As I realised I was starting my sixth week here, I soon realised it was ending – which means I am now half way through my time here! It’s gone so quickly and it’s made me panic! I have now organized a few day trips for the upcoming weeks to get out and see things. I have also realised how little time I have before my Tough Mudder event in September so have started swimming every morning before work, walking much more, going on runs in the evenings and my housemates and I have a pact to eat much healthier, only salads in the evening, take stairs not lifts, etc. We have done well with the salads and are making some really good ones, so are now eating far fewer chapati, which we usually ate every day with some meal and curry/daal – not so healthy as it’s just white flour and water, and swimming every morning is so nice.
My work here has so far been a little disappointing. I had very little to do in the first couple of weeks despite asking for work a lot – one of the first jobs I’ve had where I actually want to be working very hard! I have had some interesting assignments such as creating a database of all the Bangladeshi laws related to the Justice Audit (so all criminal associated ones essentially) and the government reports for reform, however it seems like the majority of the work I’m asked to do is proof reading various documents as they are written by those with a different first language, and writing contracts. As a side project I was asked to look into creating a “mechanism for mass communication” for children on the topic of anti-corruption, to go with a school curriculum for 14 year olds one of the projects here is developing. While not what I originally came to do, I am slowly but surely developing my website and looking into all possible social media platforms and the project lead seems to be very impressed so far. Watch this space. The project I am officially interning for has unfortunately been pushed back quite a bit as everything takes so much time here so I’m mostly writing and amending contracts and terms of reference for consultants to come and do the proper interesting justice reform work – and unfortunately I will be gone by the time most of them arrive. However I have been reading and taking in as much as possible about the work that my company is doing in the prison and justice reform area and grilled some of the consultants that were here earlier in the month about restorative justice. As a result I am hoping to write my Masters dissertation on restorative justice and it’s benefits and successes – perhaps about using it in a developing country or perhaps writing a comparative anaylsis of using it in Bangladesh and the UK. As a result of this job I have also made some incredible contacts with some kind and knowledge people in this area who all seem more than willing to give any advice I may need. This week when I don’t have deadlines due I will start doing the initial reading for a dissertation in this area.
On the way into the supermarket earlier this week I stepped on a slab of concrete which then caved in and fell into a hole. Luckily I stepped off it in time not to fall in but you can imagine the splash that huge slab of concrete makes in liquid. This liquid, as we found out via the horrific smell shortly after it splashed the entire back of my legs, could only have been human sewage. Luckily we were outside the new hypermarket that also sold clothes. I picked the first pair of pants I found, some hideous bright red harem pants, and tried to find the loo but we ended up doing a complete circle of the supermarket and back. If people stared before, it was oh so much worse when it looked like the bideshi girl had had a little.. or large.. accident. I changed into the new pants, and soon realised the clean up staff had clearly been informed as they were ready with buckets and mops as we walked out! To top it off I had to get the security tag off the new pants.. with them on. The smiley manager of the supermarket that we already knew was startled to find me very angry instead of smiling back as usual and promised me he’d fix it. True to his word, the very next morning every sewer hole was concreted in. That would have been amazing for the UK, but for here it was a miracle. He also bought me and my housemates a coffee from the supermarket cafe later in the week. He’s forgiven and I’ll laugh about it soon.
As a complete contrast, I had a very happy moment this week. I called my friend about going for a run and got a man on the other end of the phone who spoke very little English. After a while I managed to work out that he was a rickshawallah and my friend had dropped her phone when he dropped her off the night before. Eventually we organized for him to drop it off at my house. I was skeptical that he would give it back – rickshawallahs probably earn 2-3 pounds a day cycling people around in the heat and a phone can be sold for much more. But, he called when he was outside and handed in right over. When I tried to give him money, he kept refusing until I physically put it in his shirt pocket. I later found out he had organized to bring it to one of the clubs and give it directly to my friend. He still turned up later and got a lot of abuse from the guards when he didn’t have it, but luckily it was all sorted out and my friend gave him some more money for his troubles (after him trying again to refuse it and explaining I’d already given him money!). To top it off, he apologised to my friend for using the phone to call his wife who lives in the country as he doesn’t have a mobile to ring her. I am shocked but genuinely overcome that he didn’t either sell or keep the phone. Faith in humanity restored.
