21 February 2012

Week 4 - What I've learned

Last week in Bangladesh. Great month, and was consistently humbled by the generosity and kindness of people - but Bangladeshis were among the first to admit that it's not the easiest place to travel. Last installment of what I've learned.
  1. Green grapes are not seedless. Careful readers will already know not to try to get the seeds out of your mouth with your left hand.
  2. Internal flights in Bangladesh - wait, let me back up. Bangladesh is roughly Wisconsin. We were flying from, say, Oshkosh to Madison, so we wouldn't have a seven hour drive on crappy roads (no bridges, and the ferries are less than reliable in terms of schedule). And then we were driving the geographic equivalent of Madison to Beloit, which is 121 km/ 75 miles, which takes three hours. (See above re: roads.) To get from roughly Oshkosh to Beloit takes a flight and a three hour drive. That should tell you all you need to know about the infrastructure here.
  3. For internal flights in Bangladesh you do NOT need to be there two hours before departure. Take on all the liquids you want. And if you're white, evidently, and you set off the metal detector on your way through, no worries - just carry on, they won't stop you. And if you stop yourself because you're obviously the cause of some beeping, they'll keep waving you through.
  4. Planes can make u-turns. On the ground. At least in Jessore they can. And it's fair enough, why take up more land for another runway? I was surprised by the proximity of farmers - not farms, but farmers - to the runway, but again, land is at a premium here.
  5. Despite all of the challenges of road travel, going by bus or by road in general still takes LESS time than going by train. Trains here are slow, uncomfortable, and expensive. Which means that the British left Bangladesh with mind numbing bureaucracy (and tea breaks and cricket) but NOT with a functioning train system. Wha...? Why get colonized by the British if you're not going to get rail out of the deal? (Don't get colonised, of course, but if you do, the British are awful but not the worst. Bangladesh may as well have been colonised by the French so they'd've gotten some interesting fusion food, at least.) (But still, never, ever, get colonised by the Spanish. Oof. World's first concentration camps? In Guam, thanks to his "Most Christian Majesty" Philip II [at least according to Pope Paul IV] in the 1570s... Okay, I'm getting far afield.)
  6. If you don't take seconds you will offend your hosts. Taking a little something, however small, is a compliment to the chef. Never mind that you're the slowest eater at the table, take some more.
  7. Sunrise or sunset on a paddy field is stunningly beautiful. (above right- click to enlarge.)
  8. Turmeric and eggplant are saline resistant. Remember the old tale that Rome salted the fields of Carthage so that the Carthagians would never again be able to rise to challenge them? Well, people in southern Bangladesh are trying to find some work-arounds. They have to. Cyclone Aila and its concomitant storm surge salted fields across southern Bangladesh. (Left - click to enlarge, though even from this view you can see the salt rime between the stubble of the rice plants.) What do you do? You hope for rain, as that will eventually wash the salt back into the sea. That takes time. In the interim, you try to figure what crops are saline resistant. Across the road from this salted field, the gentleman below was growing eggplant, and doing it well. (Photo courtesy of Bryan Bushley; click to enlarge.) Turmeric is also saline resistant, but the price of turmeric has fallen through the floor in the last few months. Not sure what these farmers are going to do, though some NGO have stepped in to provide storage facilities in the hopes that they can ride out the bust and hopefully sell when prices have rebounded a little bit. What do they do for revenue in the meantime? These are subsistence farmers. It's going to be tough.
  9. Bangladesh is 90% Muslim, but it's still the third most populous Hindu nation in the world just by virtue of its colossal population base. There are many Hindu villages all over the country, but particularly in the southwest, where we were doing site visits. Besides the bindi, you will see an absence of gender separation in these villages and while there are still gender roles, of course, they seem to be less rigid. One village meeting I attended in a Hindi village had all the men to the left of the speaker and all of the women to the right, but the women and men both spoke, the women were not veiled or covered, and they were part of the decision making process of the village in terms of planting strategies for crops and investments.
  10. Indigenous people in Bangladesh, unfortunately like indigenous people nearly the world over, are lower in nearly every socioeconomic indicator than Bangladeshis.
  11. Mutton is not sheep. It's goat. And not unlike the chickens, the goats in Bangladesh are not particularly well fed. I defy you to eat it with only your right hand without making a complete mess. If you have the option, go with the fish.
  12. Nearly every car in Dhaka has a DVD player - below left, that's not a rearview mirror, that's a DVD player (playing, in this case, a Bangla movie from the early 60's). Given the time you sit in traffic, honestly it seems fair enough.
Off to Thailand and home soon. What a month!
I'll continue to think about it for a while. More pics and posts to come.

1 comment:

Bren in SoCal said...

From a BLC reader:
"Thank you so much for this series, SMB. I've really enjoyed reading them. They've been fascinating, insightful, and, most of all, respectful of the culture."