Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5 Issue 74, Tuesday, June 30, 2009




Small steps, big dreams

The saying goes: development takes one step at a time. Netherlands's Marjan van Lier is out to prove these words point on, with her new workshop for the street children of Bangladesh. This is what happened…

The back story:
It was back in 2004, when Marjan visited Bangladesh for a micro credit conference, that she came face to face with poverty and hunger. Something in her changed. Once back in the Netherlands, a bit of thought here and a little sense of compassion there opened up a whole range of possibilities. Ideas blossomed.

It started with the dance project with Padakhep, a non-profit Bangladeshi NGO, and the Nederlands Dans Theatre, where professional dancers from the Netherlands were brought in to train the Bangladeshi street children for a show at the Dhaka Sheraton.

That was in January 2008. Relationships were forged, cross-cultural friendships made and many talents unearthed that would otherwise have remained hidden under layers of street grime. One thing led to another. Several other workshops followed in its wake.

And now this…
“I wanted to help build something more sustainable,” said Marjan van Lier, “After the dance project, a lot of these children told me that they wanted to become dancers. It got me thinking- the future projects could be restructured in a way so that the children could be trained in something that they could, in the long run, take up as a profession and use to generate income.” This is how the idea of conducting hairdressing workshops eventually spawned. “Hairdressing is an easy way to make money. There is not much capital involved- all you need is a pair of scissors and a comb.”

This time around, to lend Marjan a hand was Erwin De Waal- a professional hairdresser- and Michael Tromp, a computer engineer trained in hairdressing. As in the previous projects, Padakhep was also there to facilitate Marjan's access to the children. Moreover, various Dutch organisations and individuals sponsored many of the hairdressing accessories and equipments- like scissors and hair clips.

The workshop was conducted back to back for 6 days, starting from Sunday, June 21 to Friday, June 26. The participating street children were taught the basics of hair cutting, washing, styling and so on. They were further instilled with concepts that are known to be integral aspects of hairdressing- “beauty”, “business”, “cleanliness', “creativity”, “social”, “sensitivity”, “discipline', “patience' and “practice”.

“These children are amazing. I was surprised to see how motivated they were, and how eager they were to learn,” said Michael, “These are skills that should be put to use. It is just that the children do not get the chance…”

When asked to share some interesting anecdote from the workshop, Marjan smiled and recalled an incident from Day 2: “When we came in for the second day, we were surprised to see that a lot of the girls had much shorter hair. So I asked them what had happened. They told me that they were so excited about what they had learned about haircutting on the first day, that they went back home and practiced on each other's hairs. It was very amusing.”

So it was enthusiasm and curiosity that drove the workshop forward. Erwin was also taken aback by how well the children responded: “I noticed that, at first, the children were shy and even closed off- it was difficult to access them on an emotional level,” he said.

“They, particularly the girls, would not for instance look you in the eyes or call you by your name. But it was great to see them open up and start communicating after a day or two. These children are amazing to work with.”

Hearing out the children:
The response of the children has already been mentioned. Some, however, are taking their learning to a new level. Rafida- whose father passed away when she was an infant and whose mother left her at the Padakhep shelter- has already received an offer to work at a beauty parlour in Mirpur, and has been called for an interview at Persona. Most of the others also expressed their interest in following a similar route. Munmun, for example, is planning to apply to a number of beauty parlours and Al Amin wants to hone his basics and, in the future, aims to work independently.

And this is not the end…
This 6-day-long workshop is not all that there is to this current project. Given the volume of skills that demands to be mastered in hairdressing, the training would be ongoing. Marjan and the team would be coming back three or four more times over a span of a year and a half or two.

All in all, the workshop was fruitful, to say the least. A round of applause goes to all those who made it possible. We are eagerly looking forward to its next instalment.

By Shahmuddin Ahmed Siddiky

Sweet mango pickle (Kashmiri achaar)
1 kg mangoes (partially ripe, before the seed fully hardens)
2 tbsp sliced garlic
2 tbsp sliced ginger
2½ cups sugar
7-8 dried chillies
¾ cup vinegar
1 tsp salt

Skin mangoes and cut, including the seed, into 8 or 4 slices depending on size of mangoes. Then add the teaspoon of salt in water and soak the mango pieces Keep this for around 6 to 7 hours. Then remove from the water and strain very well and let the mangoes dry in the sun, making sure to turn over in intervals to allow the pieces to dry completely.

Deseed dried chillies and chop into small pieces.
Put all ingredients in a heated wok, and add mangoes and bring to a boil. Once the mangoes are cooked through and begin glistening, and the syrup thickens, remove from heat and store in clean, dry jar(s). Seal or close lid, while the pickle is still partially warm.

