Tuesday, May 13, 2008

New Blog

To all beloved blog readers, I am sorry that I haven't updated for a while. I am now working with The Dhaka Project and have been providing blogs to their site.


Please check it out.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Bangladeshi Life...

Being my final blog post for this site it is quite apt that this blog is only 11 months late, much up to the timeliness of my previous blogs! (I do apologise for never including a Burma blog entry)
In my first month here I was amazed by every new and little thing about my new life. Unfortunately these little quirks don’t amaze me as much now, but it is these little things that have made up my Bangladesh experience.

Wake up (745am):
HONK HONK HONK… forced wake up, I have had no need for an alarm clock the whole year here as I live on what I would refer to a small through road. It is by no means one of Dhaka’s large roads but it does have its fair share of traffic, and before the traffic cop comes to direct the intersection just 40m from my house the loudness of the horn is what dictates which car gets through the intersection.

Usually Muesli (purchased from the Aussie Shop… yes there is a shop in dhaka dedicated to selling tim tams and vegimite!)… a quick read of the paper for main news and also entertaining stories (see newspaper wall post) followed by a shower to clean the sweat from the searing night temperatures that only dissipate when the 5am storm rolls in. 830-845:
Head downstairs to get a cycle-rickshaw to work, at one stage Ani would be at the bottom of the lift waiting for me in our rickshaw (see a rickshaw adventure post) but mostly it is off onto the street to hail one down. Before getting out of the gate my guard takes me aside and gives me marital advice – for he thinks that I am married to my initial housemate. Neither of me nor my housemate have the had the heart to tell him that we aren’t at all married. Apparently she should make sure that my moustache is trimmed to the right length, as only a bad wife would let me out of the house looking the way I do.

Rickshaw ride to work:
Sadly this has been sometimes the most exciting part of the day… It usually takes 15-25 minutes as I head from my nice leafy suburb into the concrete jungle where my office is located. As the rickshawallah finishes off his cigarette we cross our way over Mirpur Rd, one of the busiest streets in the city, I would take notice of the dress of mine and the other rickshaw drivers – it includes floral/sparkly shirts (well at least for the well dressed wallahs) and a lunghi (cotton tube worn like a sarong) a pair of double plugger thongs that have been to the repair shops more times that I have bought thongs and a towel wrapped around their head. The brigthness and feminity of the shirts still amaze me to this day. As the rickshawallahs weave their ways in and out of many crashes, heated words are exchanged between rickshawallahs and even more so between car-drivers and the wallahs – a much hated relationship. Along the poorly named green road, I would take in the smells of the over-spilling rubbish bins being filtered through by people making money out of selling the rubbish; a smell that reminded me of my flatmate (from our adventures in the first month) what was initially overpowering is now part of the day-to-day Dhaka smell.

Kawran Bazar:
The office of BRDB is located in the biggest wholesale market within Bangladesh. It is extremely busy during the night hours of 9pm to 3am when all the daily produce is allowed to come into the city. At 9am life has relatively slowed down, as I would step over workers finished from their nightly hard labour, push past other office employees on their way to work and get watched like a hawk by all the men delaying their entrance into work by chatting in the many tea stalls.

My office building:
Firstly, it doesn’t look anything like a government agency – more like an aged old building that hasn’t seen a good clean or fresh coat of paint since the inception of BRDB in 1972! There are security guards guarding the outside but they would just sit and watch anyone walk in and out of the open and sparse ground floor, but excitingly jump up out of their seats to salam me, their foreign employee, as I walk in. There is one lift in the building and upon arrival in the morning there will be a line 20 deep waiting for the lift. I always decided to walk as it is much quicker to get to the 5th floor than take the lift that will stop at all floors, I do wonder if my colleagues have ever thought that, but I assume that they are putting off the inevitability of the days work. The first flight of stairs are the only walls in the office that have recently seen a coat of paint – due to ministerial dignitaries making their way to and from the Director General’s office on L1. This new coat of paint still isn’t free from its blemishes, bins sit in the corner of the stairs and as the men come back upstairs from one of their hourly beetlenut fixes they will spit the leftover red juice into the bins; leaving splatters on the wall like Mike Tyson has just busted a head there. I would continue to make my way up to my beloved computer centre through the dimly lit stairs that do not see ministerial dignitaries and are often missing many lightbulbs, probably waiting replacement approval.

