Postcards from the Edge

of Bangladesh

Archive for June, 2009

R & R

Today has involved some quite serious R&R for me. It kicked off with a lie in, then a facial and then shopping for material and house trinkets. It’s almost like I’m not in Bangladesh at all.

Almost.

I felt I needed to re-charge my batteries before heading back to Rangamati tomorrow. I’m very glad I have taken a ‘me’ day. I think it might make all the difference.

And from tomorrow, I refocus on work. Coming back to the VSO mothership is always good for a bit of focus and motivation.

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Where IS the rain?

Man alive, I’m tired. Fatigued. Deflated. Moeg. It’s like I’ve run out of steam somewhere along the way.

Maybe it’s the weather. But it has been relatively cool here in Dhaka for the past few days. Well, it’s been low 30’s. I have consistently been living in 30 to 40 degree heat for 3 months now. And while there is a little fluctuation, it’s mostly forking hot. And always humid. It’s tiring. So maybe it’s all just catching up on me now.

You know what it’s like at the end of a long, hot summer, you long for winter. Or at least I used to long for winter when living in Cape Town. I love the change of seasons. And I so need the season to change here. We should be well into monsoon season, but the rains are late this year. Later than they have ever been, so I’m told. Even the locals are suffering. We get spots of rain here and there, but nothing like what we should be getting at this time of year. And while I will no doubt soon be complaining about too much rain, right now it’s the only thing I want.

Shiny Happy People

A quick pic from the night at the Bagha. Aren’t we a good looking bunch…

The VSO'ers

The VSO'ers

Funny story I heard last night: The cleaner (of ‘bringing the dead mouse into the office’ fame) was spotted yesterday cleaning the microwave. In the bathroom. Under the running shower… Or maybe it would be funny if it wasn’t so damn frightening. That woman is nuts.

And a great day was had by all

Yesterday was perfect. Just perfect.

When you go to the Bagha, you check your Bangladeshi baggage in at the door. Emotionally speaking.

We swanned around in the pool for a while, then the ‘Surprise!’ element of the party took place upstairs. Then I headed back down to the pool, and had a swim in the rain. One of my favourite things to do. There is just something so special about swimming in the rain. It washes away my worries like few other things can do.

And our training today has actually been far better than expected. Set your expectations low enough, and you need never be disappointed again.

Pool party

I’m in Dhaka now, nominally for some British Council training, but mostly for a fellow VSO’ers 30th birthday party at the Bagha today.

I plan to swan around the pool drinking white wine. What a pleasure.

Just like in the movies

Last night I was tucked up under my mosquito net, watching 6 Feet Under (my newest download and latest viewing obsession) when something of a situation erupted outside. Lots of shouting, heckling, people, running. It was hard to tell exactly what was going on.

Electricity was out, so I wasn’t about to go and investigate.

This morning I found out what had happened. Get this …

The male Class 10 students have handed in a list of demands to the Executive Committee:
1) Sack one of the class 10 hostel supervisor (one of the monks here with whom they evidently have some personal issue with)
2) Sack the yourselves (i.e. get rid of the current EC)

And the Class 10 student now refuse to pay the (nominal) monthly fee for their tuition and boarding. 

Yesterday evening they demanded a meeting with the EC. Things turned ugly. Locals from the village rocked up, split into two groups: one For the current Moanoghar EC and one Against.

It’s blatantly obvious that the Against group are using and manipulating the Class 10 students to further their own agenda. Boys on the cusp of manhood are so easily influenced and riling them up doesn’t take much, does it.

The police were called in case it all turned really ugly. Delegations of other locals arrived. Local village leaders and prominent civil society members were informed. 

Eventually things dissipated and everyone went home.

So the whole sorry state of Moanoghar has now officially spilled out into the open. The village is split along lines of support. It’s highly likely the hostel for the male Class 10 students will be closed for the foreseeable future, and the students sent home/away.

It is emotional out there.

If this was Africa, there would toy-toying. 

It all feels quite surreal. And we’re supposed to be trying to improve the organisation with all THIS going on?

P.S. I’m staying WELL out of it all. Leaving for Dhaka tomorrow for some VSO training. Well timed.

P.P.S. Some of this might have been lost in translation, so this is to the best of my knowledge. It’s complicated. And difficult to understand.

Black and White vs. Shades of Grey

Let’s talk about work for a minute shall we. It’s what I am here for after all.

There are changes afoot in my organisation. How do I put this as simply as I can? Because it’s a long story. And potentially a boring one too.

Ok. Here goes.

This organisation was started in the 70’s by a group of Buddhist monks. Mostly good eggs, who did good work. It was a tough place to work, as this area has always been suppressed and oppressed by the Bengali majority. Remember this is an indigenous minority, in contrast to the ethnically Begali, and mostly Muslim, majority. In a country of 150 million people, with not enough resources, prone to natural disaster and a rather violent history. 

One of the founding members was the General Secretary of the organisation for like 30 years. Due to the difficult circumstances of the area and time, and the inherent lack of management capacity of a group of monks, transparency was
not high on the agenda. In fact, circumstances provided a breeding ground for corruption and, how can I say… financial liberties. By said monk (and potentially other monks) and various members of the community living here.

Two years ago, the government withdraw (for unrelated reasons) their funding (the major funding source for the organisation). Moanoghar very, very almost collapsed.

People rallied around to help, but no one would help financially as long as the crook monk was still around. So he was forced to resign. Which is culturally a HUGE thing here. I guess it’s like sacking a Catholic priest in Ireland. Or sacking your tribal leader in Africa. Or something.

Now, this monk wants to come back to Moanoghar. And he has friends in some very high places. And with this being Bangladesh and all, people use their power (political and other) to:

a) get what they want
b) get their friends what they want.

So now, with pressure on all sides, Moanoghar is being forced to dissolve it’s Executive Committee. And to reform with the afore mentioned monk and his cronies. It is highly likely the afore mentioned funding is on it’s way back to Moanoghar. So people smell money. And they want some. Let’s NOT spare a thought for the orphaned and destitute children that will be denied all manner of things by this money grabbing. Sometime human nature is very ugly. And it is not fun to see. Believe me. 

Negotiations are now ongoing. Good vs Evil. Ok, it’s not really that dramatic, but there is now an effort to get some good eggs into the Executive Committee to reduce the impact/influence of the bad eggs. 

Are you still awake? Yes, I was right. That was boring.

Anyway. So where does this leave me? What will my conscience allow? 

a) Pack up and move on. Refuse to work with any level of corruption.

b) Get real (I’m in Bangladesh for god’s sake, what WAS I expecting). Work within it to try change it / minimise the impact. 

Walking away won’t change anything. Staying here just *might* change something. You have to accept, and engage with, something before you can change it. And all that. 

Besides, people can change. Right?