Sunday, March 26, 2006

Day to Day Living

Well, its been a long time since my last blog. I have now been a year in Bangladesh – time has flown, but I have learnt so much in the last year I also feel like I have been here forever. It feels strangely like home.

Dhaka is a very interesting place to be at the moment. India is growing incredibly fast, and rapidly moving into superpower status. Bangladesh is tipped by Goldman Sachs somewhat bizarrely to be the next happening place (along with South Korea and I think Vietnam). The city is growing incredibly fast and each year breaks records for size and population density - at no time on the history of the planet have so many people lived in such close proximity as here. Property prices are rising (as is the price of food and fuel) - office rental in some offices in Gulshan exceed Manhattan prices. Goodness knows what will happen if growth actually trickles down to the broader population.

Both Murray and I have settled into fairly comfortable routine. We live in Gulshan, the rather swanky diplomatic area. It is close to the expat clubs (a haven of airconditioning, swimming pools, and western food), and most of our social life. It is also much quieter than other parts of Dhaka, has apartment buildings with hot running water, and supermarkets and other shops with ‘western’ style food. There are downsides – we have a 1 hour commute to work, the beggars here are fairly professional and aggressive, and of course everything is quite expensive – people see a white person, and think we are all very rich (which comparatively we are - just much poorer than the other western workers).

Our apartment is very small by Gulshan standards (two bedroom, two bathroom), and does not have servants quarters, but is more than adequate. There are two front doors, side by side, which had me stumped for along time. I think one is for the ‘staff’ so that we can bolt their door and keep them out if we want to. Above is the view from our apartment building.

In the mornings we get a rickshaw (here is Moti our "driver" outside our building), to Gulshan 2 (10 minutes away), and then take a public bus to Mirpur 10, where Murray and I take separate rickshaws to work. People (including some Bangladeshis) think we are quite daring to take a bus to work, but it is fine. The buses drive wildly – but so do the other drivers, and I would prefer to be in a bus if we had an accident, than a car or baby taxi.

On weekends, we spend a morning shopping. Moti picks us up and we go down to the vegetable market. We always go to the same people – they have good produce and here you are served by the seller and there are no advertised prices. So, if you are new you have to negotiate and check all the produce or get given crap. They charge us a lowish price, and give us the good stuff. We get a young boy to carry the produce back to the rickshaw (for 20 cents - the job helps them pay for their schooling). We then take the rickshaw back to the house where I spend about 1 hour soaking all the vegetables in dilute bleach and then rewashing and drying them.

When its this hot, that’s about enough for a day. We don’t do a lot of entertaining – it just seems very hard. Many of our friends have cooks, drivers and maids and they look after us very well. There is a very active social scene (including, we are told, a swinging scene around the aussie club) with parties, dinner parties, and balls. There is very little to do socially except this type of event. Having a dinner party is great when you have someone to shop, cook, set the table, serve the food and clean up. I had one of these whilst housesitting – most enjoyable. Here are some pictures of friends of ours (spot the World Bank Economist) at the last Glitter Ball (held by the Australian community). And yes, it was fancy dress. Murray is off to the right - he was one of the Bollywood extras for our Wizard of Oz number (don't ask).The work itself here is wonderful if quite frustrating. I am getting closer to these little street girls, and wish I could take them home. Bangladesh doesn’t allow foreign adoptions, which I guess stops that idea dead. It will be very hard to lose them. One of our good friends organized a day out on a boat for the 15 younger girls. They had a fantastic day, lots of smiles and laughs. They also did some singing and dancing, and performed a ‘psycho drama’ of one of the children’s lives : Sharmin was abandoned by her mother when she was five. In the drama, the mother and children are tossed out of the family home, and she is seduced by a pimp who encourages her to leave the children (aged around 5 and 4). Sharmin’s sister then falls sick and dies and she is left on her own. People help her survive, and eventually she is found by some of our Street Children who take her to our shelter. This is her true story. One of the things SEEP does particularly well is drama – we help the children work through the stories of their lives, and also use street theatre for advocacy work.

Previously, we had organized for them to be invited to a Street Children’s party at the British Bagha club – here are some pictures of the SEEP children (boys and girls) in the pool and having a fantastic time. I was on pool duty, and here I am with the kids.

Thanks to those who wanted to help them – I am still trying to sort out a mechanism for getting money back from Australia to Bangladesh and will let people know once that is set up.

Below are a few more pictures from Murray’s office and also the Bagha party.


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