Apnara amader bondhu

It was not easy for me to decide exactly how to do the reports on the trip to Bangladesh. It was impossible to publish a webpage update while in Bangladesh, unlike while I was in Germany. Thus, I created a large Bangladesh report in the “Travel” section. Here, I offer an overall assessment and reflections on the trip. First, you may be wondering about the title. It means you all are our friends. After such a long episode of silence and absence of correspondence, many of you felt that we had abandoned you as friends. That is simply not true. There was a combination of 1) poor internet connections, 2) mac incompatibility, 3) inability to download appropriate programs to connect my mac, owing to large program size and slow internet connections, and 4) suspicion that the Bangladeshi government was keeping an eye on correspondence. It was not that we felt that we might say something that offends our Bengali friends, but only that we wished to avoid even a remote suggestion of wrong-saying or wrong-doing. Thus, our silence.

So, reflections on our trip. Many of you have written to us, acknowledging the sacrifice that we have made to serve the Bangladeshi people. I guess that Betsy and I don’t really view it as a sacrifice. What were our motives? I hope they were genuine, in having a love for the people we served. I certainly have a much deeper compassion for reaching out as a Christian to the Bangladeshi people and other unfortunates in this world. Perhaps there was also this curiosity, or spirit of adventure. Perhaps Betsy and I were “absolving sins”. I hope not. I leave with two thoughts. 1) I have the most extreme respect for Memorial Christian Hospital, and their ability to not only provide medical care to the mostly Muslim community that we served but that they were also able to deliver the message of salvation only through Christ, in a consistent and honest fashion. 2) I have acquired the utmost respect for the long-termers, who faithfully work year after year, mostly unthanked, mostly unregarded, yet they serve without grumbling or complaining, delivering medical care and spiritual hope with joy and gladness. For this reason, I have listed a few people in the trip section that have especially been an influence to me.

