Archive for November, 2006

First impressions of Sylhet

I’ve been here three weeks now, and am beginning to feel a little bit more like Sylhet is my home.

I haven’t actually seen very much of the city yet, because I only get one day off and haven’t yet had one where I’ve had the bike and nothing to do. But I’ve seen a bit, and am getting a sense of the area. Essentially, Sylhet’s got the greatest contrast of extreme wealth and poverty you could ever imagine – because people build on their land whatever they can afford, you can get a mansion on steroids right next to a pathetic shack with ten people living in it. I go to work past 4x4s and Lexuses and people walking along in rags carrying their day’s goods on their head to market. If you’ve got family in the UK, and a lot of Sylhettis do, then you’re filthy rich, but if you haven’t then you’re as poor as anyone else in Bangladesh, and that’s pretty damn poor.

Continue reading ‘First impressions of Sylhet’

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Bangladesh’s Political Meltdown

I had this essay published in Open Democracy on Friday. You can read it on their site, complete with links here:

Or just scroll down:

The pre-election crisis in Bangladesh has concentrated power in the president and dispersed it to the streets. A longer-term solution is needed, says Timothy Sowula.

The political crisis that has enveloped and nearly paralysed Bangladesh as the scheduled elections of January 2007 approach is startling in its scale. Even more shocking, however, is the fact that it was also predictable, yet the main political actors were unable, indeed unwilling, to stop it. So swift has been Bangladesh’s descent into chaos that it might appear almost premeditated. Continue reading ‘Bangladesh’s Political Meltdown’

House-Hunting

I’ve now been in my box for just over two weeks, and whilst I’m able to feel relaxed in it, I still refuse to refer to it as my ‘home’. I told my organisation – who are responsible for my accommodation – that I would like to move somewhere in town, with windows, and they accepted this and said they would look for somewhere suitable straightaway. However, two weeks later I’m no closer to moving, and in general I’m fast concluding that in terms of sorting out anything practical my organisation are about as much use as a chocolate teapot.

Continue reading ‘House-Hunting’

Bromheads Jacket album out today!

Probably the best new band I saw last year, Bromheads Jacket have got thier new album out today. I’m gutted I’m missing it, but one of my mates is picking up a 12 inch copy of it which I pre-ordered. They’re absolutely brilliant, along with Jamie T and The Holloways definitely my favourite things of 2006 and I want it on record that I’ve loved them since I first saw them at Kings Cross Water Rats last November. So when I get back and they’re huge, I’ve got the right to be a smug bastard. So there. Buy their album, be a cool kid.

The only thing I don’t like about them is that they don’t use an apostrophe for ‘Bromheads’. I’m not being careless

Second Life – Geek’s Playboy Mansion?

I managed to find a short-wave radio on Friday, which has changed my life instantly because in the mornings, with a lot of fiddling I can pick up the BBC World Service. It’s strange to suddenly have the real world booming inside my little shack after nearly two weeks of living in what seems a sealed-off world, where a nuclear war could be erupting in the Korean peninsula and I would be quite happily oblivious, lost in a 19th century novel and talking to the goats. But they make rubbish conversation.

The World Service is probably the best thing that the British FCO fund, and I have a special affection for it because my routine in England, if I wasn’t out, would be to listen to music until 1am and then switch over to the World Service and get the news for a little while. It operates on a GMT schedule, so at 7am here I can still listen to the 1am bulletin, and it’s as if my two extremely different lives are now united by the same dulcet broadcast.

On Sunday morning they served up some religious programming, and my attention was caught by a feature on the introduction and evolution of religion in Second Life. For those of you unfamiliar, Second Life is essentially a new world that you can inhabit online. You register, create an avatar to represent you, and you’re off. Because its over the internet, other users also inhabit the same world, so you can see their avatar and interact with them (through typing on the keyboard). There are vast lands to explore, lands which you can ‘buy’ and build on, people to meet, and you can basically do anything. It’s like another life.

