Nepal and last post

After my internship had ended the Sunday before last, I took a trip for one week to Nepal, just “next-door” to Bangladesh. I went with my flatmate Tara to Kathmandu on Monday and Tuesday. During the days, she showed me around Kathmandu’s impressive cultural landscape and at night, she showed me around the notorious party district of Kathmandu; Thamel. Not to be confused in pronounciation with the Tamil Tigers, a mix-up that I was often the victim of. Kathmandu’s vast array of Hindu temples and old, traditional Newari architecture was stunning. It was here that I noticed how effortlessly Hinduism and Buddhism co-existed and even complemented each other here. Nepal is 80% Hindu, 15% Buddhist, with the extraneous percentage being made up of shamanistic and other local beliefs. Everywhere I looked, the two faiths existed peacefully and harmoniously, often literally alongside each other as a Buddhist stupa would often be paired with a Hindu temple. and while I might be admiring the colorfulness of a Hindu temple or holy site, I was at the same time taking in the splendor of the Buddhist prayer flags that hung from every religious structure.

Thamel is tourist destination number one and I actually found myself shocked and somwhat offended by the amount of white people surrounding me. I was no longer the only one in a developing country. As for the atmosphere and things to do, you can shop til you drop (your account balance that is), you can drink and smoke just about anything. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been offered hash. As for myself, as much as I honestly love Dhaka, it was nice and unbelievably relaxing to sit in a bar and have a beer in public. Thus passed a very relxing and pleasant two days, the routine of which I repeated on my return to Kathmandu.

As I read a bit more about Nepal, a very interesting observation struck me. Although Nepal is a comparatively major hub of tourism, its overall economy is in dire straits, and has been for decades, with little improvement being seen. The per capita income in Nepal is actually less than in bangladesh, and its child malnourishment rate is even worse than Bangladesh’s. But why didn’t I feel that. My thoughts were that a) there are tourist hubs where you are insulated somewhat from the overall state of the country, a luxury that does not exist in Bangladesh. b) Because of those hubs, you are afforded creature comforts like drinking and smoking in public, a reality that does not exist in Bangladesh. c) the society as a whole is more liberal, at least on the surface. You see as many girls and women on the streets as men, have women driving around Motor-scooters and holding higher positions more frequently. Because of all these three things, I believe, visitors cannot help but like Nepal, I know I do. I think it says something about the mindset that one invariably has when one visits a foreign country. We judge the “niceness” of a place based on our own comfort-sphere and feel all the better when not too much intrudes on that sphere. What I’m basically doing is congratulating the Tourist office of Nepal on a job well done.

On Wednesday I left very early in the morning for a bus-ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara, a small town that is nevertheless one of Nepal’s biggest outdoor draws. The bus ride took about 7 hours, providing lots of time to marvel at the changing landscape as we left the Kathmandu valley behind and wove our way through steep ravines and terraced hill-tops. Pokhara itself is a tourist area nestled along a steel-blue lake, watched over at one side by a hill range that is crowned with a gorgeous World Peace Pagoda and on the other side by the giant peaks that make up the Annapurna mountain range. It’s  quite bizarre actually. In spite of the fact that it is one of the world’s biggest trecking and climbing destinations, Pokhara lies at only 800m above sea level, yet with the geography being what it is, on clear days and and with some luck, one is afforded views of the 8000m behemoths that lurk in the distance.

Thus, always with an eye towards the mountains, I plunged headfirst into making the best out of my all-too-short stay in this real-life Shangri-La. The day I arrived, I rented a boat and was ferried around the lake, getting my bearings, and being able to quietly read a book and drink a beer in gorgeous weather. The next day, I arranged a motorcycle trip with the same guy, taking me  away from the tourist and more into the country-side, where I got to visit several caves and the quite traditional suburbs of Pokhara. In the afternoon, I hiked up to the World Peace Pagoda, a beautiful 2 hours hike that gave excellent views of the valley and Pokhara, although the relatively bad weather conditions rendered photography unsatisfactory. On Friday, I fulfilled one of my long-time dreams and went tandem-paragliding through the valley and over the lake. I was so in awe of the views that it took me 20 minutes to realize that if I didn’t also start focusing on how the glider moved, I would throw up. In the afternoon, a guy at the guesthouse I was staying at offered to take me to his ancestral village way off the beaten path away from Pokhara. The hike was long, at times even dangerous considering I was wearing tennis shoes, but absolutely fulfilling. The memory of standing in his home village being served tea by his uncle and looking over the vast moutains across the valley from us will always remain with me. The pictures do not even begin to do it justice.

