Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Speaking of Mud

You can't visit Bangladesh during monsoon season and not talk about the mud.

Today I was up to my ankles in it — until the project people we were traveling with whisked us onto a bicycle rickshaw. This is my view from the back of it, clinging to the bicycle seat with one hand and my dogeared notebook with the other.

But even with the ride I was still caked with mud. I conducted half a dozen interviews with squishy sandals and splattered trousers. No one seemed to mind.

Mud has a way of slowing you down, making you think. I walked through it meditatively, wondering what it would be like to live with it for months of every year, to plant saplings in it, to coax it into bloom. It can be done — I saw the fruits of it today. But having walked a few feet in the shoes of those who do it, I would rather not walk that way anymore.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Road to Khulna

In Bangladesh, goats seek out the warmest part of the road and stretch out there, oblivious to the traffic that flows around them. Motorized rickshaws, battered buses, bicycles carrying chickens, beds, you name it — all jockey for position on roads that are buckled and muddy from monsoon rains.

Drivers honk horns whenever they close in on another car — or whenever they feel like it — a cacophony of street noise.

It's nighttime now in Khulna, but I can still feel the jumble of the road. And I'll fall asleep to the din of car horns honking.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Past and Future

A sail across canals and oceans of time, a voyage so fantastically different from my normal life that I can hardly describe it. That is the last three days in the Khulna region of Bangladesh.

My photographs will come later, as will more descriptions. I'm writing this post now thanks to the generous loan of a colleague's iPhone "hot spot."

But I felt today that I had gone both back and forward in time, seeing a communal past ... and a watery future.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Paying It Forward

Today I flew from Dhaka to Jessore to interview victims of human trafficking. Here are several who became friends through the ordeal and are now growing beans and eggplant together on leased land to pull themselves up from poverty.

Later, we went to a community meeting where a trafficking survivor explained how to safely migrate out of the country. It's her way of paying forward the kindness shown to her after she was victimized.

"It is my pleasure to help others," she said, "so they don't have to suffer as I did."

There people are no strangers to suffering. They live on rice, endure torrential monsoons — and generally work hard for everything they have. But they offered me their only chair and pressed cold drinks in our hands. As we left, they said one of the only English words they know: "Bye bye"!





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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Dhaka in Daylight


Pushing my curtains aside this morning, at first I saw only a gray mist, moisture rising from a thousand rivers and inlets, from the sea that is steadily stealing this country away from the 169 million (about 3,279 people a mile) who live here.

But as the sun rose beyond the haze I could see tall buildings rising, lush rooftop gardens and this view from the breakfast buffet bar.

Almost nine million people live in Dhaka — which means that when it comes to photographing the place, above the fray is the right place to be.


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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Bangladesh Welcome

"It's your Bangladesh welcome, Madame," said the Winrock driver as we sat in snarled traffic on the way from the airport to my hotel in Dhaka.

I was almost asleep. Now that I'm the hotel, of course, I'm wide awake.  Hoping a few minutes fully stretched out on what looks to be a comfy bed will change that directly.

But there are a lot of thoughts and images jangling around in the brain: motorcycles whisking in and out of the traffic, brightly colored tuk-tuk taxis with wire-cage sides, vendors hawking popcorn and peanuts in the gridlock, and, finally, a quiet hotel down a quiet lane. Ahhhh....


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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Taking Off

Writing this post from Dulles Airport, a gateway to the world that just happens to be 15 minutes from my house. Out the window: rain, clouds and the gigantic nose of an Airbus. Inside: people from many nations milling around in search of coffee, water and connecting flights.

I've been planning this trip for months, and will be preparing even in the hours I have en route. But in truth, nothing can prepare me for the people I'm about to meet, the roads and rivers I'm about to travel, the interviews I'm about to conduct.

