A Travellerspoint blog

Bangladesh Picnic

So Chandon, the divisional director was nice enough to invite me to Dinajpour with him for the weekend.
It was a two hour drive and we arrived at about 8pm. I was given a room in the ADP so that was nice, there was also a TV which was pretty exciting!

Anyway on Friday morning we drive about an hour to a hindu temple.
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We walked around for a while and I took some photos / had people talking photos of me both on the sly and asking me to pose with them.Its funny people will try to take a photo on the sly on their phone, but it is still so obvious, they follow you with there phone in there hand and their arm stretched out as far as possible. Also sometimes someone will ask to take a photo of you and then shove there camera about 5cm from your face and take it, so I highly doubt they actually got a nice memorable photo of that strange white foreigner.

We were about to leave the temple when a film crew arrived and asked if I could do an interview with them...so I had to stand there with a huge crowd of Bangladeshi's who were already in a circle around me and then say a little speach about why the temple should receive more money so it can be preserved as a visitor spot. However once I had finished the man told me that the sound had not worked and I had to try and do it all over again! Nightmare! Owell, apparently I will be broadcasted on not just one, but TWO TV stations. Officially famous!.....in Bangladesh.

We then drove back to Dinagpour city and had lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Apparently there are alot of Chinese food places throughout Bangladesh due to ethnic migrations from China last century. This restaurant was so weird though. It was completely dark and down one end of the restaurant there was a kinda garden sculpture lit with different colored lights, it kinda looked Jurassic Park like though. I asked and apparently all restaurants are decorated like this.....I cant begin to imagian why they would think this creates a pleasant atmosphere.

After lunch we drove to a large lake which was in a national park area. There is a legand that hundreds of years ago that area was going through a dry famine, until one day the king had a dream that if he sacrificed his only son's life in this particular spot water would come and he would save his people. So he woke up and slaughtered his son and there has been this large lake there ever since. It is a very popular place for groups, families, young people, newly weds etc to come and spend the day. They will set up colorful cloth walls, blast loud music, cook some food and have a Bangladeshi picnic all day at the lake. Imagian spending you honeymoon at some random lake in the middle of the countryside only a few hours drive away. We are soo soo lucky to have all the amazingly beautiful lakes, river, forests, parks, beaches, mountains etc in NZ. Yet we are even more lucky that we have the opportunity and money to travel to other countries for a week or two honeymoon after we get married.

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At one end of the lake sitting on a rickshaw van

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A group of girls who asked me to have a photo with them. We had a couple of group shots then I had to be take one with each individual girl and then the baby was shoved in my arms to also have a photo and then just in case they didnt have enough, a few more photos taken on their cell phones which they shoved right in my face.

I was also asked by a boy (who was a university student) if he could take a photo of me with his father. He had brought his father from the village he lives in to the lake for the day as he had never seen it. This made me feel quite sad about how small some peoples worlds are.

The next day we drove for three hours to a Budist monument which was really cool. Along our drive we passed the border with India (woohooo I have seen indian soil!) Chandon was explaining to me that WV works in a village near the border and the issues they are working with such as people trafficking, AIDS, prostitution, illegal trade and smuggling. They explained that it is a very dangerous place to be and if the customs people who work on the border find someone illegally from india they will just shot them and kill them! And vice versa, so there is alot of conflict along the boarder.
We had come to this budist monument for a picnic with the volunteers from an ADP. The volunteers have a picnic organized once a year for them, so its kinda like a staff Christmas party. I have to give a speech. Ofcorse! (I think my public speaking will have improved by the time I leave Bangladesh!) to try and inspire the people there to continue volunteering for WV.

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Me with monument in background.

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Spot the foreigner! -----(Most of the people who attended the picnic)

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While we were waiting for lunch to be served there was some performances. This is when I realised that alot of the people at the picnic were either gay or transvestites. I found this quite shocking as I know that is illegal to have same sex relationships in Bangladesh. Chandon explained to me that these people are outcasts in Bangladesh and a way that they have learnt to earn a livelihood is to go into near by villages, attack, terrorize and curse mothers and their babies and then demand food or money from the father in order for them to leave them alone and remove the curse. WV offers them roles as volunteers to offer them an alternative way to support themselves and help them fit back into society.
BTW that is men dressed up as women on stage doing a dance and singing Bangla pop songs

