Postcards from the Edge

of Bangladesh

Archive for October, 2009

Have drugs, will take them


Arrived in Dhaka last night, after a loooong day of travelling. Took a charming 12 hours to get from Rangmati to Dhaka, and then another very special 1.5 hours in a CNG just to get across Dhaka. One and a half hours in a CNG is definitely not fun, especially when not feeling 100%. It’s a long time in a little tin box on wheels, with zero suspension/shock absorbers, hideous traffic fumes, bumpy roads and a driver with little/no moderation in the ‘stop’ and ‘go’ departments. And the incessant hooting, let’s not forget the hooting.

And now, I’ve just got back from the doctor. You know, I already just feel better for having gone. There is certainly something therapeutic and somewhat healing in the very act of someone taking time and care to listen to you and your list of ailments.

I have been given some de-worming tablets. Worms… always a nice possibility in such countries as Bangladesh. Not sure if I actually have worms, but it’s a good idea for everyone to de-worm themselves every 6 months or so. The doctor also thinks I have some kind of gastroenteritis – which is also rather quite vague. But have been given some medication and we’ll see my upper belly feels in a month or so. And apparently I also ‘look’ anaemic (which always, always a good look…), so blood has been sent away for testing. Results will be in next week, and we’ll take it from there.

Decided to spend another day here, and then travel back on Saturday morning. And will NOT feel guilty about it. Have stocked up on DVDs (yay) and plan to spend tomorrow at the Nordic Club (double yay). An expat club here that has fab food, and non of the old fat English barflies that the Bagha attracts.

Here’s a pic from my day of travelling yesterday, the local version of KitKat.



On route

So I’m currently on route to Dhaka. Literally. I’m typing this on the bus. Have I mentioned how much I love my mobile internet lately?

But the only reason my laptop is on, is because I managed to cock up my iPod last night. I imported a compilation CD of A.R. Rahman (the guy who won the best music Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire). I didn’t want to do a full synch of my iPod as as I’ve recently liberated some cool music from other vol’s iPod’s straight to my iPod. And as we we all know a full synch wipes out all music that isn’t in your iTunes. So I just synch’d the A.R. Rahman CD. I thought I was being very smart.

Until I got on the bus this morning, to find ONLY A.R. Rahman on my iPod. Aaaaaarse. At the star of a 10 hour bus trip, this is not good news. And at the start of a 10 hour bus journey during which you will be constantly subjected to hideously loud Bangla music and/or some type of reading-singing combination from the Qur’an, this is especially not good news. I like A.R. Raham and all, but not for 10 hours while I try block out the in-house bus music. Hence laptop is on while I re-synch all my music. Except obviously the stolen music, which is now forever lost.

And clearly I’m not on a local bus, I changed at Chittagong for a plusher, more expensive bus. No way I’vdhave my laptop on on one of the other buses. Having a laptop bouncing around, while on, it not a good idea. But in the interests of laptop safety I’ll be switching off now anyway. God forbid something happened to my most prized possession.

Ok fine, I’ll go to Dhaka

After putting off a trip to Dhaka for weeks now, I’ve decided that it’s time to go and get myself checked out, health wise. Something just ain’t right.

I’m constantly tired. And not just kinda tired, but passing out on my bed after work for an hour, followed by a 9pm bedtime, topped off by a struggle to get out bed at 8am. A mere 11 hours later. And the weird stomach sensations/pain, and dizziness. These are all such fluffy and vague symptoms, I feel like a bit of a fraud taking time off to go to the doctor. The doctor isn’t around the corner here, she is a 10 hour trip away. So a visit to the doctor is usually at least a 3 day round trip.

It’s all so vague and it comes and goes, and sometimes I feel like it’s all just in my head. I don’t need to be rushed to hospital because of something physically obvious (like my arm has fallen off, or I’m bleeding out of my eyes). But after a few weeks of this, I feel like I’m running on empty and just can’t carry on. It’s just all SO dramatic isn’t it. And I’m also getting weirdly emotional about it all. Perhaps a sign of over tiredness.

Quite a rubbish time for this to reach a tipping point, I’ll be missing a huge yearly Buddhist festival here, and depending on how long I need to stay in Dhaka, maybe a visit by some Rotarians from the UK. This visit is providing quite a big deal for my organisaiton, it’s all about continued funding/sponsorship/support. But looking at my work plan this is the best time to do it. My work plan is basically lying in pieces, quivering in the corner of the office as it’s been changed/ignored/abused to such an extent that it no longer even resembles its former self. Such is the life of ‘planning’ in development, and I think especially development in Bangladesh.

And I can’t have this lethargy for any longer. I’m beginning to feel that I’m running out of time here, what Eid coming up (another 3 day holiday), Xmas around the corner (I’ll be taking a week off), the VSO annual conference (another week in January). All these breaks result in break in momentum and after each it’s hard to pick it all up again. Before you know it, I’ll be finished my placement and I need my energy to do the best I can with the time I have left.

And if for nothing else, I need to still my maddening mind. At this point I really hope there IS something wrong with me, otherwise I might just be going mad.

Last night, for the first time…

… I slept without my fan on.

This is exciting news, as I am now getting a little chilly at night with it on. Chilly…aka cold! It’s been a long 7.5 months during which I had ceased to remember that there was such a sensation as cold. God it’s nice.

The night before last (prior to inaugural night sans fan), I got up in the middle of the night to look for a jumper to put on. Clearly I had forgotten where I was. A jumper? I don’t own one here. Not even one. I own nothing with long sleeves.

