Women

This is not a new development or specific event but rather a feeling that has been with me for a while.

I have come to the conclusion that I will never have the strength it takes to be a woman in Bangladesh. It is entirely unfathomable to me how people can endure under certain circumstances. If there exists a glass ceiling for the women of the West, in its place, the women of Bangladesh have one made of brick, devoid of light and almost impossible to ever break through. The society here is so patriarchal that it’s almost easy to overlook it. But then you start to notice that there are few, if any, women on the streets at any given point. You start to notice that all important local people you talk to, at least for my project, are male and that you’re hard-pressed to find a woman with a leading role in almost any major organization.

It is shocking to observe this discrepancy in a country whose two sole political figures are women. Recently Sheikh Hassina has pledged to expand the number of seats held by women in Parliament but these are superficial reforms. The real root of discimination and oppression lies much, much deeper.

There are so few ways for women to get ahead in this country that most are confined to their homes, tending to their children and kitchens. This is where the garment industry serves as a ray of hope through the bricks. Of the 3 million people who work in the garment industry, 80% are female. Thus, those 2.4 million women serve to support not only themselves but another vast amount of people, wuickly ballooning the number of people the garment industry directly supports to more than 10 million. The reason so many women (girls, often) work in the garment sector is because, and I have heard this directly from the boss of factory, women are more skilled with their fingers, more dexterous and more determined to work. However, sadly implied in that conversation was also the fact that women are more submissive and will demand less. Nevertheless, the garment industry provides women with the fantastic opportunity to earn women by themselves and therefore reclaim, if only a fraction of their livelihood.

The women I talked to in the slums last week said they would never work in another industry because the garment sector gave them independence, an ideal that cannot be attained through any other measures but work.

On the side of the factory-owners however, it is spectacular to see the unscrupulous business-methods employed. In the West, our affluent lifestyle has led us to take the saying “knowledge is power” for granted. It’s used a lot and has become a clichee, worthy only of a slight raising of the eyebrows. Here, however, the full effect and meaning of this phrase is clearly visible. The workers, and especially women, here are kept dumb and uneducated in order to get them to work longer hours under worse conditions for less money. The vast majority of the women working in the industry have come from the rural countryside where inefficient practices have made the land less fertile and less capable of supporting a population. Young and impressionable, with little idea of what they’re in for, they set out for Dhaka in the hopes of finding work in order to support their large families at home. They always find work but are of course horrible disadvantaged, paid less than the minimum wage of one dollar a day and work long into the night. Too often, no effort is being made on the part of the employer to help the women gain an understanding of their rights or their opportunities. Their policy of “a dumb employee is a good employee” traps these women in sub-par working conditions, without much hope of advancement.

This is where the NGOs come in. In the slums I was in last week, the story was the same everywhere; just one training session talking about the Bangladeshi labor law opened their eyes to the injustices they are facing and led them to re-evaluate their condition. Now they are eager for more training and will maybe even organize to demand better working conditions. The reason I have become such a feminist for the women of Bangladesh is because I have met so many inspiring women here who make me hopeful that this country does have a future. If Bangladesh is to have a bright future, it will be thanks to the women, not to the men, whose tunnel-vision administration has deadlocked Bangladesh in a cycle of instability and inequality. One of the women leading the reforms is the labor union leader Nazma Akhter, who I’ve had the privilege of meeting on several occasions. Last Sunday for women’s day, she, with others, organized massive marches of garment workers through the streets of Dhaka, celebrating women and demanding better treatment for them. Her life story is also fascinating in its own right and I encourage you to find out more:

http://nosweatapparel.com/news/interview1.html

It is good to see GTZ employing as many women as men, most of them Bangladeshis. Giving the educated women of Bangladesh an arena in which to excel is certainly among the responsibilities of any company setting up shop in Bangladesh.

There is much hope for Bangladesh in terms of gender equity but the movement is unfortunately only in its nascent stages.

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Break on through to the other side

Lots to talk about.

