Continuing Protests and the Eating of Sweets: The two sides to our adventures in Bangladesh

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!


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.

“Democracy Killing Day” vs. “Democracy Preserved Day”

Today in Dhaka was very eventful for the group considering that we were basically confined to the hotel and surrounding neighborhood.  Today the opposition BNP party in Bangladesh declared the day as “Democracy Killing Day” and held protests against the government.

The violence today has roots in the long opposition between, the BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia and the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, they have both been alternating control of the government for the past 20 years when the military hasn’t been in power. During the last election a year ago in 2014, the BNP refused to participate when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who was still in power then refused to step aside and allow a neutral power to take control of the election. The BNP fearing election rigging boycotted and refused to participate. The United States along with other human watch organizations did declare the elections to be unfair.

Today marks the one year anniversary of the elections and the opposition applied to hold a rally to mark what they referred to as “Democracy Killing Day.” Of course the government also applied to hold their own rally which they were going to call “Democracy Preserved Day.” However, the police refused to give permits of either rally, fearing violent clashes among those who attend.  The Government decided to back down but the opposition refused to stop to protests and rally.

Since Saturday evening the police have been making hundreds of preliminary arrests hoping to curb any major outbreaks of violence.  They have also confined Zia to her office in Gulshan since Saturday evening to stop her from meeting with protectors and attending the rally.  Since this office is a few streets away from our hotel, it would be interesting to go see her.  Maybe we could even convince her to end the protests, just to allow us time to complete some meetings and interviews. I mean TEEAL is important for development and the people as well!

It was very quiet all day in our neighborhood but around the country protesters and police have been clashing throughout the day.  Currently there are three deaths reported and Zia has called for a strike tomorrow and a blockade of all roads, trains, and waterways until the opposition party is able to hold a rally without police interference.

It is interesting witnessing this occur in Dhaka. Talking with the hotel staff there appears to many different opinions on whether or not the opposition is right to hold these protests.  Chandrashekhar, our consultant from, Sathguru Foundation, said that it wasn’t fair to call it Democracy Killing Day when they freely chose not to participate in the elections. While one is able to see that point, at the same time it would have been better for the government to set up a neutral party to oversee the election to stop any accusations of rigging.

The big adventure for the day was our walk to a nearby mall with a supermarket to buy some snacks.  On the way there we saw a roadblock of police who were stopping vehicles entering Gulshan and checking passengers.  However, in general the neighborhood surrounding the hotel was very quiet today.  There is a new hospital ten feet away from the hotel so at least we are covered if anyone gets sick. Also they are having a badminton tournament, so if things get too constricting at the hotel we can always register a TEEAL team! The walk was very pretty, we were able to pass by a rivulet which produced a nice cooling breeze for the walk.  At the end of it there was netting to keep the sewage being dumped into it from joining the main river way.  While not completely effective, this was an interesting perspective on how to clean up that particular waterway.

The mall was interesting, the supermarket had anything you could ask for including some clothes. There were also a lot of imported items, more than I had anticipated. We picked up some snacks and beverages for our hotel rooms, I decided to try Lychee water and some Aloe Vera juice.

Based on news reports and talking to the hotel staff, it doesn’t appear that with the violence today anything will stop tomorrow. We are hoping to at least be able to go to our meeting with BARC, Bangladesh Agriculture Research Counsel. But for now the Hotel isn’t the worst place to stay and at east we know one of the major risks to consider for TEEAL when setting up here in Bangladesh.

Emmanuel's Inn
Our home away from home in Dhaka.

I must admit, our hotel is very beautiful at night! 🙂