Archives - ‘Bangladesh’

Saying Goodbye

December 14, 2012 | Alicia, DVM, BRAC, Bangladesh

The following is a post that I am sure will be one among many on this topic: saying goodbye.

As November turned into December, it became more and more evident to me that my time in Dhaka was coming to an end. Colleagues would ask about my departure date, friends would send me messages requesting farewell hang-outs, and I started to pay more attention to my ‘Dhaka Bucket List’ to insure that I had made headway in crossing things off.

I still remember when I arrived in Dhaka and had my first confrontation with one of the city’s infamous qualities: the traffic. At the time, I remember feeling overwhelmed at what seemed like sheer chaos on the roads – no abiding by road lines, leaving minimal (and I mean MINIMAL) space between you and the cars around you, the constant honking, and remarkably slow forward movement. Now, however, the traffic doesn’t faze me. It isn’t that I’ve become desensitized to it, but rather I’ve come to understand it. The ‘chaos’ that I first observed is not in fact chaos, but rather driving culture that is governed my intricate informal rules and customs. This evolving understanding illustrates how integrated into the city I have become.

Three months is not a long time to make roots, which is why I suppose I am surprised by how difficult it has become for me to say goodbye to Dhaka. I came with the mindset that I was not going to be here for a long time, thus I should learn all I can and meet everyone I can in the short time I would be present. That inevitably resulted in my cultivation of a really supportive network of people, which I now find myself leaving. To many of these people it will be the second time I say goodbye, having left a year and a half ago after completing a study term in Dhaka. I sense the same cloud of uncertainty I felt at the close of my term studying abroad when I get asked if and when I will return to Dhaka. Having both studied and now worked in this city, though, it is with much more certainty that I can confidently say that I will return – the question is not ‘if’ but rather ‘when’.

Although Bangladesh has a remarkably high poverty rate, it is rich in many other ways. The national history, centred on a national struggle to assert the right of the nation to speak its own language, is rich in both victory and tragedy. The culture is rich hospitality and community, with Bangladeshis having welcomed me into their lives with open arms. Bangladesh is also rich in creativity and the arts, with poets such as Tagore being as highly regarded as the founders of the nation. While the challenges that Bangladesh faces are not minor nor infrequent, the conception of Bangladesh as a “basket case” (this dismissive reference having been coined by Kissinger) cannot hold, and the nation and cultural community are reclaiming the country as a place rich in so many other ways.

The city of Dhaka, Bengali culture and the Bangladeshi people have stolen a piece of my heart and buried it in the rush-hour traffic jams. While it pains me to say goodbye, I look forward to pursuing a path that will lead me back to the noisy streets of Dhaka.

How to say goodbye

December 3, 2012 | Michelle, Intern icddr,b

For the last couple weeks, the fact of having to say goodbye to this place and the people here has been weighing quite heavily on my mind. It seems that every conversation I have lately turns to the subject of my departure, and things I need to do, places I need to go, people I have to see before I go. It is all very overwhelming, to say the least.
Beyond my work obligations and general errands to run in the city, there is the most pressing concern of having to say my farewells to all the people I have met here. Now, I hate goodbyes. I know that nobody really likes them much, but I think my contempt for them exceeds that of the average person. Already, I have had to say two goodbyes to colleagues who will be away on trips when I take off. Each time, the day seemed cloudier and more uncomfortable than those preceding it, despite the sunny skies and relative freshness of the winter air in Dhaka. The potential finality of these goodbyes is rather staggering for me and I find it difficult to know how to go about them, what to say or do. What is the procedure for leaving this place and these people behind, in the face of such uncertainty about when or whether I will see them again? My time in Dhaka has been such an important learning experience for me and to call it an uneasy task to move on from it is an understatement.
Of course, I will take off at the end of this week and I have no choice but to face these goodbyes head-on. So I have been trying my best to just be present in the moment as often as I can in my last days here. This has been such an incredible experience and, although I will be happy to see my friends and family again back in Canada, I will so sorely miss the friends that I have connected with here. I still don’t really know how to say goodbye, but I suppose that the best I can do is just to express my appreciation for the impacts these people have made in my life, and enjoy the time I have left. It will undoubtedly be a harsh goodbye and a painful departure this week, but I look forward to the day that I will return to continue my journey in Bangladesh, insha’Allah.

Learning to Expect the Unexpected

November 26, 2012 | Alicia, DVM, BRAC, Bangladesh

Living in Dhaka for the duration of this internship has been a really exciting experience with a multitude of learning opportunities. While I’ve learned a lot about the field of international development and a lot about myself, something living in Dhaka has taught me is to expect the unexpected. I am going to give you a few examples of situations I have found myself in, and explain my expectations, and the actual results so you can get a feel for the youthful spontaneity that Dhaka encompasses.

