Part.2 Bangladesh Travels

Day.2 Journeying into rural Bangladesh and the awarding of title ‘Chief Inspector of Bangladeshi Toilets’

Part.1 can be read here.

bangladeshflag After a decent night’s sleep in a comfortable bed, I have an early start at 6.00 a.m., luckily my mobile phone, which even better has a signal, wakes me up . Today we will to travelling into rural Bangladesh, 60 km outside Dhaka to Tanguil, we will visiting our host school which has a world reputation for providing vocational education. After a quick shower, spraying myself with insect repellent, dressing in light business wear, which is basically my College uniform, and packing my bag, I descend in the lift to breakfast.

I meet the group and have a full breakfast, we also pick up our packed lunches, not that impressive, but it has the all important bottle of water. Though water is not in short supply in Bangladesh, they have a problem arsenic contamination, a natural element that is highly toxic when ingested and with long-term exposure causes cancer. Ironically, the contamination problem was the result of an initiative to provide safer drinking water to the population. In the 1980’s the majority of the population used surface-water for their needs, but this was becoming highly polluted; it was reasoned by the Bangladeshi government, supported by various Non-Governmental Organisations, that tapping underground aquifers would be a solution, sadly the geology of the country wasn’t fully investigated and arsenic quickly contaminated the wells from surrounding rocks. Each bottle of water you buy in Bangladesh reassuring informs you that it is arsenic free! Bangladesh also has a brand of bottled water called ‘Mum’, but we won’t go into that…

peter In the lobby of the hotel we meet Peter and Razza. Razza, from the British Council, will accompany us on all our longer journeys, just incase of any problems, such as one of us becoming ill. Peter will be our interpreter, he is a lovely, intelligent and friendly man, whom without, many of us would have struggled at some point during the visit. Peter is highly educated, having an M.A. in Economics, but at the moment is working freelance, we later find during the visit that he is living with his extended family in Dhaka, his rural home was destroyed in the summer floods, so this employment will go towards funding the rebuilding of his home, around 30,000 Taka, less than ?130.

For our journey we have an air-conditioned bus, which is great because outside it is very warm and humid. It is also our first real journey on Bangladeshi roads. When you travel by road it is like giving your life over to your driver. Road courtesy and safety is not something that Bangladeshi drivers are known for, and this is clearly seen by the state of the most of the vehicles on the road. Many have dumps and dents, the majority are lacking indicators, though they wouldn’t be used if they were working! This does though provide employment for young boys, who hang out of buses as human indicators. Travel on public transport must be challenging, the buses are always packed, people sit on the roof of the vehicles, whilst often you witness people being ill out of the windows. There is a continuous and rather dangerous process of overtaking, which is governed by the sounding of the horn. Many times during the visit there was the sensation of your life passing in front of your eyes, as our bus beeped, swayed into on coming traffic and over took a smaller or sometimes larger vehicle (See video below.)

 

DSC00256 During the one and half hours journey I try to take in some of the sights…. Peter points out the Dhaka Export Area, basically a concentration of textile factories that produce for the like of H&M and Asda. The other secondary industry in Bangladesh seems to be brick production, the banks of the rivers in Dhaka, sorry I haven’t found out which yet, are packed with brick kilns, though at the moment many are still inundated with flood water. Everything is recycled in Bangladesh, bricks being one of them, often on our journey we saw people demolishing buildings, breaking up the bricks into piles and bagging them. I’m unsure where they went then… Paper, plastics and textiles were also recycled as part of the informal economy. The Bangladeshi people are also very proud, despite the extreme poverty in some areas,the men are always well dressed in shirt and trousers, more wear sarongs in the rural areas, women, who are not often seen, wear brightly coloured sarees.

After about an hour into the journey we reach Nallapara, Tanguil, the tarmac becomes a dirt road and the urban landscapes disappears to be replaced by small hamlets and paddy fields. We eventually reach Velayet school, just after ten,set in beauty grounds, the whole school is out doing their morning assembly and P.E., fifteen minutes, whole school. (Please see this post.) The other thing I noticed is the vast number of bicycles, the school was over 2000 students, as this is a rural school many walk or cycle, the average student travels around 6 miles. We are welcomed into the Head Teacher’s office, some of us chuckle at the sign above the door, ‘Welcome British Head Teachers’ ,we have been temporally been promoted. As is traditional we are offered crackers, fruit and a cup of tea. I take mine with milk, perhaps a mistake… After introductions and the exchange of gifts we are introduced to the school by the Head and he answers our questions.

