Archive for the 'Cultural Differences' Category

Back in London

ok, so this is an epilogue. I’ve been back in Britain now almost three and a half weeks, which have been packed. I’ve got a job working for CAFOD, which is great, my grandmother died, which is awful, and Tottenham are not quite playing to their full potential, which is ugly.

Life in Britain is in many ways just as I remember it, but now I notice the little side shows, the vignettes of life that make Bangladesh so enthralling a lot more. I find Britain ridiculously over-bearing and constrained compared to Bangladesh, and also a lot quieter, but I can cope with the calm. I feel like we are so reserved and acceptant – when I arrived at Heathrow there was a queue of about a thousand people waiting for immigration, but it was an orderly queue, restrained and decent – when I think back to trying to cross the border to India with a few thousand Bangladeshis at Benepole, the comparison is hilarious.

The biggest difference is that everywhere is smoke free, which I don’t approve of at all – this is why – but apparently it makes public places more sociable. And yet when I was in a pub recently, they started to play ‘Lifted‘ by the Lighthouse Family, which I find incredibly anti-social and instantaneously vomit-inducing. In fact I’d rather be forced to eat a packet of Marlboro Reds and then smoke my excrement than listen to the Lighthouse Family. So the world’s gone mad, in pubs anyhow. Continue reading ‘Back in London’

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Shesh in the Desh

My contract with VSO was for a year, and today I will leave Bangladesh and return to England, bringing this time to a close. And almost certainly this blog, bar a possible epilogue from London. How to surmise a year? I haven’t found religion or myself, but I haven’t really looked. What’s so distracting is Bangladesh; it throws up surprises in every corner and I can’t help but be transfixed by it. Continue reading ‘Shesh in the Desh’

Jungle 1, Tim 0. Idiots, Doctors and Nurses

In nearly fifty years of work, VSO has sent tens of thousands of volunteers to placements around the world, and inevitably, there have been accidents and some fatalities. Typically these are road – related, although someone did die of Rabies a few years ago. It’s not something we ever really think about; but at the same time you don’t want to add to the statistic. However, I’m not sure how it would look if ‘fell down a waterfall’ got included in the VSO ‘deaths during service’ book. It might be hard to be sympathetic, and an observer might rather just wonder what a total moron that person must have been.

Continue reading ‘Jungle 1, Tim 0. Idiots, Doctors and Nurses’

The Chittagong Hill Tracts

One of the benefits of VSO is that you can go and work in other areas of the country if a partner NGO has a particular need for some work that you’re able to do for them. It’s similar to a mini-secondment system. And so last month I left Sylhet for two weeks and went to work with some other indigenous community rights NGOs on their IT systems. This normally would be astonishingly boring, except these NGOs are based in the dangerous, treacherous, primitive and absolutely wonderful Chittagong Hill Tracts.

 

Continue reading ‘The Chittagong Hill Tracts’

I’m starting a sexual revolution

In the news recently:

“Betel-nut condom wins taste tests
NEW DELHI, India (Reuters) — An Indian firm has launched a paan-flavored condom designed to evoke the pungent taste of the betel nut and tobacco concoction chewed and then spat out by millions of South Asians, newspapers have reported.

Hindustan Latex is targeting the new condom range at prostitutes, who are among the most vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS, the Hindustan Times reported Tuesday.

The company ran taste tests with sex workers, including prototypes with chocolate, banana and strawberry flavors, but the paan flavor came out tops.

“The community loved it as most of the sex workers chew paan,” Sanjeev Gaikwad was quoted as saying at the launch in Mumbai. Gaikwad is a director at Family Health International, a public health organisations that helped develop the condom.

Paan is a mildly intoxicating preparation wrapped in a leaf, usually
containing tobacco, betel nut and flavorings, and is hugely popular across South Asia. It is chewed to a mouth-staining red pulp before being spat out.

The condoms will at first be made available only to prostitutes, but will we launched to the general public in a few months, the newspaper said.”

I’ve looked and can’t find the original article, but either way, this is the funniest story I’ve read from the region over the whole year. It’s certainly a very different approach to HIV development programmes, the polar opposite to all these pro-abstinance campaigns which are absolutely useless.

However, given how vigourously people chew paan over here, it might be great for the prostitutes but I’m not sure I’d be keen on covering my penis with something that makes people want to bite down. It’s the equivalent of smearing yourself in barbeque sauce and then waving your cock above a bear pit.

But if this really does take off, then how long before it becomes a commercial success in other countries? Not paan-flavoured, obviously, but if you could produce condoms to suit the local palate then you could be on to an instant money-maker. And now my lack of success every time I visit Poland can be simply put down to my lack of Durex smelling of boiled cabbage.

Thinking back to my teenage years in London, where nights on the pull were mainly spent standing in the back of pubs on my own, I’m not sure the boiled cabbage offer would have worked in the first place. Tragically, fashion-wise I was just too ahead of the times and it still annoys me that my unique look has since been copied and made popular by Harry Potter. But for all those misunderstood young men out there desperate for action, help could be hand. What do all young girls across the world love to suck when they go out, constantly, sometimes ten or more times a night? Exactly. Marlboro-Light flavoured condoms.

Someone please put me in touch with Phillip Morris. I think I might have just made the world a better place.

Met by Harry

You can tell you’ve left the Chittagong Hill Tracts and are in the rest of the world when people come up to you at traffic lights and try and sell a knock-off version of the new Harry Potter.

I’ve just had the best two weeks of my time in Bangladesh. And I’ve got a killer rice-wine hangover to show for it. Will write some things up in more detail over the next week or so.

A new digital divide

[This was published in The Guardian’s Comment Is Free section, here. There are already quite a few comments, so perhaps continue the argument on that site]

Three years ago I had dinner with a senior alumnus of my university and he initiated small talk by commenting that in his day, they survived without email. It has recently occurred to me that I could now return to my university at the tender age of 24 and remark that in my day, we survived without Facebook. More than other social networking sites, and not just through its popularity, it has changed the way we interact and engage socially – but there is a potential cost.

Continue reading ‘A new digital divide’