Tag Archives: Shrimp

34. Journeys (6): Tales from Tala and Sakhipur

For the last three days I’ve been out of Dhaka in the Sakhipur district of the Khulna division in south-western Bangladesh (see post 8 pt. 13). I was part of a group that consisted of VSO Bangladesh staff members, volunteers and representatives from our partner organisations. The purpose of the trip was to participate in a focus group that forms part of a quarterly review of the VSO Good Governance Programme. Our base was the Uttaran training centre, close to Tala town. VSO invited my colleague Nazim to participate as the representative from my workplace. He expressed surprise when he heard that I would be going too: he hadn’t made the link between this workshop and my work in the NILG. (This is symptomatic of the difficulties I face at work: see posts 25 and 48.) In any event, it would be an opportunity to try to get to know him a little. This trip comes less than two weeks since my last trip to Sirajganj (see post 32): August is turning out to be a good month for journeying.

Day 1: The journey from Dhaka to Tala

On the road
Most of the first day was spent travelling. Getting from Dhaka to the southwest involves crossing the River Padma by ferry. We travelled comfortably in air-conditioned mini-buses: I was in an all-black one driven by Abul, as was my colleague Nazim. The day was wet and misty: it’s now towards the end of Barsha, the rainy season. Lines of overcrowded buses and colourfully decorated trucks competed for space on the roads. Before we reached Savar we passed Jahangirnagar University. I had read about this residential university: as well as its spectacular setting, Nazim told me that it is very well-regarded both nationally and regionally. I also saw the Bangladesh Public Administration Training Centre, which I had heard about from a couple of colleagues at work. The now familiar single soaring chimneys of brick-making kilns dominated the landscape (see post 9). We had a welcome tea-break shortly after passing the national memorial monument outside Savar (see post 23). This roadside tea-shop had a large ‘picture window’ (without a glass pane) framing a square of dense, green, lush vegetation. Slices of Madeira cake were passed round to accompany our tea. The ‘Madeira’ (made from butter, sugar, flour and eggs) is the most common pitha (cake) served in Bangladesh. It just happens to be my favourite cake at home too: a happy coincidence.

Crossing the Padma River
After passing Manikganj (see post 9), it wasn’t long before we reached busy Aricha ghat, the departure point for the ferry to Daulatdia ghat, on the opposite side of the Padma River. At this point the great Jamuna (Brahmaputra) River on its way south joins the Padma (Ganges) River on its way south-east (see post 8). This merged river then flows south, meeting the Meghna River near Chandpur, all waters destined for the Bay of Bengal. The satellite image on the left shows the confluence of the Padma (left) and the Jamuna (above). The Jamuna-Brahmaputra is a classic example of a braided river and is highly susceptible to channel migration and avulsion (see post 55). I loved being on the busy Padma, though the hazy, foggy weather meant that visibility was not great. At times, scenes would emerge magically from the mist e.g. a group of women bathing by the shore. Occasionally, small boats with sails in bright shades would add flashes of colour to the otherwise monochrome scenes. I found myself remembering the last time I was on this river. It was upstream in Varanasi in India where the Ganges has deep cultural and religious significance. Though it’s many years ago now, I remember it vividly, a testament to the intensity of life on the riverside ghats rather than to my memory!

We disembarked in the Rajbari district at Daulatdia, infamous for its many brothels, though I didn’t know this at the time. It was Nayeem from the Shishu Niloy Foundation (SNF), who I met the following day, who told me about Daulatdia. He used to work with ‘sex workers’ and their families in a development capacity before joining SNF. I also later saw this community depicted in the work of several photographers at exhibitions I attended in Dhaka. (You can watch a short video from National Geographic about the plight of a girl called Maya, who was sold into prostitution here in Daulatdia when she was just 13 years old. Postscript: This link is no longer operational. You could watch this video instead about work in this field by ‘Sally Ann’, the Salvation Army’s fair trade business, which I referred to in Post 26. The video is not set in Daulatdia, but in Jessore, which is also mentioned in this post.)

Alaol and Jasim Uddin country
After a lunch stop in Goalanda, we continued through Faridpur district for a short spell. Faridpur is the birthplace of Jasim Uddin (1903-1976), the twentieth century poet who drew inspiration from rural life in Bangladesh (see posts 11 and 31 where there are references to his work). Faridpur district is also the birthplace of the great medieval Bengali poet and translator Alaol, most famous for Padmavati (c. 1645). This is his Bengali version of the majestic epic poem Padmawat, written in 1540 in Hindi by Malik Muhammad Jais. It is a fictionalised story of the 1303 siege of Chittor in Rajasthan in India, and of Padmavati, the Queen of Chittor, famed for her beauty. The story inspired Albert Roussel’s 1923 French opera Padmâvatî. Today in Bangladesh, there is a major literary award in Alaol’s name, the Alaol Sahitya Purashka.