Thus, after two and half days in which I did absolutely everything that could be done in that time, I traveled by bus to Kthamandu. Nepal is probably the most beautiful country I know of and I will seek to return to it, like Bangladesh, as soon as possible.

As for the blog, this shall be the last entry, at least under the blog’s current function as a chronicle of my travels in Bangladesh and Nepal. I want to thank you all for reading it, commenting on it and look forward to seeing you all again soon.

-Lorenz

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Leaving

At the beginning of my stay in Bangladesh, a Bangladeshi who had lived a long time in the US told me “You cry twice in Bangladesh; once when you arrive and once when you leave.” Still reeling from the shock of experiencing a different culture, I was definitely able to believe the first part of that statement, yet I could never imagine shedding a single tear over leaving this country.

However, all this has changed. Upon arriving back in the States you might ask me, “How was Bangladesh?”, “why did you like it so much?” and perhaps best of all, “isn’t the country depressing?”. I will have to come up with answers to these questions, ones that hopefully are satisfactory to both of us.

Why do I like it so much? How can I enjoy work when everyday on my way to work I see people in various stages of dying? Frankly, I have no idea. The best answer I can come up with is that I am absolutely enamoured with life, raw and violent here. Whenever I think of Bangladesh, and especially Dhaka, I think of a heart violently having a heart attack. Its survival is unsure yet the ferocity with which it struggles to survive is at once inspiring and horrible to behold. In no other country I know of does the future look  so bleak yet hope is in more supply than anywhere else. If hope is the sustaining value of mankind, no other nation can boast to have so much humanity.

I’m sorry if I appear to be romanticising a serious situation but I cannot help feeling this way. I honestly have no idea where I’m going with this post except maybe to give you a view into my very confused self over these last few days. Is four months long enough to fall in love with a country, with a people, a culture? Is it enough to feel as if the people you’re surrounded by every day will be with you for the rest of your life?

Don’t get me wrong, I look forward to coming home. I look forward to seeing my family, my friends again and to even go back to school. I just know that at least at the beginning, the possibility to get out of the US again will be a driving motivation behind my studies.

I have nothing to report that is new, except that I have concluded my internship as of today and will hand in my report to GTZ soon. Seeing that I have basically prepared an overview of the US-Bangladesh trade relationship, I hope that my report can be of some help to new interns, for example, who work with this project and who are, like I was, completely clueless about this country. The internship experience has been a positive one, next time perhaps I’ll be more pro-active, as I definitely had more capacities during the course of the internship. However, this relaxing situation allowed me to be very flexible and I thoroughly enjoyed accompanying other staff members on their assignments, seeing much more and meeting more people than I ever would have by myself.

As I said before, I can’t wait to get out there again!

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Bengali New Year

Shortly after our trip to Bandarbans, the entire country was preparing to celebrate Bengali New Year.

To mark the occasion, a national holiday is decreed which meant no work for us. Being the festive type of people that we are, we decided to join in the festivities, waking up early to get into the area surrounding Dhaka University where the main events were to be held. We met with a Bengali we’d come to know through an ex-intern of GTZ and he was of much help to us when it came to navigating the madness that we would soon enter.

Living in Dhaka, you get used to crowds. However, nothing compares to the sheer immensity of people that we encountered in the vicinity of the university. Everywhere you looked, there were throngs of people, going here, there and everywhere. Streets had been blocked off and street vendores were hawking their New Year’s themed wares, mostly consisting of fans and face-painting, which we indulged in ourselves.

As I said, crowds are nothing unusual here but these were different. It seemed that all Bangladeshis had just one day to look their absolute best and this was it. All the women were dressed in the most beautiful red and white, the celebratory colors, saris while the men wore elegant and colorful punjabis. This probably also owes to the fact that I live quite far away from the university but there seemed to be an undeniably youthful vigor about the entire affair. A constant air of positiveness and joy permeated the streets, with people shouting “Shubo Nubho Borsho”, Happy New Year, whenever they passed by us. The usual beggars lined the streets but their presence was drowned by the sheer immensity of the joyous crowds, music and dancing that seemed to come from everywhere.

