along with the teams' passports)...and we all waited to hear what could have gone wrong. Come to find out, the police had been watching the display we'd been doing on the beach, and want (along with the Bengali government) to back us in anything we do from now on...whether it be granting permits, training and giving lifeguard support, helping to publicize, etc. because they see the change that we've already had in the community, and see the further positive effects we can continue to have on the area (economically and socially). This was a huge blessing that we never expected...and we were all in awe of how this small act is already having big effects for this impoverished country.

With many tears I tried to say goodbye, but more naturally said "I'll see you again"...as to the entire team, it just felt natural that we'd be there next year.

Here is a video that gives just a small look into our time. It was done by our good friend Russell, who is an amazing film-maker, and who came along to film this documentary.
*some notes on the clip: 1) The shots on the beach with the Hindu idols and a sea of people, is the Durga Puja Festival which warrants a separate post all together...one of the most amazing displays I've ever seen. 2) There are several shots of Kahana, who is a former pro surfer and came with Russell (both working for the humanitarian clothing company, Jedidiah) to be a part of this project - and became an invaluable asset to the team with the local surf boys.

Bengal Visual Montage from Russell Brownley on Vimeo
Words from Russell:"Some images from my recent trip to Bangladesh. Its is a glimpse into a documentary that I am working on about a surf club in Bangladesh. Many of the children are street kids or come from very poor families. Some don't even know how to swim, but their love for surfing brings them together and into a way of life they never even knew existed. An ocean that was once deemed off limits due to fear and a very conservative Islamic culture, is now becoming source of fun, escape and even a chance for a way to make a living. Hope to have the full film done early next year. Enjoy."