We've Nearly Made It

Hello and Welcome!

Here is everything you need to know about the progress of A Blonde Bengali Wife, the travel book I've written about my love-affair with the fabulous country of Bangladesh.

Publication: Friday 15th October 2010

Launch: Monday 15th November 2010

Sunday, 31 August 2014

(Bangla) Friends Reunited

Having just returned from a whirlwind summer of travel, I'm once again reminded how indebted I am to so many long-standing and new friends for their generous hospitality.  On the most recent trip this ranges from Ger and Jacqui in Ireland to Jose in Washington DC and all the folks in Virginia, to Jay and Charles and Ravi, Valeria and Marla in California and to Guillermo and Dick in Vermont... And the many others who have visited and, very importantly, shared in Simon's 4th birthday!

Of course, there are hundreds of others from Bangladesh - most of them mentioned here on the blog or forever remembered in the pages of A Blonde Bengali Wife - to Tanzania to New Zealand and everywhere in between that are unsung yet treasured.

I can only hope that somehow and someday I manage to pay as many of you back as I can...

Readers of my Bangla musings will have heard countless times about Munnu, Mannu and Bachchu, the three brothers who have made me as near as is possible to a sister.  Well, it's not much but at least this year, I've been able to welcome Bachchu to Edinburgh for a brief but lovely stay and show him our home. 

It was a literal case of friends reunited: Jacqui also met all three brothers (and many other family members) during our visit in 2008 and Allan and Simon met Bachchu earlier this year on our 2014 trip.  A wonderful evening, and let this post be both a genuine, if inadequate, thanks to all of you out there - and a general welcome to anyone passing through Scotland in the years to come!

Anne x


Thursday, 31 July 2014

Freda Runs For Bhola

Writing from sunny California, with a new cluster of people to excite/bore about Bangladesh, I've realised I'm always quite vague about where the island of Bhola actually lies - saying 'right down in the Bay of Bengal' means something to those who know the geography of SE Asia, but there are a lot of us who remain very geographically-challenged!  So here it is:

Map of Bhola Island Bangladesh

The circle shows the position of Bhola's Children, the island on which it is sits is - Bhola.

Our newest Trustee to make the journey is Freda Graf, and Freda is about to undertake a sponsored run (no, not actually to Bangladesh!) to help with the continuous fundraising drive.  I'm attaching the link to the official Bhola's Children website here, first, in case you'd like to support Freda, and secondly because it's a re-vamped website that's well worth a look if you haven't been there recently.

And finally... if anyone has any ideas for other fundraising, please let me know.  The Saltyard evening was wonderful, but I am so unimaginative about thinking of things I could do - and let me state right now, all suggestions gratefully received unless they involve me abseiling off the Forth Bridge.

Hope you're having a good summer wherever you are... We're off to Vermont next.

Anne x

We Need Your Help!

Our Trustee, Freda Graf (in the picture on her first visit to Bhola) will be doing a sponsored run to support Bholas Children. If you would like to support Freda then please visit http://bholaschildren.org/Support Freda for BholaThank you, your support is really appreciated!


Monday, 30 June 2014

The Road to Srimangal

This month I've been thinking about fact and fiction, and especially about the point at which they merge; when something that has happened to you, the writer, is turned - by you or someone else - into a story. 

The programme for the first of my Community Education classes has been 'Writing for Life', which has taken us through writing as a hobby to writing as reflection to writing as therapy... and all points in between.  It has created a lot of very personal writing that has had all the greater resonance because of that, and has highlighted a significant difference between writing the story and telling the story.  Maybe it is easier to control the writing, maybe because it is done in isolation, but once in front of an audience, there is an emotional charge that affects both the writer - and the 'hearer' - and it's a challenge for both.  A very powerful experience.

This term culminated in the class interviewing me: me as myself (fact) with the additional information that I had more or less become the next JK Rowling with a huge publishing deal (fiction).  The results ended in 8 very different (very good) pieces of writing - a great exercise in how and what (and why) individuals hear, interpret and report what they have experience in the same room at the same time.

At the same time, the current focus of my PhD critical theory has been how a novelist creates a totally fictional world.  Surely, however far s/he retreats into imagination, both that fictional world and that imagination can never be totally free of external influence.  In a story, a word, a phrase, a description is never 'just' a word or a phrase or a description, it has been very carefully chosen. IT needs to be authentic, not contrived and rarely coincidental.

Coincidence in fact though, in real life, is a different matter entirely.  And that's abounded too recently.  When we were in Bangladesh in April, we went to Sylhet  and randomly met a local guide at the Five-Layer Tea Shop who offered to show us around a tea estate in Srimangal.  It came to light it was that very same man who, a teenager at the time, had been the porter for a different tea estate, when I first visited there in 2001.  A good story in itself...

Now fast forward to last Saturday on the crowded Edinburgh to London train.  A man walked the length of the carriage, turned and came back to us. 'You were on the Emirates planes from Glasgow to Dubai,' he said.  Yes, I agreed, having no recollection of ever having seen him before.  It transpired he had been on his annual visit home, to Srimangal, to his family business, the Five-Layer Tea Shop.

Would that work in fiction?  Make of it what you will but apparently it's a small world and all roads lead to Srimangal...

Anne x


Saturday, 31 May 2014

Reflections on Bhola

'm bending a self-imposed rule this month and writing more than a couple of paragraphs... stringent self-editing has fallen by the wayside in trying to report everything that happened last month in Bangladesh!

We arrived in Bhola early on the morning of the 9th April.  At this stage, it’s a homecoming for me as I’ve been to Bangladesh a dozen times; Simon at 3-and-a half is on his second visit, and for Allan, a fundraiser and supporter, also from Scotland, it was his first time in SE Asia. 

