Sunday, October 15, 2006

If this page is jumbled hit Refresh

I have tried to re-format the blog a million times. I'm not trying anymore. The pics are clear, all of the stories are not, so is you are really into the stories, please view them at
try hitting refresh and see if that does anything, especially if you tried to view the blog before.
it's seems one or the other here. alas, i'm new at the blog thing.......

four winds

Friday, September 29, 2006

Enjoy this visual and literary fun!

dolly and rumal at lal bagh fort

29 September 2006

Namaste and Assalam Alaikum Friends! This is the entirity of my summer blog reposted photos and stories too. The few photos above, are somehow appropriate as an introduction to this trip and modern Bangladesh. We were visiting the Lal Bagh historic monument in the center of Old Dhaka, there to learn about history and the Mughals who ruled in the past. All seriousness was put aside as we gawked and snapped photos of the filming of the next 'Dollywood' hit (the nickname for Bangladesh's cinema industry) on the lawn of the Fort. There was the number on hero, Rumal, and his infmaous belle, Dolly. They are the most popular cheap-cinema film actors right now in Bangladesh. The experience was truly something.
These movies, were not talking high cinema here. They are tawdry song and dance numbers, very cheap, very simple, made for the low classes and rickshaw drivers who frequent the theatres. The movies very often times cut to intermittent porn and blue films. I never went to try it out.....
Enjoy the rest of the fun!
Four Winds,
Yoli aka Kurukulla aka France

In Need Of A Pirate Ship

before, during and after, and ancient lost wax method of metal working. dhamrai village, bangaldesh

the trees have taken over the 19th century building of bangladesh former capital, sonargoan

village beauty of paharpur and mahastan

amazing siva lingham and hevajra images at paharpur buddhist monastry ruins. 8th century

the old and new at the gate of the city, dhaka

ancient fountain at the lal bagh fort, 16th cen

pagla (the mad), peep the shirt

above: lal bagh fort
below: me, and lassi satifaction after a visit to the fort

gwen and ann marie---so cute!! emily looking artistic, below

amazing ancient wrathful red tara, 5th cen

Wednesday, September 06, 2006
In need of a pirate ship

Unless i process more of my amazing trip to Bangladesh and India over the summer this is my conclusiory note on blogging, travelling and Bangladesh. First of all, I really like blogging for the fact that the story is down on something written, ready for people to read at their own convenience. I come from a tradition of story-tellers and nowadays no one has time for stories. Here we are, storytellers, waiting on the sideline for people to get off their phones and blackberries in order for us to share the wisdom of experience and life. Well, thanks to blogging all the stories are there, and I have done my job, now it's up to you to read it!

Travelling is still my favorite thing to do. In all astrologies I have majority of Martian (Mars) character, and that means that every 48 hours, I am changing and have to change. A mood will last with me for 2 days. I need to go somewhere every six months, and I'm not just talking a weekend to Detroit, but somewhere fun and adventurous. BUT, air travel is on the way out I say. WAY too stressful. I need a priate ship, because I don't want just any old boat, and I need to sail the seas to get to where I'm going. Flight travel is just too stressful now, and I had a real tough time at my connection in London, missing my flight, for once not my fault, and having to beg on hands and knees to get a flight home. There was no money to stay in London. The best thing is to have no carry-on because it will be hand searched.
I have returned to the states in robes, and that was another thing flagged in the airport. I had a female police officer with me in the entire Dhaka, Bangladesh airport time, a five-time search in London, and some very suspicous looks on the American Airlines flight to Chicago. I need a pirate ship.
I am so very thankful for the Bangladesh trip. In this experience I have gotten over my fear of the government and the Man, and have realized that Uncle Sam can help me in my mission too. There is funding and work out there for someone like me who is working in the field of Religion/Philosophy and the study of Interreligious Dialogue and Ethics. I am developing an expertise that is of help and application in the world and our government right now, and is badly needed.

