Blogs from Barisal, Bangladesh, Asia

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Asia » Bangladesh » Barisal April 28th 2012

Life in Bangladesh as I know it revolves around water: the overnight launch trip to down to Barisal, waiting for the never-on-time ferries that keep life moving between the islands and mainland (you wouldn't know the difference though since everything is surrounded by the fingerlets of rivers letting out into the Bay of Bengal), and speed boat rides to the more remote chars. Apparently I'm getting too lazy to write real blog entires so again there are photos: of fishermen hawking wares from their rowboats before the fish have even had a chance to die; of fields that march right into the river with no proper distinction between land and water (the boundaries are always changing down here); of sunrises and sunsets; of old boats and new boats; of cows on ferries and bideshis in rivers; ... read more
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Mamun the charmer worked our way up to the top

Asia » Bangladesh » Barisal June 23rd 2009

Saying goodbye to a place is always a surprising revelation in the way that you feel about your experiences there. As the days leading up to my last trips to Barisal passed (and as my final days in Bangladesh slip through my hands now), I found myself wondering how I would react to the end of my time here. I arrived in Bangladesh just over a year ago. I stepped off the plane into Dhaka on the morning of June 5th and was on a boat to Barisal that same night, setting a pattern that would define the first few months of my work here. Until we left the country for winter holidays in December 2008, Parendi and I spent as much time in Barisal as we did in Dhaka. Our apartment was in the country’s ... read more
Last "we think we're so cool in our sunglasses" picture
Crossing the estuaries
Last meeting overtaken by local women

Asia » Bangladesh » Barisal June 12th 2009

It is almost impossible in these parts to not take up a number of causes and issues outside of your official realm of obligation. In a beautiful country full of sweet and welcoming people, many of whom live in very challenging circumstances, it is inevitable that we end up investing energy in “side projects.” Ashley, for example, has a relationship with a community in the lake region of Rangamati, where she raised money to sponsor a handful of composting toilets for families who until then had been drinking water from the same shores that they defecated into. Now the families have self-composting EcoSan toilets (see photo), and have not only improved sanitation but been able to build small home gardens using the fertilizer from their compost. For many of us, these commitments allow us to engage ... read more
Ashley with an EcoSan toilet
December trip--the official welcome
Some of the orphanage's rice land

Asia » Bangladesh » Barisal June 4th 2009

(Brought to you by my once lost and now returned camera charger) Finally, the video of our sea plane landing. It's a decent view of the landscape, but hold out for the end of the video, when you can see children from the nearest village running along the banks to see what has just landed in their river. The second video is a new favorite of mine, and gives a sense of that enchanted-forest type feeling that I sometimes talk about in Bhola. You half get the sense that one of the boys (carrying pots of fish on their heads) will sprout fairy wings and fly off in the middle of the video. Listen to it in a quiet room and you can hear the birds chirping and the hay being raked across the path. ... read more
Wading for fish
Boat dwellers
Boat to the government resettlement village

Asia » Bangladesh » Barisal May 30th 2009

In a coincidental and tragic follow-up to two of the blogs I published recently, Cyclone AILA hit the southern coast of Bangladesh last week, washing out dozens of villages (like the ones I wrote about two weeks ago) and producing more climate refugees. I was actually due to go to Barisal on a launch boat the night that Aila hit, but the country has a good tracking system and I was told that there was a signal 7 storm coming. Anything beyond a signal 4 and Save the Children staff are not allowed to get on a launch boat; and with signal 7 being just one step below a cyclone, it seemed safe to stay at home. As the storm approached from the Bay of Bengal, the government and the NGOs waited and watched. From what ... read more

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Asia » Bangladesh » Barisal May 19th 2009

Today I caught a special on Al Jazeera's "101 East" program--a feature dedicated to investigating the issue of climate refugees and whether more developed nations have a responsibility to those who are displaced by the effects of climate change. The narrative follows a man from the southern coast of Bangladesh--a man who, like the people we met last week in Bhola, has lost everything he owned after his village was washed out. There is now a river where his house once stood. In light of my last blog and the week that Parendi and I spent tracking down "washed out villagers" I thought this was particularly good timing. The program asks some interesting questions, and also shows some footage from Bangladesh (both the coastal region, where villages are washing away every year, and from Dhaka, where ... read more

Asia » Bangladesh » Barisal May 15th 2009

Parendi and I typically travel in middle class style to Barisal--we take an overnight launch from Dhaka's main port (Sadar Ghat), sleeping in a hired double cabin that usually comes with AC, sometimes has functional fans, and always has curtains to shut out the peering passengers and curious boys who work on the boat. The older of the boats have suspiciously stained sheets and families of cockroaches, but we've figured out which of the boats are the cleanest and have the least smelly bathrooms. We can't complain. It's safer and more comfortable than traveling on the roads, and its certainly better than traveling the way most do: on the bottom floor of the launch boats, stretched out on blankets, fighting off bugs and the night chill. But this week we upgraded. Instead of our usual overnight ... read more
Boarding the sea plane
Map of the delta
Sub pilot in training

Asia » Bangladesh » Barisal March 13th 2009

After driving for two hours from Barisal town Parendi and I found ourselves deposited at the base of a concrete bridge in the middle of rice fields and canals--a typical scene in Barisal District. We were in search of Kadambari, a village where a Bangladeshi NGO was staging celebrations for International Women's Day, but quite honestly we knew very little about our destination or how to get there. Our driver had stopped at the base of the bridge because the road to the village evidently wasn't big enough to accomodate a car, though I think he was happy to be relieved of finding a village that even he didn't know the whereabouts of. We were pointed in the direction of the village and told that a flatbed rickshaw could take us there. Before loading up on ... read more
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Asia » Bangladesh » Barisal February 12th 2009

Bangladeshis have an incredible willingness to perform in front of audiences. Kids here are raised to sing on command (in front of relatives, visitors, strangers), and girls in particular are pretty much expected to have some kind of dance or song up their sleeve in the event that they are called on to entertain. The pressure to perform doesn't disappear with age, and adults will just as easily break into song if necessary. I haven't been to a single meeting that didn't involve at least two or three impromptu performances. And despite the fact that some people's talents are clearly much more worthy than others, nobody seems terribly shy about belting out a folk song or two. Inevitably Parendi and I get asked to sing all the time--in Safe Spaces, during meetings, etc. Until now we've ... read more
Two of our FTs live in the same bari
Picking coconuts to feed the foreigners
This bari even has its own water pump

Asia » Bangladesh » Barisal January 4th 2009

I am currently between worlds--nearing the end of my ten hour stay in the Hong Kong airport, tired and not knowing what to make of my relationship to the country I just left (the US) or the country to which I am returning (Bangladesh). Nor do I really have much time to think that out. In six hours I will arrive in Dhaka, and hopefully fall into a blissful sleep, after which I will wake up and have approximately 36 hours to get over jet lag, unpack, re-pack, and adjust back to life in Bangladesh--all in time to get on a launch boat on Tuesday night and head down river to Barisal. I will either hit the ground running or reeling. And as I am in favor of the former, I thought I'd go through some ... read more
P-Diddy and L
Bicycling over the broken bridge
Colleagues, hangin out on the broken bridge




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