Archive for March, 2007

Sex, Pornography, Men, Women and their Rights in Bangladesh

In Cambodia in January I found myself drinking in a bar which was also full of middle-aged European businessmen, and inevitably, young South-East Asian prostitutes. It was a bit awkward but the jukebox was playing great music, so we sat back and watched the night unfold. However, we all couldn’t help smiling when suddenly the jukebox started playing ‘Roxanne’, the Police’s tribute to female emancipation; because you couldn’t have a more inappropriate song and no-one else seemed to notice. The whole scene with that soundtrack went from seedy to hilarious.

It struck me recently that an equivalent in Bangladesh would be playing Andy William’s ‘Music to Watch Girls By’ – if that song’s a tribute to the pleasure of watching attractive women go about their business, it would have been some two and half minutes shorter if Andy had been to the Desh. Statistically there should be about a thousand-odd women in every square kilometre of Bangladesh, but in Sylhet at least, they’re all hiding from me. Every street teems with life; there’s always noise, commotion, trading, talking, arguing everywhere, but it’s all men. It’s very strange.

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The suspension of politics in Bangladesh – the end of freedom?

On Sunday Fakhruddin Ahmed, the Chief Advisor to Bangladesh’s ‘interim’ military-technocratic administration came to Sylhet. He declared that the administration was directly accountable to the people, and was a constitutional government as it had assumed office taking the oath on the Constitution. He went on to say that his government wanted real democracy, adding that a peaceful atmosphere and social stability were the pre-requisites for holding free, fair and credible elections.

This is all utter nonsense, and I’m disappointed that I was in the office and unable to witness his statements myself.

These are the facts about the political situation in Bangladesh at the moment:

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‘Berbatov – he’s playing like God’

I’ve been holding back all season from writing anything about Tottenham, because it’s too personal, but on Saturday morning I was stunned when watching Football Focus on BBC World. Normally I think Mark Lawrenson spouts inane rubbish, but when the subject of Spurs’ recent revival came up he said something sensible for maybe the first time ever:
“Berbatov – what a player eh? I mean, we’ve said that all season, but at the moment he’s playing like God”.

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Learn Bangla online

This guy Poul Williams has written a short introduction to learning Bangla, whilst going through the challenge himself.

It’s a pretty good little site, for all of you brave enough to take the test…

Go here

Our office is being demolished – with us in it

I’m writing this to the metronomic thud of sledgehammer on concrete, which is coming from directly below my desk, and causing my water to resonate ever so slightly with the vibrations. Our office is being demolished.

Since the military coup on January 11th and the declaration of State of Emergency, the interim military-technocrat administration has implemented many changes to Bangladesh, some of which are very popular, such as going after corrupt politicians and putting them in jail, some of which are concerning, such as suspending some fundamental human rights, and allowing the security agencies to operate with impunity – 60,000 officers have made 95,825 arrests since January 11th, for which they need no warrant, and there have been at least 50 deaths in custody – and others which are disruptive and designed to show who’s boss in the streets, where real life takes place.

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A different world in Bangladesh

Despite the urban behemoth that is Dhaka, Bangladesh is still overwhelmingly a rural country, and a few weeks ago I finally got to leave our office in Sylhet city to go out and visit one of the villages my organisation works with. ECDO currently operates in two districts of the main Sylhet division, and we 22 villages are involved with our projects, over a very wide geographical area.

Our purpose of the visit was to set up a new Education Support Centre in the village of Guabari, where we have already done a few smaller interventions, including the building of a Rain Water Harvesting Plant last year. To get there was a real mission, step by step extracting us from the modern world; taking first the bus for an hour, then when the bus could go no further we took a rickshaw, and when the rickshaw could go no further due to the deteriorating road, we simply had to walk out of the town and continue two miles across a dried-up valley towards this little hamlet tucked away on a hill. It was virtually on the border with India, and you could clearly see an Indian border post high up on the top of a larger hill-side, gazing suspiciously at Bangladesh below.

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Raindrops are falling…

Since about mid-October the country has been bone dry, and the Desh was beginning to become a single shade of ochre brown as dust settled over everything. However, a few weeks ago whilst watching Spurs play Man Utd, almost exactly a second after Paul Scholes scored his goal at the Lane, about 5000 miles away in Bangladesh it began to rain. I took my hands away from my face, trying to avoid the site of that ugly little ginger, and looked up at my ceiling as the heavens began to hammer down. To compound my misery, my washing was still out on the line.

I thought it might have been a one-off, but now the weather is definitely beginning to change. After a genuinely cold January, the heat is in the high twenties at mid-day and the humidity is in the seventies all evening. We’ve had a couple of thunderstorms, and I really mean thunder; so loud it’s woken me up at night and during the day you’d think we’re being bombed. No low distant rumble, a thick, tumultuous crash of sound seemingly directly overhead.

The positive aspect of the rise in temperature is that soon I’m going to be able to save time in the mornings by having a cold shower, rather than having to wait and boil up some water and then wash using a bucket, which has been my routine for the last three months. I never thought I’d look forward to a cold shower before.

Overall though, the fact that the weather’s changing isn’t a great sign; Bangladesh is one of the wettest countries in the world, and Sylhet is the wettest town in Bangladesh. Although I think my roof is solid, my route through the slums to work will certainly flood, as will quite a lot of the town, and country. The VSO reception guy in Dhaka told us that last monsoon he walked to work waist deep in water, which I can barely imagine, and of course, we’re not talking Evian water here. So after nearly three months without any rain, it looks like in a month or so it will be time to test my brolly and maybe swap my bike for a kayak.