Probably one of the main things to expect when travelling is that you will get sick. At times it is inevitable. To begin with with jet lag you are already susceptible to illness add different food and new experiences and it is a recipe for getting sick. Just be sure you know the closest hospital. In Bangladesh, the team felt that this new hospital shows how the country is growing. With new medical facilities one can see the demand for medical care and the need for better infrastructure with growing GDP.
So do you know how the slogan for our blog is “Finding a new home in Bangladesh,” well late last night we were on a mission to find a hospital. Unfortunately, Hill and myself ate something that did not agree with us and ended up getting really sick. Hill, unfortunately, was much worse off then I was and we had to take him to the hospital to make sure he was okay.
Luckily for us there is a brad new hospital right next door to our hotel. The staff there seem very friendly and all the doctors spoke English and were very concerned about Hill’s general welfare. However, they want to keep Hill for a few more days until they can ensure that he is better. This means that he will end up missing his flight tomorrow morning and will be flying back to Ithaca with Shamir later.
The team today was amazing with this abrupt change to our plans and having two sick team members on their hands. Shamir stayed overnight at the hospital with Hill and was there throughout the day to speak to nurses and the doctors. Chandra and Calvin left the hotel early in the morning to check on Hill and cheer him up and Joy was busy contacting the school and making new arrangements. Calvin, Joy, and Shamir also checked on me at the hotel throughout the day to make sure I was doing alright as well. I am very lucky to be on such a supportive and caring team.
Needless to say our trip has been extremely eventful trip and one we will have lots of stories from!!!
Probably one of the most important things to take into account when visiting a new country is its history. Despite the fact that people are always trying to move forward and find the newest technology or innovative device the fact remains that everything we do and use is shaped by our history. In many developing countries, this history has a big impact on the current political and development situation. If we ignore the history of a country we can never create effective policies.
Today the TEEAL team was able to meet with officials involved in the major changes occurring with higher education within the country. Recently the World Bank has agreed to fund the Higher Education Quality Enhancement project which aims at making universities in Bangladesh internationally competitive and to help bring new resources to public universities.
One of the major phases of this project through the University Grants Commission is to expand the wireless internet connection for all public university campuses and to build a digital library for all students and faculty to access. Currently this online digital library has 30,000 e-books and 3,000 journal articles from 11 major publishers. They are looking to expand fiber optics to all universities within the next 6 months and to link all campuses to one network to make it easier for students to access the digital library.
Of course this may seem then that TEEAL would prove to be obsolete as an innovative source of information for university students and faculty. However, we argue that even with a wireless connection, often in rural areas where most agriculture universities are located, there will be very slow connections and downloads of articles will be a lot faster using TEEAL. We also have access to some publishers the digital library does not. Furthermore, during our meeting with Dr. Hossain from the UGC, he stated that they were looking for additional resources for the agricultural students; so this could be a perfect way to supplement the digital library. Based on our meeting, what we will more than likely do is to give the UGC their own TEEAL set and train the digital librarians on the system so they can help refer universities to TEEAL if they call looking for additional resources.
Following this meeting we met with the Deputy Secretary of the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project. He was able to give us some more details about the project, such as they were ending World Bank funding in 2018 and were not sure how they would continue to fund the digital library past this date. They also seemed interested in helping us form a relationship with the digital library as an alternative resource for universities. They are more than willing to discuss being a partner in our endeavor and help us connect to more universities. I think both the meetings were very successful and that Chandra will be sure to follow up with them shortly regarding progress forward.
Following our meetings we made our way to the national museum to learn more about the historical and cultural background of Bangladesh. On our way to the museum we were able to explore more of the downtown area of Dhaka. We started to see how crowded the city could be. In these areas there is often just one small street meant for cars, rickshaws, CNGs, pedestrians, and street vendors. Everything is so tightly packed together and I truly admire our drivers for being able to find ways through and around people. It was nice to get this small dose of crowded Dhaka, with the protests continuing it won’t be safe for us to visit old Dhaka. However, I can picture old Dhaka to be very similar to what we saw today; old buildings that now hold countless shops, street vendors with makeshift stalls, and the ever present press of people as they come and go among the old memories and new trials that make up the lifeblood of every city.
The museum was very nice with a lot of different artifacts from around Bangladesh throughout it’s entire history. I was actually really surprised at the condition of some of the artifacts.
There were temple statues from the 8th century that appeared to be in almost perfect condition. I know that in many developing nations museums and the preservation of national artifacts often comes in dead last for funding allocation when it is competing against education, food security, infrastructure, and technology. There are stories of the National Museum of Egypt being in shambles in the early 1900s with mummies and artifacts just piled in basement rooms. With no catalog of the objects in the museum, this led to the theft of priceless national treasuries from Egypt. That being said I am unsure what the basement of the Dhaka museum looks like but the visitor sections I felt were well put together.
We were able to explore the agriculture, life, textiles, animals, and plants of Bangladesh along with viewing historic artifacts from the culture of the country. Probably my favorite name for an object was an old clay pipe from the 5th century that they called a hubble bubble.
