Postcards from the Edge

of Bangladesh

Archive for Rangamati

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.


Back ‘home’

I’m back in Rangamati now. I travelled a few days ago and I’m loving being back. Dhaka is so NOT my kind of city.

But it’s sad being back, listening to colleagues talk about the recent unrest. The saddest part is they have seen this all before, and they know they will see it all again. There wasn’t much unrest in Rangamati town, but Kharachari town saw quite a lot. We had one VSO volunteer who was stuck in the situation longer than she should have been. The VSO support to get her out was diabolical. Sometimes I really think they just don’t have a clue. Really. The logistics they arranged were poorly thought out, another volunteer had to basically instruct them what to do and who to contact, and also had to cause a bit of a scene to get them to understand the seriousness of the situation. All rather pathetic, and just another thing to add to the VSO Bangladesh Shit List.

Anyway. Let’s try not to think about VSOB. It’s Friday, and I’m enjoying a day off. Today will be a day of hand washing clothes and watching DVDs. I’m currently well into How I Met Your Mother, season 4. I don’t think I’ll ever watch an actual TV again, series box sets are the way forward.

In other news: I’m slightly scared of the electricity today. Well, I’m usually always a bit scared of the electricity, this IS Bangladesh. But today, when I plug my laptop charger in, it dims my bedroom light. And it makes it flicker. If I unplug the laptop, then it’s all back to normal. Hmm. Is it possible for the current to be too weak today to charge both a laptop and keep a light on? Anything is possible in Bangladesh.

Oh, and I’ve started trying to learn how to meditate. Again. I’ve tried this in India before, but failed miserably. Yesterday I spent half an hour with one of the monks in the meditation centre. Can’t say I meditated per se, but I did sit in a half lotus position for half an hour with my eyes closed. Ok fine, my mind was ALL over the place, but I kept my eyes closed for the entire time. And that, in my book, is a success. This evening we are going to try an hour’s walking meditation. Where you take baby baby steps, super super slowly while focusing your mind. Let’s see how that goes.

…and I’m back…

I’ve been a very erratic blogger lately. Sorry. Just been busy, and stuff (read: lazy). But I have now recovered from what some people might term ‘working hard’. It’s been such a long time for me that I almost didn’t recognise it.

Anyway. Looking at my handy office calendar (on which I mark off the days as I go…) I estimate that I have approximately 73 days left in Bangladesh (exact leaving date TBC). Which seemed like a very short time a few days ago, but now counting it up seems like a very long time. But it works out to only 10 weekends, or Fridays (as my weekends consist only of Fridays). So really it’s not long to go at all.

In other news: I’ve been invited for a wedding in a neighbouring district (Khagrachari) this weekend. Or I thought it was a wedding invitation. After many conversations with Memory, which ended in me calling Chanchu (my ED) in for translation, I discovered it’s not the actual wedding day but rather a cultural pre-req to the wedding day. In the Chakma tradition (this might be the case for all indigenous weddings though, not sure) the bride’s family visits the groom’s family three times before the wedding day to finalise the agreement to marry and discuss logistics (I think, but really I’m not sure what they talk about), and this weekend is the 3rd and final such visit. I’ve decided to still go, as I haven’t seen much of Khagrachari yet and I haven’t done a full blown ‘only locals’ weekend away yet (I expect lack of electricity and bucket showers… oh wait, that’s my house…). Any road, permission has to first be obtained from the District Commissioner for me (a very precious and super important foreigner) to travel, which is the main fun activity for today. Oh, and it’s the school’s sport’s day today. And tomorrow. Lots of fun. And dust. It hasn’t rained (as in not a drop) since monsoon time (um…September?) so it’s getting really dusty here now. Everything is slowly getting caked in brown.

PS I’ve used a lot of brackets in this post (don’t you think?)

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.


Feeling guilty

About rubbish. Actual throw-in-the-bin rubbish.

Rubbish collection and removal and/or recycling*, as concept, doesn’t really exist in Bangladesh. Or not as far as I can tell. In apartment buildings in Dhaka, you put your rubbish out on landing and in time, it disappears. Like magic. Ok, so someone obviously comes to collect it but I have no idea where it goes. Straight out onto the street in front of the apartment building, by the looks of things? Occasionally one does see a rubbish collection type cart thingy in the streets. Usually being pulled by a small child. Or an old women. But I can’t tell if the cart is for official, or personal use.