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be invited along with a project my flatmate Tara is working with, which involves monitoring whether NGOs are fulfilling their objectives in the field. We would first visit a skills workshop, where new garment workers, 95% of the women, are being taught the skills they’ll need to succeed on the job. With the skills learned at that NGO, they will be able to skip the entry level position of “helper”, which involves cleaning and only working with the materials indirectly, and go straight into the position of “operator”, which involves actually working with the owing machines and others that are used in the garment industry. It was great to see so many women acquiring these skills and being compensated for it as well. The NGO, thanks to donors can afford to provide the workshop for free and even pay them a little bit in food and accomodation.

The most interesting part, however, was when we got to visit another NGO in the field, meaning in one of the many slums of Dhaka. We first met in the NGO’s office, which was just a small house with three rooms. The NGO employs around 6 people and is responsible for raising awareness of labor laws and workers’ rights. They took us on a small tour of the slums that are cramped between surrounding high-rises. Having just gotten used to the way regular Dhaka looks and feels, I was presented with another shock. The slums here are basically people living in metal and wooden shacks in giant heaps of trash. Trash is everywhere, from the “houses” to the streets to the kitchens. Venturing further into the living quarters, it became immediately evident that privacy does not apply here. If one house is separated from another by the width of one person and neither of them have doors but merely hang cloth over their entry-way, and if the actual “houses” are roughly 2 by 3 meters (7 by9 ft) in area, and if each of of these abodes houses up to 6 or 7 people of all ages, then you start talking about the complete breakdown of anything resembling privacy. I was aghast when I realized that my room at home is as big as two of these houses.

We didn’t get to see the full capacity of these slums because the workers were still in the factory but we did get to see and talk to those who stayed behind during the day, mostly the elderly and women with extremely young children. By elderly, of course, I mean 45 – 50 year old people. Those in that age range looked like they were at least 60, with brittle frames and rotting teeth. Their purpose in life is to guard the children who stay behind while their parents work to sustain their family of 6-7.

After walking around some and taking plenty of pictures of the kids that were running after us, we got back to the NGO’s office where we waited for the first round of workers to be released from the factories. Our job was  to interview them about their involvement with the NGO and what they had learned so far. The plan that many NGOs in the slums work with involves cell training: An experienced worker is approached by the NGO and educated in the labor law and workers’ rights. That cell leader then goes back into the factory and starts to talking to workers around her. Thus, a circle of people is formed; the cell. Then, the cell meets every few weeks to be taught by the cell leader in the aforementioned matters. the factory owners are not aware of this and would punish the women if they found out because to them, a dumb worker is a good worker. It has been used as a clichee in the West, but here, the adage that knowledge is power still rings as true as ever. This kind of work involves very low level intervention and greatly empowers the local workers. GTZ basically allocates funds to the NGO and provides them with a plan, and the NGO merely educates the one cell leader and houses their meetings. Thus, this work represents a concerted effort to form a civil society founded by the people themselves and driven by the people. I have come to realize here that development works best if outsiders have as little to do with it as possible. By this I mean that it is fine for multinational organizations like GTZ to advise and consult but not to delve in too deep although it is tempting to do so. Instead, efforts must be made to make development as locally-driven as possible. And, judging from the groups of women I met last night, it works. Already, having had only one cell training, they are much more aware of their rights as workers in Bangladesh. Before, they had no idea what the minimum wage was, what benefits they were entitled to, what their working conditions were suppoed to be etc., etc. The base of knowledge is so low for these women, who are mostly from rural villages with no connections in Dhaka, that the smallest of improvements can make a huge difference in their world view and attitude. Many now speak much more assertively about their rights and are eager to learn more, if only to earn better wages to better support their families.

It was during those meetings and spending time during the day in the slums that I became really aware of how different this was from what I thought I knew of this country and my view of the world. There, in those meetings and visits, I realized the absolute simplicity of life that can exist for people and the simple, common humanity that is shared by us all. This flowery and romantic view of this situation can of course never cover up for the immensity of the inequality experienced by them and the truly crushing poverty that these people sadly live in. But in an experience that is shared by many who visit these places, the people themselves carry themselves with such grace and kindness that it is easy to question the merits of everything the West has done in the past three hundred years. The times spent sitting on a stone floor, trying to make ourselves understood to our translator, hearing about the women’s simple dreams, ambitions and goals, laughing about the mishaps when we tried to form some sentences in Bangla and sharing our food with them, are ones that will never leave me. And though I had plenty of reason to be depressed and downcast after the visit, I realized just how happy this experience has made me. I have seen human endeavor amidst the complete absence of opportunity, I have seen smiles and laughter among situations deserving of unending grief and I have seen hope amongst conditions of despair.