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SCENARIO: I take a rickshaw to work every morning. Despite the fact that locals get a rickshaw for that distance for 30-40 taka, I usually pay 50 taka (and that is after bartering it down from around 100 taka). As a foreigner, there is an underlying expectation that I can and will pay more than a Bangladeshi national.

WHAT I EXPECTED: I expected to approach a rickshaw, tell him my destination, and have him tell me it would cost an exuberant amount of taka – probably 100 taka – and then try and barter it down to a more reasonable level.

WHAT HAPPENED: I approached the rickshaw wallah (rickshaw puller), and told him my destination. Instead of being told it would cost me 100 taka, he gave me the more reasonable price he might tell a national – 40 taka. Despite the culture of bargaining that exists here, I was so happy to have been told a reasonable price that I merely jumped on his rickshaw. I was appreciative that a wallah would give me the price a local would be charged, despite the stereotypes that exist regarding expats in Dhaka.

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SCENARIO: I was asked to dance with a group of people in a holud (a pre-wedding ceremony/celebration).

WHAT I EXPECTED: I anticipated that I would need to attend a number or rehearsals before the event in order to learn all of the choreography. Additionally, I expected to need to get something more formal to wear on the evening of the occasion.

WHAT HAPPENED: I was required to attend many rehearsals in order to learn all of the choreography and become more comfortable dancing in this style. Instead of merely getting something formal to wear, I was given material by the bride with which to have a salwar kameez made, a list of jewellery I will need to wear, and informed that I will need to go to a salon to have my makeup done and fake hair braided into my hair! This was much more than I expected, however I am looking forward to participating in this truly unique experience. It will truly afford me a deeper understanding of the cultural traditions surrounding weddings and marriage.

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SCENARIO: This past weekend, two other international interns and I decided to spend the afternoon in a place called Shakhria Bazar (a Hindu area of the city).

WHAT I EXPECTED: I had anticipated that the Shakhria Bazar would be full of people bustling about, and we’d spend the afternoon eating street food, checking out the stalls, and soaking in the Bengali sunshine. An easy afternoon of roaming the streets in this old area old the city is really all I had expected.

WHAT HAPPENED: We began by wandering and eating delicious street food – and it was fulfilling my expectations of the afternoon. The remnants of Diwali celebrations meant that there were many temples and statues to visit and observe. We kept exploring the streets, meeting new people, and eventually ended up at the banks of the Buriganga (Bangladesh’s extent of the Ganges river from India). We were just spending some time on the bank when all of a sudden we heard approaching drums. People emerged carrying a statue of the goddess Kali and were heading toward a boat tied at the shore. All of a sudden I found myself on a small boat in the middle of the Buriganga with people as they carried out a post-Diwali tradition of submerging statues of gods and goddesses into the river. I was truly appreciative of this opportunity to be included in this moving and spontaneous experience.

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Dhaka never ceases to surprise me – and the spontaneity of the city is a large part of why I have grown to love it.

