Sunday, October 25, 2009

Four More Days...

I can’t say that I hate Bangladesh, but it’s not winning many bonus points this week. Dhaka is loud, polluted and stinks. The pollution is so bad the air smells acrid, and my throat itches all the time. By the end of the day, my eyes are dry and scratchy. There’s so much dirt and dust kicked up that my sinuses swell and my lymph nodes kick into overdrive, causing my ears to pound and my jaw to hurt. Garbage is ubiquitous, and even if I can’t see it, I can smell the sickly sweet overripe juiciness of it floating in unexpected places. Sometimes its so overpowering, I have to cover my mouth and my nose.

My hotel, although in a “nice” area of town, seems also to be in the direct flight path of every aircraft in the subcontinent, which roars past morning, noon and evening (luckily, I don’t hear them so much at night). I’ve never slept on a harder mattress for more than one night, my feet are always dirty and, as far as I can tell, I am the only person staying here. The all male staff are also, a little too attentive. Plus, I am stuck eating room-service every night (it’s either that or sit by myself in the empty restaurant below, with all the waitstaff watching me).

Sigh. I am trying to keep things in perspective. I just came from a five-star hotel in Colombo, where I’d already spent five weeks of my life. I had a certain level of autonomy – I already had the grocery store scoped out, made a few friends, access to a spa and been able to maintain my healthy with Mr. Gin and Mr. Tonic. Plus, I wasn’t the only foreigner. I was just one of a zillion hotel guests able to come and go as I pleased, with relative anonymity. It was easy to arrive there, do what I needed to do, and have a little fun.

Here, I’m at ground zero all over again. There’s no grocery store. Project staff tell me that there are no restaurants near by (and as far as I can tell, they’re right). I don’t know anyone. There’s a “spa” next door, but it’s quite scary. The first night here, I ventured out by myself, but was hassled so much I just couldn’t take it. What little sights I did see (the National Parliament, the War Memorial) took a long time to get to through awful traffic and weren’t all that exciting to see.

So, for the past five days, I’ve basically been doing the same thing: walking to work, working, eating, walking home from work, talking a walk around the park, working, watching TV, ordering room service, working and sleeping.

So yes, Bangladesh is sucking a little bit. Luckily, I’m not here forever - and tomorrow, I’m heading up-country. Months of travelling in cushy places have sheltered me, but I know I’ll get back in the swing of things. This is culture shock. The project staff are wonderful and I know there is some charm to be had around here….somewhere.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

In Today's Bangladesh "Daily Star"

...I just don't know what to say to this. Well, ok I have lots to say, but just read it for yourself.

36% women say 'wife beating justified'
Alpha Arzu

A large number of women who are the worst victims of spousal violence believe that husbands have the right to beat up their wives if they neglect their children, argue with husbands or disobey the elders, specially mothers-in-law and fathers-in-law, revealed a government survey recently.

A total of 36 percent women believe that a husband is justified in bashing his wife for any of the aforesaid reasons, but the most widely accepted reason for wife beating among women in the country is disobeying elders like mothers/fathers-in-law, according to the 5th and latest Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS) 2007.

Again, 24 percent women believe that if a husband beats up his wife for disobeying elders is justified, followed by 22 percent who believe that arguing with husbands is justified, 18 percent for going out without telling their husbands while 16 percent for neglecting children is justified. Only nine percent of women feel that denying sex is an acceptable reason for a man to beat up his wife.

On the other hand, 36 percent men aged between 15 and 49 years agree that at least one of the reasons given is sufficient justification for wife beating. Men are most likely to justify beating their wives if they argue with their husbands (25 percent), followed by showing disrespect to elders (23 percent).

Like women, men are least likely to say that refusal to have sex (4 percent) is a ground for wife beating. About 16 percent of men feel that neglecting the children or going out without telling them are justifiable reasons for wife beating.

Forty nine percent married women have ever experienced some forms of physical violence by their husbands, 53 percent have experienced some forms of physical or sexual violence while 13 percent have experienced both types of violence.

Eighteen percent women are physically forced to have sex by their husbands when they do not want to.

The study showed that the most common act of physical violence is slapping. Forty six percent married women are being slapped by their husbands. The next common act of physical violence is being pushed, shaken or having something thrown at them (30 percent).

Almost 17 percent of married women reported that their husbands punch them with their fists or with something that can hurt them. Fifteen percent of women are victims of kicking, dragging and beating. An equal percentage reported that their husbands twist their arms or pulled their hair.

The survey also stated that physical violence is directly related to the duration of the marriage. Thirty percent of women who got married less than five years ago reported having their experience of physical violence, compared with 47 percent of women married off between five and nine years and 54 percent more than 10 years' after their marriage.

Women residing in Chittagong and Sylhet experience less physical violence compared with women in other divisions.