But, what about Bangladesh? My biggest surprise was the number of people in this country. When you look at a map of our area of stay in Bangladesh, you see only two cities, Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar. Yet, except for a few rice paddies and rivers, it is almost wall-to-wall people between those two towns, with many large villages between. And, Chittagong has a population of about 4-5 million, Cox’s Bazar of a million. Dhaka itself is roughly 15 million people. The country has about 160 million people, in a state the size of Wisconsin. It is the equivalent of moving everybody east of the Mississippi into the state of Illinois. If you look on a map, you will not even see the town of Chabigong where our hospital sets, yet the 30-mile radius around the hospital has approximately 6 million people. Except for the Chittagong hills, which are not terribly high, it is essentially flatland and a giant vacuum for typhoons. In spite of the crowdedness, they grow 95% of their food, and unfortunately, also grow a poor quality of tobacco, and poor quality rubber (the rubber starts out okay, but poor standardization of processing ruins the quality of the product).
There are four main religious groups in Bangladesh, being Muslim (approx. 90%), Hindu/Buddhist (10%), Animists mostly found in the Chittagong Hills (?%),  and Christian (less than 1%). Buddhists are mostly located in the strip of land south of where we are. Hindus live sporadically throughout the country but tend to stick to their own sections of town, living together. Wealthier Hindus will also own land in India, owing to a serious lack of trust of Hindus for their more dominant Muslim neighbors. Muslims seem to dominate the scene. Many mornings, they will wake us up at 5 am with prayers roaring over the loudspeakers (their god is now slightly deaf), or late at night on Thursday. They tend to be reasonably pleasant folk as a whole, and we have found many of the Muslims to be quite enjoyable.
But, we also see the problems of the Muslim religion. It is definitely a man’s religion, and the wives are often treated no better than dogs. Besides an obliteration of their personality through the Burkha, they are expected at all times to remain at home, while their husband socializes at the local tea shop or town square. We have seen many instances of husbands dumping their wives when they fail to deliver the desired boy child. Joy seems to be totally absent from their religion.  It’s hard to not imagine that religion maybe play some role in the prevailing morals of this country. When one venture to the wealthier Muslim countries, one doesn’t see the situation any better. Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and many others have no freedom of religion, and Muslim converts are usually put immediately to death. The situation is only slightly better in Bangladesh. We get many patients in our hospital from Saudi Arabia. Bengali workers will go to the Middle East with the lure of money. It is not uncommon for serious injuries to occur to these migrant workers, since the Bengalis are given the worst and most dangerous jobs. If they have any life left in them at all after an injury, they are usually thrown on the next airplane back to Bangladesh. If you think that the Saudis have any value for human life, think twice. The appeal of their religion remains a mystery to me. Muslim is the only religion that teaches their children to hate at birth. The more religious the Muslim is, the greater the scowl you get from them on the streets. Yet, even the most radical bitter Muslim will soften after a time in our hospital, seeing that we truly care for them, and have no intention of shoving religion down their throat. The less religious will often return a smile once they realize that you are looking upon them as a person and not just as a “Muslim”. It is certain that unloving Christians have done more harm than good.
Again I am NOT saying that all or that even the majority of Muslims are mean and nasty because we have become friends with many kindly Muslims, such as the Mayor of CB, though they often tend to go unnoticed sitting quietly on the side.
Hindus tend to not exhibit the passivity that would be expected from their religion. They can be violent when they are in the majority. Sadly, we have seen this behavior even in Christian countries. All in all, there seems to be a common behavior of man, in spite of their religion. This confirms the Christian doctrine of the total depravity of man. Man cannot escape their “mannishness” through religion. It is sad to see that as the west escapes from its Christian base, we are reverted more and more to the prevailing behavior and moral base of the rest of the world.
The tribal people are hated by all, especially the Muslims, which leads to the tribals having a very poor image of the religion that dominates the country. This leads to serious unnecessary oppression of the tribal people by the Muslims, increasing the hate factor between the two peoples. I find the tribal people to be the most friendly folk, and there are many tribals at the hospital that we’ve gotten to interact with.
I suspect that there will be a day when white ex-pats will be asked to leave the country of Bangladesh. That day is possibly soon, as economic jealousies and racial tensions, as well as Muslim fundamentalism, intensifies in the country. I pray that the Christian Nationals in the country have the fortitude to stand for Christ, even when it means persecution or death.
What have we accomplished personally by the trip? I was able to catch up a little on my reading, going through 33 books on the trip. We (Betsy and I) had our first real experience with third-world medical missions. We had much time together in devotions, and in really thinking about our plans for the future. It was a great time to escape our culture and see the world through the eyes of a non-European. It was a time that we hope to repeat. We will probably keep our trips a little bit shorter, but hopefully, will be able to do at least one trip somewhere each year. And, hopefully, that will mean returning to Malumghat more times in the years to come. We have new friends on the complete another side of the globe, that are dearer than most of our acquaintances (friends) at home. I’m not sure we will ever be the same, once we return home.
Coming home has had minor challenges. It’s called foggy brain syndrome (jet lag). I’ve never been hit worse with it. It has disoriented cay and night for me and Betsy to the extreme degree so that we are getting barely nothing done. We’ll have to try to figure out a solution.
I should be posting additional thoughts and reflections on our trip in blogs to come. This whirlwind trip left us with many questions and thoughts that we will need to explore in the coming months. Our next medical mission in coming up in late September through November, and hopefully, a restful summer will provide more time to meditate and prepare ourselves for the work ahead.
For a blow-by-blow account of our trip to Bangladesh, please turn to the section on “TravelBlog”. I have tried to be discrete in my discussions and to not leave anybody out. Considering the technical difficulties that I had, I may have inadvertently said something too strongly or offensively or failed to mention somebody. Please graciously drop me an e-mail if you feel that have noted a website problem, and I’ll do my best to immediately correct the issue.  Note that I have divided the Bangladesh account into three sections to allow for easier editing and downloading.
I will be giving slide shows of various other aspects of this trip, such as the work at the hospital. I would normally include it on the webpage, except that it would be photo-heavy and quite laborious to download. Also, I am using iWeb, which is acting upon me and behaving unbearably slow. It took me about 36 frustrating hours to accomplish what usually takes me about two in making up this website. I’ve figured out pretty much what I’ve been doing wrong, and will be re-designing this site for more speed. In the meantime, it is forcing me to do a smart move, which is to reorganize my website with a “blog” style for all my entries. This will allow you to comment on particular book reviews, trips, etc. You should see this organization on my next post.