Postcards from the Edge

of Bangladesh

And so, onto the next adventure

I’ve been meaning to put up a round-up post on here, but somehow just can’t do it. I’m not sure if it’s because I have no idea where to start, what to say, or even how I actually feel about it all. One day I’ll process it all, and perhaps finish this little blog off. I still can’t bring myself to read any of it. Maybe one day I’ll be able to.

But for now, you can follow me at http://www.estellevisagie.com. It’s not a VSO or volunteering blog, but a photography blog. That’s what I do now. Ok fine, I haven’t actually been paid to do it yet, but you know, any day now…. It’ll chart some of my work, my frustrations, my elations, and just general crap I fancy writing about. A lot like this, but with less swearing. I write this as if someone is out there reading it. But who knows. Is anybody out there?

It’s time for me to go.

Oh, it’s time. It’s time all right. Get. Me. Out. Of. Here.

Needless to say, I’m still here. Was hoping to actually be on the train outta here (to Calcutta) as I type this. But Indian High Commission put a stop to that, as visa was only issued this afternoon. In the mean time, Dhaka chewed me up, spat me out and told me in no uncertain terms, it’s time for me to leave.

Started off at the post office. What a wonderful way to start a day. By them telling me that they couldn’t send my package as they couldn’t paste their stamps on it. I’d gone a little OCD with taping it up, and left no part of the package un-taped. Ma-hosive problem for the folks at the post office it would seem. I just looove the lateral thinking on show at the place…. I shouted, he ignored. I shouted more, with a lot of ‘I fucking hate this country’ thrown in. Eventually he conceded that he could open the draw to his right, pull out some tape and tape the postage stamp on. How terribly nice of him. Then I sweated it out in a CNG in rush hour traffic to the train station, to buy my ticket to Calcutta. But was informed: no visa, no ticket. Shouting had no effect this time. AND was told that there also might be no trains to Calcutta on Tuesday anyway (trains only leave twice a week, Sunday and Tuesday) because there could be a general strike in India on the 27th. Only way to know for certain was to reappear at the train counter tomorrow afternoon.

Went to cool off at the Bagha, and was called to say that my India visa was ready for collection. Caught a rickshaw and negotiated 100 taka round trip fare. Half way back he starts with the 150taka story. I knew it, I forking knew it was coming. I tried to explain that today was not the day to be fucking with me. Not heeding to my advice, he stopped pedalling and refused to move until I agreed on 150 taka. I got off the rickshaw, shouted ‘well now you’re not getting any fucking taka from me’ and stormed off. Rickshaw wallah follows me, demanding payment. I throw 70 taka at him, swear some more and continue the sweaty stomp back to the Bagha by foot. And for the record, it’s not about the money. It’s the principle of it. I’m sick to death of being ripped off. Constantly.

Later I find out my ‘change of route’ permit hasn’t been issued. You know, that amazing piece of Bangladeshi mastery that requires approval if one wants to leave by land after having arrived by air. Am told I’d have to spend tomorrow morning in the visa office to obtain such an approval.

Decide that a morning spent in the Bangladeshi visa office, followed by an afternoon at the train station with a potential train strike thrown in for good measure is All Just Too Much. So fuck it, I’m flying direct to Delhi instead. Don’t reeeeally have the cash to throw around. But with my dangerously low levels of patience in this country, it’s safest for all of us if I just leave as quickly, and as easily as possible.

PS Yes, today had a lot of swearing in it. Usually I’m not this bad. But sometimes it just get too much, gets up in your face too much, gets up your nose too much. It being this city, Dhaka. How do people LIVE here?

The Goodbye

I left Rangamati on Friday. In tears. Which is so totally, unbelievably uncategorically Not Me.

My good bye ‘speech’ also involved tears. A speech because that is what a leaving function involves here, complete with podium, microphone and of course a banner. Nothing happens here in Bangladesh without a banner. I often wonder, if a function is held in Bangladesh but there is no banner, does the function really exist? It’s hard to say, because there is ALWAYS a banner.