Water hyacinth (kochuripana)
Leaving thoughts of Jasim Uddin and Alaol in Faridpur, we turned south-west for Magura town in Magura district. While buses predominated on these roads, there were lots of interesting sights along the route too. We passed ponds and parts of rivers covered with crops of water hyacinth or kochuripana (thanks, Nazim). While this is pretty to look at, it can become an environmental hazard. It is fast-growing and free-floating and, if not harvested quickly, can destroy ecosystems as well as clogging up waterways. However, it has many possible uses e.g. it makes a good fertiliser and can be used to make baskets and even furniture. Bibi Russell (the Bangladeshi former fashion model and now designer) uses the fibres to make her bangles and other accessories (see post 10).

The southwest is a major jute production area and I saw several stands of jute plants growing in water. They are tall and willowy and very beautiful. In places, entire families were wading waist-deep in ponds harvesting the plants and extracting the fibre. They use small rafts on which to wash the fibre before hanging it out to dry on racks by the roadside. Sometimes you see bundles of the jute sticks drying in sheaves in the fields. The dried sticks make good firewood. Jute fibre is used to make coarse cloth, floor coverings, furniture coverings, curtains, bags, sandals, etc. At one time it was a main export from Bangladesh but has declined in importance now.

I saw exceptionally narrow, unstable-looking bamboo bridges spanning waterways. I wouldn’t like to have to cross a river this way! There were people crossing nonchalantly though: they looked like gymnasts on the beam, without any of the theatrics. I also saw those intricate bamboo fishing frames that I had seen in Sirajganj (see post 32). There were more trees here than there were in the Sirajganj area and occasionally I would catch glimpses of picturesque clusters of houses tucked away in woodlands, almost out of sight. Some were constructed from bamboo; others from mud. Some had thatched roofs; others had corrugated tin roofs. All were close to rice fields and water.

Towns and twilight
We skirted Jessore town in Jessore district and drove along lovely tree-lined roads. Some of the trees looked very old judging by the girth of their trunks. Jhikargacha stands out in my mind because it looked more like a ‘town’ to me than the usual Bangladeshi ‘towns’ I see: that is, the part we drove through. It had a long, narrow ‘street’, lined with tall buildings of almost even height on either side. Usually towns look more haphazard, having grown out of accretion rather than planning. I remember the town of Navaron too: it had a stunning green-domed mosque and a smaller green, white and gold one. (Éire go deo!) At this point we turned south towards Satkhira. As evening approached, the landscape took on that dream-like, shimmering, reflective quality that I have grown to love. I can see easily how these rural landscapes were a source of inspiration for so many great Bengali writers.

Cha in Sharshah
At last it was time for a tea-stop. The chosen tea cabin was in Sharshah upazila in the Jessore district close to the border with the Satkhira district. I got wonderfully warm smiles when I used my little bit of Bangla to greet all present with ‘Salaam Alaykum, kemon achen’ (Hello, how are you?) and then order my glass of ‘doodher cha, cini na’ (milk tea, no sugar). Nazim told me that people were impressed and very appreciative of ‘my efforts’. It was no effort on my part. With the aid of Nazim’s translation, we were able to continue the conversation a little further than is usual. I thoroughly enjoy these tea shops.

A scare before bedtime
We got lost somewhere after Satkhira. Because of road works near the Uttaran centre in Tala, we had to take a longer alternative route. For the last part of the journey it was like a scene from a horror movie. We were literally bumping along through what looked like dark, dense forest on a partially constructed road with dips on both sides. Someone said it was like a scene from the ‘Blair Witch Project’. Occasionally, we came across pockets of people: one poor unfortunate man’s rickshaw had fallen off the road and he was trying to pull it out of the ditch.  I’m not sure if it was our fault that he had been pushed off the road. It is very annoying the way drivers put on their full lights in the faces of pedestrians here. And of course our driver Abul never misses an opportunity to put on his siren, which has been a source of amusement for us throughout the journey. Finally, after a long but interesting and enjoyable journey through rural Bangladesh, we reached our destination.