Though there were clearly many other attractions, the appearance of the four of us in the midst still generated immense attention. We were constantly asked for photographs and while relenting at first to our unwilled stardom, eventually we grew exasperated and just wanted to walk along. One interesting event is that I was grabbed by a reporter and promptly interviewed for the English news of a Bengali TV station. The interview was fun if uncomfortable since I was immediately crushed by 40 people who came to see the bideshi (foreigner) try to articulate himself about the events of that day. Besides crowds, there were some trade fairs, showcasing Bengali crafts as well as musical offerings celebrating the passage of yet another year and the promise of the coming one.

At the end, decked out in all kinds of Bangladesh paraphenalia, we came away feeling blessed to have been able to experience this day of pure joy for this country. It truly felt that, if only for one day, the usual reservedness and oppressiveness that permeates society here so often was lifted and the young men and women could mix freely and without fear of appearing lewd.

As for myself, I am down to not even two weeks of work, in which I have to finish my trade analysis, a fact that has not been made easier by the absence of my boss during those two weeks. However, it is much less the work that I find daunting but rather the inevitability of saying goodbye to the many great people that I’ve been surrounded by.

On the bright side, after my internship is over, I will spend a week in Nepal. My Nepali flatmate is going with me so I’ll already have someone to show me around Kathmandu. Besides the capital, I hope to see Pokhara, a city that serves as the base for all outdoor activities in the Himalayas. Thus, these last few days here will be most bittersweet.

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Bandarbans

About two weeks after my first brush with the great outdoors of Bangladesh, it was time to head out again, the confines of Dhaka proving to be unbearable. Thus, we headed out for Bandarbans, the “forest of monkeys”, in the east of the country, located in the Hill Tracts surrounding Chittagong, the second-biggest city in Bangladesh. It is notable for having the highest elevation of any countryside in Bangladesh, a fact that we would truly come to appreciate.

We took off from Dhaka late Wednesday evening. What we had, foolishly, not considered was how much attention we would draw at the train station. Though we’ve gotten used to plenty of staring and being surrounded by people, it is different to be surrounded by 50 or so, transforming our little circle into an inferno of body heat. We were luckily able to escape this cauldron when our train finally arrived.

We spent the night on the train and were woken up at 6am in Chittagong. The driver that was provided by the agency picked us up and we started our journey further east. As we passed through villages and green rice paddys, slowly, but surely, we noticed that we saw hills creeping up in the distances and before we knew it, we were climbing up steep slopes. It is difficult to convey the sense of finally seeing and experiencing elevation after months in unyielding plains. As we climbed higher and higher, we could see the endless plains beneath us and the rivers winding throughout until we finally reached our destination atop one of the mountain ranges.

Our resort was composed of about a dozen huts with space for two in each of them. Two of us got a hut overlooking the valley below and thus we set up camp there. We were then treated to breakfast and then left to our own devices. After a refreshing nap, we hopped onto a jeep and were whisked away to our first sight. We all felt like kids again on the back of the jeep, with our driver firmly intent on breaking his own best time as we sped up and down rickety roads. Our destination was the largest Buddhist temple in Bangladesh; a majestic, glistening golden structure atop a mountain. The setting was so peaceful and meditative that we would have very much liked to stay there.

The night was spent on the aforementioned veranda, drinking our wine, overlooking the jungle at our feet and far into the distance. The next day, one of our guides took us around his village and even invited us into his house for tea. He is of the Bawn tribe and exemplifies the struggle the minorities in Bangladesh. He and his fellow tribes are the indigenous people of Bangladesh, having been pushed further and further into isolation by the massive migration of Bengals into this country after the partition of India in the late forties. What makes their case even harder is that they are noticably different ethnically and are not Muslims, making them very prone to discrimination and abuse. The entire situation in Bandarbans is one of desparate control by the central government to extend their reach and keep the tribes from autonomy. In fact, it was a bureaucratic nightmare to get into Bandarbans as we had to pass several government checkpoints along our journey and were turned away once when we tried to visit another tribal village because we didn’t have the necessary papers. This vast government control stems from massive unrest that the region experienced throughout the nineties. Overall, the situation in the Bandarbans of the Bangladeshi central government controlling ethnic minorities of different religious denominations, such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity, fighting over land and autonomy, is a fascinating study on the effects of displacement and post-colonialism.

