"Oh Annika! Katal kabey?" The familiar sing-song voice of Sister Nisha drifts across the table. Annika, will you eat some jackfruit? The Salesian Sisters at Baluchaura Mission were full of joy and life. Often Sisters or Nuns are stereotyped as boring, old and out of touch, the Sisters at Baluchaura were nothing of the sort; the Baluchaura Sisters were too cool.
There was Sister Nisha, gang leader and jokester extraordinaire. Sister Nisha is one of the first Bangladeshis I have met who understand sarcasm! She is also a host with the most, "Eat more, you've only had 3 plates of rice!" Sister Nisha hosted us in true Bengali fashion, three feasts and two meals per day (also known as three meals and two tea breaks) were enough to keep the most active person strong and happy. It was also enough to make the most ravenous stomach entirely satisfied at all hours of the day. And Sister Nisha was not without her beautiful quirks. "Oh Annika" was the call to summon the group together, the use of no other name was necessary, we all understood. Sister Nisha cared for us like a big sister (which is sort of what she is). She always made sure our water buckets were filled and we were well rested (although we tended to go play soccer when we were supposed to be "taking rest"). Under the care and supervision of Sister Nisha we were not in need (or want) of anything.
There was Sister Rina, punster and fanner extraordinaire. Sister Rina was a blast. She would twist words in funny little ways and always pull off a chuckle. Rina could make you smile just by walking in the room. And there was her fanning abilities. I have never seen anyone fan like Rina fans! The little plastic fan spinning faster and faster, blowing a steady breeze in all directions, drying the sweat on the brows of the ever hot and sweaty foreigners. To our regret, Sister Rina left after only a week with us to go to Mymensingh for a course, her smile, laughter and mad fanning skills were missed.
There was Sister Shantona, quickly learning the ropes of witty sisterhood. She quietly honed her skills as the days went on, topping up our plates with food and zipping in a joke about Annika and her kolas. She's got the making of a Sister extraordinaire, all she needs is a little more practice. Sister Shantona was also dearly missed for the last few days at the Mission when she also went to Mymensingh for classes and almost disappeared without a song (but not quite!), I will never forget her frienly laugh.
And finally, there was Sister Benuka. Resident nurse and expert on all things dirty. She could keep you clean and proper in a mud slide! Sister Benuka was a nurse with an edge. Not a meal went by without a few friendly jokes in Bengali about my accent, my sentence structure, how little I was eating or about my lunghi. She was a nurse Sister, with the wit and prowess of a tiger. Sister Benuka was kind and had a wonderful laugh to accompany her wit. She was a darling to Sean when he fell ill and was always available to tell you what animal was making dirty in the field! Sister Benuka, always up for a fun time.
The Baluchaura Sisters were a well matched team of supersisters. Always ready to help out and always ready to explain Bangladesh to us, the willing students. The Sisters at Baluchaura were a large part of what made our time at the Mission so rewarding, and I thank them for that. I will close with one of our favourite quotes from the Sisters. This game is played in Bengali and English here and is something like "Darling, if you love me". In a sing-song voice it went something like this:
Sister 1: Hai Hai! Oh my God!
Sister 2: What happened?!
Sister 1: I have fallen in love!
Sister 2: With who?!
Sister 1: With... Sean! (or Annika, or Bacca, or Eva, or Stiphen)