BRDB computer centre:
Relatively it is actually quite modern: air-con; 7 computers; 2 servers; switch rack and 7 hard working employees. It is a breath of fresh air from the over-crowded, paper-based offices and desks throughout the rest of the building. Every morning I will be greeted by a “good morning sir” from my peon called Kashem (he is an office helper which title is more likely to be referred to as a ‘tea boy’ through out the ex-pat circles). I return the good morning back to Kashem and then usually remind him in Bangla that I don’t have a Sir on my name. I did try to get him calling me brother or friend, but that upset others in the office who believes he is there to serve them and shall not be a friend… decided to leave that one alone – took it as a cultural experience. Anyway, continue with the basics of the morning and then Kashem will bring me my first cup of tea for the morning. Later my boss will arrive, I will drop into her office and enjoy a good chat with her and sometimes even take another cup of tea with her. By 10am it would be back to my office to get some work completed, I often am requested to attend meetings throughout the building – but I try to keep these to a minimum as in the government a cup of tea is a pre-requisite to any meeting. Eleven o’clock comes around and my boss or I would slip Kashem 50tk and he knows it is time for morning office snacks and he heads out to the market and comes back with Singara and Samossa’s (deep fried packet of goodness) for all in the computer centre – time for more tea and chit-chat with the team. Half an hour goes by and we then head back to complete more work. Lunchtime Prayer call takes place between 1-1:30pm. Everyday Kashem would return from prayer with the same question in Bangla “What will you eat sir?” without another discussion about the use of sir I yet again disappoint him with the same response of “one nan and one vegetables” – here he was getting lunch for his foreign guest and all his foreign guest wants is a cheap 30c meal of bread and vegetables! I usually ate this basic meal in the office because I only wanted something small to eat and I would inevitably be force fed wherever and with whomever I ate with and then have to fight over paying a bill that would be quite a great deal of their monthly salary. I would often be left in the computer centre with only myself and my boss as the staff I ‘tried’ to manage would be gone for a good 2-2.5 hour lunch break, often returning with goodies from the Bazar… I spent 6 months trying to make this break more like 1.5 hours but unfortunately to no avail – this time a govt cultural experience. Another cup of tea would follow lunch and then back to work – usually pushing some simple file through the bureaucratic processes in place… like having to get the Director of Administration’s (#2 in BRDB) approval to get a new light bulb installed so we can see in our office! Anyway, later in the year I got my own back for working all these 8 hours day for the first half of the year that I would leave at 330pm – thinking of it as my 2.5 hour lunch.

Cricket coaching:
Leaving early from work was only permissible by my boss and the AYAD program as I went to go and coach cricket at the local cricket academy. It was part of the day that I would most look forward to as it gave me that feeling of making an evident difference within Bangladesh. The kids that I coached were aged between 15 and 22 and all in all were quite a poor standard compared to the Australian system I grew up playing in – so therefore I had a great deal to offer these kids. The players did not the lack of natural skills, rather a corrupt and bureaucratic Bangladesh Cricket Board was holding back success within Bangladesh cricket… it was one of the saddest things to see a nation that loves cricket have no formal way to play cricket other than in the streets. Walking back from cricket coaching always provided a bit of entertainment for the locals, as not only was there the usual attention of a foreigner whitey walking the streets but this foreigner would be wearing – displaying legs was generally never done, let alone by a foreigner with bright white legs!

If I am generalising my time in Bangladesh then I would have to say that I rarely cooked, if so it was a massive veggie stir-fry to supplement my need for much needed vitamins and minerals. Most nights, I would head out and get dinner from a restaurant close-by for $1-2, my favourite being the local Star Kebab Hotel which served a massive range of dishes from kebabs to curries to biriyanis. One of my saddest days was during the civil riots the hotel got torched, I was furious with the students “What did Star Kebab do wrong?”

Social Life:
Amazingly during the week we kept quite busy, often either entertaining guests or heading out with Bangladeshi or ex-pat friends. There was even the rare trip to an art gallery before dinner! On Thursday, the last day of the working week, I would head up and do a language lesson after work and then head over to the Australian club, a social club attached to the High Commission. It has very much the facilities of what you could imagine an ex-pat club having – pool, tennis court, bar, reading room etc. But it really felt more like a Darwin bar that has no walls, mozzies everywhere and dinkum aussie accents trailing away into their beers late into the early friday mornings! It was a great way to finish a busy working week talking footy results with the High Commissioner after a few too many VB’s! Many of the things that I was able to do and participate in would not have been possible without the support and friendship of the Australian community in Dhaka.