Last week I came across a blog of a man who opened a charity here in Bangladesh. I read the whole thing and was really amazed by what he has achieved. After coming here16 years ago, he set up a school to teach girls how to read and write and to give them a better status and to help them and their family survive. Now, it is a community with a school, literacy centre, craft centre, day care and nursey and supports many women living in the slums and many students wanting to have further education. His blog is here if you want to give it a look and the charity, Meider Jono Asha, can be found clicking here. I got in touch with the man who now lives in the UK to see what I could do to help, and he got me in touch with the woman who runs the literacy centre. We met this week and she was really wonderful and a kind 25 year old woman, who’d known “Papa”, the founder since she was 9. She now has one daughter, one child on the way and runs the literacy centre, as well as looking after her daughter, husband’s in-laws (almost compulsory here), another job and helping her husband with his business. I am going to visit the whole complex this Saturday and meet the women and children. My initial plan is to photograph the handmade craft items so I can set up an online shop for them to sell their goods, as their current method of selling is a little inefficient and their handmade goods are really beautiful. They are really struggling for money at the moment as their have been three births recently so if you can make a small donation it would go a long way – please click here. Or, buy some of the goods once I set the shop up.
Our new housemate arrived this week so it’s been nice getting to know her. Our weekend started Thursday night, where a group of us got together at Roll Xpress for dinner, a “roll” in Bangladesh is a paratha (fried flat bread) filled with veggies or meat and rolled, then wrapped in paper to keep it together. Matching the reviews and recommendations I’d heard, the vegetable and paneer roll I had was the best I’d had here, and extremely cheap. I’d bought some fabric during the week so the next morning we finally found a tailors and took our fabric and example items of clothing to him in his little shop in a nearby district. I didn’t give him all the fabric I bought yet, but he’s amending a few existing items and making one dress for me. If it’s good, I’ll get him to make some more. We went to a recommended tailor who is used to western clothes so it’s more expensive than most but it will cost me about 5/6 pounds to get a dress made identical to an existing one. I’m looking forward to seeing the result on Friday.
Hash this week was interesting to say the least. In addition to the running group and the walking group, a running-then-walking group was started which was excellent for me in the heat. The run was again in the outskirts of the city but in what seemed a very rural setting, running through homesteads and dodging chickens, goats, dogs, geese, bricks, walls and many small children wanting in on the fun. As a continuation of my luck this week, I slipped in a huge muddy pool shortly after beginning the run, much to the amusement of all the hashers and then every man, woman and child I passed afterwards as my legs were completely covered. It didn’t then help when I fell AGAIN after tripping on some rocks, in front of what seemed to be an entire village out to watch the seemingly ridiculous sight of 30 foreigners running through their little homesteads. After reaching the next checkpoint I realised I had cut up my legs quite badly so there was a mission to get clean water and some antiseptic from the street stalls. The hashers came to my rescue, finding a bottle of mineral water and iodine from a local medical stall so I could clean up and prevent any infection from whatever I slipped in (I dread to think). Even I saw the funny side of it when I was dabbing iodine onto my bleeding knee with at least 40 bangldeshi villagers crowded in a circle around me curious to see how the bideshi hurt herself. It was “on on” after that, to the inevitable naming I was going to get in the circle.
Members of the hash all have names (apart from if you’re new) – and getting a name is often the result of a funny story or stupid thing you did on the hash. Of course my double-fall was completely capitalized in the circle where I had to do a few “down downs” and then await my fate with my new name. In the end, I got away very lightly. I am now Calamity Jizz, encapsulating both my two falls and the fact that I work at GIZ, something that was already becoming a nickname for me as “Jizzy Jess”. There are some truly awful names at he Dhaka Mixed Hash so I got very lucky with mine. Now it stays with me forever, and I must tell any new Hash I join my hash name. I’m officially part of the family. After the Hash we went to do another pub quiz with our previous success fresh in our minds. We were winning at half way, and then the next half was all music and counted for a lot more than the “intelligent stuff”! We ended up 3 from the end.
