Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Never a Dull Moment

Before I am on my way to catch the flight from Khulna to Dhaka I have some bills to settle, so off  I go to the ATM to withdraw funds. There are two ATMs across from the hotel and I've used one consistently and without any hitches. But that particular ATM is in disrepair so I cross the street ~ under guard  ~ to visit the other ATM as it has been known to happen that one is immediately relieved of one's bag upon exiting an ATM.  

I pop in my bank card and wait for the cash to come out. Nothing ... A short time later a message flashes on the screen that my ATM card has been retained. Bugger, bugger, bugger (polite words I did not use in the heat of the moment...). What am I going to do... I have no intention on leaving Khulna without my card! We call the number on the screen and the person on the other side of the line says they will send the card back to my bank o/s and I can retrieve it from there. It may be protocol but it isn't the answer I want to hear. 

The word 'foreigner' is audible several times in the Bangla conversation and eventually we are told to come to the branch office. As we travel there my host gets busy on the phone pulling strings in Dhaka who in turn can pressure the local branch manager into getting the card back into my hands. After writing a letter to the branch manager explaining what happened and requesting my card back, two hours in his office, and a cup of cha later, I dance out of his office bank card in hand. Somehow I don't think protocol could have been bent quite the same way in a developed economy.

On we go to the post office to post a parcel of things I don't want to schlep halfway around the world with me ~ a whole other experience I am less than prepared for. I've repeated asked if the post office sells boxes, only to be told there's no such thing in a Bangla PO and as a result it has taken several days to get my hands a box for my shipment. When we get to the PO we are told that we cannot use the box my stuff is in (all taped up, addressed et al) and that we need to use one of their boxes!  Oh my, they do have them and not only that, they insist that we buy one of their and use it. My box is slit open and 100 taka later one of their boxes arrives. But the size is all wrong and I explain it needs to be bigger. Another box arrives ~ still entirely the wrong size. They start looking around for a used box and this is when I decide to object. What is wrong with my own used box?? Nothing as it turns out, but permission needs to be obtained from the PO mistress to use my own box. We all troop into her office and eventually permission is granted. Hallelujah, even if the box purchase money is not returned. Apparently once you give money to a government official it, on priciple, never gets returned

weighing my package
After copious amounts of paperwork and a hundred stamps being glued to the box, the package is finally ready for shipment. Getting a receipt and some sort of tracking number (which may or may not mean a thing) takes a mere 15 minutes, after which I am more than ready to leave Khulna. After a day like this a two-hour bumpy bus ride and delayed flight are hardly worth mentioning. Safely arrive in Dhaka for my last two days in Bangladesh where I have some interesting meetings and social experiences..

Expect no or much less exciting blogs over the next week or so until I hit Peru for an entirely new experience...

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Khulna to Dhaka

The last two days have been spent writing a funding proposal with my host that builds on all the work we've done to date. We believe we've come up with what we believe is an innovative sustainable development idea and are seeking seed funding to pilot the concept. Now all that needs to happen is for the funding body to see the light. Despite all the rhetoric being put out by governments and funding bodies that they want innovative and outside the square proposals,  they tend to be less daring in their funding choices. Plus ca change..

My time in Khulna is rapidly coming to an end. After too much time sitting in cars traveling to and from the field, sitting in rickshaws to go to and from lunch, and lately sitting inside the hotel room working, I am seriously under-exercised and keen to get outdoors for a walk. It is a good opportunity to see Khulna from a different angle and I take photographs of whatever catches my eye.
entry way
selling coconuts

leftover Durga Puja rig

Taking pix, by the way, is not as easy as it sounds ~ every time I stop to take a photo, so does half of Khulna, either to stare at me, to try get into the picture, or both. I should be used to the staring by now, but it never ceases to amaze me how I (or rather my white skin) can be such an attraction. Some people pluck up enough courage to ask me "What is your country", which is the most common question I get asked in the hotel elevator, at breakfast, in the shops and whenever we stop for cha

Today at lunch a veiled woman comes over to our table and starts whispering in my host's ear without taking her eyes of me. "What is her country? Why is she eating Bangali food? Bengali food is too spicy for her. Why are you doing this to her?" My host politely responds that he is not twisting my arm; that  I actually like spicy food and asks if she has any 'real' questions, which apparently she does not. Eventually she retreats. Hilarity all around..

We have been discussing our impending trip back to Dhaka and you may recall that I've sworn off buses. Whilst in Dhaka I am told that going by boat between Khulna and Dhaka is a very pleasant way to travel, but it turns out passage on the (big) boat requires booking weeks in advance and conditions on smaller boats are not up to par.  A train is my next suggestion, but it turns out that the sleeper cars have all gone to serve the international train to India and the only option is an upright seat for the 12-14 hrs overnight journey. It's also suggested that I chain my luggage to myself in case I dose off, neither of which sound too appealing. 

My host comes up with a new alternative: a flight between Khulna and Dhaka. Flights were out of order for the last month, but apparently they are back up (so to speak).  It's only a 45-minute hop and although quite a bit more expensive, it beats every other mode of transport described to me so far!  Our tickets are purchased and delivered to my room in miraculously fast turnaround time ~ nothing happens in a hurry in Bangladesh. There does turn out to be one small catch. The flight doesn't leave from Khulna itself and we will have to travel to another town by ~ you got it ~ bus!