Archive for the 'Natural world' Category

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.

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What kind of culture embraces wrestling, but rejects toilet paper?

Last weekend I was finally able to get out of my office and go and conduct some field research, a Participatory Rural Appraisal, to use the technical name. My NGO got the funding from VSO, and we’re aiming to go to 15 indigenous community villages all around Sylhet division, which is an area almost the size of South Wales. It’s an essential survey for us, as it will able us to obtain crucial information on the situation of our beneficiries, so as to be able to design our projects better. I just wish it wasn’t during the monsoon.

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Alone in the countryside?

I’ve just returned to Dhaka after five days away up in the north-west of Bangladesh, very near a large town called Dinajpur. I was working for a big partner NGO of VSO Bangladesh, called Gram Bikash Kendro (GBK), who really are a development powerhouse of the region, employing over 300 staff, delivering seven big projects, working across many themes such as education, health, micro-credit, the full development monty.

I was there to help them produce a website; planning and producing thier content before another colleague comes up and designs the site. It was a good experience for me to see how big organisations are run in Bangladesh (compared to the four staff in my own NGO), everyone was very friendly and spoke decent English, so I’m happy with the experience, and hopefully they should have a functioning website within the next month.

It was hot though – Dinajpur is in the hottest region of Bangladesh, and last week, across the country, 29 people died due to the extreme weather. What made it even worse was that the power supply was really awful, blackouts for three or four hours every evening, so there was not much else to do except lie on a towel in the dark and hope to eventually get to sleep. Not exactly a lively week for me.

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Kolkata and Dhaka – a tale of two cities

You can see some photos from Kolkata here 

Bangladesh in the heat almost clings to you, is impossible to wash off or escape from. So I can barely believe that it was a month ago now that Tom, Georgia and I made a little getaway to Kolkata for the weekend. It’s only about 150 miles away from Dhaka, was part of the same Empire until 60 years ago, and predominantly is made up of Bengali people – but it was like being in a different world.

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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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The Sundarbans

This is the story of my trip to the Sundarbans jungle, annotated with photos taken by Tom Wipperman and Georgia Newsam. You can go straight to the photo page here. Or read on…

When I discovered I was coming to Bangladesh, in terms of the environment my first mental images were ‘floods’, ‘rice’ and ‘tigers’. To turn those visions in to reality – the first two are easy, they come to you. But you’ve got to go on a quest to find a Royal Bengal Tiger.

If you want to see them in their natural habitat, then you need to go to the Sundarbans – a littoral mangrove forest that covers around 3600 sq km of Bangladesh, right along the South West coast of the country, and then another 2500 sq km of India. About a third of the Sundarbans is covered by water; it’s essentially a giant flood plain that serves as crucial protection for Bangladesh against tidal surges, typhoons and other surges of natural energy. The Himalayas finally drain off through the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers of India here in to the Bay of Bengal, and the mixture of mountain silt and tidal sea-water has created fluctuating levels of salinity which in turn has resulted in a unique ecological balance.

Therefore you can enter an environment like no other on the earth. A wildlife sanctuary since 1966, and a World Heritage site since 1997, the Sundarbans is a haven for the natural world in Bangladesh; almost the only part of this densely populated country where you can be surrounded by life and none of it human.

It’s a maze of rivers, channels and tiny tributaries though, and not the kind of place one can explore armed with a good picnic and a pedalo. Luckily for me, one of VSO’s partner NGOs operates an ‘eco-tour’ of the Sundarbans, so nine of us set off on December 29th for five days of cruising through the deltas. We boarded our little boat in the early evening at Khulna, the nearest big city to the Sundarbans. It was small but snug, and we were soon eating the first of many huge meals out on deck and chugging along the river in to the night.

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NASA Sun pics

The last thing I’m going to post today that isn’t Deshi related. But I think it’s proper cool and wanted to share it.

NASA have just released some new images of the sun, which are amazing. The site says:

“The Solar Optical Telescope (SOT) onboard Japan’s Hinode spacecraft has opened its doors and started snapping pictures. Shown below is a “first light” image taken Oct. 23rd. The light and dark blobs are solar granules, masses of hot gas that rise and fall like water boiling atop a hot stove. Each granule is about the size of a terrestrial continent. SOT has no trouble seeing such detail from Earth-orbit 93 million miles away.

But I bet the guy who invented it still loses his car keys.