Chapter 3

The very architecture of my life has been transformed more than once. Not without me, but unplanned, sometimes very rapidly, like a lightning, with no possible turning back, sometimes slowly, like the ripening of a fruit.

My love for specific places, people and traditions of wisdom in northern Bangladesh is becoming stronger by the day. The point of departure was a sand island in northern Brahmaputra.

I had never even thought of that island, char, before. I was a foreigner, open to what might be given to or taken away from me. But I did not expect my life to be changed. I was going to do my small «duty». This duty consisted of listening to women telling their life-stories and – filtered by my understanding – and to make a story, or several stories, in my mother-tongue, which is Norwegian. I carried a notebook and a Leica camera. What I wanted was to see and listen, unprejudiced. What would the women tell me, and in which ways? Would they even consider telling their life-stories to a foreigner? Had foreigners come to their place before? People leave marks. Foreigners certainly do.

They were utterly poor. Illiterate, too. Thinking of them, the eye of my mind see some of their faces. I did some basic photography. After a while, I could not hold on to my camera any more. Neither could I make notes. I came close to a profound place in my soul.

Other people organised my days and hours. Boat. Motorcycle. Lodging. Meals. I was fully taken care of, like a passenger in a boat rowed by people who did not know me, but they took me to profound places – and the took care of my body.

I could not speak or understand their mother tongue. Now I know that urban Bangladeshi people barely understand the dialects of remote village people in the northern region. Nothing of this kind disturbed the very poor weaving women and the foreigner, the unexpected guest, that day. They took me in. I was overwhelmed. I came home in village Bengal. This memory is vibrating still. The fruits of that first encounter are working within many people right now. (Covid-19 is disturbing our efforts, but we are not giving up.)

What was it that took me in. It was, in the beginning, the very act of their weaving. Long before I came to northern Bangladesh, the weavers´ craft was dear to me. A poet weaves words and sentences into images, rhythms, sequences. A weaver commits her/his whole body, hands, feet, eyes, back and ears – there is a music in this – to the act of making beauty or something functional: a towel, a dhoti, a lungi, a sari, whatever. My weaving women made gamcha, and they used second-hand thread that had been bought, I think, in Dhaka. A certain price per kilogram. Getting to know this, I was moved. I saw them «deconstruct» used sweaters so that the fabric became just threads again, ready to be used for the making of a new gamcha.

After having seen this, for me devotional, act of weaving, I sat on the ground with them. My interpreter was patiently present. Mozammel called me apa, and I knew no Bengali word at all. I may have learned dekha hobe, in Kolkata. The full story of that «sitting on the ground» I will keep as a secret – until the next bulletin. Suffice it to say that their husbands, brothers, neighbours were present as well as dozens of children, but only in the very beginning of our precious time together. Only Mozammel, the interpreter, was allowed to be with us, the women and me, till the end of our first «session».