The weather has now settled down nicely into what I would liken to a Cape Town summer. Hot during the day, 30+ degrees, but a nice dry heat. And at night, chilly enough to warrant the need for  a cardi(gan) or a pash(mina). I don’t know if this is officially winter now, or if it gets even (shock, horror) colder. Either way, I likey. I likey a lot.

All night long

So it WAS an all night party last night! I was highly sceptical, as Bangladeshi are prone to hyperbole. So by ‘all night’ I guessed they meant until about midnight-ish.

Well, not last night. In the field opposite, there was I guess what we would describe as a fete. Lots of food stall, tea stalls and games.


The 'gambling'

Soap was a popular (the only) prize.

There was a cultural programme, lots of Chakma dancing and singing.

dancing chakma 2

The official dancing

There were looots of people, and even the odd impromptu dancing circles. Felt like I was back in Soho for a fleeting moment.

At midnight, a Bangla drama production was scheduled to start on the stage. And the entire night’s entertainment scheduled to finish at 6am. So really, it was an actual all night event. I made it until about 11:30pm then called it a night.

On Wednesday and Thursday is the main temple of Rangamati’s festival. Which is the big one, where apparently thousands of people from all over the CHT descend upon our town. Apparently. On the Wednesday evening there is all night weaving, where local women weave cloth for the monks’ new robes. Two other VSO volunteers are coming to stay with me to check this festival out. Which means I need to tidy my room from the currently still visible Standard 3 project explosion.

P.S. Spent most of the morning trying to figure out iMovie on my Mac, to get the video the right way up and then post onto YouTube. Looks like lots of fun things can be done with iMovie, let’s see if my motivation extends past this first clip.

Killer stairs

So yesterday was the impromptu decision to walk up the highest peak in Rangamati. We arrive at the bottom, I look up and think ‘what was I thinking?’. Literally just as we start our walking, a jeep bumbles along beside us and offers us a lift. God must have been watching (I was with a monk after all). God saw this disaster that was about to happen, and She sent me a jeep. Because sweet bejesus only knows how long it would have taken me to get to the top. Ok, there is a (brick) road to walk up so it’s not exactly jungle climbing, but it took us 1/2 hour in a jeep, most of it spent in 1st gear.

When we arrived at the top, we walked up the final bit to reach the temple at the top. A long, very steep set of stairs. 382 stairs in fact (someone else counted). I did the whole ‘I’m just taking some photos’ ploy to stop half way.


382 very steep steps

We did however to decide to walk down the peak. Well the monk decided and I didn’t want to be a complete loser and suggest we try flag down another passing car. As it turned out, the walk down was great. I had jelly legs at the end of it, but I expect the walk down is much easier than the walk up.

And today is Moanoghar’s temple’s festival day. Can’t say for sure what the festival is about, but it’s been going on since about 5am. Lots of praying, chanting and some talks on Buddhism.



The monks, ready to talk about monk stuff


My little neighbour, trying to make as much noise as is humanly possible

And tonight there is a cultural programme. Or something in a nearby field that involves singing, dancing and gambling. That carries on all night. Or so I’m told.


I was up until 1am this morning finishing my workshop sheets and getting everything ready for the activities etc. Sheez, wasn’t expecting to pull late nighers here in Bangers, but that’s what intermittent electricity will do to your well laid plans.

My bedroom looks like a Standard 3 (Grade 5?) project has exploded in here. Except maybe Standard 3’s now do projects on their laptops and email their work to their teachers? Who knows, I’m so out of touch. I have visions that the whole world out there is making extreme and supreme  use of technology and it’s just me using paper, scissors, masking tape and rulers. Obviously I know that isn’t the case, but it makes me feel like I’m being a real soldier out here. But hey, I’m lucky at least I have paper, scissors etc. Many don’t.

Anyway, turnout for the session was poor to dismal. I kinda expected this. I had arranged and reminded my ED about this session for weeks, but he took yesterday afternoon to invite people/request their attendance on their 1 day off in a week. Also, this weekend is Moanoghar’s temple’s festival (don’t really understand what festival is about, but there is much cleaning, painting and preparation for tomorrow’s activities). So planning a session the day before a yearly Buddhist festival is ill advised. The kind of information that would have been useful BEFORE I scheduled the session. But all is not lost, between the attendees that did turn up, we decided on the final attendees for the session that has now been arranged for 6 November. I’m happy to postpone, as doing it with too few, and not the right mix, of attendees is an exercise in futility. Also, through this little planning disaster, my ED has learnt the importance of planning, and how things can go oh-so-horribly-wrong when things aren’t planned correctly/in advance. And I should spend more time being more specific about the aims and objectives of a given workshop so that there is a common understanding of what/who is required. So some lessons in there for all of us.

So instead of said session, this afternoon I’ll be walking up the highest hill/peak here in Rangamati. I’ve been told the name, but there is something about Chakma words that makes them start escaping out of my brain the minute I hear them. The usual discussion was had on whether or not I’d be ‘allowed’ to do this walk without the usually required police guards, but since it’s a festival day (for the temple on the top of this hill) there will be loads of people doing this same walk. And I’m going with a monk, which, in past experience at least, as resulted in me getting away with some things that I usually wouldn’t on my own. Buddha Datta just waves away talk of permission and police, and nothing appears to stop this monk.

Given my current fitness level/spate of ill health, the walk/climb could be embarrassing. No idea how high it is, or how long the walk itself is (current estimates range from one to 3 hours). It hasn’t rained for a while, so expecting less Estelle Slippage than previous walks. Well, of course now that I’ve just said that….