In the afternoon, we were accompanied by the same guide to the river that snaked its way through the hills. To get there, we journeyed up and down hills through countless banana trees along barely trodden-upon paths which skirted dangerous precipices, all of which, hazardous as it was, ended up being great fun. When the dense vegetation finally cleared and the terrain evened out, we beheld the river lazily making its way through the river-bed, little huts dotting the landscape alongside it. After taking in the scenery, we took a swim in the river, though it was less of a swim than a drift since the water at that point was only about a foot and a half deep. Nevertheless, it was a great opportunity to take in the green hills surrounding us while being caressed by the cool waters.

After the swim, we got on a boat and drifted along the river, towards a bridge where we disembarked and made our way back home. After this relaxing day, we spent the night reminiscing on the veranda. Dotted along the hills we saw fires, signs of the unfortunate slash-and-burn still practiced in the forests.

The next morning was spent lounging around more and saying goodbye to our guide. Unfortunately, the city was calling us again and we boarded the train back home after a 3 hour bus ride to Chittagong. Once again, a fantastic  weekend spent learning about this amazing country, its people and also getting some much-needed rest.

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Sundarbans

Though I extended my internship for another month, I’m starting to feel the pressures of time. Thus I plan to get a lot of traveling done before I leave for home in mid-May. The following is an account of how this feeling manifested itself in action.

After spending two and a half months in Dhaka mostly, it was time to get out. Though now somewhat accustomed to the hustle and bustle of the city, a respite was sorely needed. Thus a couple of interns and I booked a cruise through the Sundarbans, the greatest natural wonder that Bangladesh has to offer. “Beautiful forest” in Bangla, it is the world’s largest mangrove forest, extending into West Bengal in India. Overall, the forest covers 10.000 square kilometers, with 6,000 sq. kms in Bangladesh, which is enough to be called the property of Bangladesh. The Sundarbans is essentially the gigantic delta of the Ganges which weaves its way through into and finally empties into the Bay of Bengal.

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It is home to incredible flora and fauna, making it an extremely vibrant eco-system. The people of Bangladesh have always profited from the fertile soil that the delta provides and it also has other  benefits for the country of which I’ll speak of later.

As for the trip itself, we started out last Wednesday evening on a rickety bus-ride out of Dhaka and to a river. There we boarded our boat which was to be our home for the next 3 days.  The boat was very well equipped to handle the 35, mostly Bengali, guests. Our cabins were quite cramped but that gave us even more impetus to spend as much time outside to marvel at the surrounding landscape. That first night we knew right away that we had made the right decision. Great food and great service, combined with the boat offering many places for relaxing, assured us that we were in for a treat.

We were still quite close to Dhaka and therefore had to actually travel for the whole of the next day to even get to the Sundarbans. It was one of the most relaxing days I’ve ever had. I’ve also never had a day where I did so little. Of course I have plenty of days at home where I have nothing to do, but I always find a way to come up with an activity like going to a movie, going outside, etc. However, confined to a boat in the middle of nowhere for an entire day proved to be throroughly relaxing since even the most minute planning, even of activities that bring us joy, are combined with some small measure of effort, concern and worry.

Needless to say, there is little to report from the rest of the day, except for the fact that, lying around the boat all day, we engaged in quite a bit of people-watching. We realized, of course, that most of our fellow Bangladeshi guests were upper-class, with some from the rare middle class rounding out the group as a whole. Thus we got a bit of a glimpse into the symptom that unfortunately afflicts so many developing countries. A large percentage of the upper-class guests that we observed and encountered were extremely snobbish and prone to complaints. The staff of the ship, some of the nicest and most accomodating people I have met in this country, were subjected to various complaints. The pinnacle of that behavior that I observed was when on the second full day, lunch was served and upon entering the room, a girl in her early twenties from one of those families simply sighed “Fish again?” My perception might of course be skewed but getting the same delicious food day after day while your fellow countrymen and women struggle to even get the most basic sustenance for their families on a daily basis seems like the better side of that deal. Thus, we were somewhat puzzled but then greatly entertained when we overheard a bunch of “them” talking in Bangla. Though we couldn’t get at their overall conversation, the quick succession of the words “GTZ”, “smoking”, “drinking” and “lying on the deck” let us know exactly what they thought of us. Anyways, while we had virtually nothing to complain about throughout the trip, our ire was almost always aimed at one of the upper-class offspring and their sigh-inducing behavior.