Here is a picture from my 4th focus group discussion I held last week.
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And here are some children playing football outside a classroom that we also held a FGD at. The children were sooooo tiny. It was a little heartbreaking. I gave one a half packet of biscuits and she grabbed it off me, ran away and gobbled them all up.
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Here is a shot down the main street of the village I am staying in
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Posted by monkindy 06:00 Comments (0)

Urbanisation

I was finally picked up to head to Dhaka at around 4pm (was meant to be 3pm but Bangladeshi's dont seem to have the best concept of time keeping). We didnt arrive in Dhaka untill about 11pm. The drive was bearable for the first 2 hours, but once it was dark it was just terrifying! Never ever have I been so scared for my life in traffic. Maria said to me once we had stopped to have something to eat that I then may sleep. HAHA what a joke! I was waaaay to tense to even contemplate sleeping, let alone taking my eyes of the road.
We were driving the main "highway" north from Dhaka but the roads are so different from in NZ. There is no such thing as a highways, and there main roads are a bit like a poorly up kept country road in NZ, with about 100x the traffic. About half the time is spent driving on the other side of the road as we pass a truck, rickshaw, bike, rickshaw van, cow, dog etc every three seconds. Trucks are only allowed into Dhaka city at night time so the traffic is very heavy.

Anyway, we did arrive safely in Dhaka as Stephen the driver is great! Once we got to Dhaka it still took us over 1 hour to get to Gulshan (One of the richest suburbs in Dhaka which is actually near the outskirts of the city), which is where I stayed.

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Village scene along the 'Highway'

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Public buses overloaded with people ontop of bus

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Village school

The next morning I walked to the supermarket (only one block away) but was way to scared and confused to venture anywhere else by myself. Carla and I went to the 'Australian club' for lunch. New Zealand has no 'club' so I guess we would belong to the Aus club. Calling it a club is quite deceptive. They mean club like as in a country club. However most clubs are just a complex with some grass, restaurant, pool and always a tennis court. Still it is a nice oasis in the middle of the Dhaka streets. After lunch we went to a beauty spa. One second I was walking along a dirty, loud, smelly, over populated street and next I was upstairs in a normal looking salon getting a pedicure and having coffee. Such a contrast for the rich. I had fun in here looking at all the different fashions richer women wear. They still wear the Salwar Kameez but you can see they are fashionable by wearing straight legged salwar (pants) and beautiful Kameez (Top) which are much shorter and tighter than the traditional Kameez.

On the Friday night we went to a party. Who would of thought that there were parties in Dhaka, and this one was on a roof top! I didnt even wear my Salwar Kameez, it was quite an occasion :) First of all we went to the British club for dinner where we could order a few beers and then to the apartment where the party was at. The others at the party were either working for embassys or NGOs, I had a really great and fascinating night meeting so many people above the skyline of Dhaka where below there are thousands of people sleeping on the streets. Such a contrast, but I guess if you are a westerner who lives and works here you do need ways to escape.

The next morning we caught an 'autoshaw' (a rickshaw which has a moter, so much fun!) to a coffee shop. Once up the stairs and in the coffee shop we could have been at a coffee shop in Ponsonby and you wouldn't have known any difference. Me and Carla then went to the American club as her flatmates church was running a fundraiser that afternoon. I had hena done, played some games and had our face's painted. That night we went out to dinner at a Japanese restaurant which was great! Yum Sushi!

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Autoshaw in Dhaka street

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Having hena done at fundraiser

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View in the American club

The next day I went with two other Aussi girls (one is a occupational therapist and the other is a music therapist - they are both working for one year in Savar hospital (about 1 hr out of Dhaka) and are here on a AusAid programme (Volunteer program set up by Aus government which most people I have met have come to Bangladesh on)) to a shop called Arong. It is a popular clothing/gift shop for the wealthy and tourists. There are several Arong's in Bangladesh and this one was 5 floors! again it is such a contrast to the dirt and population right outside its doors.
That night me and Carla went to the Aus club to read our books and have dinner. I had a BURGER and also bought some cheese which was heaven before having to go back to eating rice, fish and curry vegetables 3 times a day.