Bengali culture was not something new for me, like the majority of my fellow program participants, so my time was very easygoing and relaxed. I'm sure I gained five pounds or so stuffing myself with kaccha biryani and fish, and everything fried, which is the style there. I have made so many wonderful friends, and hopefully have fostered relationships that will last into the long future. It is soooooooooooooo important for we Americans to get the real story on Islam, Islamic culture, and 'Muslim countries". Hopefully, anyone who had read this blog now understands that Bangaldesh is a democratic country with a Muslim majority. That is very different from a country run by Muslim law like Saudi Arabia. There is nothing within Islam that does not support democracy, in fact the two are very close to one another.

So I give thanks for all that I have been provided with and for the many, many blessings along the way. I think I am hooked on blogging, as I have discovered now that more people are reading that just I know. So please, interact and let's learn together!
Four Winds,
Kurukulla aka Yoli aka France

Where Did Yoli Go?

aghora chatturdashi puja, august 2006, gangtok, sikkim

the view of deoarli and chorten gonpa, gangtok, sikkim

kanchenjunga peeking through the mountain, the view from our rooftop

Sunday, August 20, 2006
Where did Yoli go?

Hey all! Ten days without email. I had like 1000 messages in my inbox. I just wanted to update the adventures.....I've made it to Sikkim, India, for a few days of battery recharging with my Guruji. Getting here was quite the adventure!

I decided to book a flight, and stop mucking around since my time here in India was so short and so precious. Getting a plane ticket in Dhaka was an adventure in itself, but after a little persistence and stern convincing that the travel agend COULD take my credit card, the next day I was heading for Kolkata, then to the top of West Bengal, then a jeep to Sikkim. When I reached the house to pack, all the student-friends were in a flutter. The news of London and the attempted bombings was plastered on the TV, and they were packing to fly back the the states, via london of course, the following day. Boy was I happy to be going to India.

We had our going-away party in Dhaka the night before I left, so I didn't see much point in sleeping. I made the mistake of sleeping for almost one hour, I should have just kept drinking or something. I definetly spent more time waiting in airports then flying. It was just forty minutes Dhaka-Kolkata, and one hour Kolkata-Bagdogra.

When I reached Silliguri, where I would take a jeep to Sikkim, it was about 100 degrees farenheight (maybe near 39 celcius), and the road was closed to Sikkim because of landslide. Landslide is something quite common here inthe rainy season. The mountains here are full of slate rock and care very young. They continue to move.

Seven hours later, I reached. I was just so excited that it didn't really matter. I will be here for another week, and then, Inshallah (God Willing), I will head back to Chi-town. Not too much time, but more soon--->

Journey Into Bangladesh

me and gwen tony and sumira
the whole group on a trip to the metal-working village of dhamrai

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

our whole group

Journey Into Bangladesh

This is an article that I was asked to write about our trip, and gather a few quotes from other students in its content. If you've read my blog entries, and then read this article, this is me writing for a Bangladesh newspaper. I don't think the information is different, but not so much critical, of course......

Journey Into Bangladesh

By France Yoli Joseph

Eight weeks ago now, fifteen American university students embarked on a trailblazing journey to Dhaka for the Summer Bangla Institute. The first of its kind, this intensive language study program was enabled at the last minute by AIBS (American Institute of Bangladesh Studies), The US State Department, and IUB (Independent University Bangladesh), and is part of a new wave of intensive language study programs that expose students to language and culture in a concentrated format.

Methods of education are changing in the world, and this change is being co-created by both teachers and students. Our groups age range was eighteen to thirty-three years old, and this age range is reflective of the budding generation of leaders, business people, scholars, academicians, and trailblazers on the rise. Education is changing because the world is changing. The internet alone has opened up cultural mysteries, indigenous knowledge, and the level of awareness of the myriad of Peoples who inhabit this one earth.

As a result of the rapid pace of change and development, the time has come that people of different fields need to know about other languages and cultures, in order to survive and grow in our bustling world. This is our purpose in coming to Bangladesh for the summer. Each student in our group is from a different university, some are completing undergraduate degrees and some graduate and post-graduate degrees. Each students studies are focused in different disciplines. Some include religion, development studies, anthropology, linguistics, South Asian film, and international relations. Some in our group were familiar with Bangladeshi culture and South Asian traditions, and some had never even left America before.