The survey also showed that age at marriage is higher in Chittagong and Sylhet compared with other divisions. Sexual violence is lowest in Sylhet and Khulna while highest in Barisal. Twenty one percent of married women in Barisal reported sexual violence, followed by 20 percent of women in Dhaka.

Bangladesh Mahila Parishad President Ayesha Khanam told The Daily Star, “Vigorous campaign about the rights of women are the best way to stop such violence. This is really unfortunate that male partners or husbands here think that without torturing their female partners, their power is not being exercised.”

On the other hand, there is no alternative to empowering and making women aware of their rights in family. The law enforcement agencies should come forward to stopping such heinous spousal violence, said leader of the women's human rights-based organisation

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

One of the upshots of travelling alone is that there's no one around with which to share your witty thoughts, pet peeves or general observations. Oftentimes, they're too short for blogging, and too long for Facebook (I'm not on Twitter - if I was, I'd never leave my computer).

As it is, I subsequently end up walking around composing pithy Facebook updates in my head (Mtanga...finds it hard to believe a whole planefull of people could not know about deoderant). However, not wanting to appear as socially isolated (and let's face it, lame) as I really am, most of these posts flicker through my head and then flicker on out.

But, after 24 hours of travel, I've got a buildup. I'm not going to paste them all on Facebook, but the backlog in my head is making it hard to sleep.


...forgot that cell phone etiquette is a lost art in Sri Lanka. Apparently, Nokia doesn't have a "silent" option for its asian market. If her co-worker answers his phone one more time in the middle of the meeting, she might just shove it down his throat.
...finds the jewlery commercial that starts with "They arranged everything, even our marriage" creepy.
...loves having friends in all corners of the world. Hopes to see them again, soon!
...finds insecure women annoying.'s hard to Lose Sarah Marshall when that's the only movie on TV 24/7.
...has to stop leaving her cell phone in the backseat of taxicabs. This is just getting ridiculous.
...hates being watched.
...working at 12 am in Dubai. Either bored, extremely responsible or just lame. Voting lame.
...bought the exact same phone she lost in Sri Lanka, for four bucks cheaper. Let's hear it for global commerce!
...doesn't understand people who unbuckle their seatbelt and bumrush the front of the plane before we're even done taxing. You're not making it any easier for the rest of us!
...would like to give you a lesson in personal space. not afraid to use her elbows.
...battled the world's worst baggage claim, and won.
...the smell of rotting garbage in the hot tropical sun. Yum! Haven't seen any dog-heads yet though, so that's something.
...the delivery of your fruitbasket does not supercede my need to sleep.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


One of the many conversations I had on the drive between Colombo and Batticaloa involved numerology. Thus far in my life, I'd only encountered numerology in the back pages of Cosmopolitan as yet another quiz to take to tell me things I already knew about myself (Your personality is: Normal! Your skin type is: Combination! You like: Men!)

I was chatting with our accountant whose wife just gave birth to their second child a few weeks ago. He mentioned they hadn't yet chosen a name, but that is had to start with the letter "K", according to the childs numerology. I've heard of different naming conventions across the world, but this was the first time I'd come across numerology.

So what's my number? I asked. Adding the date of the day of my birth (1+7) means my number is 8. According to our Chief of Party (also a believer) this means I am a strong leader, with the potential to go far in life.

Easy for him to say, I thought, so I sought information from the interwebs. According to Spiritual Number 8 is the most powerful of all numbers.

You most likely have some of the following strengths and talents at your disposal if the number 8 appears in your numerology chart: You are inspiring, result-oriented, powerful, ambitious, visionary, generous, perseverant, forgiving, broad-minded, money-conscious and self-disciplined. You have the potential for enormous success and the possibility to accumulate great wealth. You are also a good judge of character a natural leader and a survivor.
Some of the following weaknesses, which are associated with the number 8, could slow down or even prevent your progress. Most probably, only one or a few of them will belong to you: You might be stubborn, intolerant, impatient, stressed, materialistic, impatient with people, arrogant and reckless. You have the power to accumulate great wealth, but you also susceptible to loosing everything. You are a gambler, you have a strong desire for luxuries and you can fall for corruption.

Monday, October 12, 2009

When Fish Sing

I've been spending the better part of my stay in Sri Lanka in Batticaloa. Batticaloa (or Batti) is situated in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka, about a seven hour car ride from Colombo, on a tiny island. It doesn't really feel like an island - there are bridges connecting the city center with the mainland.

Although I wasn't really impressed during my first visit back in July, it does have a certain charm. It helps that I love Sri Lanka overall, but it also seems to me to be a very laid-back city, surrounded by water and a low key attitude. I may be smelling hope, too. After years of civil war, the roads are finally being repaired and development funds are coming to the city, and the tourism industry is reigniting.

