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Move to site office
It is now almost five months since Jack arrived in Dhaka.
He was supposed to spend two weeks in his company's
Bangladesh head office in the Baridhara suburb and then
move to site to meet the field staff, familiarise himself
with the twenty seven sites (now increased to forty
seven) and fix up permanent accommodation for Viv to
However it actually took three months after he arrived
in Bangladesh and six weeks after Viv arrived, before we
could make the move with the hope that the
accommodation that had been set up from Dhaka was
going to be satisfactory.
Now it's two months later and we still don't quite have
the accommodation sorted out to our liking but it's
getting there slowly. That's just about how everything
works in Bangladesh, s-l-o-w-l-y.
The reason for the delay was the fact that National
elections were due in early January and the incumbent
party decided not to hand over to the usual 'non-party'
election committee but to have an 'all party' election
committee instead. This, rather expectedly, upset the
opposition who promptly called a series of one, two,
three, four, five and even a couple of six day 'hartals'
and/or 'blockades', or strikes, in protest.
These hartals/blockades were essentially closure of all
the main roads throughout the country or, occasionally,
just within a particular city, mainly Dhaka.
Four times Jack travelled to his site office location and
four times he had to come back to Dhaka within a
couple of days to avoid being stuck there during a hartal.
As the election date got closer the hartals became more
frequent and longer and so he wasn't able to travel at all
for a whole month before the election.
Luckily he had plenty to do in the Dhaka office thanks
to the internet and emails with photographs showing
progress at the sites.
In the end the hartals didn't have any effect on the
elections. The opposition refused to contest so they are
no longer the opposition and the former governing party is
still the governing party. Whether or not it will end
there remains to be seen. There was a lot of violence,
which was apparently unusual, and a lot of innocent
bystanders, and several guilty participants, were killed.
The main cause of the violence was apparently a radical
Moslem party, aligned to Pakistan extremists, who are
partners with the opposition party. They have been
officially outlawed but they are still active.
If you look at the map of Bangladesh you will see that the
southern part is broken up into several peninsulas, rather
like a fjord coastline. This is part of the famous Ganges
delta, though inside Bangladesh it becomes the Padma.
This is joined by the Bramhaputra from the north, which
becomes the Jamuna in Bangladesh, and these two join
the Meghna, which is the largest entirely Bangladesh
river, before it flows into the Bay of Bengal.
The area covered by the job sites is to the west of
where the Meghna reaches the sea and south of the main
regional city of Barisal (pronounced locally as Borishol).
Our area office is located a bit further south in the town
of Patuakhali. However, Patuakhali does not boast a great
deal of accommodation suitable for long term expats and
so we are living in the Barisal.
Barisal doesn't exactly have a social lifestyle that expats
can quickly drop into and feel at home right away but it is
much bigger and has much better shopping than Patuakhali.
Our apartment is in a building that calls itself the Hotel
Rose Valley Inn but it is really an apartment block that
serves as an office block with the top two floors (fourth
and fifth) retained as apartments. It is taking quite a lot
of fixing to get the little things changed to our
satisfaction but we are getting there slowly.
Getting to work
Jack's commute between Barisal and Patuakhali is eighty
to ninety minutes each way and this includes a twenty to
twenty five minute ferry crossing. The actual crossing is
only about ten minutes and the rest of the time is for
queuing and jostling to get on to and off of the ferry!
Otherwise the driving in this area is quite pleasant and
the Bangladesh bad driving is not as noticeable here
because there is less traffic and the roads are
straighter than in and near Dhaka. The trip goes quite
quickly as there is a fairly decent internet connection all
the way and the roads are (just) smooth enough to
do a bit of computer work and/or reading on the way.
His work week is Sunday to Thursday though he works
at home quite a lot on the other two days as there a
lot of work to do and not much alternative
entertainment available. He spends, roughly, every
other day travelling to inspect the sites. Depending on
the remoteness of the sites visited he can see
between one and four sites in a day in the dry season
however many sites are totally inaccessible during
even the lightest rain as many of the 'roads' between
the main road and the sites are just narrow clay
tracks. Even during the dry weather our 4WD
vehicles can't get right up to all the sites and we have
to finish the journeys on the back of a motor bike or
on foot, sometimes with a river crossing in between.