Day 2

Satkhira district: Uttaran, shrimp farming and Cyclone Aila
We are staying in a training centre run by the NGO Uttaran close to Tala town. (See map on left: click to open larger, clearer version in new window.) Brian, a volunteer from the UK, works with Uttaran at its head office in Dhaka. Their work focuses on social development in this area (southwest), a low‐lying deltaic flood plain, crisscrossed by hundreds of rivers and channels and bordering the Bay of Bengal on the south. Its southern fringe is home to the Sundarbans mangrove forests (see post 38). The southwest is the most disaster-prone part of Bangladesh, with frequent cyclones, floods and tidal surges. In May of this year, Cyclone Aila struck with devastating effect. I read a UN report which stated that there were 190 deaths and approximately 7,100 injuries. In total, over 3.9 million people were affected. Some 100,000 livestock were killed, and nearly 350,000 acres of crop-land were destroyed. It also caused considerable infrastructure losses. Two of the four worst affected upazilas – Shyamnagar and Assasuni – are in the Satkhira district. (The other two are in neighbouring Khulna district.)

You will see from the poverty maps at the end of post 30 that Satkhira is amongst the poorest districts in the country. Agriculture and aquaculture are the main sources of employment. This area is known for its shrimp production and six out of the seven upazilas in the district are involved in this enterprise. I saw a number of signs in English for prawn hatcheries. Large-scale shrimp farming took off here in the 1980s in an effort to boost exports. The forecast for 2010 is that it will bring in close to $1.5 billion. After the garment industry (see post 52), shrimp production ranks second in Bangladesh, in terms of the sector’s ability to earn foreign exchange.

However, this optimistic global success story conceals less positive local narratives. The industry has been criticised for its damaging environmental, social and political effects. With the expansion of the big shrimp companies, the diversified farm economy is disappearing. Where there once was a patchwork of pastures for cows, paddy fields for rice and thriving fish-ponds, now the landscape is dominated by shrimp farms – large rectangular ponds – occupying flat squares of land broken up by earthen embankments. While a modest number of locals make a good living from the industry, many more have been displaced and left destitute. Shrimp farming is not labour intensive. There are stories of people being forced off their land through violent ‘acquisition’ tactics, said to be backed by the two main political parties. Many of the dispossessed belong to ethnic minority groups. Environmental problems are also increasing. Shrimp farms depend on a steady supply of salt-water from the rivers, a flow that is controlled by sluice gates. However, the salt from the rivers also seeps into the surrounding farmland, diminishing its fertility. Soil salinity has increased exponentially in the southwest over the past thirty years, and while researchers are experimenting with strains of saline-tolerant rice, many commentators conclude that exports are being prioritised at a cost to the domestic food supply. Have a look at the video below which highlights some of the problems associated with shrimp farming in Bangladesh.

The NGO Uttaran was founded in 1985 by a local man, Shahidul Islam, who was distressed by the social inequality he saw around him. Today, Uttaran, with a staff of 500, works with these communities in the areas of environmental risk reduction and adaptation, access rights to land and safe drinking-water, food security, education, health and gender issues. While the resilience of the Bangladeshi people supports such development effort, many have questioned whether it can survive and outpace the steady encroachment of salt. Until such time as a solution to the salination problem is discovered, life here will become more and more unsustainable. I would love to have had an opportunity to visit some of the projects and meet some of the people that Uttaran works with, but this was not our reason for being here.

Reflecting on monitoring and evaluation (M&E) in development
Most of the second day was spent doing group work with fellow volunteers, VSO Bangladesh (VSOB) staff and representatives from partner organisations. To be honest, much of this was tedious and vague. It gave me time though to reflect on my work, the work of VSO volunteers in general, and the purpose and process of monitoring and evaluation in development. Many participants called for a better way of ‘validating’ the work of VSO, an appeal that was apparently made at previous workshops. Questions were raised about the monitoring and evaluation methods employed by VSOB. It got confusing too: are we trying to measure the impacts on the communities where we work or the impacts in the organisations where we work, or both? And what if the organisations where we work don’t have monitoring and evaluation systems in place? How can we know if our work is having a long-term, sustainable impact in terms of development, particularly when there is no continuity between the work of one volunteer and the next in many organisations?