After an uneventful day, we spent much of the night lying underneath the stars talking and simply enjoying the fantastic view. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many stars. Also, because it happened to be Independence day, the rest of the group were in a very festive mood, which manifested itself in many of the Bangladeshi men and women singing beautiful songs of country, love and the longing for both throughout the night, providing a magical soundtrack to an already enchanted evening.

As we finally surrendered our post atop the boat around 2am, we realized that we were getting close to our destination. The lights of civilization had gone out a long time ago and instead of fields, our eyes were now presented with thick vegetation along the riverbank. We went to bed excited at the prospect of exploring these thick woods in the mroning.

We got up bright and early at 5:30 the next morning, with the sun still hiding behind the tree-tops. We were to have three stages of the day. The first, for which we had gotten up so early, was exploring the forest by boat, drifting through the mangroves and looking for wildlife. Setting off on our boat, we realized just how dense the forest around us had gotten. Especially with the sun just breaking out of the trees, the forest looked quite gloomy and dark. Unperturbed by this, however, we set off. 

We drifted along one of the thousands of tributaries that make up the delta, straining our eyes to see any movement. Of course, the biggest prize was the Bengal Tiger itself and this was to be a continuing thread throughout the day. However, to the lay person, the banks of the tributary offered merely snails and crabs which make their homes in quite bizarre shells. It was only with the help of the guides that we eventually spotted a lizard basking in the rising sun. Drifting along, we maintained venerable silence, truly enjoying the silence surrounding us, save of course for the sounds of the awakening forest. Later on, we saw two green snakes relaxing in the trees, as the rising sun illuminated more and more of the forest in a bright, warm light, revealing the color present in the trees and other fauna surrounding us. With this new lens through which to see the forest, it immediately became evident that we had come during the dry season.  There was a distinct line that could be drawn along the trees on the bank of the river, more than 5 ft above the current water level, illustrating just how immense the changes wrought on this ecosystem by the monsoon are. Later, having spent 2 very pleasant hours on the tributary, we made our way back to the boat, took some breakfast and assumed our regular habit of lying about the boat.

Later, we proceeded to take a bit of a walk through the mangroves in order to reach a beach. It occured to us only then how long we had actually traveled during the night, and although we were surrounded by jungle, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean were just half an hour’s walk away. The beach itself was absolutely picturesque, with long stretches of white sand framed by green vegetation. We went swimming for a good hour and a half in the comfortable waters. Having only so far experienced the, by comparison, frigid waters of the Pacific, the warm waters provided for a very relaxing afternoon experience.

Having gotten back to the ship, we realized that it was only 1pm, even though we felt like the day should be over by now. Oh, the wonders of getting up at 5:30 in the morning! We were taken to the other side of the river to do some hiking, taking us straight into tiger-territory. Were were provided with decommissioned army boots which came in handy in light of the mud that covered our path for much of the hike. We soon came to the realization that if there were any tigers around, they were probably too entertained by 30 people stumbling through muddy forest to do anything to us. We did see some other fauna, like families of wild deer and even some wild boars which scurried away into the undergrowth. Having gotten out of the muddy part, we checked out some of the tiger’s resting places and even, as our guide told us with a smile, the tiger’s “kitchen”. Well as long as the tiger wasn’t going to come check what was in the fridge, we should be fine, we thought. Along the way, we saw a tiger-print here and there with some scratches along trees, which apparently indicated a tiger marking his territory. As we came back to the ship, the skies started to darken and we were soon surrounded by a great thunderstorm. Luckily, the rain largely spared us so we were treated to a spectacular light show as dozens of lightening bolts split the dark skies above the jungle around us.

Our last day was spent just on the boat heading towards Kulna, where we would disembark and board a bus back to Dhaka. Thus, the day passed just like the first. As civilization started to creep back into the view, we were treated to some beautiful impressions of Bangladesh fishing villages. A recuring thought of mine was that while the people of this land and along the rivers might be desperately poor, the thought of giving it up for the slums and dreariness of Dhaka was very depressing.