DSC00266

We tour the school, on the outside there are many similarities with U.K., the students at the school wear uniforms, are taught traditional subjects and classrooms are arranged with the desks facing the front. In one of the first classrooms we enter there are 88 students, I had to count them myself, because I couldn’t believe it! In this lower school maths class the girls and boys sat on different sides of the classroom, all were well behaved and listening intently. The classroom had basic resources, the teacher being equipped with a chalk board and the students text books. Another difference with the school was that it was fee paying, parents paid around 40 Taka a month, around 30 pence, some of the brightest students receive scholarships. This may not seem much, but remember that the average wage for a well-educated person is 2000 Taka a month, this was a rural area, with no large industry available for employment. It also puts into context news reports at home about textile workers being paid 30 pence a day, in reality this one day’s work would pay for a good school; this still doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continued to demand fairer wages for the workers who produce our consumer goods; but it does put into context the idea of relative poverty. Imagine the impact that we would have it we paid an additional 50 pence for our George of Asda clothes…The government does provide some state, free, schools, but the Bangladeshi people we spoke to were disappointed with their quality, they are often also located in urban areas, meaning travel is too far for many students.

Class sizes become smaller at Key Stage 4, for a number of reasons, many students drop out, they may have to work to support their families by gaining DSC00273 employment or working on their farm. There is a significant decreased in the numbers of girls, Peter tells us that in rural areas it is ‘dangerous‘ for girls not to be married by sixteen, but as geographers we also know that in many L.E.D.C. countries the education of girls is often not given high priority, girls marry into another family, they are expected to look after the home and nurture a family, no education is needed for this. At 14, students have the choice of studying a more traditional curriculum or taking a vocational route. The school was similar to College, it had an agricultural unit, offered engineering, textiles and electrical engineering, many of these skills, the school believed, would make the students self-reliant, they could use them on their families’ farms or gain employment. For girls, the skills they developed would also help towards a successful marriage arrangement, where tradition states that the family of the daughter provides a dowry, a kind of financial gift to the husband. The students and teachers were inspirational, especially considering the lack of resources available, this school was particularly lucky as they had around six computers.

DSC00300 It was after our tour that I started to sweat and began to feel a little ill, I decided to give my packed lunch a miss, it was super heated anyway by the warm day. After visiting the headmaster restroom, I was relieved that nothing was wrong. On our exit from the school we made a brief tour of the vocational classes, now called applied learning, and the agricultural unit, my stomach was doing summersaults and began to cramp. We sat on the bus and they pain seemed to ease, I fully expected to make it back to the hotel. I think I had realised my mistake, the milk in the tea, probably straight from the farm and not pasteurised, heated to remove kills the bacteria. The trip back over the rural road was particularly bad and my stomach was cramping more frequently, just before the end of the rural road, Rob asked me if I was o.k. . I had to admit not and informed Susan ,our leader, that I needed to stop. Peter informed Susan that it was another ten minutes to the nearest garage, but I’m afraid that I was insistent that I stopped. Luckily other members are the group had brought baby wipes and toilet paper, I hadn’t been prepared and had left my First Aid kit.

Now on a tarmac road, I headed down a verge to what looked like a little field and wood, to my horror is was filled with people and also a small hamlet.  Peter had followed me and took me to a house, where we were greeted by a women, her daughter and a small boy. After some quick words from Peter, I was guided to the family’s outside squat toilet. The toilet was well maintained and I was slightly embarrassed to be so ill in it, Peter had brought me some water but I needed more, so I went over to the pump, looking a complete fool I couldn’t use it! The small boy had to help me. After an embarrassed goodbye, I returned to the coach to the laughs of the others, which was nice, because I was feeling very foolish. I felt much better…

Until an hour later, then in a more urban area I had to go through the process again, this time Peter helped me avoid death by guiding me across a busy road, helped me find a toilet, later I found he had paid for it. The public toilet was indescribable, but not in a good way. I was now feeling very much a burden, but thankfully the stomach cramps died down and I tried to rest on the bus.

On our return to the hotel, I took a quick shower and medicated myself, I was still feeling extremely ill and silly. Before we finished for the day we needed to discuss our findings. After our discussion I decide to skip dinner and go to bed, it was around 7.30 p.m. . I wrapped myself up in my bed, I was feeling a bit down and lonely, but the T.V. had B.B.C. World News, the National Geographic and a great channel that showed British and American comedy, sometimes the small things matter! I settled down thinking the worse of my illness was over… later at 12.00 p.m. it started again… it continued throughout the night and I received little sleep…

To be continued.

Bibliography

Background on the contamination of Bangladeshi water supplies with arsenic.

Image of Peter courtesy of Mike Cameron.

Video courtesy of Mike Cameron.

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