Also, the people of my age that I have met give me hope that, while things may not improve from one day to the next, there is a vast supply of leadership available, willing to fight for equality and a better future. The three youngest workers at the NGO were 19, 20, and 22. These girls had come up from the factory floor and were now working to better the lives of their fellow workers amidst the worst of conditions. What was I doing when I was 19!? Experiencing these conditions, if only for a day, has completely renewed my faith in people to help themselves and each other and I come away from this encounter, humbled and in awe.

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Down by the riverside

Just as a disclaimer, all is well in Dhaka. It is still unclear exactly how many people died and I won’t engage in any more speculation than I already have. All I know is that political turmoil, especially in the developing world, is confusing. Over the course of the uprising, I have heard enough stories ranging from nothing happening at all to us being evacuated within days.

To escape the craziness and chaos that characterised Dhaka during those days, a couple of interns decided to take a boat trip. It was organized by one of the only tourism agencies around. Having a monopoly isn’t usually the best in terms of customer satisfaction but it worked out great. The boat was large enough to comfortably fit all twelve of us and we were served tea and lunch during the trip.

Our first stop was in a town that used to be predominantly Hindu, as evidenced by the architecture. Also, we got to see a municipal vill from colonial times which was converted into a college. The entire place was set in an environment of lush trees and plenty of man-made lakes. Also, we noticed how quiet and slow everything got. People walking by, curious as to our appearance but extremely friendly and relaxed. We were followed around by this one little boy who had become the resident expert on cameras and amassed quite a collection of photographs. We drifted on and eventually got to a village that makes a special type of sari. The houses in which they made the saris were brittle and cramped, with 8-10 people sitting in front of their apparatus. These workers work from 7 in the morning until 9 at night, for little more than minimum wage (24 dollars a month, which is yes, less than the magical one dollar a day). However, the people seemed happy enough to show us their wares and were delighted when we spoke a few words of Bangla. More on that later. The kids were also adorable and I had to take a lot of pictures to meet their demands.

The most enjoyable thing about the cruise was actually being on the river itself because it was the most relaxing thing I had experienced in a long time. The landscape drowned us in its sheer greenness and the climate, while hot, was still pleasant and we spent hours just drifting along and chatting. It was great to see that there is more to Bangladesh than just Dhaka and that life can move a little slower than you’re used to. I hope the pictures that I will post later will do it more justice.

Quick rejoinder on the language: It is a fascinating topic here since Bangla is so tightly intertwined with the identity of Bangladesh itself. This is evident in the name itself. Bangla is the name of the language while -desh means country. Thus Bangladesh is the country in which Bangla is spoken and therefore defining its country’s identity on the basis of language rather than ethnicities. To be sure, ethnic identity still plays an immense role in day-to-day life but the overall concept of Bangladesh is based on its language. When India was partitioned in the late fourties, not only was Pakistan founded, but also East Pakistan was created out of the state of Bengal to accomodate the Muslim minority now fleeing India. The two Pakistans existed as one political entity, controlled from Islamabad in Pakistan and had an uneasy relationship from the start. Then, in the early seventies, the spark that would ignite the powderkeg was lit when Pakistan insisted on Urdu being the national language. Bangla being the official religion in East Pakistan, the people of Bangladesh did not take to this kindly and started protesting. The government of Pakistan would not budge however and started to suppress the demonstrations and protests ever more violently. This eventually snowballed into a war of rebellion that killed mor than 2 million Bangladeshis. A scar this deep does not heal easily or fast and even thirty years later, the country views the War of Independence as if it was yesterday. The graffiti and drawings of the war adorn building walls and I’ve even come across business cards that list freedom fighter among occupations, I kid you not. In a move that is strange for me as an outsider to understand, even the officers who were sadly killed in the uprising were immediateley declared martyrs. I assume martyr has a different or more widely applicable function here than it does back home but the fact that this terminology is used so readily underscores the ferocity with which the people of this country hold to their independence.