I have no experience in the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) frameworks used within the development sector, but I am of course familiar with the concept as used in project management, training, research, etc. in other sectors. I would love to see how a reputable M&E system works within the development sector. For example, how is the non-quantifiable work of governance captured? How is change and development over time ‘measured’ in such frameworks? As I sat in that room listening to lists of ‘achievements’ and ‘targets’ being read out, I couldn’t help but think that the process of monitoring and evaluation could actually militate against sustainable development. You could certainly get a ‘higher M&E score’ if you focused on straightforward, short-term tasks, irrespective of their long-term impact. Focusing on more creative, though unquantifiable and possibly riskier work, that is aimed at sustainable, long-term change could be very difficult to translate into a short- or medium-term ‘measurement’. For those wishing to meet their M&E ‘targets’ then, it might make more sense to focus on the straightforward, often less creative, short-term work.

Development by its very nature is a long-term and non-linear process. Yet many working in development still use linear models and approaches to solve problems. The logical framework or ‘logframe’ that is used here is one such example. We break down a complex system into the sum of its constituent parts, isolating and analysing elements separately to solve problems. The assumption is that problems can be reduced to goals, goals to objectives, and objectives to activities which, when implemented under certain conditions, will resolve the problems. I too use logical reasoning and analytical thinking and see it as one way of solving problems and making sense of the world. However, I also recognise its limitations, and equally find it necessary to use systems thinking, where I can see things more meaningfully as interrelated wholes, where human beings are intertwined in complex webs with their environments. Often, singling out and solving a problem in isolation, without considering the influence of the whole system, stands a high risk of failure in the longer term.

In summary, if we want to really solve problems in the longer term, we need to change the conditions that facilitate the existence of these problems. To re-state a well-worn analogy: killing one mosquito at a time will not eliminate mosquitoes from my house. I need to change the conditions that enable them to survive e.g. by clearing bushes and stagnant water that will prevent them from breeding. This tackles the source of the problem. Of course it is a much bigger and more difficult task. That’s not to say that there can’t be positive impacts from the successful implementation of projects that address the immediate and urgent needs of poor people e.g. the distribution of new saline resistant seed varieties here in Satkhira, the building of a school in a village, etc. On their own though, these kinds of initiatives leave unexamined the underlying social structures and power relations that have continued and will continue to generate poverty. In other words, instead of (or in certain cases, as well as) providing technical solutions to problems, we need to examine social, cultural, political and environmental solutions. We need to create the conditions where the poor can gain enough power to determine the change in their own lives. So the questions I found myself asking today include: Are we really solving development problems sustainably? How do we know? How can we know? What kind of monitoring and evaluation system would capture the evidence to answer these questions honestly? Are we (as development workers) upfront about admitting that some of our projects are not working? And what are we doing about it? What does this mean for me in terms of my work placement – see posts 25 and 48? I concluded that I need to study established and reputable M&E frameworks in the development sector that can answer these questions. (For more on monitoring and evaluation see post 50.)

Tranquility in Tala and vicinity
I needed to escape for a while from this tortuous thinking and from meetings that weren’t making much sense to me. Whenever we had a break I took the opportunity to explore. The Uttaran centre is surrounded by idyllic scenery: there are tropical trees and colourful flowering shrubs reflected in interesting ways in the ubiquitous water holes. The views of shimmering rice fields from the dining room are spectacular and the staff are really warm and friendly. There was sufficient free-time before dinner for Nazim and I to go to Tala town. We walked to the main road and hailed a ‘van’, a bicycle-pulled, flat cart. It was a lovely, slow journey through peaceful countryside and I felt happy to be outdoors and on the move again. Tala town is full of life and colour, and because there isn’t much motorised traffic it’s easy to wander around leisurely. We met a few from our group on motorbikes. Nazim told me that it’s very common for people here to hire them for a few days when they are away from home. We made the mandatory stop for cha then, and, not for the first time, I was the only woman in the tea shop and the focus of intense scrutiny.

Back at the centre, there was still time to spare before dinner so I decided to go to the bridge to watch the sunset. Along the way (not far from the centre), I stopped to talk to groups of locals, and to Peggy too, the other Irish volunteer in Bangladesh (from Limerick), based in the Bagerhat district of this division (Khulna). It was almost dark by the time I eventually set off for the bridge. After a while I found myself in a village, walking through a cluster of lamp-lit bamboo huts. There were goats outside most huts and chickens too. It felt surreal to be walking there in the near-dark, listening to the rise and fall of conversation from the huts. Most people were indoors, but anytime I met someone on the path they recoiled temporarily, surprised by this towering bideshi (foreigner) emerging from the shadows. Soon I bumped into Nayeem from our group and he very kindly accompanied me to the bridge, although he had been there earlier. We had to climb up a substantial mound of earth to get there: no wonder I had missed the turnoff. The Kopatakkho River looked beautiful in the last of the evening’s light, and there were a few other locals around enjoying the sunset too.