Tribute to the residents of Dhaka city

November 7, 2012 | Michelle, Intern icddr,b

When I was accepted to an internship in Dhaka, I knew that I was headed for a city unlike any that I had experienced before. I read up on the population density, the poverty, the traffic, the weather—whatever bits I could string together so that I would have an idea of what to expect. Although I anticipated feeling overwhelmed, I left home with an open mind, knowing that I could never really fully prepare myself, except to prepare myself to be unprepared.
I was pretty much right. My first couple weeks here were mostly spent just trying to absorb as much as I could from the overload of information that came at every moment of the day. I feel like I sat wide-eyed most of the time, watching with fascination and trying to grasp the way of life here (all the while watching my step through the treacherous streets and traffic). Much as I predicted, it has been overwhelming: there are just SO many people in this city, so much hustle and bustle and noise and traffic and garbage. It’s hectic and dirty, and it’s a lot to get used to. There is a specific way of life in this city and it can be really stressful trying to figure it out. I would be lying if I said that there have not been times when I didn’t want to leave the flat simply to avoid the chaos (not to mention the staring) of the city. Yet, at other moments, I feel so determined to understand the flow of things here and really be able to participate fully. I still don’t consider myself an expert at living here by any means, but I am a bit surprised at how fast I have gotten the hang of things.
Of course, for everything that I have learned about living here, I would be remiss not to credit all the wonderful people I have encountered since my very first day in the country. Though it may be redundant to say at this point, Bangladeshis are some of the most hospitable and kind people I have ever met. From the beginning, I have felt an outpouring of support from the locals of Dhaka city: my colleague offered to take me shopping for some local-style clothing on my first day at work, I have been invited into people’s homes for meals and interesting conversation, and there is always someone to answer a random question in text message format (eg. How long do I have to boil water before I can drink it?), or to explain my destination over the phone to my CNG driver (It’s just down that one road, and turn left at the Shawarma House). Even strangers on the street will stop to translate in my negotiations with a rickshaw driver. There is an entire network of people that has become an invaluable support for me, and I know that they are the reason I have come to feel so comfortable in Dhaka—I honestly would have been completely lost without them.
I have been able to get out of Dhaka on a couple of occasions, and honestly, it is always a nice break. Outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh is completely different; so much more relaxed and mellow, much more compatible with my natural disposition. Yet, although I relish the opportunity to experience that Bangladesh, I have found that when the time comes to head back to Dhaka, I actually feel ready to return. It has become my headquarters, my home base, so-to-speak. The longer I am here, the more familiar this city feels. And the more lovely people I encounter, the more it starts to feel like a home away from home—despite the congestion and noise and everything else.
And so I guess this post is a tribute to Dhaka city, and the great people that live here, for being so kind and patient with me, and showing me the ropes. I am so grateful.

freedom as an intern.

October 31, 2012 | Derek, DVM, BRAC, Bangladesh

There has always been an image of ‘the intern’ in films as the coffee runner, the photocopier, and the person receiving random jobs that no one in the office would like to do, or believe that they are too qualified to do. This same person is often presented as the one who is continually tested in a number of ways, and is required to prove his or her abilities, skills, and knowledge to managers, colleagues, and bosses in search of approval and validation. Perhaps this is an accurate representation of the typical intern; I know that I have been in similar positions in the past. But I would describe my internship with Brac as quite the opposite of this ‘typical’ persona.

I have been provided with a great amount of liberty with this internship, as I had mentioned in my previous post. I would like to continue with that thought, and really explore the benefits and the frustrations that have come with having so much freedom during my internship.

Initially, I was a bit intimidated by being told that I should figure out what I want to be doing with my internship. I wondered if I were valued as an intern. I wondered why there would not be an assigned set of tasks already prepared. Being asked to propose my work to my supervisor seemed extremely intimidating, especially as I had just arrived and was unfamiliar with the specific projects that the Gender Justice department was working on. I felt a lot of frustration during the first couple of weeks, as though I were of no importance to the organization, and as though the people within it had no time for me. After speaking to another intern, I was told that if I wanted to be doing something significant within Brac, I would have to make a proposal and work on it myself. This was probably the most useful advice that I could have gotten at the time.

After spending a significant amount of time understanding the projects of the Gender Justice and Diversity department, I assessed how my skills, knowledge, and experience could be applied to this work. I would not like to claim that this was an easy process, but it provided me the opportunity to reflect on my qualifications as an intern, what I wanted to gain from my internship, and what my role would be within the department and within the specific project. This was when the ball started rolling. I met with my supervisor and the department head, and found a lot of support and interest for the work that I had proposed. This was such a relief after experiencing so much confusion, frustration, and insecurity. At this moment, my request to work on something that was of great interest to me, in an area that I have had previous experience working, which combined both my personal an academic interests, was validated and accepted. That was a good feeling.

As I am working on research and reporting, I still find that there are stagnant periods where I need a little bit of support and motivation. I have certainly learned that when I am frustrated and need encouragement, all I must do is ask. I have been given a lot of freedom to do work on topics that interest me. Out of this freedom came the understanding that direction, guidance, and the ability to seek support are key elements in overcoming frustrations or overwhelming feelings that may ensue; feelings that may leave me feeling like I have no idea of what to do or where to begin. Freedom and independence, with the right supports in place, are ultimately ideal features of an internship. Minor frustrations aside, I feel privileged that my experience as an intern is inclusive of such freedom and independence.

Hello, Dhaka!

October 23, 2012 | Derek, DVM, BRAC, Bangladesh

Good morning, blogosphere! This is my first entry from Dhaka, so bear with me while I get all of the basics down in this post. I am journaling from my office at BRAC Centre in Dhaka. Although my office on the 11th floor seconds as a refrigerator, it looks north onto the humid, lively, and charming city that I live in. It is a horizon of concrete buildings, aluminum houses, mosques, small lakes, many trees, and the mantric sounds of Dhaka’s infamous traffic that reach me all the way on the 11th.