Just before we left the boat, we had some time with our guide, an Environmental Science student from Dhaka. Speaking with him about the conservation efforts for the Sundarbans, he offered us the most beautiful and simplest argument for the preservation of the tiger and its land. Basically, without the tiger, there is no Sundarban, without the Sundarban, there is no Bangladesh. The tiger still commands so much respect from the people living around and partially in the Sundarbans that they do not dare encroach in its territory. This also saves the forest from being exploited, which lets it play its role as the protector of Bangladesh from the elements. In fact, the Cyclone Sidr that, in 2007, claimed so many lives and destroyed so much property and plunged Bangladesh into a national crisis of unprecedented proportions would have been twice as devastating had the Sundarbans not absorbed half of its intensity before it hit the rest of Bangladesh. Thus, with this amazing testament to the power of nature both to destroy and defend and with relaxing days behind us, we got back to Dhaka refreshed and enlightened.

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A Smorgasbord

In light of me finally putting up those river-cruise pictures, I though it would be a good idea to relate my second encounter with the mighty Bariganga. This time our plan was to go to Old Dhaka on the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday and rent a little boat that would ferry us around a bit to see more of the harbor. Due to it being a holiday, the roads were thankfully relatively empty and we had little trouble getting there. Once there, we met up with our friends and, after arguing over what in retrospective was 30 cents in the name of fairness to us, we got a boat for the six of us. The whole issue of paying adequate fares is one I’m still struggling with and will return to later.

Anyways, we were led to where all of the big ferries were anchored. Slightly surprised that we were being led onto a very large boat instead of one like the on one we had gotten for our last cruise, we nevertheless acquiesced. That feeling of security soon evaporated quickly however as we were led through the ferry and took a sharp left where the ferry ended and our real vessel was anchored. Now I have no problems with wooden rowing boats, but the thought of fitting 6 of us plus the guide and the boatsman into a vessel barely 10 ft long was mildly distressing. Added to that was the fact that the loading procedure included somehow carefully jumping down 5 feet from the ferry into our “cruiseship”. The boat wobbled precariously with every new passenger and in the end, with all 8 of us in the boat, we had barely half of a foot of clearance over the waterline. This “unique” perspective offered us the chance to acutely observe the state of the water in harbors around the world. I think everyone would agree that you wouldn’t exactly want to swim in any harbor’s waters but being literally face-to-face with the trash, refuse and just general sewage that collects in harbors was something else. Accordingly, the smell was sickening, and we set off from the ferry both queasy in our stomachs as well as our minds. The general sense of unease continued as our goal of shipping along lazily on the river depended on us crossing the river to get to the other side. I say “depended” because it involved a fully-loaded, unstable 10ft boat to slowly creep its way across a very busy river, filled with everything from motorboats to full-fledged tankers. However, we were successfully maneuvered across and then proceeded to float alongside the bank of the river, looking back on Old Dhaka and observing the happenings on either side of the river. This is where we were finally able to shake off our general sense of shock and, frankly, disgust at our situation and actually enjoy ourselves. Though it was an overcast day, Old Dhaka, with its run-down colonial and modern buildings, provided an interesting backdrop to our trip. On our right was a shipbuilding yard where we observed the various stages of ship-building/breaking seeing it was often unclear which process was happening.

Part of our journey included a stop at a jeans-dyeing workshop for us to look at, as well as to, as the guide said with no hint of humor in his face, “empty the boat of water”. Surrendering our last illusions about our boat-trip we got off and had the jeans-dyeing process explained to us and did some more looking around the other side of the river. Having emptied the boat of water, the boatsman invited us back on and we proceeded to again cross the river, but this time with less feelings of mortal danger. The journey back to our starting point was relatively uneventful and the bank of the river provided relatively few sights. One important one, however, was an immense vegetable market right on the piers jutting out from the river’s edge. The splendid colors of the produce provided for a great visual but once again our olfactory senses were subjected to the smell of rotting produce floating underneath the piers. This would all have been less memorable had not been the appearance of a tiny boat carrying 6 foreigners attracted the attention of a couple of kids who followed us along the pier and who, to our horror, proceeded to jump off the pier into the sewage below and swim after us without any hesitation. Seeing how widely our perception of this river and its state differed from the one held by the kids illustrated yet again just how far removed our lives are from each other.