At any rate, rubbish collection certainly does not happen here in Rangamati. And most definitely not here in Moanoghar. It’s either swept into little piles and burnt. Or it is thrown down the nearest slope/hill, or even just outside the back door. So that it’s out of sight, but really not very far away. It’s the same in India. I remember being amazed at how much time and almost obsessive effort was spent sweeping leaves (you know, natural, makes-sense-for-them-to-be-there leaves) off a path way, while a casual look to the left reveals a veritable dumpsite of plastic and all other things non bio-degradable. But it was the LEAVES that bothered people. Just. Did. Not. Get. It. And it’s the same here. But I do wonder who we’d all manage in the real world without council/municipal rubbish collection. We get through WAY more trash in the real world, with all the packaging and ready made products. Witness England during a bin man strike. NOT pleasant.

I just can’t do it though, randomly scatter rubbish outside my house. Sure, tea bags and veggie peels etc, no problem (one of the many ‘not even started’ ideas I had when I arrived here was to set up composting heaps for such things). But with plastic, no. It’ll be here waaaaay longer than I will. Not the legacy I want to leave.

So I squirrel away my plastic, and save it for a rainy day. Which means I have little bags and piles of plastic in various places around my house. A very 2010 interior decor look. With the plan that I’ll take into ‘town’ one day and deposit it there. Somewhere.

Last night was my first plastic run. Carried one bag of plastic bottles with me to the market. Bins don’t exist here, so I umm’ed and aah’ed about where to dump my plastic. Because I’m hardly inconspicuous in the market, if I just kinda dropped it while walking or left it somewhere (for you know, the rubbish fairies to collect) , someone would run after me to return it. So there I am, lurking around, looking for the perfect place to dump my stash, when I see someone from work. Who insists I share a baby taxi home with them. At that point there was NO way I could dump my stash and run. The questions. The confusion. The disbelieve. It would have all been too much. So I ended up back home, WITH my bag of plastic. FAIL.


Must try harder.

* While recycling doesn’t exist, re-use it massive here. For example, at the end of the year, the students school notebooks and textbooks (apparently the textbooks change annually/very often here in Bangladesh…WTF) are sold, by the kilogram (10 taka per kg). These are then made into little stapled paper baggies that are sold to shops/market people who use them to sell for example fruit in, or road side snacks etc. Or as napkins in these little road side shops. So now I’m used to wiping my hands of pages of maths textbooks and on pages of hand-written English essays.

PS Plastic bags are officially banned in Bangladesh, unless there is no other option. So you don’t find plastic bags any in Dhaka (except the road side shop I buy my breakfast dhal in…), but unfortunately here in Rangamati there are still quite a lot of plastic bags. Way less than say England, but plastic bags none the less.

PPS Yes, I know that rubbish in the real world actually just ends up at the kitchen door (metaphorically speaking) of someone else further down the economic food chain. Besides the odd bit of recycling, none of our rubbish in the real world disappears either. It’s buried, piled high or sometimes even shipped to 3rd world countries and dumped there. Think about it. It’s disgusting. Have you SEEN WALL-E??

Running out of time

That’s how I feel right now. Like I’m running out of time here in Bangladesh. After months of frustration, heat and (let’s admit it) bouts of mild depression about being here, I feel like it’s all about to end too soon.

Some of my ‘running out time’ angst is work related. I NEED to start getting stuff completed here. While stuff has been started and is in progress, I don’t feel that I can put a nice big tick against anything. It’s all kind of half way done. It’s not how I like to leave things, so now I’m getting pretty pushy at work. Completion is binary, as my old Accenture boss used to say…

And the rest of my ‘running out of time’ angst is photography related. During the cry-myself-to-sleep-at-night heat of summer, I made many little promises to myself about how many photos I would be taking when (if) the weather ever cooled down. Now that it’s winter and loooovely and cool, I need to get out there. While I have taken loads of photos in and around Moanoghar lately, I need to get out into the markets as there are some awesome sights that definitely deserve to be captured. I’ll be so disappointed with myself if I don’t capture everything I want to capture. I do get the feeling that this disappointment is inevitable though, as I’m never entirely satisfied with my photos, and always feel I could have done better, and taken more. But you know, one must try.