No matter what background, Bangladesh was an enlightening and mind-opening experience for each participant. We were ready from the start for our grueling daily schedule which had us in class from 9 am to 4 pm, from Sunday through Thursday. Day one we jumped right in with Assalamu Alaikum and Amar nam , and didnt look back from there. The program is a new step in Bangla language learning, and we were very excited to be its first set of students. We also understood that we would need to be patient and understanding as we would be out of our known place and comfort zones and on top of that learning a new language.

We soon understood that learning Bangla and learning of the Peoples who speak Bangla needed to go hand in hand. We werent here just to learn in a classroom and out of a book, but rather the streets of Dhaka and the lands of Bangladesh were also our classroom. In that way, we had every resource imaginable at our fingertips, although of course it was rather intimidating at first.

When you are in your own land, you are in a known place. You know how to dress, how to speak, how to eat, even going to the washroom. Like fish out of water, in the first few weeks we faced challenges of daily life. For the female students wearing more conservative clothing and realizing the gender differences between our lands was hard to swallow at times. After a week we all knew that it wasnt 40 taka to go from Baridhara to Gulshan 2, and started to get the hang of riding on the rickshaws and not feeling like youre going to fall out at any minute.

By the end of week two we were already speaking, had completed the alphabet, and were ready to bargain hard in the market. The male students were sporting kurtas and the female students were trying a hand at wearing a sari, and of course the challenge of keeping it on throughout the day. We soon learned the secret of the safety pin. We became more adventurous with food, opening ourselves to the daily feast of Bangladeshi cuisine. Mishti dohi, fish-head daal, kaachi biriyani, begun bharta, lassi, chingri dopiyaza, rui maach, kebab, and rosh gula soon became part of our regular vocabulary.

We took several short trips around Dhaka to the Liberation War Museum, Dhakeshwari Mandir, Lalbagh Fort, Dharmarajikha Buddhist Monastery, Dhaka University and more. We had lectures on the Language Movement, The Liberation War, Mughal architecture, contemporary art, traditional metal work from Dhamrai, Buddhist Stupa design, Islam and Hinduism. By the end of four weeks, half of our time passed, all of us we so surprised at the expectations we had come to Bangladesh with and the reality of the culture, language, and traditions before us now.

"Being someone who has never before been to a third world country, the beauty, joy and kindness I have found here surpassed my expectations" Lendy Krantz

"I had no idea what to expect coming to Bangladesh, but I found exactly what I hoped to: a beautiful country, amazing people, and a place that feels like home"

Ann Marie Edquist

We took two trips outside of Dhaka. Our first trip took us to Bogra. We visited the sites of Mahastangarh, Somapura Vihara, Tangail, and a zaminder bari as well. For the first time, seeing the village life of Bangladesh gave us a completely new perspective of the simplicity and grandeur of life here. The green countryside and warmth of the people made us feel so comfortable and at ease. To learn of the international civilizations that existed in these lands for thousands of years is so incredible to us. Our country is a mere 250 years old.

"I was incredibly touched by the warmth of the people in the villages we visited. Entire families led us into their houses and fed us aam and mishti dohi."

Kira Krown

Our second trip was to Chittagong region. Life in Chittagong was eye-opening, especially our trip to the ship-breaking yards. Perhaps one trip to see that side of life and survival in Bangladesh is enough, but it was a real awakening experience to see a desperate environmental scene like that. Where we come from there is a huge awareness of the need to preserve the environment and dispose of waste properly, yet American ships are among the recycled waste parts found in the yards and surrounding markets. Though the scene was hard to swallow, we as non-Bangladeshis are also participants in this industry.

We also visited Sufi shrines, Vaishnava Ashrama, learned of the tribal populations of Bangladesh at the Ethnological Museum, and visited the incredible site Mainimoti (Devaparbata). In just a few days, we witnessed a wide range of life in Chittagong region, from the extreme of wealth to the extreme of poverty. It makes you look at yourself and start to ask where you sit in the picture.