In more bland news, I have arrived at the half-way point of my internship, a very scary fact that made me reflect on some things. Looking over what I have written so far made me realize that Bangladesh doesn’t exactly come out of this report as an outstanding country to be in. And while there are a myriad of problems, many of them so complex and deeply entrenched that it makes you want to scream in frustration, coming back from the boat-trip and going back to work after the weekend made me realize that there is nowhere else I’d rather be right now in my life. I like what I do, I love the people I’m with and I learn something everyday. My Bangla has improved to the point that I can communicate fairly effectively with the rickshaw driver, making communication less stressful, and I am consistently in awe of the different perspectives I get to hear and experience every day. Also, on a more selfish note, buying two high quality T-Shirts for 4 dollars from a fair-trade store just feels good.

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Trouble in the Town

Some of you might have been aware of the clashes that happened yesterday in Dhaka between the army and the Bangladeshi Rifles (BDR). It happened two districts over from the one I work in, making it uncomfortably close.

Basically, the BDR are a para-military organization which is responsible for border security. They are the ones who died in the border conflicts Bangladesh has had with India in the past, yet they are among the worst-paid out of any government organization. Compared to the regular army, the BDR live in absolutely squalid conditions and barely get enough money to survive. Added to that is the fact that in recent months, pay has been withheld from them and embezzled by the head of the BDR at the Dhaka office to the tune of a few million dollars. These factors produced a group of about 2,000 underpaid, frustrated and angry people…with guns. The firefight started in the early morning hours on Wednesday and lasted all day. I was with my project in a hotel nearby the office in a workshop so we didn’t have to go home, although anyone who wanted to leave could, as many of our team either live in or close to the affected area and had to get home before curfew was imposed.  The curfew luckily extended only to the immediate area and has now been lifted.

The newly elected Prime Minister Sheikh Hassina has intervened and offered amnesty to the mutineers in exchange for them laying down their arms. Then negotiations went under pay to discuss the future of the BDR and the conditions of its members. Though it calmed rather quickly, the situation is still not completely resolved as the negotiations have to please the rebellious elements of the BDR. The region of Dhanmondi where the uprising orginiated is still under curfew. I was actually supposed to meet someone for an interview there today, but I have just been informed that he is not allowed to leave his house, as the army has shut down the entire dirstrict.

In terms of human cost, though only lasting one day, so far, as reported, the gunfight claimed 50 lives, many among them civilians caught in the crossfire.

For more concrete information, here are two links to read up on:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/26/world/asia/26bangla.html?_r=1&ref=world.

http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=77491

The Daily Star article is older, so therefore the casualty numbers do not match with the New York times report.

What was also impressive to me was what happened while the firefight was going on. As happens in many developing countries unfortunately, the government disabled land-line Internet access and most cellphone communications, leaving us very confused about what was actually happening. The land-line internet connection in my apartment still doesn’t work, even today on Thursday. Rumors swirled around and the various disparate information added to the unease. It annoys me to no end that the government still holds to these antiquated and totally counterproductive measures just for the sake of stability. The withholding of information only adds to confusion and panic, unnecessarily increasing the danger and tension fo the situation. I talked to people who have been living in Dhaka for years and they said that this shut-down of information networks happens every time there is unrest. Without an open flow of information, Bangladesh cannot hope to become truly modern, in whatever sense.

Also, the fact that a disagreement about pay sparked such a violent and brutal uprising just illustrates how little infrastructure is in place here to address these issues. This was the unleashing of anger that was pent up over years and not once was the government, no matter who controlled it, responsive to the needs of the BDR. If the politics of this country continue to waste their time on accusing the other party of corruption instead of building structures and institutions that effectively respond to the pressing needs of the population, there will be no stable democracy in Bangladesh for quite some time.

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More pictures!

The next few are from the roof of my uncle's builing

The next few are from the roof of my uncle's builing

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Gulshan circle from my uncle's flat

Gulshan circle from my uncle's flat

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My street in Baridhara, to the right the Malaysian High Commission

My street in Baridhara, to the right the Malaysian High Commission

Gulshan Lake, looking towards Gulshan-2 from the Baridhara shore

Gulshan Lake, looking towards Gulshan-2 from the Baridhara shore

Cancer-hospital in Gulshan-2

Cancer-hospital in Gulshan-2

The boardwalk

The boardwalk

More Gulshan lake

More Gulshan lake

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Unfortunately too often lined with trash

