Our time as part of the “Press”

Our last day in Mymensingh was fairly uneventful due to the protests we spent the day at the hotel composing some of our thoughts for the TEEAL presentation and thinking through what we wanted to include in our report.

We were able to spend some time in the city and explore the different side streets with fruit vendors and chicken sellers. The team was struck by the vast economic differences in society and the stark contrast outside of Dhaka.  While in the Gulshan neighborhood of Dhaka it is harder to see the difference in the economic classes. We are surrounded by the more wealth in the neighborhood with fancy cars, gated houses, and security; going outside of the city we are able to see more of the poverty that is the life of many people in Bangladesh. Despite huge leaps in development, there are still people living in tin shacks and begging on the streets to survive. Often times our team members are torn apart as children approach us to ask for a few takkas to eat.  Our trip outside the city was a nice reminder that our project still has a long way to develop in order to truly affect the majority of lives in the country.

We were also struck by how religious the people are outside of the city. Cities in general tend to be more liberal. With ex-pats, embassy staff, and business people from around the world there is definitely more freedom in the choice of dress and lifestyle in the cities. However, I was surprised to see just how religious Mymensingh was even though it was just a few hours from Dhaka.  Most of the women on the street wore headscarves and many more than in Dhaka wore the burka.  Its a reminder that religion plays a large part in developing nations.

On the way home tonight we stopped at one of Shamir’s friend’s house. His father is a professor at BAU and we were able to ask him some questions about his work, research, and opinions of the University. The entire family was incredibly nice to us and went out of their way to provide an amazing dinner. They brought out oranges, Bacul fruit (a special fruit developed at BAU), five different types of cakes, samosas, roti, pankora, plum pudding, and soup.  There was so much food and it was all delicious. The professor liked to brag that it was homemade by his daughter and wife and we made sure to frequently praise the cooking.  I really wanted the recipe for the soup, that was something I would love to back back at Cornell! It was nice to end our trip on a sweet note of hospitality in Mimensingh.

One the way out of town in order to avoid any major issues with the continuing political unrest, Shamir printed out signs and taped them to the van that read “Press” so we all got to be part of the international press team. Our team is definitely coming back from Bangladesh with some very interesting experiences.

Our "Press" van.
Our “Press” van.

Going Digital

In today’s world it is difficult to go anywhere and not see someone with a cellphone.  Technology has grown exponentially. While some places had trouble even getting landline phones everyone there now has cellphones and can call or text relatives half way across the world. Of course with the growth of cellphones also comes the growth of smartphones and internet usage.  In Bangladesh, about 33.43 million people are using the internet, according to the Bangladesh Business News. This is about 21% of the population; a huge increase since 2013 when only about 7% was using the internet.

University at Dhaka
University of Dhaka

This increase in the internet is leading more students and younger faculty member to conduct a majority of their research online and many libraries are unable to compete with the attraction of readily accessible information.  However, today we were able to meet with the University of Dhaka and the librarian there has accomplished some terrific things.

Univeristy at Dhaka (4)
University of Dhaka

To begin with, the library does not offer print journals but instead has subscribed to JSTOR and publishes all University of Dhaka journal online.  Additionally, they are members of the Digital Library Consortium in Bangladesh which grants them access to 26,000 e-books. The library is also mainly buying e-books thanks to a World Bank grant, and is working on digitizing all their manuscripts and student theses.  Of course this project has taken time and they are still having issues with their online search system and have not been able to effectively categorize their online journals in their system.  However, this initiative is very impressive.

University at Dhaka (2)
University of Dhaka

This move to online resources is the next step for many libraries in order to become relevant again for the students. Libraries need to work on their websites, offer online catalogs, e-books, and journal articles along with other digital resources. A lot of this has to come from the fact that libraries can no longer handle the increase of students attending college.  The library at the University of Dhaka was built for 600 students and yet their are 35,000 that attend the university. The computer labs do not allow public access and don’t provide printing.  Often most students enjoy working on their own laptops in order to be able to save articles and research. It is often easier to research on one’s own rather than go into the library.  However, management of online databases and the advertising of digitized resources can make libraries increasingly relevant for students.

team at univeristy of Dhaka
TEEAL Team at the University of Dhaka

Due to the advancements of the University of Dhaka, it is unlikely that TEEAL would be of much benefit for them. While it may be nice to access the TEEAL journal articles from one’s computer on campus; TEEAL would not be accessible at their houses, and since internet access tends to be reliable in the city it is unclear they would need to use it on campus when they have access to JSTOR. However, I think it might be worthwhile to still pursue this venue; especially due to the trainings TEEAL provides. Many undergraduates and some Master students don’t have the opportunity to conduct research since most classes are based on exams rather than papers.  TEEAL trainings on scientific writing, publishing, and research might be of great use for the students.

University at Dhaka (3)
University of Dhaka
Amanda and th gum
Amanda passing out gum

After our meeting we were able to explore the campus more and met with some faculty.  I was surprised at how gorgeous the buildings were, many of which were built under British occupation of the country.  As we walked around we also made some friends as I stopped to pass out some gum to some children.  I need to remember to carry more gum.

Street in Dhaka
Street vendors in Dhaka

After our meeting we were able to spend some time shopping. We visited two different venues. One was a shopping center near Dhaka that appeared to be used by relatively many different people. The second was a giant shopping mall. I must admit I am always shocked entering malls in developing countries because they are huge! The mall in Dhaka was 8 floors with countless stores.  Bright signs and advertisements were everywhere and instead of the passive store clerks in the states, everyone was out in the walkways trying to entice you to enter.  Of course, malls like these are mainly only accessible to the middle class and a majority of the people I saw there tended to be younger. However, this is a good sign for the upward income mobility that appears to be occurring in Bangladesh; especially since this is only the second largest mall in Dhaka.

team at mall food court
TEEAL team at the food court in the Dhaka Mall. From left to right: Chandra, Calvin, Hill, Shamir, and Joy

I think everyone enjoyed the afternoon of shopping and we all got to buy some items from Bangladesh, Hill even bought his own tailored suit (very fancy!!) For lunch we went to the top floor of the mall which is a giant food court where many people gathered with friends to talk and enjoy a meal.  I think we all enjoyed the shawarmas there.

Tomorrow being a religious day in Bangladesh the offices will be closed.  This will give the team the perfect time to catch up on some work and perhaps get to visit the National Museum (keeping my fingers crossed for that)!