Of course, being the entrepreneuring amateur photographer that I am, I forgot to check whether my batteries were empty or not and thus ended up carrying around my useless camera through all of this. I apologize.

And now for something completely different:

I usually play volleyball on Saturdays and Tuesdays, seeing that even the field of development consulting does not involve rigorous exercise. I had heard about a group of expat runners who ran on Saturdays around and just outside of Dhaka. I figured I would join last Saturday. The venue this time would be just outside of Dhaka but luckily I knew a guy from the German club with whom I could drive there. As we approached our destination, I noted that our starting point looked oddly familiar.

First something about the group. I learned that they were called the Hash runners. No, not for their ravenous consumption of hashish, but for the fact that this run would be a game that the English call the Hare and the Hashers, in which the goal is to follow the Hares. there’s two groups, one for the runners and one for the walkers, who get a shorter distance. The course of the run is pre-laid by some of the runners, with paper confetti marking the right way. However, what makes this run special is the fact that the lovely masters of the course lay plenty of false trails, which is why the entire running core is often stretched over many hundreds of yards, going down different trails in a desperate attempt to find the right trail. Thus, the countryside is over-run by a group of 40 sweaty white people shouting “on-on” or “false trail” at the top of their lungs at their seemingly imaginary friends. This leaves the locals we encountered visibly and deservedly so, confused. Oh, did I mention that alcohol is consumed at all rest-stops throughout the run? Yeah, why am I not surprised that this whole thing is a British idea?

The Hasher running groups basically exist in every place where there’s crazy British expats to be found. Actually, saying “crazy British” seems to be redundant here. In terms of the location, that feeling of familiarity soon led me to the realization that we were in the region North of Dhaka that I had encountered in one of my first factory-visits. Thus, our cours(es) led us through those same ricefields that I described a few weeks ago. We passed through forests, invaded little hamlets, at one point were pursued by a cow and passed Hindu-architecture.

It’s these random and, by all accounts, crazy incidents that make life here so very interesting and fascinating. Once again, no pictures as I was mostly focused on not twisting my ankle again on the treacherous terrain. The trails we used could sometimes barely be identified as such and thus I spent most of the time trying to make as little contact with the ground as possible. Luckily my friend was part of the walkers group and took some pics so I will post those at some point.

Real quick, two observations about living here day-by-day. Power-outages happen with astounding regularity now, as the Dhaka power-grid cannot satisfy the demand of 13 million people. The increasing heat is driving up demand for ACs which just suck the power-grid dry.There are now on average, I would say, 3-4 power outages a day, each lasting for anywhere between half an hour and two hours. Luckily, my apartment building and my office building have back-up generators so the actual routine is not disturbed. But in the slums for example, just as we left the NGO a few weeks ago, the power went out and the entire city-block was plunged into darkness. Luckily the moon was shining and our car was close-by. Nevertheless, it is much harder to take energy for granted here.

On a slightly humorous note, walking around my part of town, Baridhara or where I work in Gulshan, every other rickshaw driver that drives up to me and asks me to drive with him, knows where I live, no matter if I’ve ridden with the guy before or not. “Hey, boss, Baridhara, yes I know.” I guess my indulgent overpaying and predictable movements around the city have made me a good target for them. It’s kind of creepy but then again, I don’t have to worry about whether my driver knows where to go.

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Way overdue river cruise pictures

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The mighty river!

The mighty river!

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ship-building/breaking at the shore

ship-building/breaking at the shore

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A Hindu landmark reminding us of the Hindu presence in this country for hundreds of years

A Hindu landmark reminding us of the Hindu presence in this country for hundreds of years

The grounds of a villa that's been converted into a college

The grounds of a villa that's been converted into a college

The college itself

The college itself

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As well as the preceding picture, in the courtyard of the college

As well as the preceding picture, in the courtyard of the college

Cricket outside the college

Cricket outside the college

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Proof that I'm actually here!

Proof that I'm actually here!

This boy followed us around everywhere

This boy followed us around everywhere

At the back of the villa

At the back of the villa

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Back on the river

Back on the river

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Our boat

Our boat

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Our entourage in the second village

Our entourage in the second village

Sari production in the village

Sari production in the village

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