Shooting the Breeze:
Amazingly, one of my fondest memories of Bangladesh was all the amazing and diverse people that I was able to engage in conversation with whilst I was here. From sharing late night beers with the High Commissioner, to finding out the things that the papers cant publish from an Aussie-Bangladeshi reporter friend, to learning about Bangladeshi rich traditions and cultures from an Artist friend… the conversations and learning’s were endless. Above all I enjoyed the late night conversations with my flatmates, often leaving us all very tired for the 745 traffic wake up the following morning!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Our Newspaper Wall...

Well, let me introduce you to our wall. It stands next to our kitchen and upon our arrival into the house it was bare, and we didn't know what we should do to decorate it. But on the arrival of our subscription to the leading english daily newspaper in Bangladesh - The Daily Star, we had found our decoration solution.

What intrigued us in the first few weeks of living here, and still intrigues us today, are some of the news articles that are featured in the paper. The wall is absolutely packed now, and articles that make the 'cut' are scrutinised even more so now.

In this Blog I just want to give you a feeling of the crazy things that happen here in Bangladesh and also the strange articles that make national news!

Crossfire deaths
The articles that originally initiated the wall, crossfire deaths are deaths where criminals are "accidentally" shot by an elite military policing force called the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). It is well known that a 'crossfire death' is the deliberate murder of a well known criminal (or person against the state). Basically the RAB are judge, jury and executor. I know that many of you will be a gasp of this force, but the Bangladesh people have really taken a liken to them as unfortunately they are the only way that justice can be reached within this corrupt society. Unfortunately in such a gruesome and unjust way. Our wall would include over 30 crossfire deaths, originally there were 2-5 a week but now we would see one a fortnight. Here is a link to all of the references to crossfire on the Daily Star website... totaling 1490 articles!
But I should also mention that the elite RAB force don't have it all their way - Mob beat up 2 Rab men

Biman Articles
Biman is the governments national airline carrier here in Bangladesh, it is famous for not turning up on time and leaving many people stranded. We would maybe have maybe 5 articles about Biman on our wall. Anyone that knows Christina, ask her about her 36 hour delay from Biman! I have heard that their average delayed time is 12 hours! Favourite article is Int'l airports warn Biman of boycott

Obscure murders and deaths
Although not pleasant, these articles are really strange. Some deaths that occur here are beyond belief and if you saw such a story in an Australian paper you would be shocked and in disbelief. Here are just a few of them:
- Schoolboy murdered over cricket match
- 2 biscuits cost child's life!
- Rickshawpuller beaten to death over fare
- Train guard killed on board
And of course there are always the "trampled by an elephant" and "eaten by the tiger" articles every so often.

CNG Blasts
Bangladesh has a massive amount of natural gas reserves, and all cars here run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). Every time you fill up it is required that you step out of the car and give yourself 5m's because the tanks are really badly made and will often blow up. We would see the graphic aftermath photos once a month from such blasts. Example and photo

Indian Border Security Force (BSF)
Some of you may have read that India is creating a 1300km fence/wall to keep Bangladeshis out of India. The fence is yet to be finished and the way that they keep the Bangladeshis out is to shoot them. Guaranteed that there will be one killing in the paper each week. BSF, Indian criminals kill 297 in 4 yrs

Although Bangladesh has made the world news for every natural disaster known to man this year (Floods, Landslides, Cyclone Sidr and Tsunami Alerts) the earthquake is still yet to hit here. Touch wood that Bangladesh never have to deal with a natural disaster that reaps devastation as much as the ones this year, but on our wall there is 5 small articles about a mild tremor hitting the country... articles that are so small that you would only expect to see them in papers in Tokyo and LA. Tremor jolts country (searching mild tremor on Dailystar.net returns 98 results!)

Mass Hysteria
One of my most favourite sets of articles on the wall is from a period around August where there was a disease that was tagged "mass hysteria" by the media that was happening in a multiple of random places all throughout Bangladesh. The disease was targeting female teenagers. What would happen is that one person would feel sick and nauseas and when she fainted it would trigger a domino effect of fainting, there were cases where a school would be affected and 70+ students at a time would faint, followed by the teachers! Here is an example of one of the articles, but to get a better understanding read all these articles!

Personifying Diarrhoea
Diarrhoea is highly common throughout Bangladesh and there is no surprise that there are quite a few articles on it during the flood season. What I really loved about the articles this year was how diarrhoea has been personified to represent almost an army out there attacking Bangladesh, check out the following headlines:
- 2 killed 300 attacked in three days
- 1.1 lakh attacked by diarrhoea since mid-July
- 35,000 attacked with diarrhoea (I can only visualise an army attacking people with buckets!)
- Diarrhoea killed seven people and attacked 964

Well that's a list is the types of articles that are on our wall, but my 2 favourite articles on there don't fall into any of these categories because they are just so strange and weird. Enjoy

Bull trouble at ZIA
I don't believe I have to comment on this article... you just have to read the first paragraph! (note: Zia is the only international airport in Dhaka!)
A runaway bull wound up being on the tarmac of the Zia International Airport early yesterday. It left the area on its own but not before keeping some 22 security personnel running after it for around two hours.
(I would also like to point out that the bull was never caught "The animal got out of the runway area on its own"

50kg chunk of ice falls from the blue!
This was front page material that day... nothing more ever came out of it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Mugged by Men with Meat Cleavers...