The good byes kicked off with Moanoghar’s Executive Director in tears. Which in turn set me off. By the time it was my turn, the taps were well and truly turned on. The first person I thanked was Buddha Datta. When I turned to look at him I was somehow, magically and mysteriously, transported back to the very first time I walked through the Moanoghar gates. Transported back to a time when it all seemed so foreign, so unfamiliar, so bewildering. Back to first few days and weeks, when questions ranging from ‘did I really think this move to Bangladesh decision all the way through?’ to ‘what the fuck am I doing here?’ where running through my head. Back to those first days in the office, where I had NO idea where to start. Back to the days when 1000 school kids milling around frightened the bejesus out of me (only because kids can be cruel, you know. What if they didn’t like me?).

Somehow, standing up there about to thank Buddha Datta, this all ran through my mind. It was like having my life flash before my eyes, except this was my placement flashing before my eyes. This incredibly journey I’ve been on playing like a little video in my mind. How what started off as so foreign, filled with so many strangers, became so familiar, filled with so many friends. All filtered through the reality of the political situation being faced by the indigenous people here. I’m sure that leaving any placement is sad, but here there is the added sadness of the situation. If I came back to the CHT in 10 years time, what would I find? What will be left of the amazing cultural diversity of this area, what will become of the people here? What does the future hold for my friends, and for the communities here? The government has recently issued an order that the use of the term ‘indigenous’ is no longer allowed in Bangladesh. And the Supreme Court has recently ruled that the CHT Regional Council Act is illegal and unconstitutional, threatening the existence of the special administrative structure in place in the CHT since the signing of the Peace Accord (http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=134324). And various players are also petitioning to have the CHT Peace Accord declared illegal and unconstitutional. I really just don’t know what the future will hold for the next generation.

But, for me, I can leave. I can swan back into my 1st world life, and enjoy all my human and constitutional rights. I can walk away from this all. I have a future filled with a range of choices that are unimaginable to people here. I can do anything, go anywhere, and be anything. And why am I so lucky, so blessed? Why was I born in the right place, at the right time, with the right skin colour? Why did MY life unfold before me with so much opportunity, comfort and security?

Ok, now add all of that THAT into the emotion of a good bye speech. Tears were inevitable.

Daylight savings: Cancelled

Found out yesterday, the government has decided to scrap daylight savings here in the Desh. Bangladesh DST, the time that never really was.

A potentially good idea to introduce daylight saving here, but a crises, what a disaster from the get go. Badly thought out, poorly implemented (I use the word implemented, but a lot of people didn’t even bother to change their clocks in the first place) and then cancelled a few days before the next official clock change (originally scheduled for 31st March). I appreciate that the government was trying something new to deal with the energy crisis, but a little forethought, consultation and understanding of potential issues would have gone a long way. And would have saved a lot of time and money.

Speaking of energy crises, the availability of power is sharply on the decrease as the hot-as-feck season approaches. Power only seems to be on for about an hour-ish between sunset and my bedtime. Which admittedly is pretty early these days at 10pm, but really, who is interested in hanging around in the dark anyway. But we’re really really REALLY lucky here in Rangamati at the moment, as we haven’t yet reached the full all out sweat-athon being enjoyed by the rest of Bangladesh. Reading Facebook updates other volunteers are having a pretty shitty time out there. Especially in Dhaka. It sounds like it’s an oven up there at the moment. An oven that won’t be cooling down for about 6 months. Meanwhile here in Rangamati, Tony was wearing a jumper a breakfast yesterday. A jumper. At the end of March. In Bangladesh. Unheard of. Doing our best to enjoy it while it lasts.

Water

Water. From a tap. In my bathroom. At a speed more than a trickle. Because Memory got the plumber to clean my pipes.

Isn’t she wonderful. For the last year I have lived with rusty and irony water in my bathroom (which I personally believe it the real reason behind my current dirty blond/mouse brown hair) that trickled out of the tap. Sometimes just drop by drop. And for the last few months even that dried up and I’ve been filling my bathroom bucket with water from my kitchen every morning and evening. Filling saucepans of water and traipsing through to my bathroom to decant.