After the thrill of a ride in our new auto-rickshaw, the children, armed with Bangla flags and bright flowers, were on hand to greet us – a wonderful, warm welcome for all three of us, but clearly Simon was the one they were waiting for… He had a fantastic time playing with the ‘big boys’ and was using sign language in no time; it took him longer to accept the girls as they were too ‘kissy’!  Allan, a marathon-runner was accompanied on his early morning runs by up to 10 boys in flip-flops, on other days Ali led them in a brisk walk.

It was a pleasure to see so many new faces amongst the familiar ones.  A couple of the younger girls had only just arrived and were busily settling in, whereas old friends had – just as they do in all families –  grown up and moved on. Not moved too far though: we spoke to Tasnur and Dilruba, and met Maksud in the street.  Everyone appeared to be happy, well and in good spirits too.  The older children continue going daily to the local primary school.  It’s not easy for anyone, as they don’t have an interpreter, but they are persevering, and signing and lip-reading classes continue in the boundary.  There was much singing and dancing – there always is – and cricket was the name of the game most evenings.

Official awareness programmes and day-long picnics were shelved for this visit, given the average temperatures of 35 degrees, but we managed trips to Valumia (the new access road is shaping up and the pond is being dug out - very slow and hot work), Supari Bagan, the river, the second bridge and Bhola town.  One highlight was the ‘water melon’ trip: Ali, the three of us, 32 staff and children, and twenty gigantic watermelons on an outing in the tractor; with the crowds that followed, there was plenty of unofficial awareness-raising!  .
It’s a tradition that with the arrival of a direct financial donation, a small portion is shaved off for an outing or other special treat.  This way, says Ali, the children learn to forge a link with the outside world and to celebrate their donors and supporters worldwide.  So this watermelon picnic came courtesy of the money raised by Saltyard – and was enjoyed by one and all!  The remainder of the very generous £535 raised will be put towards a couple of specific projects: mainline gas – finally – has come to Bhola and funding buys the correct fittings so that cooking over a wood-burning fire in temperatures of 40 degrees is no longer essential.  It’s also the time of year to brave the bazaar and buy cloth by the yard, from which the girls will sew all the clothes and school uniforms required, and make the tablecloths and bedcovers that bring in a little extra income.  The rest of the money is safely in the bank, a contingency for – literally – a rainy day.
Our last day coincided with the Bangladeshi New Year and Nahian’s ninth birthday, so an evening party, with Ali’s signature dish of ‘sweet rice’ – and when the Bangladeshi’s call something sweet, they really mean it – and a lot of fun and games.

There were the usual types of challenges! The new air-conditioning unit on the third floor continually blew the electrics and added to the thrice daily power-cuts… Eventually the very tenacious electrician triumphed (at 11pm) and the system, used sparingly, is a welcome addition. The microbus kept breaking down due to the lack of clean fuel but again, was eventually fixed and fixed again, and, best of all, the brand new gas supply, promised to Bhola Island for years, finally arrived.  This long-awaited main-line gas means there is a viable alternative to the outdoor wood-fire method of cooking, which is welcome during the hottest of days and the wettest monsoon.
On the plane on the way home, Simon asked me, wistfully, if he could, please, have four big brothers, ‘just like my new friends in Bhola.’ Clearly, Ali and Bhola’s Children worked their usual magic on all of us and I remembered over again why this is such a very special place and part of my very extended family.  I would say it was one of the best of visits… except that I say that every time...

Monday, 28 April 2014

Bhola, Bangladesh - April 2014

If a picture speaks a thousand words, then let the pictures speak!

The long-awaited trip back to Bangladesh seems to have come and gone in the blink of an eye: Dhaka, Bhola, Srimangal... here are just a handful of the very many highlights...

Hot off the plane(s) in Dhaka, and Ali secures us our rickshaw chariot

Arriving in Bhola by overnight launch

The new tractor-trailer - carrying 32 of us altogether

38 degrees but work to build the new road goes on


Cooking - but mainline gas has arrived!

Picnic breakfast for Bangla New Year

Allan leads the exercises...

Sunset on Bhola

Allan took the photos, Simon fitted in as if he'd never been away, and Bhola's children, staff Ali were as fabulous as only they can be.  More about what we did and how the home and school are progressing next time.

Thanks to everyone who's supporting us (and anyone who has any exciting fundraising ideas - please let me know!)

Anne x


Saturday, 22 March 2014

Spooks, Secrets and Suspects: A Play

As tutor of this highly talented, committed and hugely fun group, I can safely recommend that anyone in Edinburgh and free for an hour on Thursday will enjoy this.  Of course, the writing is good, but we're famed for our refreshments too...


Friday, 28 February 2014

CurryFest at the Saltyard - All Welcome!

If a blog isn't a perfect place for shameless advertising, then where is?

There is a wonderful café on Dalry Road, Edinburgh, called The Saltyard.  The rumours might be true about Simon and I spending quite a lot of time there... but I promise you, so would anyone who lives a hop, skip and jump away.  I've certainly been there enough to get talking about Bangladesh and the lovely staff - without coercion, persuasion or hints, honest - suggested Saltyard host a fundraiser for Bhola's Children.

Tickets are now available for this excellent evening, and everyone is welcome!  Details follow... It would be lovely to see anyone who is local enough to drop in on Friday evening.

'A feast of curry for your senses'
Saltyard Café
158 Dalry Road
Friday 7th March
Curry Supper
Table Quiz
Bangla Music & Photographs
Tickets £4.50; £1.50 (children); £10.00 (family)

The lucky prize winners will receive a copy of A Blonde Bengali Wife and I will be doing a 5 minute talk about Bhola... but don't let that put you off!  The food alone will compensate, and the company will be second to none.

Anne x