This is another major aspect of participating in a cultural exchange: to learn about yourself. If our environment, language, fashion, and history make our cultural identity, then the journey of getting out of your known element can only help one to learn and grow into a better, more diverse and adaptable human being. To visit so many different cultural and religious sites in Bangladesh made us realize even more that there is a degree of pluralism here that is not present in all places of the world. Bangladesh may appear as economically poor, but Bangladesh is so rich in culture, heritage and tradition.

"Having the opportunity to experience firsthand such a diverse and deep-rooted culture has expanded my worldview and also the way I view my own cultural identity, not to mention giving a much-needed insight on the Bangla language itself."

Gwen Kirk

"Studying development economics in America, I could only understand Bangladesh as a collection of abstract statistics and a few anecdotes. It has been so exciting for me to see Bangladesh as a living country, and the development projects I have seen here are deeply inspiring and thought-provoking." Caely French

We are going back to our homeland awakened to more of our global reality, and knowing more about ourselves. This diverse group will no doubt apply what we have learned into our multi-disciplines, and have a burning desire to share with our communities and the world at large the reality of the traditions and life of Bangladesh and its Peoples. Eight weeks is of course not enough time, but it was enough to leave a wonderful taste in our mouths, and we cant wait to come again for more.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

From Heaven To Hell On A Tour Bus

the resale stores of the shipbreaking yard materials: wood, toilets, metal, furniture etc

hungry holy turtles at the sufi shrine goaldi mosque, 1600 ad

debaparbata aka mainamati, buddhist ruin site, 5th cen ad remains of the central shrine at debaparbata

Monday, August 07, 2006

From Hell to Heaven on a tour bus

This past weekend we embarked on the second of our field trips for this summer program. Our destination was Chittagong district to the southeast of Dhaka. Chittagong borders Burma and it's jungle clad mountains are home to many different tribal Peoples of this area of the world. The northeast of India, Bangladesh, Burma, and Thailand all have tribal populations who still live in a form of their traditional ways, although their land and resources are always sought after. I was fired up to learn more about these traditons and other topics in Chittagong, Bangladesh's economic base city.

Upon the start of our deluxe bus jouney, i saw the signs of trouble on the horizon. We reached our first destinaton Sonargoan, and the museum was closed that day. My ears perked up, because of the few things I learned living in this region of the world, a major law of the land to know, is that one must recgonize when something is not going your way. When you are trying to do something like mail a letter, or travel or buy something and it not working out for you, it is so important to recgonize it and try again or change the plan. If not, disaster strikes and intense frustration sets in.

After walking around the village of Sonargoan and viewing ruins of zaminder (feudel lords) village holiday houses that were being devoured by trees and an ancient Mughal bridge and mosque constructions we boarded the bus to head out for Chittagong and that's when our residental director informed us that he would not be travelling with us and we were in the hands of our tour guides. Trouble! As subtle as this may sound I saw this as the second sign of trouble.

Tour guides here are about making money and skimming as much off the sides as they can along the way. So we ate lunch at a really awful restaurant with half-cooked day-old rice, which was a result of this sketchy behavior. They have some agreement with this restaurant, and get a little something on the side and skim a little something off the top.

After reaching the hotel, another lovely 3-star spot like our last trip for a village experience, it was time for dinner and another argument ensued over what food we were going to eat. Again these guys were trying to skim something off the top and give us the cheapest food possible, especially since we were missing our Director.

Morale was low and our group was beginning to feel like this trip was a total bust. Day two, from hell to heaven we journeyed. I had a look at our itenerary and had to speak up about it. These tour guides are accustomed to taking out a group of Bengalis who want to be herded around like cattle from site to site. They didn't put together a tour for students and researchers who need more time at a place. Maybe even a whole day or half-day.

I decided that if I was going to make it through this trip with my sanity intact, then I would have to speak up about our goings on. So, as many of you know how I do, I took over and started direting things. I whittled down the schedule and changed the timings of our day. Less sites and more rest.....which would prove to be badly needed.

