Last week, my family and I had the honour of taking my Grade 10 and Grade 8 students out for dinner.
We have no Grade 9 students this year, hence the gap in years, but it has been my tradition for as long as I’ve been married to either take my oldest students out to dinner or to invite them to my home where I cook them a meal. I was still young before I got married and didn’t feel it appropriate to take students – some female – out for dinner. But once Wifey was with me, it was something we could do together and honourably – all the more so when we had kids of our own who could join in too.
At LAMB it has not really been an ideal option to cook at home (though I have done it sometimes) and it is far more of a treat for the students to travel for about an hour to Dinajpur – our nearest city – and get a little ‘poshed up’.
This year, the party seemed to start at our house as my daughter, in the past a child guest, is now one of my students herself and many of the girls are her friends. As a result, a load of them descended on our house for the final stages of doing hair, make-up and (as far as I could hear) a lot of “Oh Wow!” noises.
For the first time we needed two cars to get us there which shows how much the school has grown just in the five years we’ve lived here. Once we had gathered everyone together we set off in daylight but arrived at the restaurant in darkness. The Bengal sun rises and sets extremely fast and with little variation in timing, unlike the British sun which takes its time and changes its mind just when it will do either according to the time of the year. You can see the light gradually fading on these pictures.
If you are eagle-eyed you will notice that ‘Martin’s Resturant’ is not spelt, shall we say, traditionally? A post-modern disregard for spelling continues on into the restaurant itself and, especially, its menu.
Although the food is delicious (and, more importantly, over the years has given none of us food poisoning), the menu is the reason I come back. The students, fluent in Bangla and English (if not Santali and Hindi too) delight with me in the flagrant disregard for traditional spelling. This is typical of Bangladesh in general (I have often said if I could have one taka – less than one cent or penny – for every English spelling mistake I could correct here I would become a very rich man) but Martin’s really pulls out the stoppers with their menu.
Once inside, the menu delighted in and we finally order the food, it takes at least half an hour or longer for anything to arrive. Bangladeshis are not known for their sense or rushing or time-keeping but we made allowances for this. We left early and I warned the students that we would be back late – that actually made things more exciting for some of them. LAMB is in the middle of nowhere where security – especially for girls – is often an issue. To be able to stay out late in a safe situation is something of a novelty very often.
What’s less safe – but lots of fun – is that the restaurant is virtually pitch-black inside. It hasn’t changed over the years, except for table cloths and the occasional shift of the fish tank and the TV set. I don’t know why they have little lighting – is it an attempt at mood lighting gone crazy or is it just to save on electricity? I don’t know but it plays havoc with attempting to take photos!
The next offering is a selection of shots of before the meal, during and after as we journeyed home in the cars. I was especially pleased that one girl joined us – our ‘Guest Star’, if you like. She only came to the school two years ago for the O levels and she has been a true delight to teach. She missed the ‘Martin’s Experience’ last year and we feared she wouldn’t join us this time either. So when she turned up and I was over the moon! All my students are important to me but there are some whose story is just that bit extra-special and you can’t help but be rooting for them.
Lastly, I offer a small selection of pictures from a couple of years earlier. My photo collection of these meals is rather scant for one reason or another. Last year I simply forgot to take the camera! In the UK, digital cameras were still in their infancy and expensive so we tended not to take them. The pictures give an interesting comparison both of the restaurant over a few years and of my own kids. I can’t believe how much they have changed and grown up! I would be proud but you regular readers know how much I’m having the ‘mid-life crisis’ right now and just feel old!
So that was the finally Martin’s trip ever – and probably my final meal out with any students at all. Just as well, after I got the bill. In previous years I have scoffed at the price – for more than ten of us it has come to the kind of price I would expect to pay for just two in the UK. Not this year. Paying for sixteen in a country that has seen basic food commodities shoot up astronomically over the last few years meant this time it was three times the price. Everything is more expensive now in Bangladesh and treating my beloved students to luxuries like this is something I couldn’t carry on doing forever.
So, here’s to another ‘End-of-era’ moment. I have seventeen years of cherished memories of fun times spent with special friends. It has been a privilege and a blessing for me.