Of course the museum also focused a lot on the recent struggles of Bangladesh, especially in regards to their Liberation War in 1971 against then East Pakistan. I was very impressed with the displays dedicated to this time period. The rooms were filled with large copies of news articles and headlines, letters from leaders, pictures form the press and more personal snapshots taken by citizens during the events. There was a lot about this time period that I had no idea about. I knew before coming to Bangladesh that they had once been part of India until the partition and then were part of Pakistan as East Pakistan, and were able to gain their independence in 1971. However, what I was shocked to see was the brutal genocide that occurred during the war by the East Pakistani army and its Militias. The genocide began on March 26, 1971 when West Pakistan launched Operation searchlight to suppress Bengali protest for self-determination. It is estimated that between 30,000 to 3,000,000 were killed and around 200,000-400,000 Bengali women were raped in a systematic campaign.
It was shocking to see the images of the dead and maimed laying in the streets of Dhaka. In one corner were large picutres of mass graves filled with skulls . They also put together a memorial for the systematic murder of the intellectuals a the University of Dhaka that occured at the start and end of the campaign. The US at the time released that was posted in the exhibit that read “It was the most incredible, calculated thing since the days of the Nazis in Poland.” What was amazing to me and extremly diappointing was to hear that “Genocide” was used by US officials in Bangladesh to describe the events and yet Nixon and Kissinger chose to downplay the events to protest West Pakistan interests. As a student of human rights and as one who studied the Holocaust intensely, I found the exhibit disturbing and upsetting on a very personal level. I felt anger that the US could have sided during the war with West Pakistan and that yet again the phrase of “Never More” uttered at the end of the holocaust again was a lie that is constantly perpetrated by world leaders. To this day it is hard to prove that event such of this can be considered Genocide as described by international law; however Truth and Justice Commissions are still being held against those that perpetrated the violence, especially Bengalis that assisted the militias in the attacks.
With this sobering display the last one we visited at the museum everyone was looking for little happiness. We decided the best thing was to do some final souvenir shopping for ourselves and our friends. We were able to walk to a shopping complex to buy some items. Of course on the way Calvin, our superstar sandman, was asked for pictures. Calvin and Hill will be in a ton of photos around Dhaka by the end of our stay here! Tomorrow we plan to spend the day finalizing our marketing plan and hoping to work on our presentation. I can’t believe our trip is almost over!
Today the team spent a majority of the day at the hotel as a working day for our project and a chance to catch up on some things now that we had steady access to the internet being back in Dhaka. It was nice to work on the balcony of the hotel and soak in some much needed sun before we head back to Ithaca, which according to the internet is only about 2 degrees.
Of course being in Bangladesh, one can’t keep working all the time without a break. We decided to spend the afternoon on a rickshaw exploring some more of Gulshan and visiting a park. It was nice to walk around and observe some of the daily life in Dhaka. Of course the night ended with us buying some sweets, the desserts here are probably some of our favorites!
Of course the political situation here in Bangladesh is becoming increasingly intense. Today they found makeshift bombs at the University of Dhaka and the foreign affairs advisor to opposition leader was shot as he was leaving her office in Gulshan. The atmosphere is becoming increasingly oppressive. The government is refusing to allow a space for democratic protest and because of this frustration levels are high for everyone. With power constantly alternating between the two parties whenever one is in power they will do everything possible to limit the other. However, this is not the way to strengthen democratic governments. The Awarmi League, the current government refused to step down from power and set up a neutral caretaker to handle the elections. This automatically gave them the ability to rig the elections and caused the opposing parties to refuse to participate. If the government had originally followed procedures I feel like most of this situation could have been avoided.
Of course the practice of protesting is hurting no one but the average citizen who can now no longer go to work. Based on a UN survey, the country losses about 0.3% of GDP each day the protests continue. The textile industry has already been begging for the protests and blockade to end because they are loosing so much profit and can’t gt supplies or ship orders. Some are saying that they may need to shut down if this continues.
As the situation continues it is always touch and go for us and our meetings. We just meet every morning to see how the situation is and if it is safe for us to travel. Fingers crossed that we can make our last two meetings tomorrow!
Today we found out that our team member Shamir Shebab is being awarded the Queen’s Young Leader Award for his work in establishing the Bangladesh Youth Environment Initiative. There is no one more deserving of this award than Shamir. He is very dedicated to the environment of Bangladesh and is one of the hardest workers I have ever met. One of the most surprising things about Shamir is how humble he is. He has accomplished amazing things and yet never brags or shows off about all his work. Most of the students we have encountered here in Bangladesh are like that. They work tirelessly for their causes and yet never once feel like they should be honored for their work. They help because they want to help. I find that truly incredible!!!! Congrats to Shamir and his organization for all the hard work they have accomplished.
To read more about the award check out this news article: http://bdnews24.com/bangladesh/2015/01/13/young-bangladeshi-selected-for-queens-award-for-environmental-efforts
Wherever we are in Bangladesh we are always shocked at how friendly everyone is. Each person we meets takes the time to talk with us and provide us with food and drinks. Everything tends to be so rushed at home in the United States, it is nice to sit and chat with people without feeling the pressure to constantly be moving onto the next activity. Hopefully we will be able to take his sense of peace and calm as we return to Ithaca.