All the guidebooks tout Batticaloa as "the city with the singing fish". I asked our country manager about this, who is not from Batti, and he didn't believe me - until I pointed out the sign under the town archway announcing those very words. I'm always interested in local lore, and truth be told, more than mildly amused by the thought of singing fish.

I've begun asking around about this myth. Surprisingly, the interwebs are relatively quiet on the subject. Here's the obligatory wiki positing; as well as a posting on Batticaloa online which says pretty much the same thing. There's a facebook page, but that doesn't say much.

I've also asked around to my work colleagues and (because I'm generally obnoxious when it comes to this kind of thing) anyone (busboys, drivers, kids on the street...).

The story is more or less the same: If you stand at Lady Manning bridge on Kallady between the hours of 1-3am on a moonlight night, and stick your ear close to an oar in the water, you can hear the fish sing. Some people told me that since the civil war started in the 80's, the fish stopped singing. Others have said that a Father Miller (who recently just left to go back to America) had a recording. Strangely enough, the wiki post also claims that another father had another recording, way back in the 60's.

Coincidentally, my hotel sits on the shoreline of Kallady, right next to Lady Manning bridge. I realized that the reason one must go to the bridge between the hours of 1-3 am is that that is the only time there isn't any noisy traffic. The fish could be singing the entire day, but we'd never know it! I awoke at 11pm last night, and laid awake until 2am, wondering - daring- myself to head out the bridge. However, my desire to not get run over by a truck outweighed by intrinsic interest in all things paranormal. Plus, it wasn't a full moon anyway.

So the mystery remains. I'm going to keep digging. Such a fantastic story requires some looking into.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Back in 'Bo, Then On to Bat, Ending with a Bang(ladesh)

Arrived in Colombo this evening - after two uneventful and long (13 hrs and 9 hours, respectively) legs. I just kissed three days of my life away and will spend tomorrow in a car driving to Batticaloa on the eastern part of the Island. Four days of non-stop travel is hard on the body, mind and soul.

All told though, it's fun to be back. I've arrived in much better shape than last time and I'm looking forward to connecting with some friends I made here back in July. While I'm normally a proponent of doing new things, it's nice to be in a place that's familiar. Even the much maligned (previously) Cinnamon Grand kind of feels like home.

I'm not sure if that means its time to stop travelling, or that I've finally hit my stride as a business traveller, but no matter. I'm here now and although it's 10:30 pm, I'm wide awake. Time to crack open the Advil PM.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Random Country Number I'm Not Sure.

I leave tomorrow - heading back to Sri Lanka first - and then on to Bangladesh. Thanks to Dean for schooling me in all things Joan Baez... - M.

SONG OF BANGLADESH (Words and Music by Joan Baez)

Bangladesh, Bangladesh
Bangladesh, Bangladesh
When the sun sinks in the west
Die a million people of the Bangladesh

The story of Bangladesh
Is an ancient one again made fresh
By blind men who carry out commmands
Which flow out of the laws upon which nation stands
Which is to sacrifice a people for a land

Bangladesh, Bangladesh
Bangladesh, Bangladesh
When the sun sinks in the west
Die a million people of the Bangladesh

Once again we stand aside
And watch the families crucified
See a teenage mother's vacant eyes
As she watches her feeble baby try
To fight the monsoon rains and the cholera flies

And the students at the university
Asleep at night quite peacefully
The soldiers came and shot them in their beds
And terror took the dorm awakening shrieks of dread
And silent frozen forms and pillows drenched in red
Bangladesh, Bangladesh
Bangladesh, Bangladesh
When the sun sinks in the west
Die a million people of the Bangladesh

Did you read about the army officer's plea
For donor's blood? It was given willingly
By boys who took the needles in their veins
And from their bodies every drop of blood was drained
No time to comprehend and there was little pain

And so the story of Bangladesh
Is an ancient one again made fresh
By all who carry out commands
Which flow out of the laws upon which nations stand
Which say to sacrifice a people for a land

Bangladesh, Bangladesh
Bangladesh, Bangladesh
When the sun sinks in the west
Die a million people of the Bangladesh
© 1972 Chandos Music (ASCAP)

Saturday, October 03, 2009

This is Why I Can't Have Nice Things

Two weeks ago, I got a flyer in the mail telling me I was eligible for a phone upgrade. This surprised me, but I was just thinking how crappy my phone is, so I actually read through it. Seemed like a good idea, so I went to the Verizon Wireless store the next day and bought myself the new LG enV Touch.


So fantastic, I should've known it wouldn't last. A mere 12 hours later, round about 2 am, one bottle of wine and one very strange party bus ride later, I left it in the backseat of a random-hailed-down taxi cab.


I spent last week calling around to every random taxi cab company I could track down that might have light colored cars and a Somali taxi driver with a beard.

One guy literally laughed me right off the phone.

So. This is why I can't have nice things.

I ruin them. :(