On Tuesday Maria arranged for us to drive to the home village of their Prime minister (shak hassina) (her father is Bangladesh's 'National Father' as he lead them through their liberation from Pakistan in 1971. 4 years later him and most of his family were assassinated) and to the birth place of Begum Rokeya who is famous for advocating for women's education (Before her women were not allowed to read books let alone leave their houses!)

The next day Maria took me and Francis to see their 'Eco Village' Project. It is the first eco village run by world vision in Bangla and is doing well so will hopefully be rolled out throughout Bangla. They learn skills such as seed storage, composting, how to sow the seeds and how to utilize their land to grow more than one type of crop. I was stunned that local villages did not already have this knowledge passed down to them from previous generations!!
We were looking at one garden when we got invited over to a school which was across the road. There were hundreds of children all crowding around. It was also their lunch time and the children were given hospice (a balanced meal of rice mixed with pulse, vegetables and spice) They explained to us that providing the children with lunch is a self initiated program (community implemented and run) where those more well-off in the village provide a little bit of money so that children can have lunch provided for them each day which also acts as an incentive for the children to stay in school! Was very cool to see all this and the men who started it were soooo proud to be explaining it and showing off their work.
We were invited to have some hospice and tea with them at the school. We were then invited for tea at another school and then also tea and sweets at the local government center. hahah the whole time people were snapping photos of just about anything I would do. They were all very friendly though and asked lots of questions about NZ :)

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Shak Hassinas house

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Traveling along the village roads

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Statue of Begum Rokeya

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Helping hand out the hospice at village school

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Photo with school children. I was actually surrounded by at least 100 children :)

Posted by monkindy 02:37 Comments (0)

Deja vu

Yesterday was the closet I have come to dieing! We were driving back from out second focus group in a micro (9 seater van), so we were on village roads. Like I have said there isnt a minute that passes when you cant see at least 100 people on the road or in the fields in front of you. So anyway as there are no seat belts, normally just have to go with it and trust that the driver is experienced enough to get you from A to B safely. We were driving along pretty fast when a farmer leading three cows on the side of the road had one get scared by our relatively big car coming past and it ran out in front of us. The driver slammed on his breaks and we all went flying forwards. (We managed to stop within a few cm of the cow, thank god!) I have a large bruise on my leg but other than that it was fine. However the staff who I was with all fussed over me like always. 'Are you okay? Are you okay? Are you scared? Sorry stupid cow, stupid farmer. Sorry sorry sorry.' I then tried to explain that I had been in a car crash at home with a cow so it was kinda scary but they just kept fussing over me so I gave up.

Never ever in your life will you feel like such royalty as to when you are in Bangladesh. If I walk into a room, someone will stand up and give me their seat, I have my own drinking water while everyone else has tap water, I am not allowed out of the building unless I have a chaperone, someone has to stay in the building with me at night for my 'security', even though there is already two guards downstairs at the gates every night! So really I think I have come to Bangladesh to be a royal celebrity for seven weeks. Just call me Kate Middleton!

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Bangladesh countryside

My research is going very well.....I think. Have completed two focus groups already. The second one going much better than the first. My target group is ethnic minorities in the Pirganj area, who are considered as 'ultra poor'. They have houses made of clay but take such pride in them painting them in beautiful patterns. The women I have met so far have been very friendly, but quite shy, but always very appreciative! When we arrive in the villages children will crowed around and run and get more friends to come and look at 'this strange white lady'. Men and elders will also come to stare, and literally do they stare. It is not considered rude to stare in Bangla.
The starring I am getting used to and don't actually mind, however, I can not get used to the hocking and spitting! ewwwww Thank goodness I am rich enough to not have to walk around in bear feet and stand on peoples spit all over the ground. Apparently it is not considered rude to burp out loud in any situation, as people to it all the time!

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10 seed method in focus group

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Children at village school who all ran over to look at me

I am slowly learning sayings in Bangla. But when I try to say things most people find it quite funny as I say everything with a NZ accent. I have tried to explain that NZers are called Kiwis and I have a 'Kiwi accent'...But Im not quite sure they knew what I meant.

I have learnt Doh-no-bad is thank you, Didi is sister (Everyone calls me Moniek-didi), To-mar-nam-ke? is what is your name?, dim is egg, Assalam walekum means peace be with you and is the respectful way to say hello, Acha is okay.

