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, 30 November 2014

Dinah and Freda in Bhola

Dinah, our founding Trustee of Bhola's Children, and Freda, one of the newer but already invaluable members, have just returned from a highly productive visit to Bangladesh. 

The local Committee are going from strength to strength, and Sharjahan and his family, six months in to their trial as assistant Directors/houseparents have just had their contracts extended.

The children are all doing well, and life very much goes on, despite the day to day tribulations over which we only tread the surface...

Just a few new pictures, this month, for you to share in:


All present and correct - the Bhola Family as it is at present!


Sharjarhan and his family (with Freda)

 




Hassan, creator of this year's 'Christmas' card is very proud!


Weeding the vegetables...



The Christmas cards are available via the www.bhlaschildren.org website - a technological glitch means I haven't a direct link here, but the website is always worth a look anyway!  And, a shameless plug, if anyone would like to give a present of A Blonde Bengali Wife, Amazon has it, or you can email me direct!

Anne x

 

Friday, 31 October 2014

Writing Round-Up

With the changing of the clocks and November all-but upon us, it's often a time when writers make a 'new season' resolution to draw the curtains, light a candle and huddle over the laptop; get writing in a way that wasn't so welcoming during the long and warm summer evenings.

If that sounds like you, then here are a few more incentives, success stories from various people and groups with which I'm involved:

Writer, Jazz Shaban, is publishing her dual biography Road to Damascus, in November.  It tells the parallel stories of the lives of sisters Jigi and Suzan, raised separately, one in the UK and the other in Syria, and how they eventually get back together again.  The story is often challenging but Jazz's insights and humour bring the book alive and it reads like a gripping novel.  All the more poignant because the Syria that Suzan still lives in is changed beyond all recognition. 

Another author, Marie Campbell, has just found a very enthusiastic agent for her first novel, currently titled, Missing.  James Essinger of the Canterbury Literary Agency, is the one who has recognised what a clever and entertaining thriller this is... Father-to-be, Michael, goes missing and Jill, his partner, is the only one convinced it's far more than a case of cold feet.  Michael certainly has a past, but where does the shadowy Anna fit into it?  Also told from dual points of view, this will keep you guessing to the suitably chilling end.  No doubt a publisher is just round the corner.

Kendra Olson and Stuart White have embarked on the academic route.  Both with novels under their belts, they were both accepted on to the very competitive MLitt in Creative writing at Glasgow University.  Much luck to the them!

Over to Edinburgh-based writing groups: I've already written about the successful collaborative play that Ox-pen, based at Pentland Community Centre, wrote, entitled Spooks, Secrets and Suspects.  Well, if you are local and you missed the reading, the film version is being shown in Oxgangs Library on Thursday 20th November at 2pm - all are invited.  At the other end of town, Gilmerton Writers' are currently preparing their first anthology of work... more on that in later posts.

If you're still not quite ready to hunker down and write, consider hopping out to the Lyceum's current production, Bondagers.  Great play by Sue Glover that has come home to Edinburgh and is quite compelling... Click on www.lothian-life.co.uk for a truly wonderful (you'll see why) review!!

Finally, a totally unconnected, very important, plug for Christmas cards in aid of Bhola's Children.  Currently available via www.bholaschildren.org they are also available without a greeting so you can use them any time of year!  I'll paste a full link here as soon as PayPal etc is set up for purchase.

Anne x



 

Monday, 29 September 2014

Bangla Food for Dragon-Slayers


Today, 29th September is Michaelmas. I learned this equally from the wonderful Steiner School Kindergarten and late night forays of distraction into River Cottage repeats.  It’s traditionally a festival for marking the change in seasons and of gathering the harvest to provide for the winter ahead; more recently it celebrates the role of the archangel Michael as dragon-slayer.  As the long days of summer draw into the dark nights of winter, it’s apparently an opportunity to confront our own ‘inner dragons’ and finding the light and courage to see us through to spring .

It got me to thinking – yes, my thought-processes are often tenuous in the extreme – about the importance food plays in nurturing, giving comfort and offering a focus for a social occasion.  It has always been the case in Bangladesh!  Never have I eaten so much, so well, and given with such generosity as I have with both friends and strangers from Dhaka to Bhola.  Of course, some offerings – the crown of the rooster, fish larvae, cows’ brains – are once in a lifetime ‘treats’, others I would come back to again and again, and it’s often the simplest of foods.

Here’s a menu, and a ‘toss it in and see’ sort of recipe for a breakfast feast…

POTATO & PAPAYA CURRY

Take a green-skinned papaya (the flesh is firmer) and a couple of potatoes and chop them into equal sized pieces.  Fry some garlic, onion, turmeric and any other spices you fancy/are to hand, add the potato til cooked through, then toss through the papaya.  It’s a dry curry that is perfect eaten with roti (chapati).

KITCHURI

2 handfuls rice 
1 handful red lentils
1 handful any green leaf vegetables 
couple of tablespoons of oil
water as required

You can also add in onion, garlic, ginger, tumeric and salt… and some versions include egg or meat or chicken.

It’s trial and error: heat the oil and coat the rice, add in the lentils, start to add the water – and keep stirring. Keep adding more water as the rice and lentils absorb it and once they are more or less soft and cooked, stir in the leafy veg

CHA’

A big spoon of black tea per person, add boiling water, add boiling condensed milk (sweetened of course) and more sugar to taste (yes, really) and serve very hot and strong – it should be caramel brown and almost able to hold a spoon up… The faint-hearted can have ‘raw’ tea i.e. omit the condensed milk.

Okay, it’s Jamie (on an off day) rather than Nigella but even when it all goes wrong, the aroma wafting through the kitchen is the perfect way to imagine yourself in Bangladesh - and definitely sufficient to slay those dragons!

Anne x
 
 
 
 

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 Jackie 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...
 
Anne