In the end all I can expect is ... the unexpected. That's what travel is about.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Almost Gone

It's been a day that moved along a little faster than I could keep up with. A day of preparation. Tomorrow I fly to Bangladesh for two weeks to interview (among others) farmers, shop owners and survivors of human trafficking,

I've been planning this work trip all summer, but now that it's here, it feels unreal, as if I'm stepping off the edge of the known world. Terra Incognita.

Before I finish packing, time for a backward glance at the sunny (and sunset-y) world I left behind.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

For the Birds

My favorite is the nonchalant heron that hangs around the fisherman. If a heron could whistle that's what this one would be doing, acting as if he just happened to be strolling down the beach when he came upon this bucket of fresh-caught snapper.

But there are other birds to love here: the brown pelican, the royal tern, least tern, and the endangered black skimmer with its yellowish-orange beak and its cool eye. There's the gawky willet and the adorable snowy plover. There is the gull with its distinctive cry.

There are the birds I've shared the beach with this past week. With them I have gazed at the ocean and walked into the wind. I will miss them ... and a whole lot more.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Sugar Sand

Dotted at discrete intervals around Siesta Key Beach and its village are signs proclaiming it the "Number One" (#1) Beach in America."

The research behind this claim may be a bit suspect (it involves someone named Dr. Beach from Florida International University, so perhaps a bit of state favoritism at work). But still, the list includes beaches from Hawaii to Cape Cod, so there is at least an attempt at inclusion. And if consistency matters at all, Siesta Key Beach has been in the top 10 several times in the past.

But I have something better than Dr. Beach. I have personal experience. And I can verify that this is a great beach, broad and balmy, palm-tree-fringed and full of the softest, whitest sand my toes have ever dug into. The natives call it "sugar sand." And who am I to argue. No wonder this place is so sweet.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Ascending Descenders

The late musicologist Karl Haas, who I still remember fondly from his radio show "Adventures in Good Music," once had a program about "ascending descenders" or something of the sort. He may not have used that term, but his point was to celebrate the impact wrought from notes that descend in pitch but elevate in intensity.

I see the same process at work in the foliage of south Florida. Yes, palm fronds arch up and over in graceful arcs. Though their new growth shoots ever heavenward, they have an earthbound quality, too. Same with the long stringy stems (botanists would know what to call these things) that are perhaps the beginnings of a new branch.

In thinking about the foliage and the music I see a common theme: a celebration of life as it is, the ups, the downs, the beginnings and the ends. Recognizing the nobility in all of it.

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Beach Walkers

Beach walkers are purposeful creatures, and when you hit the strand early, as I did today, you see them in droves: arms pumping, shoulders squared, feet clad in tennis shoes or serious sandals. I fit right in.

For the beach walker, the ocean is a backdrop, the sand a soft cushion for our plantar-fasciitis-prone heels. No shell will tempt us from our mission, which is to make it from the old jetty to the first (blue) lifeguard chair before being overcome by tropical heat and humidity.

But even the most driven of beach walkers can't ignore gulf waters lapping, shore birds peeping, the glorious mixture that is life where land meets sea.


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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Vacation Time

Every year when I'm at the beach I finally fall into vacation time. Never completely. There is always a part of me that is about efficiency and completion. And never right away. It may take days.

I knew it happened this time when I completely forgot about a meeting I said I might attend. It wasn't a conscious slip of the schedule. It was a complete and utter forgetting. And when the reminder text came, it was as if my colleagues were hailing from a distant world.

This world is waiting for me — I'l return to it all too soon — but right now it is deliciously foreign, the sort of place I used to know but have almost forgotten because of the strangeness of its exotic customs.

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Monday, August 7, 2017

Palm Songs

A breeze stirs the palm fronds, setting one against another. They make a gentle tapping sound not unlike rain on water. This is not the sighing of pine boughs. This is a southern sound, a rustle of taffeta.

It can put you to sleep — even when you haven't been awake long. It relaxes and cajoles and leads one outside.

At least that's where it's led me. Hard to think of words and ideas when the palm trees are singing.

Palm trees straight (above) and reflected in pool water (top). 
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