The sites are all in areas that are at the greatest
risk during the frequent cyclones and they are in the
grounds of existing schools that are, without
exception, in pitiful condition. This makes you feel bit
angry at the contractors who have the typical
Bangladesh, lackadaisical attitude towards on-time
completion. They use the slightest excuse as a reason
for not working instead of making an effort to find
ways to overcome the problems.
The first twenty seven sites started at the beginning
of September, 2012, well before Jack arrived, and
they were due for completion at the end of February
this year. The most advanced is about 70% complete
and the least advanced about 35%!
Admittedly the designs are considerably more
complicated than these contractors are used to since
they are the result of an architectural design
competition and they are supposed to stand out from
all the other very plain buildings in the area.
We're not sure what the locals do for entertainment.
The late evenings and nights are very quiet so they
don't seem to party. There are no bars, discos or
dance halls and no open sale of alcohol.
There is one historic club, the Barisal Club, that
dates from British days and Jack has applied for
membership and is currently awaiting a reply. We have
visited it a few times and it is a splendid collection of
buildings but it has been devoid of patrons whenever
we have gone there! We have yet to find the 'busy'
time. However they do have a tennis court so all Jack
needs now is someone to play with!
We go on our usual walks whenever we can but,
unfortunately, it is rather a long way to any form of
pleasant rural area and, since Jack gets home after
dark each weekday evening, a daily exercise routine is
not an option.
We've been on a few weekend drives to the
surrounding countryside but, since the whole region is
very flat, everywhere is pretty similar and there are
very few landmarks worth visiting. We also have to
have a driver so we can't have him standing by at all
times just in case we decide to go for a drive on a
whim to get out of the apartment.
8 March 2014 – Life and Work in Bangladesh
We are now pinning our hopes on getting a faster
internet connection. Up to now we've been using usb
internet but we've been promised wireless broadband
within a few days so we're keeping our fingers crossed
that it is going to be fast enough for internet TV. This
is because, though the local cable has about sixty or
seventy channels, there are only a few in English or
with English sub-titles. Even Discovery and National
Geographic are dubbed in Hindi or Bangla with no
English subs as are many of the English films on the
Luckily there are several English news channels and
,for Jack, there are a few sports channels. He has been
lucky enough to be able to watch several of the Six
Nations games to date and he is keeping his fingers
crossed that he will be able to see this weekend's
matches as well.
Generally we have found the people to be very friendly,
helpful and hard-working but, on many occasions, a little
too curious. We are used to being stared at and here it
seems we are the only foreigners in the entire area
and so we expected it. But Bangladesh staring has to be
seen to be believed. Staring while you are walking along
the street is to be expected, though it can be annoying
when they block your way, but when you are driving
slowly in the car or parked on one of the frequent
ferry crossings they will put their noses right up to the
car window and just stare of minutes on end even if you
stare back at them. Even the beggars don't hang around
that long. It's a bit unnerving to say the least.
There appears to be a very small upper class, a very
large lower middle class and enormous poor class in this
area, and probably most areas, and life is not easy for
any but the upper class. Furthermore, corruption is rife
at all levels throughout the country and it is the
poorest who bear the brunt in every way.
They are trapped in their poverty unless they resort to
some activity that is not strictly legal, or even some
level of criminal activity, because they have very little
access to a regular income or even to justice without
someone in authority supporting them and every bit of
support comes at a financial cost.
One aspect of the Bangladesh population that surprised
us is the variety. Contrary to our preconception of the
'typical' Bangladeshi, they come in all shades and
significantly different ethnic origins. But they all
appear to mix together without any form of friction.
That is except where religion is concerned!
There are small groups of Hindus and Christians who
are frequently in the news because of attacks by
fringe radical groups. Particularly the Hindus.
But the most compelling impression of the Bangladesh
population is the sheer number of people everywhere.
The area, including a very large amount of which is
covered by water, is about the same as England and
Wales together and it has almost three times as many
people in it!
The next year and a half should be very interesting!
|The two school/cyclone shelter designs
|Typical 'road' to the sites - in dry weather!
|Visiting one of the few sights near Barisal