The next day we had organized to go to Manikganj through an expat on the Dhaka expat facebook group. He had hired a car and was looking for four others to share the cost. In the end we were a procession of 3 full cars, I think 14 people in total all interested in seeing the temples. Bangladesh is not exactly a touristy place, so I’d never heard of these temples and they were apparently not in the guidebook. They were also pretty difficult to find 2-3 hours outside of Dhaka and we had to stop many times and ask the locals. Eventually we found them. They were very run down and not looked after at all but were really beautiful, and the wildness of them I think added to them. We spent sometime walking in and photographing the biggest one which had three storeys (one being the roof which we walked on, much to the interest of the locals who came in a very large crowd to watch and follow us. The kids in this village were the happiest kids I’d ever seen, and soon we were best friends as they loved having their photo taken and loved touching our arms and holding our hands. They laughed 99% of the time and it was a welcome change from the little ones in Dhaka coming up to you begging with sad and desperate eyes.
We walked through the village which was really beautiful and calm. It was a really nice day and the rare sight of the blue sky (as Dhaka is so polluted) really made the day. Everyone was very happy to see us and the kids become more and more comfortable with us swinging out arms and trying to rub our tattoos in fascination. They LOVED having their picture taken! We left the village waving to the kids, after a serious young boy leaned down to me as I was getting into the car and told us to return. It was a really wonderful morning.
We stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant at the end of a bamboo bridge on bamboo stilts. Everything inside was also bamboo, a material used here for everything from scaffolding to chairs. Bowls of rice appeared from nowhere and after we asked for sobje (vegetables), they tried to serve us goat. After declining the goat and asking again just for vegetables, the same goat bowls were brought back without the goat, leaving just the sauce and a piece of potato or two. It was the most were were going to get so we ate quickly and left, paying 1.50 each. Before heading back to Dhaka we stopped at a Palace which was 10 taka entry for locals and 100 taka entry for bideshis – a common thing here. Now a university, the buildings were nothing like I’d seen in Bangladesh as they were built in the British Colonial times. They were really beautiful and a little more maintained than the temples, although the gardens were looked after better than the buildings. It was a very calm place and well worth the stop, despite being constantly bugged by a local man who did not understand the meaning of go away in any language.
That evening I had accepted a request for an American couchsurfer arriving from China to stay the night for a layover (couchsurfing is a website where you can connect with others around the world and ask them to host you on their couch or show you around their city). We hadn’t exchanged exact details so I went to the airport waited an hour and a half but luckily she came out and we headed to get some dinner. It was pretty late by this point so we got some Thai take out and went home. Despite our chat being short as we were both exhausted, we had a lot in common and had a really nice talk. In the morning before work I gave her a map of Dhaka with some places circled and some recommendations, so she will see a few things in the city before getting another plane in the late afternoon. It was a shame not to be able to show her around myself but I’m glad I hosted anyway, and I even received some traditional art from China which was so generous and completely unexpected. However, after work that day when I was in the supermarket I got a call from her – for some visa-related reason they wouldn’t allow her on the flight and I met her back at my place. While very unfortunate for her, we could at least then have a nice Bangladeshi dinner and had a good talk in the evening. I was so pleased to have hosted her and been able to help out, and I’m sure we will see each other again in the future.
I have a very busy week planned seeing various people in the evenings – my life here is getting busier and busier as I meet more people and involve myself in more things. While it can get exhausting and frustrating with the noise (especially damn bus horns!), stares, dust and heat, there hasn’t been a moment that I’ve regretted coming here. I look forward to the next 6 weeks, and the second half of my time here.