Archive for July, 2009

Dhaka 1209

Posted in Uncategorized on July 16, 2009 by bd79

I think I might have given the wrong impression about how I’ve found Bangladesh in my last post so this time I thought I try to talk a bit more about Dhaka and my experience of Bangladesh so far …

Most of what I’d read and heard about Dhaka before I arrived meant I expected to be confronted with an unbearably monster of a city spewing out noise and pollution, and teeming with people but I have to say that as a city I don’t really find it that hectic when compared to London or Manchester. In fact I quite like the place and if anything it’s a little too quite for me! Admittedly the roads are very chaotic. You take your life into you own hands crossing a main road, particularly at night, and it really isn’t nice to be stuck on a bus or a CNG (a motorized 3 wheel taxi) in a traffic jam for an hour. The pollution from all the vehicles is also noticeable, although it does seem to block out most of the UV from the sun meaning you save a bit of money on sun block even if your lungs do feel like you’ve smoked 20 B&H.

I’ve started to get used to the open air municipal waste disposal system they use in Dhaka, with the odd exception when it can still surprise me. To give you one example, last week I was invited to a colleague’s house for lunch (meals are a big social occasion here) on my day off and as the house isn’t too far from my flat I decided to walk. Needless to say I got a bit lost and ended up wandering around an area populated almost exclusively by tanneries and let me tell you the smell of the corpses of various animals, drying hide, excrement, urine and rotting food mixed together in the heat of a Dhaka afternoon is unique.

What I do find difficult to deal with in Dhaka is the poverty. The sheer scale of it is hard to describe. It might give you some insight if I tell that the allowance for a VSO Volunteer in Bangladesh is about ₤3 a day and I feel relatively wealthy. It is enough to buy food, clothes and even one or two treats like a meal at Nandos or a night at one of the ex-pat clubs which are well beyond the means of the vast majority of Bangladeshis. The city itself is scarred by this poverty. With the exception of a few places like the National Parliament, the Prime Ministers residence and the odd historical site most of the city looks like a building site, even the most affluent parts of town have and unfinished feel to them. I am think part of this is a consequence of the harsh climate, which can make a new building look old in a matter of months, but the biggest problem is the lack of sustained and planned development.

The highlight of my time in Bangladesh has been Bangladeshi people. The people here are warm, friendly and particularly hospitable towards foreigners. The country and the Bengali language are a source of great pride for Bangladeshis, and I always get a delighted reaction whenever I attempt a little bit of Bangla that I’ve managed to pick up no matter how poor my pronunciation is.

This evening I’m flying out to Satkhira in the Southwest of the country to visit the field offices of my placement organization. I’ve finally got the camera I brought with me to start working properly and will put some photos up when I get back to Dhaka.


Induction over

Posted in Uncategorized on July 4, 2009 by bd79

The induction is finally over. It has felt like quite a long process and you spend a lot of time sitting around waiting for sessions that tend to get delayed or cancelled at the last minute. I really enjoyed the sessions on the history and culture of Bangladesh, and the Bangla classes were excellent. I’ve had fourteen two hour classes and can now just about haggle at the market, etc. Still want to pick a bit more up and might start evening classes once I’m settled into my placement.

Part of my induction included a week living with a Bangladeshi family. The entire week was a bit awakward with the weekend being a particular nightmare and included me getting a thirty minute one on one sermon (following a 2 hour Baptist service) about the moral decay of the West (apparently every western man is like JR from Dallas, “always up to monkey business”) and the impending fall of America and her friends. I knew it was going to be a bit of a nightmare when within ten minutes of meeting my host mother a friend of the family told me that cyclone’s hit the south west of the country because many of the NGO there are not christian and therefore God gets angry. What a crank! Still, I got to practice my Bangla and I learnt how to eat with my hand so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

The rains have finally come (about 2 weeks later than they should have but that’s global warming for you). It’s a bit cooler than it has been which makes it a lot easier to sleep but on the down side the sewers do overflow on to the streets when its been raining for three hours non-stop!

Went to a press conference the other day. Couldn’t understand a word but they gave out a box of take-away fried chicken at the end so you can’t really complain.