Not really sure how to do this Blog... but I have had Chrissy in town for a few days and I was taking her to the airport last night where we were mugged by bandits with Shiny Meat Cleavers...
I have got sick of telling the story so... here is my police report!

To the Officer in Charge,

Dhanmondi Police Station,

Dhanmondi Dhaka

Subject: For General Diary Entry

This morning, 21st January 2008, I had rung for a Navana Taxi Cab (Number 591) to pick me up from House 28, Road 2, Dhanmondi at 2:20am and take me and my Australian friend (Christina H) to the airport. Upon arriving down to the gate of my Apartment block my friend and I waited directly outside for the driver to come. He did not arrive at 2:20am so I gave his mobile number a call and he informed me that he was in Mohakali and was coming right away. He took some time to arrive so I called him again at around 2:30am and he spoke to him in Bangla, he didn't understand where my apartment block was, I tried to convince him to come along road 2 and I would be able to find him. He said that he was at Labaid hospital (which is the corner of Road 3 and Mirpur Rd) and that he wanted me to come there. I refused to leave from outside my apartment block and told him to come to me.

By approximately 2:33 he hadn't come from Labaid hospital (which in my approximations is a 30 second drive) and I was approached by a white aged Toyota Camry (approx 1992 model) which had a rear spoiler. This car approached House 28 from Sat Masjid Rd on the Right hand side of the road and pulled up directly outside where I was standing. Out of the car 3 male youths (aged 22-28) approached me and pulled shiny meat cleavers out of their pants and jackets. Whilst waving these knives at us they demanded my wallet (which had approximately 15000tk in it) and my mobile (value 3000tk), of which they took. My friend got frisked but didn't have her mobile or her wallet on her and they didn't take anything from her. All this awoke our guards but they were not able to do anything as the gate had been locked behind me.

After approximately 30-45 seconds the car had reversed into the driveway of the apartment block and the three men got into the car and drove away towards Sat Masjid Rd. Approximately 1 minute later the taxi driver arrived and I collected some money and departed to the airport. Along the way we pulled over and informed some RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) members of what had just happened. These RAB members were also talking to another person who had also been robbed by these men.

Sorry that the story doesn't have much excitement... but then again there really wasn't too much excitement. The police say that there are a few groups still at large committing hijacks within the area.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The curse of climate change

Well... as one would expect Bangladesh has become a major talking point around climate change.

But one would think that they would be more prepared for the problems that are expected to hit them in the coming few decades. Rather, I was fortunate enough to meet the Bangladesh head of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) - the worlds largest civil society movement against poverty and inequality which basically represents all the non UN and Govt organisations working towards the Millennium Development Goals. She was organising the South Asian Civil Society Consultation on Climate Change that was to be held in Dhaka on the 13/14th January 2007 and allowed me to come along to the conference as a non-participant.

What came clear from the conference was that Bangladesh, nor South Asia are ready to deal with climate change. With countries like Bangladesh, The Maldives and Nepal going to be most effected by these changes one would hope that this region can lead the campaign to get the rich countries to change their behaviour.

With the effects of climate change being so influential here, you hope that this region will be able to lead through example. The effects are best seen through the bangladesh case study:
Expected rise in sea levels over the next century: 50-89cm.
Percentage of Bangladesh landmass <89cm: 25%
Population living within this land mass: 18 million (equiv to the entire population of Australia)
Expected population living within this land mass at the end of the century: >30 million

Side effect of rising sea levels: Increased soil salinity throughout agricultural areas
Effect of Increased Salinity: Decrease in agricultural production
Effect of Decreased Ag Production: Decrease in food consumption per person (exasperated by an increase in population as well) - All of which ends up with a decrease in health quality and a backwards track to development.
Expected Sea level temps increase:1.1°C to 6.4°C over next century
Effects of such levels: Greater number of cyclones and wild storms (eg Cyclone SIDR Nov,2007) which will have even greater destruction.

