Friday, 12 February 2010

Initial impressions from the inside of a dormant volcano

1. If History was ever tried in a Court of law it would surely be found guilty of almost every offence found in a standard criminal code. At this stage, I can’t help but think that the greatest impediments to development in Bangladesh are not the flooding, population growth or the lack of funds but rather the legacies of its own past. From colonial plundering under the British Empire to the war of independence with Pakistan; from the ongoing battle between secularists and Islamises to the fight for the protection of minorities; Bangladeshi history has much to answer for.

Given that the country only achieved independence in the early 1970’s, it is not surprising that it is really struggling to move on from and deal with its past. But what is clear is that there can be no sustained development or widespread poverty eradication in this country without stability and there can be no stability until all the peoples and faiths of this country actually figure out which identities they are willing to accept as those of the state of Bangladesh. In which case, it would seem that the volcano will either reerupt or become extinct…for the sake of the 155million people of this country I really hope it is the latter but sadly fear it could well be the former.

2. Linked to this issue is the fact that under a constitution proclaimed 'in the name of Allah, the Beneficient, the Merciful' and based on the high ideals of Nationalism, Socialism and Democracy; one small country is trying to manage these four issues within a global context of the ‘war on terror’ and Islamic extremism, climate change and globalisation.

3. Middle class Bangladeshis love to explain that it was the peasant, the rick-shaw pullers and the poorest of the poor who, of their own free will, joined with the middle class intelligentista to sacrifice themselves for the love of their Bengali language during the war of independence. Yet, though I am still only learning the basics of this language, I find it pretty shocking how middle and upper classes treat those peasants today. This is not to say that the average Bangladeshi does not care for the plight of the poor but rather that class is actually much stronger here than progressive Bangladeshi’s would wish to believe. So yes we want all garment workers or rick-shaw pullers paid a little more but she/he better not question me when I speak! On the other hand maybe it’s just ‘a cultural thing’.

4. Dhaka is a difficult place to live in – crazy traffic, so many people, dust, humidity, overt poverty, rubbish and endless noise. Let’s hope living in a secluded village will be a little easier. It's saving grace is it's people whose hospitality is almost embarassing.

5. Share a flat with 5 people of different nationalities, cultures and personalities on a monthly salary of €110per month in this difficult environment and you are guaranteed fireworks. :)

6. All of the above have made the past few weeks very interesting indeed.

1 comment:

  1. As a member of the social elite, I am a volunteer living in the flat with Mike, the view presented I agree with and can add to its content within a perspective of having worked and participated in the NGO, voluntary sector, in Scotland for 30 years.
    For evolution to begin the concept or revolution has to be dealt with, which will enable peoples and organisations to move forward in a non-threatening and holistic manner. I feel that MIke's comments raise this within the developmental, sociatal and rights contexts, although; What does it really mean for the NGO's?
    Although having only been in the country and role as VSOB volunteer for a very short time, it seems apparent that management. leadership and more-importantly governance is developing and making headway. What may be a frustration for those on the inside is the demanded expectations from those 'in the know', who by definition are on the outside looking in! Other world-based NGO's and even volunteers.
    My feelings are that development, progress and societal change has to be based on relationships. These relationships will have to breed a common knowledge, understanding, respect and an agreed way forward for all! But the challenge is, 'the all', is regarding the real and clear beneficiaries, not about status, finance, respect or power...