Sweet andsour mango pickle
1 kg mangoes
½ cup vinegar
1 tbsp five spice mixture (paach phorong)
4 tbsp dried chilli flakes
2 tbsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp garlic paste*
3 tbsp mustard paste*
½ cup sugar
1¼ cups oil
*(use a little vinegar if required while grinding the garlic and turmeric; make sure to add absolutely no water because it will hinder preservation)

Cut each mango into 8 pieces, leaving the skin on. Then put all pieces in a bowl, add 3 teaspoons salt, mix well and then leave aside for a while. The salt will allow all the excess water in the fruits to be released, which should be drained well.

Then the fruits should be laid out on a dry tray and put outside under strong sunlight to dry. This process should be done over a few days and the fruits must be stirred frequently so as to allow all sides of each piece to be dried thoroughly.

Once the mangoes are processed and ready, they are ready to be cooked. Heat the oil in a wok, and add all the ingredients except the sugar and vinegar. Cook the spices for a while, then add the mangoes and stir. Once the mangoes have softened, add the vinegar first and then, after a little while, add the sugar. Cook for a while longer. Remove from heat and store in clean, dry, air-tight jar(s).

Chilli and garlic pickle
250g garlic
250g green chillies
125g mustard paste (ground with vinegar as mentioned in above recipe)
1 cup vinegar
¾ tbsp five spice mixture (paach phorong)
1¼ cups mustard oil
¾ tbsp chilli powder
¾ tbsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp salt

Wash the green chillies well, then gently roll them in paper towels so as to soak up all the water. Once they are thoroughly dried, chop up the chillies into circlets. Then skin the garlic, detach the cloves and wash well before chopping them up into similar shaped circlets.

Heat oil in a wok, add the five spice mixture, and then one by one, add all the ingredients, finally adding the chopped chillies and garlic. Stir well and cook for around 15-20 minutes over a low heat. Finally remove from heat and store.

Seeing is nothing

This one ought to bore you to death. I am back to tell you another story of another get together that our school friends had.

Really, we seem to be trying our best to boost the sagging food industry by patronising it at the drop of a hat. Not that I am complaining. So when the news of two Bombayite (I stubbornly and foolishly resist the name Mumbai) friends turning up in Calcutta (as I do in case of Kolkata) reached us, we did the obvious. We organis ed a get together.

We decided on a nice venue at a South Indian non-vegetarian restaurant. Yes, such a thing does exist. South Indians do not just live on idlis and dosas, you know. They have a rich tradition of fish, seafood and various kinds of meat. And non-vegetarian South Indian food tastes divine, albeit a little foreign to our mustard oil ripened palate.

I volunteered to fix the menu and organise the liquids to lift our spirits even further than they already were, what with long lost friends resurfacing and all. I tried my best to judiciously mix the known and the unknown.

So, you had a rich and redolent Hyderabadi Mutton Biriyani nestled next to a bright and crisp Beans Poriyal. Ambat dal and Coriander Rice jostled for space.

Murg Nawabi and Subz Handi went hand in glove, owing their origin to the great food city called Hyderabad. For dessert, we had the ubiquitous ice cream and something called Double ka Meetha. Basically, deliciously fried bread soaked in perfumed thickened milk.

Okay, I did make the spread sound simplistic. It was anything but that. The thing, which I left to the restaurateur, who I take no little pride in counting as a friend, was the “starters”. The reason I have them within quotes is the fact that often enough, starters end up being the high point. That was the case here. We were served, in a plate, something that looked like home fries. You know, the thick cut variety with a wedge.

Needless to say, I was disappointed. After all, I did not come to an “authentic” South Indian place to have fried potatoes! Nonetheless, I picked up a piece, ignored the white sauce that accompanied it, and took a bite.

It was a veritable belief-system-altering stuff. I will never forget that bite. From the crackle of the first bite, to the crunch of the first chew, to the soft interior, which seemed all too ready to yield to my taste buds, it was simply brilliant.

I discovered that they were fried idlis. Not the lumpy round kind you may find at any average place. These were delicately steamed and then flash fried to give a crunchy exterior with a soft inside. My next bite, after I kind of recovered from the ecstasy of the first one, was with the accompanying sauce.

Tangy, nutty, sweet and smooth. It probably had yoghurt and coconut and sesame. But that is only a guess. The rest of the dinner lived up to the opening act very well. We ate, drank and made merry. And I, once again, was aware of my one adage in life seeing is nothing, eating is everything.



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