Our first stop, the pits of hell was what we called it, the great ship-breaking yards of Chittagong. Bangladesh accepts about 80% of the world's ship waste. This means that as huge cargo ships die, they are bought in auction, brought to Chittagong, and dismanteled over the course of 6-8 months, BY HAND!! First of all, if anyone had any sense they would have thought that we students have no business going to an unsafe place like that. I'm not talking terrorism and violence, i'm talking about scrap metal sitting around in piles as far as you can see. The air is black with chemical smoke and oil and tar. As we entered one of the 30 ship-breaking yards in Chittagong, Small black bodies covered in soot and oil popped up from various work areas of the yard to gaze at the 15 foreigners who had arrived. Within minutes we had a crowd of at least one hundred men who worked there around us gazing and of course making comments.

At the edge of the shorse sat, five massive cargo tankers all being dismanteled. They are towed in during the full moon high tide, and then sit as a crew comes in to dismantele the entire ship with hand tools and welders. It was the most amazingly disgusting environmental tragedy that I have even seen in my life. The entire group of us were in shock, both at the site, and at the idea that we came to this hell on earth. If someone brought a meter reading nuclear radiation I can only imagine what it would say. Bangladesh is the cheapest country in the world for ship-breaking and is notorious for accepting environmentally hazardous waste ships.

How does this industy effect the surrounding communities? Environmentally they measure that the pollution goes for about 20-30 kilomenters around the area. There was a pond behind the yard that people were taking bath in and washing dishes. I couldn't believe it. That water was basically toxic waste. Just behind the compound people were growing rice and vegetable....and i think also second heads.

The ships are bought in their entirity. So surrounding the ship-breaking yards are vendors of different ship matter. The beds, toilets, fixtures, life bouys, furnitures, wood, metal, ladders, gas tanks, and you name it all for sale. Apparently newly married couples who are starting household come down here to buy things cheap.

We loaded the bus, still in shock to head past all the ship-stuff vendors and onto the Ethnological Museum. This would be our only chance to learn something about the tribal Peoples of Bangladesh. The tribal Peoples of Bangladesh are not very present in the government, but some do run their communities at the local level. Central government decisions, since the time of the British in this region, have exploited these Peoples and taken away their rights of self-determination.

During the trip to the Ethnological Museum in Chittagong, the way Native Peoples are viewed by the mainstream is clear to see before your eyes. Starting with a painting of the 'four races of the world' that looks like a cartoon, to the introductory words that described the tribals of Bangladesh as simple, ignorant of the modern world, and living today in 'half-baked' communities. Wow!

By this point in time we are not hoping for much to an already torturous day. The museum was built in 1962, when Bangladesh was East Pakistan and under the boot of West Pakistan. The museum is a tribute to the tribal Peoples of Pakistan as much as the tribal Peoples of Bangladesh. I couldn't believe that this place was still standing after the Liberation War of 1971. The displays was from 1962, never changed since, and amazingly outdated. By the time we reached there, because of the funnyness of the tour guides we were allotted 30 minutes until hearded onto the next site.

After a quick lunch at the hotel, we were back on the bus for our afternoon sites to Sufi communities of Chittagong. Definetly cool stuff and very relevant to me, but these tour guides had us down, boot on the neck. Since there was very little organization and information being given, the students had no idea where we were or what we were looking at, and that can be such a frustrating experience. So i stepped up and gave as much an intro as i could. That added another element to the power struggles going on amongst the teachers and tour guides. Oh the fun of personality clash!

The first shrine we visited had a strong energy about it. This Persian saint came over with two turtles, whose generations have populated the pond beside the shrine complex. These turtles we some of the saddest turtles I've seen, looking so unhealthy on their shell, skin and eyes. They were lined up at the side of the pond, to receive the offerening of bannanas and bread on little sticks from visiting pilgrims.