Unfortunately too often lined with trash

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Into the chaos of Gulshan-2 circle

Into the chaos of Gulshan-2 circle

Part of the circle

Part of the circle

Airport road in neighboring district Banani. Basically the freeway here, it is often clogged but it is still the fastest way to get out of the city

Airport road in neighboring district Banani. Basically the freeway here, it is often clogged but it is still the fastest way to get out of the city

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High rises along KAmal Attaturk Avenue in Banani

High rises along KAmal Attaturk Avenue in Banani

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This "side-street" off of Kamal Attaturk Avenue houses the various new international universities. During the weekday, it is clogged with young students, providing a vibrant, refreshing contrast to the settled and traditional Gulshan

This "side-street" off of Kamal Attaturk Avenue houses the various new international universities. During the weekday, it is clogged with young students, providing a vibrant, refreshing contrast to the settled and traditional Gulshan

And I thought American power lines were bad....

And I thought American power lines were bad....

Banani lake, similar in structure to Gulshan lake

Banani lake, similar in structure to Gulshan lake

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It’s been a while…AND PICTURES!!!

Wow, I’ve been really lazy lately.

I got to visit aother factory last week with my flatmate and her supervisor.  The factory is located in the North of Dhaka like most factories but is different from what I have experienced so far. It is a medium sized factory but you wouldn’t know it from the way it is built. The reception area looked more like a hotel than a garment factory and it just got better from there. The factory floor itself didn’t look very fancy of course but it was light and rather spacious. The meeting room was again ridiculously fancy and for just a few minutes it was easy to imagine oneself in London instead of Dhaka. Now far from being controlled by a foreign company with lots of money gained from oppressing workers, this factory was completely Bangladeshi-owned and is regarded as one of, if not the best factory in Bangladesh. The walls were littered with awards, both from domestic and international partners, exalting the factory’s labor and environmental standards. Having passed a three-day factory audit workshop just the week before I could see how they got all those awards. Nowhere else have I seen so much compliance with labor standards.

We were there because Tara’s supervisor wanted to pitch a new GTZ-initiative to various factories and wanted to get this well-respected factory behind the plan early. The project is a cell-based project which means the following: Since the goal is to empower female workers, GTZ will be hosting a month-long workshop for a select group of female workers and hopefully supervisors and basically educate them about their rights and opportunities for change in the workplace. Thus, the plan is to host this workshop for about 20 women from 5-10 factories and then send them back to their factories armed with knowledge, authority and some funds provided by the GTZ. The hope is then that they will start to pass on those teachings to their fellow female workers and thereby start a civil society from within the factory which looks out for itself and demands justice in the workplace and empowerment for women.

Having listened to basically this pitch, the factory management agreed to participate in the program and even offered to host it in their facilities since they had state of the art meeting rooms. In the smalltalk that came at the end of the meeting we showed our admiration at the multitude of awards that the factory and its company had won. The explanation the manager gave absolutely floored me. He basically said that while he did of course care about labor and environmental standards from a humanistic point of view, he was so adamant about their implementation because, as he said it, it made “good business sense”. I’m not sure if I’m communicating the magnitude of such a statement effectively enough but I was utterly amazed. Finally, here was someone in Bangladesh who had control fo a factory and thousands of workers and actually had a good business sense. He explained to us that the more awards he has, the more contracts he gets with foreign partners, which gets him more money. Having recognized the absolutely crucial role that trust, credicbility and reputation play in business, the manager we were speaking to had been recognized several times as Bangladeshi businessman of the year. It’s hard to describe how good it was to hear him speak about running a sound business with great output and great working conditions, when all one sees every day is the absolute inability of so many institutions, not least of which the government itself, to run a good enterprise. Too much of life here is simply not in that spirit and while I’m not advocating that every street vendor turn into a business-shark, the standard is so low for good business practices here that seeing such a well-run factory is a welcome change from business as usual. Of course, being absolutely jaded by living in an affluent Western society, my standards are too high but simple things like being good to customers and, on a behavioral note, not using the streets as a trash dump and personal toilet.