And it’s becoming very popular, up to 1.5 million users now, according to the report, up from only about 10,000 a few years ago. A ‘first life’ economy has emerged, with an estimated GDP of $64 million, as people pay real US Dollars to buy land and property in Second Life from other users. Big money too, thousands of dollars, which they wouldn’t do if there wasn’t a profit available. General interest in it is growing, and companies are beginning to investigate marketing and promotion activities. Last summer the BBC broadcast some of their radio output ‘within’ Second Life, so you could send your avatar to go and listen to Keane or whatever, German tabloid Das Bild is going to start publishing in it, and Reuters have recently appointed a correspondent to cover developments. To give a better picture, the Wikipedia entry for Second Life is here, a recent Guardian article here, and the Economist’s take is here.

If I was an ambitious anthropologist, I would be getting my arse in to Second Life now quicker than you can say geek. When I was working with the ippr’s Digital Media and Society team earlier this spring, I read a few articles about it, but on principle I’ve gone to the homepage and no further. I want to experience, learn and do as much as possible in the real world, not one hidden inside a computer network, so the idea of spending time interacting with imaginary people in an imaginary environment online when I could be outside in the natural one is an anathema to me. Continue reading ‘Second Life – Geek’s Playboy Mansion?’

Security Briefing Six

Just when it seemed that things might improve, in the middle of this week, the President ‘failed to find a solution’. This meant that basically he refused to sack the Chief Election Commissioner MA Aziz.

Virtually every institution and organisation, or public figure is calling for Aziz to go because they allege that he’s completely corrupt, unfit for the role, and with him in charge there can’t be free and fair elections. But he has the backing of the BNP/Jamaat 4-party coalition (because he’s biased in thier favour), and he refuses to step down. As he holds a constitutional post, only the President can remove him.

And the President was appointed by the BNP, as per the constitution, but now is allegedly still being controlled by them. And so the Awami League have sent their people out on the streets again, to try and force Aziz to resign for the good of the nation (the clock is ticking towards the January elections, too).

But this week, the BNP have said they’re going to send thier supporters out on to the streets to ‘counter’ the AL protests. This didn’t happen last week, and there was no violence, but now people are very concerned, and VSO have moved to ‘Yellow Alert’, which means pack your bags in case we have to evacuate, and don’t leave your home. My boss actually rang me up at 6.30 in the chuffing morning to let me know I could have had a lie-in.

Obviously things are calm in Sylhet at the moment, otherwise I wouldn’t be here, but it is very sad, and now for me almost frustrating that this impasse can’t be halted, purely due to the egos of the elite who seem to think they’re acting for the people. It’s disgusting.

Here’s our Security Briefing from today:

Security update on 20th November

Dear all,

This is to make you alert of the latest political situation that as there was no solution or direction from the President to the on going political crisis by Sunday 19th November, the Bangladesh Awami League led 14-party alliance declared seized programme is going to start from today again. On the other hand BNP led four party alliance has also declared to be in the field from today (in their words) to prevent the violence of the 14 party alliance. Therefore, it is assumed that there might be huge clash and violence across the country especially in the cities e.g. Dhaka, chittagong, rajshahi , khulna, sylhet etc.

In these circumstances, I strongly instruct you to be in the head down position and to stay at home in safe and do not go out before you have any further information from me.

In the meantime you have received phone call from warden as well as from relevant PMs. So follow the guidelines of the head down position as stated in the VEP.


If you come across any issue to address, please do not hesitate to contact me at any time. Situation is being closely monitored and time-to- time you will be updated of the latest.

Thanks for your cooperation as ever.

The Communist Manifesto – cartoon

I don’t know what Karl would have thought of this, but it certainly would have helped me when I had to bloody read it.

Someone’s reinterpreted the Manifesto with the help of Disney, check it out here.

Personally, I’m now looking forward to the Tellytubbies critical re-evaluation of Hobbes’ intellectual legacy.