Postcards from the Edge

of Bangladesh

Archive for March, 2010

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. 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.

The quality of Bangladeshi journalism

This news piece appeared in yesterday’s online and print versions of a daily national newspaper, the Daily Star.

It reports that 5 Bengali houses were set alight and burnt to the ground by indigenous criminals.

While in fact it transpires that 1 house, housing 5 families, was burnt in down in an accidental kitchen fire.

Which is a without a doubt a tragic story, but not the story that was reported.

Given that the political situation here is incredibly sensitive, and recent ethnic violence in the area resulted in (reports vary on this) the death of 6 indigenous people and one Bengali, one would think the journalist in question would perform at least some level of due diligence and like, I don’t know, check his/her facts before submitting this article, an article that was printed on the front page.

And that’s just another reason I barely read the news here. It’s not actually news per se, it seems more to be ‘what someone told me the other day, that may or may not be true’. Lord.

Did I feel the earth move?

At about 5:15am? I was kinda awake as the broadcast of the morning chanting session, the ringing of the wake-up bell and the students singing the school anthem had all taken place already. Like all outside my window. Morning here are fun, aren’t they.

Anyway, there was a definite earth tremor this morning. Freaked the fuck out of me. There was also a lot of ‘whaoooos’ from the students in the hostel behind my house. Only lasted a few seconds, and afterwards I wasn’t actually sure it happened. Nothing fell down on me, or off walls etc. Was it an earth tremor or an earthquake? Are they the same thing? Does an earth tremor become an earthquake at a certain level of intensity?

Anyway. Prior to that, at some middle of the night hour, I had one of those weird wake-up-with-a-shock moments. A bolt upright in bed moment. I frantically lifted up/untucked my mozzie net, grabbed my torch (in this country I always know where my torch is) and was freaking out about what I wear in the event of a middle of the night earth quake. I can’t run out the house naked. I was about to get up and pick out my earthquake clothes, and place them strategically along my run out of the house route. When I remembered an earthquake poster I recently saw that said ‘drop, roll and take cover’. Or something like that. Ok then, I thought, I won’t run out of the house, I’ll launch myself under my bed instead. I made a mental note to clean under my bed (as I reckon it’s pretty scanky under there) and I went back to sleep.

It really was one of those totally random, weird, bordering on crazy middle of the night discussions with myself. That do happen every now and then. But in retrospect, I reckon that must have been triggered by another earth tremor at the time. My psychic abilities are pretty awesome, but they are not THAT awesome to think about an earthquake exit strategy the night before an actual earthquake (earth tremor, whatever).

The UN have been doing some earthquake building assessments here in the CHT, and I must check if Moanoghar have actually completed their building survey. Building regulations don’t exist here, and the impact of an (actual proper) earthquake would be devastating. Dhaka would be flattened like a house of cards. I can’t imagine any building these surviving an earthquake.

In exercise news: The Davina SuperFit workshop features Run-DMC not once, but twice. The same actual song twice, in one workout. Love it.

In ‘the real world out there’ news: Have you seen Lady Gaga’s new video. Now tell me. Have I been in my Bangladesh bubble for too long and forgotten what music videos look like, or is that not the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen? Ok, maybe not the weirdest, but surely must it must rate up there. My internet connection keeps dying and I don’t get past the first few minutes, but even that is more than my sheltered mind can handle. Who comes up with this stuff? And now I’m desperate to see the rest of it. Obviously. I get better internet connectivity in the office, so I’m pausing it until it’s fully loaded and will then take my laptop to my house (next door) to watch it in full. Imagine if I watched it in the office. Christ. That would be beyond awkward and weird. I can barely handle it, imagine what my Bangladeshi colleagues would think. No, I can’t imagine. It’s too much.

The return of…

– the umbrella, as means of sun protection. If the monks can do it with a straight face, so can I.

– the hand fan. Yes, a hand fan. Probably the best 50 taka I’ve ever spent.

– 7Up. And lots of it.

All in an attempt to deal with the escalating heat. See, told you I’d be moaning about the heat. Another 45 days of moaning to go. Yep, today I counted the days.

If all goes according to plan with my application for an exit visa, and my application for an Indian visa, I’ll be leaving the country on the 25th of April. The whole ‘getting a visa to leave the country’ thing is slightly beyond my comprehension right now. I thought I had submitted my application for a visa extension when I was last in Dhaka. I mean I went to the visa office with forms, passport, (VSO’s) money etc. In an ‘only in Bangladesh’ turn of events, it transpires that this wasn’t actually an APPLICATION application. Sure, we filled in the forms, submitted them, paid, n’ stuff. But now my passport is back with VSO, sans visa. AND this was the plan all along. So my visa extension application is ‘under process’ but at no point will I actually GET a visa extension. I’ve given up trying to understand. So what this means is that I am currently visa-less, and have to apply for a visa to leave the country. Turns out I don’t need one to stay, but I need one to leave. Uh. Ok. VSO will apply for this visa, and when I get it I have 7 days in which to leave the country. Except I’m going to India, for which I need a visa. And an Indian visa takes a minimum of 5 working days to process. You do the math. This might not work out. Having said that, if I do over-stay my ‘exit visa’ to get my Indian visa, I’m told the penalty is 200 taka a day. Which is fine, no sweat at about £2 a day. But I’m catching the train to Calcutta, and if I’ve learnt anything in this country I’ve learnt that I’ll probably be the first foreigner to overstay their visa and to then attempt leaving by land. I expect maximum confusion, and maximum ineptitude at the border. Oh wait. Shit. I’m leaving Bangladesh by land. Apparently I also need a ‘change of route’ permit. Because I arrived by air. And I’m leaving by land.

And no, I’m not making this stuff up. So as hard as it’s been to live in this country for a year, it might be even harder to leave.