Discovering Michael Madhusudan Dutt
Nayeem told me that Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1824-1873), the great Bengali poet, wrote a sonnet about the Kopatakkho River. I later discovered that the river is the same one that flows by the house where he was born, to a well-to-do Hindu family in Sagardari in the Jessore district. Dutt was a leading figure in the Bengali Renaissance and renowned for his poetic and dramatic creativity, particularly in relation to the introduction of the sonnet and blank verse to Bengali poetry. He is said to be the most important modern Bengali forerunner to Rabindranath Tagore (see post 29). He was a gifted linguist and spoke many languages as well as being remarkably well-read in the literature of multiple cultures. He began writing in English but later turned to his neglected native tongue. Intellectually, he was a rebel and had an exceptionally colourful personality, leading an unconventional and dramatic life, though tragic at times. He studied at the Hindu School in Calcutta (now Kolkata), converted to Christianity to avoid an arranged marriage, worked in Madras (now Chennai) and married an English woman there with whom he had a family, later separating from her to live with another English woman. He qualified as a barrister in London and lived in Versailles for a period. Much of his time away from Kolkata was spent in abject poverty. While he practiced law back in Kolkata, he was unable to make a success of his legal career: his extravagant life-style and reliance on alcohol impacted negatively on his health. His second ‘wife’ too had succumbed to alcoholism while living in poverty in Europe. Both died prematurely leaving orphaned children. His best known work is the tragic epic poem Megnadh Badh Kabya (The Slaying of Meghanada), published in Bengali in 1861 and based on an episode from the Ramayana. Tagore paid homage to this poem, regarded as one of the most valuable works in modern Bengali literature. It has been compared as an Indian equivalent to Milton’s Paradise Lost. It is said that, at its time of publication, it was new and inventive and encapsulated the spirit of the Bengal Renaissance, and the wider Indian modernity that was emerging at that time. Today, it is still performed by theatre groups in Bangladesh and elsewhere and there is an annual mela (festival)Madhumela – in Sagardari in January to honour Dutt’s memory. I am very much looking forward to reading some of his work in translation. (See the work of William Radice for English translation of Dutt’s poetry.) (See also post 24.)

Another quiet night in
Back in the Uttaran centre we had dinner and watched a short VSO documentary (without sound) featuring, for the most part, the work of a volunteer in this district. It would have been great if there had been something cultural arranged. But then maybe this is not something that everybody would like. Today, during proceedings, two of the Bangladeshi participants (Helal and Swapan) sang brief song excerpts, including part of a Lalon song (see post 55). It would have been interesting to have had more exposure to these song traditions, maybe with some explanation of the genre(s) and some basic translation. Or, perhaps there is something else of local cultural relevance? I wouldn’t mind at all travelling into Jessore, for example, by myself. But it’s impossible to get information, not to mention advance information, about cultural events i.e. times, locations, etc.

Day 3

Sakhipur Union Parishad
On our third day, we attended a meeting in Sakhipur union parishad in Debbhata upazila, still in Satkhira district (see post 8 pt. 13). The union parishad Chairman was very welcoming towards my colleague Nazim and he was invited to sit at the top table. All of the union parishad chairmen go through some NILG training. (NILG is my workplace – see posts 25, 48.) Hosne Ara (VSO) was most insistent that I sit at the top table too but I firmly resisted! There was a lot of waiting around for the meeting to start, so I wandered round the back of the building. I was stunned by the scenery: I found myself in very close proximity to people working in the rice paddies. The fields literally started on the doorstep behind the hall and stretched picturesquely into the distance to the horizon.

It’s not that long since I last attended a union parishad meeting in Sirajganj district (see post 32) so I felt as though I was on home territory. After the initial round of introductions, an impressive PowerPoint presentation followed, outlining both good practice and challenges in this union. Water is one of the biggest problems here: it has to be transported over a long distance and they are currently looking for support to build a deep tube-well. The union has an impressive 100% success rate with regard to both tax collection and sanitary latrine cover. We were told that during their open budget meetings they showcase the developments that have occurred as a result of tax collected in the previous period. This provides an incentive for people to pay their taxes. Sakhipur is in the process of trying to set itself up as a ‘vegetable village’ and a ‘compost village’. Interestingly, they have also instigated a volunteer programme which is sponsored by the NGO, IDEAL (Institute of Development Education for the Advancement of the Landless). At the end of the meeting we saw a series of photographs of various ‘events’ in the union e.g. seed-giving ceremonies and talks on trafficking and prostitution. All in all, this was another interesting meeting at union level and provided insights into governance issues and the lives of locals in this area.

