Postcards from the Edge

of Bangladesh

Archive for January, 2010

Fun, but tiring

It’s all still frightfully busy this side. LOTS of work (accompanied by lots of moaning by me), lots of dinner invitations. Buddhist festivals, shopping, trips on Kaptai Lake, plus a cold. Equals a very tired Stella.

Of all the fun recently, the highlight was getting back from dinner last night, after rice wine, on a the world’s most unstable boat. It’s a little unmanned community boat, that just sits around on the water waiting for people who need it to a cross a section of the lake. It was a stumble down the river bank to get to it, a scramble up the river back on the other side, and a LOT of laughing in-between while trying not to fall into the lake. You have to pull yourself across the water with rope (no oars), which Tony had to do by the light a head torch, totally unaided by me sitting in the back slightly drunk, giggling and shrieking ‘If I fall in, I’m pulling a sickie tomorrow’. Just how we made it safely across is anyone’s guess.

Right. Back to work now. Another full day training session tomorrow. Man, I’m going to need a little holiday after all this work and social engagement.

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All out

I’m all talked out. And listened out. And worked out (we worked a full 12 hour day yesterday. In Bangladesh. That’s just plain wrong).

And now I have a cold. And we’re running a full day workshop today.

Perhaps this working thing isn’t for me after all.

Practice for the real world

I so not used to company anymore.

There is another volunteer here with me in Rangamati at the moment, doing a Short Term Intervention (and yes, VSO do abbreviate that to STI…) on funding. Which is great as it’s much needed here. And it’s fun for me having a buddy to show around, laugh about things with and to watch fail as spectacularly as I did at trying to learn everyone’s names.

But man, I not used to so much company. I not used to talking so much on any given day, and certainly not used to trying to string so many grammatically correct English sentences together. I’m used to pidgin English, in small bursts, and then sitting back and relaxing inbetween with a bit of internet action. The pace here is pretty slow, and Moanoghar doesn’t purely exist for me to facilitate sessions and build capacity with… they do have like an organisation to like run and stuff. So inbetween the work I do I kick back, drink tea and take photos. But now with Tony here, I’m working for longer stretches and with less breaks. It’s hard. I’m not used to it. I go for about 10 minutes, feel my brain swelling and want a break.

It’s bad.

Not to mention how totally used to my own company and routine I have grown in the last 10 months here. I’m having to consider another person now. That’s even harder. Having someone break into my little bubble of an existence here like this.

But it’s good practice for my re-integration back into the real world. Where there are LOTS of people to have conversations of more than 2 sentences with, and who have to be considered and consulted and might even have opinions to take into account.

Shit.

You should still do it

Despite all the issues with the VSO programme office here in Bangladesh, if anyone out there is thinking of doing VSO, still DO IT.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night with the realisation that a batch of new volunteers are heading to Bangladesh in a few days time. And blogs are easy to find with just a  few Google searches, and I’m a bit worried about the impact my rant might have on these new volunteers who might stumble across it.

I considered deleting the posts, but my comments still stand, it’s appalling treatment of volunteers who give up so much to come to here, and I want this blog to be as true to what was going through my head at any given time. BUT the positives of doing VSO do still far outweigh the negatives. Really. Doing VSO is a life changing experience, and VSO is potentially still one of the better volunteer agencies out there. Dealing with volunteers is not easy, and VSO can’t please all of the people all of the time. So it’s inevitable there will always be some pissed off volunteers out there. And there are things that VSO does that do make volunteer life easier, like sorting out visas and providing very good health insurance. And if you can ignore/deal with the issues at the programme office, the work you can do directly with NGO’s and communities in desperate need of help makes it all worthwhile. Really.

You should still do it.

VSO rage

Christ. VSO Bangladesh has REALLY outdone themselves this time.

I don’t usually moan about VSO so publicly, but this is truly special. They (VSO Bangladesh) have suspended all volunteer extensions for 2010, while they review their country strategy, inline with the VSO worldwide corporate strategy. So I get the point of reviewing strategy and reviewing suitability of partners (the organisations to which VSO sends volunteers to) but you could FIRST decide on your strategy and THEN make decisions and take action. No, not in Bangladesh. Let’s rather stop the good work current volunteers are doing (or planning to do), while we um and ah, scratch our arses and come up with something illogical, useless and meaningless that we’ll pretend is a ‘strategy’.

So what this means is some volunteers who had been planning to extend their stay here in Bangladesh (and had been assured of their extensions as recently as last week) are now being told they have to leave the country when their original placements are up. For one volunteer, that is in 4 days. Four days. AND the first some volunteers heard about this was in an email VSO sent to partners, an email to which the volunteers were just copied into. No direct communication, just an email addressed to someone else from which you must guess the impact that it’ll have on you. THAT is how utterly shit VSOB is at communication and just how little they value their volunteers. And not even a ‘We’re sorry for how this may affect you’, it’s just ‘Ok bye. Please leave the country. Now’.

This has affected the volunteer who I had lined up to replace me here in Moanoghar (having continuity in volunteers is so important to the continued development of an organisation). He has actually decided to just sack the whole VSO thing, and still volunteer here in Moanoghar independently. Which I am very happy about. But this will be at some financial cost to him. Not to mention the extra stress this is all causing him. He made the decision to spend another year in Bangladesh (which is NOT an easy decision) and VSO have shown absolutely no concern or care for how much they are messing with his future by making such a half cocked and knee jerk decision. It’s bullshit.

Deep breaths.

If this had directly affected me, I’d be breathing fire right now. VSO can count themselves lucky on that front. But I really do think it’s time to put in a formal complaint to VSO UK about just how badly things are run here. Honestly, it has got to that point.

As if Bangladesh isn’t hard enough as it is, we have VSOB making our lives even more difficult.

The world’s longest beach

Here I am now, in Cox’s Bazar, allegedly the world’s longest beach. I think this is disputed and there are a few beaches in India, Australia and NZ that also claim this title. But world’s longest or not, its long. Reportedly a 125km stretch of unbroken coast.

Not that I’ve seen it yet. Arrived after dark last night, just in time to catch the last day of the VSO annual conference today. Due to doctors and hospital appointments in Dhaka (given the all clear, no reason to panic), I’ve missed the first 2 days. But I’ve arrived in time for the half day wrap and sight seeing day. Excellent timing. The theme of the conference this year as Monitoring and Evaluation. For 3 days………………….                         Sorry, I fell asleep there for a minute. Dullsville. Yawn. Snore.

However the general anger and all round pissed-offness of the volunteers has apparently livened up the sessions somewhat. There are a lot of unhappy volunteers in Bangladesh right now. Which I think it a theme of volunteering with VSO in this country. LOTS of issues. I stay about as far away from the programme office as I can, and don’t volunteer for any extra curricular activities. Ja, a volunteer who doesn’t volunteer…. But I think this has saved my sanity, if general mood of this conference is anything to go by.

There are plans for a swim later. But we’ll see. It could get messy out there. A large group of foreigners. On a beach. In Bangladesh. Let’s see how much we can take.

Chair reclassification

Ok, I feel the need to re-classify the chair I’m getting made. It’s not a LAZY BOY lazy boy. But Bangladesh has robbed me of my vocab, and I can’t think of another name for it. Here is a photo. It’s gorgeous, no?

I can’t sleep at night with the thought that people think I’m getting an actual lazy boy. Amanda -> I hope this clarifies things!