Anyways, so much for my frustration with business and efficiency here. I’ve heard that the antidote to all of this is simply getting out of Dhaka, a tip I definitely want to follow in the next few weeks. My flatmate Tara was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Chittagong, the second-biggest city in Bangladesh over the weekend and I hope to replicate that trip with some other interns soon. This sentiment of having to exlore things now is especially pronounced since I realized with some horror that my internship will be halfway done by next weekend. Thus, taking advantage of the time I get to spend outside of the office here is becoming increasingly vital.

In terms of curiosities, I got my hair cut today which was fun. After walking two city-sectors over from Baridhara only to find that the travel office I was looking for was closed, I figured I might as well get my hair cut on the way back. After looking around on the mainstreet connecting the city-sectors, I went into the one with smiling white people on the billboard because nothing says great haircut like David Beckham. It was also the cleanest I could find. Of course no one spoke English so after a lot of gesturing about what was desired in terms of length, he got to it. It looked great  but apparently he had spotted a rogue patch of dandruff which he then committed himself to nuking with several hairproducts and some intense washing which doubled as a scalp massage judging by his intensity. Apparently this is what people go to a spa for. After every stage of additional washing I indicated that I had just come here for a haircut but my objections were brushed aside quite literally so I just went along for the ride, figuring that if my hair was ever going to get a spa treatment, it might as well be in Dhaka. So, after around 40 minutes, I left the salon feeling absolutely divine and I had only spent 10 bucks, which of course was probably with some Bangladeshi inflation in it, i.e., massively overcharging foreigners, but I was content. If you ever want to get your hair cut right, come to Dhaka.

In terms of a social life on the weekends, the circle of interesting friends just keeps growing. Being able to spend evenings drinking wine with Nepali, German, British interns from wildly varying age ranges is pretty amazing.

Here are the pictures I’ve been withholding for so long:

The immensity that is the Emirates terminal at Dubai Airport

The immensity that is the Emirates terminal at Dubai Airport

I just love transliterations of English into Arabic

I just love transliterations of English into Arabic

Duty-free heaven in Dubai

Duty-free heaven in Dubai

More transliterations

More transliterations

View from my uncle's flat, and yes, all windows here have bars on them, no matter how high the flat is

View from my uncle's flat, and yes, all windows here have bars on them, no matter how high the flat is

My uncle's flat

My uncle's flat

The street on which my uncle lives

The street on which my uncle lives

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This is hilarious because it makes absolutely no sense in this context. Probably some drunk expat with a spray can

This is hilarious because it makes absolutely no sense in this context. Probably some drunk expat with a spray can

The next few pics are from a park close to my uncle's flat

The next few pics are from a park close to my uncle's flat

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Wonderland, basically a giant Bangladeshi version of Dave and Buster's

Wonderland, basically a giant Bangladeshi version of Dave and Buster's

The next few are from around the neighborhood of GTZ

The next few are from around the neighborhood of GTZ

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It's always good to know your children are protected by plenty of barbed wire

It's always good to know your children are protected by plenty of barbed wire

Since Dhaka is constantly under construction, I figured this might be a good thing to see. Bamboo is used for all buildings in this stage of building and apparently works great to hold up large slabs of concrete, as there is another example of it in dizzying heights later on.

Since Dhaka is constantly under construction, I figured this might be a good thing to see. Bamboo is used for all buildings in this stage of building and apparently works great to hold up large slabs of concrete, as there is another example of it in dizzying heights later on.

10 stories of concrete supported by bamboo. Gotta love bamboo

10 stories of concrete supported by bamboo. Gotta love bamboo

More pictures soon to follow…

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A new place

I had two big things happen to me over the past week and a half: I moved into my own place and was subjected to a beating by my own body.

I had spooted the new place after being referred to it by my boss. It’s in the adjacent part of town to Gulshan, called Baridhara and is like the former’s little brother; smaller but just as filled with expat clubs and embassies. Like everywhere else in this part of town, my room is in a 5-story house, and is privy to a larger apartment. There’s another room next to mine which another GTZ intern thankfully moved into on Sunday. She’s from Nepal and will stay here for six months before starting her Master. I very glad to have company in this rather large apartment and having a flat-mate will provide a nice constant. More on that later.