Slip sliding away…
After the meeting we went to the office of the NGO IDEAL, as referred to above, in nearby Parulia for lunch. We got to taste some of the delicious shrimp for which the area is so famous. However, they were rationed: we got three each. The best are destined for the export market and are much too expensive for locals. After lunch, I chatted to a young girl by a quaint water-pump in front of the bamboo hut where she lived, beside the IDEAL centre. Suddenly, I realised that my bus was leaving and started to run through a muddy patch. I slipped and had a most spectacular fall. Although I went up into the air and crashed down on my back with a thud it didn’t hurt at all, surprisingly. However, my whites (yes, incredible though it sounds, I was wearing white clothes) were destroyed!

Back to Dhaka: misgivings, rice milling and music
Unfortunately, we had to start our return journey directly after lunch. I wished we had had time to drive further south. It would have been intriguing to follow the road to its conclusion and approach the Sundarbans by road. (See post 38.) It would have been interesting too to have had an opportunity to talk to some local people along the way. I would love to learn about some of their everyday experiences at work and at home and discover how they cope with disaster (e.g. Cyclone Aila) at the family household level. It would be very interesting too to meet some of those who depend on the Sundarbans for their living e.g. fishermen, mawalis (honey-collectors) or bawalis (woodcutters). It’s so frustrating to actually be here and have to turn around and go home without any such engagement, especially when so much time was wasted today waiting around. I would gladly have missed the long lunch break, for example, in favour of an opportunity to engage with local people. Such are the drawbacks of ‘group’ travel, though, of course, ‘travel’ per se was not our reason for being here.

Our return journey didn’t start too well: our minibus broke down in the village of Modunpur, not far from Satkhira. It was very hot and poor Abul, our driver, was stuck inside the engine pit trying to find the fault. I wandered into a large yard nearby, partly carpeted with rice, some spread thinly and more heaped in long low ridges. It was a rice production facility and Nazim joined me and walked me through the production process. It was very interesting. I didn’t realise that there was so much involved, post harvesting and threshing. At the first stage people were using rakes to spread the threshed rice thinly to dry in the sun, turning it at intervals. Some dried rice was being gathered into mounds. Others were feeding sawdust to kilns that powered steam units. There were lots of antiquated looking machines that did various tasks e.g. a hulling machine for separating the rice grain from the outer husk (which gives brown rice); another machine to continue the removal process to get white rice. Eventually, we reached the machine that fills the large white canvas sacks of rice that I see frequently being transported on the back of bicycle carts, and sometimes in rickshaws and CNGs in Dhaka too. I was delighted to have had this unexpected opportunity to see a local ‘mill’, especially since rice is such an important staple in Bangladesh. Because this wasn’t a huge operation, it was very easy to follow all the steps in the process.

Abul succeeded in getting the minibus started and our journey continued. Before boarding the ferry at Daulatdia, we stopped briefly in Goalanda to pick up take-away food to eat on board. I got delicious chicken curry with paratha (a flat circle of bread). After eating, I went up on deck with Helal to find a cha vendor. Despite the rain it felt good to be on the river. Helal is passionate about music and told me about a cultural organisation he has founded to teach song, drama and dance in his home district of Meherpur. Despite Helal’s best efforts, I find it difficult to get a clear understanding of all the different music traditions and genres in Bangladesh (see posts 31, 49 and 55).

Our bus broke down for a second time at a petrol station, where we had stopped to use the (it must be said, disgusting) toilets, and transfer passengers between the two VSO minibuses: one bus bound for Lalmatia and one for all other areas. Once we finally got going, the remainder of our journey was uneventful. Everybody around me was asleep. I never sleep on buses but I didn’t want to switch on my torch in case I might disturb people. So, I used the time instead to reflect on the previous three days. It has been an interesting travel experience to the south-west of Bangladesh: with each journey I gain new insights. I did a lot of thinking about development and particularly about my placement in the context of our workshops. I wonder if Nazim will be more interested in getting involved now: that would be a positive outcome. Back on the road, there was very little traffic at this late hour, and it didn’t seem too long till we were back in Dhaka.

Below are some photographs of my trip. (Unfortunately, since Cooliris was acquired by Yahoo my lovely photo walls no longer work. 😦 I have replaced them with links to a web album until such time as I can find a better solution.)


Click on image below and then on the top-left image (81 photographs). Enjoy!