As well as the rising sea levels, Bangladesh has to deal with being the drain of two of the biggest rivers in the world (Ganges and Brahmaputra) and an increase in the melting of the Himalayan Glaciers will lead to great flooding and erosion within Bangladesh. The problems are endless, basically if there is a problem caused by Climate Change, Bangladesh will be effected by that problem and the effects will be extreme.

For a country that pollutes so little, it is going to be effected so greatly... Bangladesh now needs to lead the Climate Change campaign for if it doesn't it will be effected most.

"The poorest Billion's carbon footprint is 3%, USA's carbon footprint is 25%"

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Finding (or not finding) religion...

guys... a bit off the usual blog entries just an article I threw together after an interesting plane flight... this is by no means meant to be critical of any Religion, rather it is an internal reflection. Apologies if this insults anyone.

After a recent trip to India I was flying back into Bangladesh, the beautiful Islamic country that I now call home. On the flight back into Dhaka I was seated next to a rather conservative Muslim (well at least for Bangladesh standards) who murmured texts of the Koran before and during take off. Not perturbed by his behaviour, I engaged him in basic conversation – where he was from, why he had been overseas… the usual aeroplane chit-chat. He happened to notice that I was reading Mother Teresa’s biography and engaged me in conversation about my religious beliefs.

During my time in Bangladesh I have been often asked about my religion and whether I am Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist etc. I have often tried to not engage in conversation with the questioner as I find it too hard to explain to them how I am Agnostic. This behaviour of mine is because not having any beliefs or a God totally perplexes the devout Bangladeshis but also because I often do not have an answer as to why I never followed the mass of Australian population to find the Christian God.

This time was different, I had a 3 hour flight and I felt it time that I not only answered his questions about why I wasn’t a Christian, but also time for me to understand my rationale for never throwing myself into Christianity. The conversation went down the usual path – “you have to have a religion” and “how can you not have a God?” I tried to explain to him that I have doubts about some of the Christian teachings and that I require a solid rationale backing my beliefs, I cannot just have blind faith. I am not sure if it was our English-Bengali language differences, but somehow these ideas of mine were out of comprehension for my Muslim friend.

Subsequently, I asked him how he knows that the word of Islam is correct for him and that other religions are such not correct. He answered “that the true Prophet, Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon Him), came down as the messenger of Allah… ” although I cannot remember exactly what he stated, it unfortunately did not answer to me why other religions were not correct. I then informed him that even though I have tried my hardest during my time in Bangladesh to understand Islam, I had not learnt enough to say that his Islamic beliefs were not the correct beliefs for me, therefore how could I say that any of my religious beliefs were correct?

This conversation had finally given me the answer to my religious identity. An issue that I had not only struggled with whilst living in Bangladesh, but also growing up as a kid in rural Australia and living in a Christian college whilst at university. Later, whilst I thought more about this conversation I realised that a lack of understanding about each others religions was not just restricted to me and my new Muslim friend 3000 feet in the air, but such lack of understanding exists the world over and is the reason for so much division and hostility.

What was worse was that such ignorance exists in my own country, within a highly educated and multicultural community. I had friends throughout school and university who, at such a young age, would happily walk blindly into Christianity without ever investigating what other religions were available and questioning whether such a religion was the right fit for them. I could never imagine these friends stepping into a lifetime marriage without posing these 2 questions, so how could they commit to a more important relationship with their God without considering them?

What is most important is not what religion I am, it is whether I love thy neighbour and treat all my fellow brother and sisters equally, regardless of religion or any other factor that might differentiate us. Remember it was Mother Teresa, whom a devout Catholic, demonstrated to the world that no matter if we are Hindu, Islamic or any other religion; we are all children of God. Whether that God is Vishnu, Allah or even Mother Nature, it does not matter as we are all fellow human beings.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bangers gets Bashed... AGAIN...

Hi all...

I know that I have been lazy in keeping this Blog up-to-date, but I will get Burma and Cricket in India posts up soon.

I have no doubt that the western press have caught onto the mass destruction that has been caused throughout the country. Fortunately I and the majority of Dhaka remained relatively unscathed.

Instead it was again the less developed rural areas that bore the brunt of cyclone SIDR. Many villages were not only blown over by the 15o mph winds but the storm surge that accompanied the winds was reported to be up to 15 feet, washing away many of the low-lying coastal villages. Fortunately, if any fortune can come out of this event, the cyclone crossed land within the Sundabans Nature Reserve which is a massive (relative to Bangladesh land size) uninhabited mangrove forest. If it had crossed in a more densely populated area of Bangladesh (read: anywhere else) the death toll and destruction would have been much much worse.

Please offer any support that you can to this country, it needs all the support it can get during this troubled time.