And all along, ALL YEAR, there was nothing wrong my water supply. It’s just that the pipes were dirty. Now they are clean and I can fill my bathroom bucket in mere minutes. Not hours.

This has revolutionised my life. Ok maybe not my life, but certainly my morning routine. It’s amazing what one gets used to because you think there isn’t any other option. And it actually hasn’t been a major inconvenience either. I was in fact perfectly happy with my water arrangement.

Or… it’s amazing what I’ve come to accept without questioning. And this I’m not sure is a good thing. That said, I could not have survived Bangladesh if I went kicking and screaming through every day, fighting against everything I thought was wrong. Or broken. Or impractical. Or silly. Or stupid. Or dangerous. Or a waste of time. Or a waste of money. Or a social injustice. Or cruel. No one can survive here if you try to fight against it all. But surely I could have at least made an effort to sort my water out. No? If for nothing else, then at least for my hair. I’m not sure my hair will ever forgive me Bangladesh.

Four jugs

Is now the amount of water I can cut my shower down to, if required. I counted during last night’s shower . We’re in the throws of  a ‘water crisis’ here in Moanoghar at the moment.

A ‘water crisis’ here can mean anything. A blocked pipe, a broken pump or just a plain and simple lack of water. We’re now well into the dry season (it hasn’t rained since about November and it won’t start raining again for a few months still) so water levels are low. I had a pretty unpleasant time of this last year too. It does however make me (again) realise how much water we need on a daily basis to have just a basic standard of living. Counting in shower water (my 4 jugs on non-hair washing days, hair washing days during times of water crisis do become pretty far and few between…), toilet water, cooking water, dish washing water, clothes washing water, general cleaning water (again, these cleaning days are few and far between at the moment…) us human beings need a LOT of water to having a fairly decent life.

And I moan like there’s no tomorrow and feel exceptionally sorry for myself during these days of water crises, because we had to walk about 200 meters to collect water this morning. My plan for this afternoon is to send students on a big water run for me. I hate not having enough water, it really does affect everything. Everything. And I have it lucky. In the big-world-out-there scheme of things, I have easy access to water, I just have to walk a bit. And I also have easy access to clean, safe drinking water too. Again, I just have to walk a little bit. I read somewhere that in many countries women and children, who bear the burden disproportionately, spend up to six hours a day collecting water for their families and communities.

So ja, I can’t reaaaally moan can I.

PS But yes, I will still moan.

I will miss…

I will miss the randomness of Bangladesh. The things you come across that just make you laugh. Like DVD reviews. Tony bought a DVD yesterday, 6 movies on 1 disk. On the back of these 6-in-1 sets is always a short review of each movie. Here’s a sample of the review from Knife Edge (not the movie he bought the DVD for):

‘This is probably one of the worst movies ever made, the one who directed this should never ever been allowed to make another movie , the cast is crap the acting is even more crap and the story is so old and chewed out about 250 times before….’

And so it goes on, until it ends with ‘Don’t spend your money on this crap’.

That’s what is written on the back of the DVD box. Complete with spelling and grammar mistakes. Where do they get these reviews from? Do they get copied and pasted off movie review websites? Ones with really poor attention to spelling and grammar? Or do people type this out themselves manually, hence the bad language? Clearly no one cares what the review itself says.

And some of the these on-the-back-of-the-case reviews aren’t the complete god-knows-from-where review, but end mid sentence as the text box allocated for each movie review is only so big. Another movie in this 6 in 1 (Under the mountain – has anyone heard of these movies?) has a review that trails of with ‘Guided by the mysterious Mr Jones and with’. End of review.

I will miss my easy access to pirated DVDs, I won’t miss the game of chance in the quality of purchased DVDs (yesterdays copy was of particular bad viewing quality, and not watchable), and I will miss the reviews that just make me laugh and wonder at the process that gets them onto the back of DVDs here.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.