So this is why I am writing this at 6am (bear in mind I usually roll out of bed at 8am, I’ve allowed myself to become that forking lazy these cold winter mornings) while waiting for water to boil for my morning bucket shower. I’m heading into the early morning Saturday market to take some photos. People come into Rangamati from remote areas to sell their produce on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and I really want to take some pics of it in winter with everyone all wrapped up, snug and warm. In an effort to get more serious about this photo taking stuff, I want to start another photoblog, as putting pictures on this here blog always looks shite because of the layout. Thinking of doing a 365 project – you know posting a photo a day. Something that’ll stop me from saying ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’. And, arse of all arses, I’m fast running out of space on my laptop. So I need to go through the arduous and highly boring task of editing my photos down to ones I actually want to keep (what I really need is an external hard drive, in keeping with my laziness. All financial contributions to enable purchase welcome…). There is a lot of crap on here that needs to be deleted.

See what I mean, so much to do!

Updated to add: I did it! Yayness. Except in my ‘running out of time’ morning angst I poured boiling water on my right foot. But ┬áthe market was great (how do they all get there so early?). The light was a little flat, and I caused a bit too much of a spectacle and attracted too much of a following for my liking, but if I do this often enough I’ll quickly become old news. Yesterday’s bread.

Welcome little one

Last night I went to visit one of my colleagues in hospital, who has just had her first baby.

We had previously discussed, over many a cup of sweet tea, where she would deliver said baby. It turns out in Bangladesh this is not an easy decision. Her options were either in Rangamati or Chittagong. Pros for Chittagong where better medical facilities, but cons where the number of people who would have to travel to Chittagong to help her in the hospital. I must admit to thinking this was all a little OTT. Why would one need help in a hospital? I didn’t get this until visiting her in the hospital last night.

By hospital, I mean a room with some beds, a shared (squat) toilet and one doctor (not seen). I didn’t see anything ‘medical’ anywhere. I’m sure there must be medical stuff around, because Jhimmi did have a last minute Caesarean… But there are no nurses, no call buttons, no meals, no curtains, no charts, no monitors, no sheets, no pillows, and no help with ANYTHING. If fact, my bedroom here could easily pass as a hospital room if that’s the current look and feel. So Jhimmi’s husband, her mother and her husband’s cousin are STAYING in the hospital to help her. As in sleeping there, living there. Food is being cooked at home and brought in, sheets (brought from home) are being washed in the bathroom, which they are also cleaning, along with everything else. And they are doing what ever else it takes to look after a little one, and a mother that has just been cut open to remove said little one. Having a baby here isn’t a one (wo)man job, it’s a family thing. And spare a thought to all those women who don’t have access to even this basic medical care.

The baby doesn’t have a name yet. They are still deciding on what name would suit him best. I like that idea. Instead of naming the child, sight unseen, rather wait until it arrives and until you’ve got to know it a bit better before you decide to name it for life.

And ‘It’ is super cute. All Chakma kids are cute, but Chakma babies are cute, squared. Jet black hair, tiny tiny tiny with little slitty eyes. When Jhimmi is out of hospital I want to go round for a bit of a photo shoot. But I can’t quite work out the local newborn etiquette . Can you visit the mother at home? Is this ok when freshly out of the hospital? Or how long should you wait before calling round? Should I take gifts? If so, what? She and her husband are moving back (temporarily) with her parents (i.e. out of his parents house where there is already one newborn, into her parents house with no existing newborn). Which, again before living here, I would have thought excessive. But everything here takes EFFORT. Which would just be too much for a new mother. Like going to fetch drinking water from a tube well. Cooking on a wood burning stove. Hand washing clothes. Even just going to the market is an exercise in stamina, self control and other worldly patience. Oh wait, that last one’s just me…

Anyway. Will suss out the newborn ettiquette and the potential for a photo op. AND suss out the local nappy situation. I’ve never seen a baby with a nappy on in Bangladesh. How DOES that work?