From there we travelled an hour and a half to another Sufi community center. This is a living community, centered around a lineage of Pirs (teacher-masters). The central shrine, an artful white dome shaped lilke flower petals houses the shrine of the passed master. His son is in charge now. As we entered, the call to prayer sounded and all the teachers wanted to go for prayer. As they entered they were a bit shocked as the followers did not face the direction of Mecca, but rather faced the shrine of the Pir Baba. After completing prayers, we went for an audience with the son-in charge.

We were hardly involved in the discussion, as the male tour guides dominated the conversation, and were visibly being rude to our head teacher, a woman. They were cutting her off left and right, even when she was translating the discussion for us. It was like the power struggles on the trip were only getting worse, no matter in the pits of hell of the ship-breaking years, or in the shrine of a reveared Sufi master.

Day three we departed from Chittagong, headed for a Vaishnavite (Hindu) community in the area. Once again, I went into lecture mode, especially since it was so visible to the students that our staff was breaking down now. That helped the students, but angered the staff, and made me feel like when will the hellish trip end? People just need to learn how to make the best of things, you know?

After about 3 and a half hours in the bus we stopped for lunch, where? At the same crappy restaurant as on the way to Chittagong. By this time we students are cracking up about the whole thing and can't wait to get home. The bum part of it, as morale was so low, we still had one more site to visit, Mainimati, also known as Devaparbata, one of the greatest seats of Buddhist learning and practice in Bengal.

I for sure was on the let's-make-the-best-of-it team, and the chance to go to the land of great Masters like Tilopa and Naropa was a real gift. So through the perseverence of hell and this trip, we reached Devaparbata, the heavenly abode of the gods. Another ruins site, the museum housed giant bronze images and many basalt and terracotta images found during excavations. Actually, this site is largely unexplored. The old Bengali art style is so incredibly beautiful and was the origin of other Buddhist asthetics found in trans-Himalaya. Some of the images were very resonant and gracefully humbling. I gave a little lecture here too, to whomever wanted to listen, no hands tied. I couldn't let the opportunity go to share my own excitement at being at this place, and getting, just an hour of course, to soak the vibe in.

Devaparbata pre-dates Vikramshila, Nalanda, and Somapura Vihara (where we visited in Bogra on the last trip). Devaparbata's design is similar to Buddhist study and practice centers found in Swat (like Taxilia), modern day Afghinastan-Pakistan. The desings of later monastic learning center are based on Devaparbata including in Java and Sumantra.

The sun was setting as we were being hustled out by the guards, the work day was over and they wanted to go home. It had rained earlier, and with the golden rays of the sun resting on the exposed brick colums of the site's ruins, I gazed behind me at a huge rainbow, a full bow, extending across the entire sky. Ah, at last a good sign.

Amazing Bangladesh

the making of sweets, mixing, rolling, and cooking on the wood fire. below, the finished thing

jute, drying by the roadside
original paintings by jemal

a hindu woman of dhamrai village
the boatman of bangladesh

Saturday, July 29, 2006
amazing bangladesh

I just wanted to write a little note on how floored I am about how incredible this land is. I had a few assumptions before I come here, which is something I really try not to do. But, I assumed that Bangladesh was very poor and that I was going to experience intense poverty and that would be extreemly visible.

Another very important thing I have learned here is that this land is newly poor. This, just one hundred years ago was the wealthiest region of South Asia, and a money pot of the British empire. Colonialism of course weakened the power structure here in Bengal, but it was really the events of Indian Independance and the rein of Pakistan over Bangladesh from 1947-the Liberation War of 1971 that sent the people here into a spiral of poverty and helplessness. Prior to this there was not the picture of Bangldesh that all Americans got in the 1980's. This land took care of itself and provided for its population. Necessities were in abuldance. But faced with the colonial challenge to become capitalistic and be dominated while doing it has made this situation of extreme poverty.

How would I describe Bangladesh?

Deep, Lush, Seasoned, Multi-Layered, and Multi-Dimentional.

It is so clean and neat. Very well put-together and cosmopolitan. Resouceful and innovative. Accomodating, Caring, and Curious.

.....yes I will of course admit that this has been a sheltered experience, but what I am expressing and describing is not the obvious waves at the top of the ocean, but the subtle undercurrents below the surface.