Seeing that the apartment is fairly large and/or because the owner is too wealthy, we have a maid living in the apartment as well.  This is definitely a new experience for me. Moving out of my uncle’s place, I was expecting to find myself in a college-type living situation; cooking your own food, cleaning your place, generally taking care of things yourself. Well, it’s none of that. The guy who lives there is here during the night until 9am and then a maid is here from 9 to 5, after which the other guy comes back again. And they do everything! Both are extremely nice and I have no problem relating to them. However, in their role as maids (?) they make me feel a bit too colonial for my liking, however, everybody else I know here has the same situation. Oh well, the food is good and I think I’ll manage to not practice my common manners for a few months. However, I could not imagine living like a VIP for longer than that.

Just in time for the new place, my stomach decided that this was the perfect occasion for unleashing a thorough case of Traveler’s Diarrhea. Luckily I had left America with enough medicines to fight off the plaque thanks to my mother so after two very uncomfortable days and very little food, I finally got better on Saturday. Ready to take on the world again, I took part in the weekly volleyball game at the German club. Just to show what a cruel mistress she is, Lady Luck decided that having just recovered from a very “cleansing” case of diarrhea, I was overdue for some athletic injuries. Thus, I promptly sprained my ankle, rednering me unable to walk. My aunt took me to the doctor the next morning, a Sunday, and X-rays were taken. Luckily nothing was broken and it was just the outer ligament that was damaged. On the bright side, I have now seen the inside of a third-world doctor’s office and lab, which honestly looks like something out of a 60s film.

Thus, the remainder of Sunday and the entirety of Monday were spent at home. Though I was thankfully provided with a gigantic heap of DVDs by my fellow interns, these two days were nevertheless the longest and most boring days I’ve had in quite a while. As part of Lady Luck’s recurring “You don’t know what you got until it’s gone” program, being deprived of the ability to walk left me appreciative of the fact that in a few days, I shall be able to walk normally again and can then take on the world. Thanks for that reminder.

Last week at work I was fortunate enough to be taken along to a factory inspection tour of two factories on the outskirts of Dhaka. The car-ride took about an hour and in the process I saw very different sides of Dhaka. Slogging through the city traffic was nothing new but was amazed me was how suddenly the main city ended. All of a sudden, we were traveling on a road amidst a sea of never-ending rice paddies. As far as the eye could see (admittedly, there was fog), we were surrounded by lush, green flora. These pristine views were interupted periodically, however, by the bizarre sight of slim but acutally enormous spikes protruding from the ground. I was told these were brick factories and the presence of these harsh reminders of industrialization amidst the pastoral idyllic setting burned itself in my memory. After driving for about half an hour through this murky, dream-like landscape, we arrived at a suburb of Dhaka where the factories were located.

The factories looked like an overdose of Bauhaus architecture and therefore anything but appealing. These enormous bunkers housed the assembly lines on 6 levels. After a brief chat with the head of the factory by the inspector, we were ushered into the assembly hall. There, the workers started with a piece of denim on one end, and, 50 processes, later, produced a pair of jeans. I’m not sure if Adam Smith had this in mind when he called for the minute specialization of labor but it was impressive nonetheless. Our arrival caused quite a stirr as literally every head turned to examine the  pale giant that had just come through from another dimension.

Both factories were the same in terms of set-up but the first, jeans-producing one was bigger. The building housed 6000 people, 500 of which were managerial and/or office workers. 6000 people in one building! I had always imagined factories being one level affairs with a lot of people yes, but not 6 of them stacked on top of each other.

Needless to say, the experience of seeing more of Dhaka left me eager to explore and, if my body stays intact, I plan on exploring the old city on the weekend.

Concluding with the aforementioned case of my new flatmate, I said it will be nice having some consistency in terms of people I’m surrounded with because just in the span of two and half weeks here it has become apparent to me that the fate of the international intern is one of constantly saying goodbye. You find “your people” immediately and them leaving is hard to deal with. Two interns that are leaving this week will leave a hole in my social life here. There are new interns coming to fill that space but I’m not sure if I like this side of working in the international arena. I definitely do not want to work in an arena where you only get a few weks with someone, someone who reminds you of the world you know amidst the strange alien place that you find yourself in, before they’re ripped away from you by that intercontinental flight, reminding you, if only for a moment, that you are alone here. I know that the new interns coming in will be great and that enough of the old ones are staying around to hang out with but nevertheless, this aspect of working abroad is one I had not considered before.

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