Today a new ADP manager came and the old ADP manager is leaving to go and work in Dhaka as her daughters live there. We had a Welcoming/leaving ceremony this afternoon. We were also invited to the neighbors house (They own the property that the WV office is in) for lunch today. The table was just set for four of us (Old ADP manager, New ADP manager, Divisional director and me of course because I am royalty) and the hosts (husband and wife) hovered around the table trying to feed us more and more! There was 10 different dish's for lunch! and then dessert! (like creamed rice but fresh and waaaaaay better than the canned stuff at home) Im pretty sure I am going to put on 10kg after 6 weeks eating in Bangladesh. Hahaha and they say Bangladesh suffers from malnutrition............ No once again it is the Bangladesh culture to show soooo much hospitality to their guests. I asked about it at lunch and Chandan (divisional director) said that guests, and especially those from out of country are thought of like God...haha so I have now gone from being Kate Middleton to being GOD!

Chandan is coming back to Pirganj to pick me up and take me to Dhaka tomorrow. It is a long weekend so I asked if I could possibly go back, and of course it was arranged. I need to look up if there are any tourist sights I could look at or do in Dhaka.....Although I kind of doubt it. I have also herd that there are political rally's happening in Dhaka at the moment so I will have to be careful. I will stay with an Aussie girl from the national office, so I am sure all will be fine :)
I am really missing being able to talk in normal English speed and not having to think of what easy words I can use to explain myself. So will be good to be around some English speaking people for a few days.

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World Vision Pirganj office

Posted by monkindy 00:13 Comments (1)

Arrival!

Dhaka and Pirganj

Arrival into Dhaka I could not see very much as it was already dark.
I stayed at a lovely hotel call 'Eastern Residence' which was a few blocks from the World Vision National Office.

I was picked up by a World Vision car in the morning and taken to the National office where I had the chance to meet alot of the key staff members and had some induction into safety and child protection. At the office there was an Australian girl (Carla) and an American girl (Alyssa) who invited me to lunch with them. They said they usually go out for lunch as even though lunch is provided at the office, it is the same rice, vegetables and dahl every day. It was amazing to have this time with Carla and Alyssa as I asked them soooo many questions as to what it is like living in Bangladesh.
They live in (modern) apartments with other international volunteers or interns. They go to the gym, buy their food from supermarkets and even have party's. They also told me about 'country clubs' which is an organization you can pay to be a member of and use the facilities. Usually a bar where they can buy imported drinks, a pool, spa and even grass to sit on! Sounds like a Oasis in the concrete jungle of Dhaka. Carla said if I go back to Dhaka for a weekend I am welcome to stay with her, so I may take her up on that offer some time.
After lunch Carla took me to a clothing shop to buy my first Salwar Kameez! And as they described it, it is actually like wearing pj's all day long!

Dhaka is really not the nicest city in the world. It is dusty, noisy, smelly, entirely made of concrete, and insanely busy! Chris said is it busy like Bangkok busy, and I said, no like 10x as busy. The traffic is also insane! I remember when I first arrived in Vietnam I was terrified of crossing the street, however by the time I left Vietnam, it was as easy as just sticking your hand out and walking with the motorbikes dodging you. However in Dhaka, it is the same amount of traffic (if not more) but it is no longer motorbikes, it is cars, trucks and buses, so if you get hit by that, you are pretty much done for. 95% of the people in the streets are men and they really do just stare, will take some getting used to.

The next morning I was picked up at 6.45 by Stephen who is the assistant to the Dinajpur Director (Pirganj = is a district in Dinajpur). We set off and reached Pirganj by 1pm which was good timing (can take up to 10hrs depending on traffic)
Everyone at the Pirganj WV office is very friendly and I have a little room at the office. I did see a gecko in my room last night but no cockroaches so far so its all looking good!

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Posted by monkindy 16:56 Archived in Bangladesh Tagged world vision dhaka pirganj Comments (1)

Visa confirmation!

3 days to go.

Last night I FINALLY received visa confirmation and ethics from the Bangladesh government has been approved, with only three days to go! Now I can finally start getting excited! Although im sure it wont really hit me until I am in the middle of Dhaka with millions of people rushing past me on rickshaws or when I need to use the toilet and am faced with only the squat option.

However I am excited about the flight! Yay might be having a solo party on the plane trying to get my money worths in alcohol ( + calming the nerves)

Posted by monkindy 21:10 Archived in New Zealand Tagged departure Comments (2)

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