So this is where I am, and what am I doing here? I am interning with the Gender Justice and Diversity department at BRAC. I am working on a report that is part of a program called POSITION (Portibotito Jiboner Sondhane) that aims to reduce gender-based violence and discrimination and increase gender equality in a number of contexts. My focus within this project is youth engagement. To give a very broad summary of what I am doing, I can say that I am reporting on youth engagement to ultimately to understand how youth may be more involved in helping meet the objectives of POSITION. What is great about this internship is that the department is very flexible with assigning work. I am free to propose assignments that relate to issues that I am interested in, and thus I am able to do work that I feel good about. That being said, I must note that this liberty initially came with some insecurities and frustrations, as I received limited guidance while trying to understand my role as an intern. I have since taken on a particular focus for my research, and I have received a lot of support and guidance from research staff, program coordinators, and my supervisor.

 

A (now) friend greeted me the airport with a “welcome to Hell,” upon my arrival. I have to say that while my first month in Hell has perhaps come with a couple of pebbles in my rice, my general experience so far has been a warm cup of sweet tea. I could not have asked for better roommates, my internship is going well, and I have met some really great people in the city. It is sometimes easy to complain of the traffic (especially if you are stuck in it), the noise, the dust, the litter, the holes in the road, the holes in the sidewalk, and etcetera. I think that these complaints seem especially relevant when you are homesick, are having stomach problems, are in bed with food poisoning, or just generally having a bad day. But there is so much more going on in Dhaka than traffic jams, as frustrating as they may be! While I have much more of the city to explore, my personal experience with getting around Dhaka and meeting people has been very positive. For now I am just riding the wave of the honeymoon phase, and hoping that I can milk it for the three short months that I will be here.

Exploring MDG progress in Bangladesh

October 23, 2012 | Michelle, Intern icddr,b

Hello all,
Well I am one month into my internship in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh and it has been such a whirlwind, I can’t believe 4 whole weeks have passed.

So far I have been really enjoying the city of Dhaka (though with the exception of the traffic, perhaps) and especially the people here. I had heard before coming that Bangladeshis were super friendly and hospitable, and so far I have found that this was quite the understatement. Some of the people I have met in the last month are among the most generous that I have ever known, offering assistance of all kinds after knowing me for only weeks, days or even minutes.
I am exceedingly fortunate to have been given a position at the International Centre for Diarhhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh—or icddr,b—a world class health research organization that was established in the 1970s (although its precursors were active in the 1960s). icddr,b does vital health research (it is actually credited with the discovery of oral rehydration therapy for the treatment of diarrhoea) and also runs a hospital in Dhaka for treatment of certain illnesses and the training of healthcare professionals.
I am working as a research assistant in the Health and Equity Systems Department with Dr. Tanvir Ahmed as my supervisor. Dr. Ahmed is a senior researcher in the department and for my first job, he has assigned to me the task of helping to research and draft an article on Bangladesh’s progress with MDGs 4 and 5, to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health, respectively. So far I have just been doing lots of reading on the Bangladeshi case, of which I had very little prior knowledge, and I have started to draft some of the background for the article. It is proving to be very interesting. With regard to MDGs 4 and 5, Bangladesh has made very considerable progress, having reduced child mortality by roughly 60% since 1990, and maternal mortality by 40% in the same timeframe. The country is considered on track to meet target 4 of reducing child mortality by two thirds before 2015, with a small, though definite shot at approaching target 5A to reduce maternal mortality by three quarters as well. The assumption that follows from these indicators of progress is that the measures taken by the Bangladeshi government toward these goals have been effective in improving the health of women and children in the country. What is interesting however, is the way that these positive indicators on child and maternal mortality compare with the data on Bangladesh’s public healthcare system, which, to put it bluntly, is rather in shambles. There is an incredible shortage of health professionals in the country and service provisions (particularly outside of urban areas) are totally insubstantial, especially maternal and neonatal care. Meanwhile, utilization of most facilities at a community level is low, but district and teaching hospitals are overwhelmed with people seeking treatment. Given its present state then, there is a question as to how government measures taken in the public healthcare sector can have had such a drastic impact.
This incongruity between MDG progress and the state of the public healthcare system is the knowledge gap that my research is seeking to help fill. The hypothesis is based on data collected about the informal health care sector which indicates that untrained medical practitioners (village doctors, homeopaths, drug vendors, traditional healers and birth attendants) are the dominant health providers in Bangladesh. This sector makes up 95% of the national health workforce and is the first line of treatment for about two thirds of the population. Although the medical practices of these practitioners are often inappropriate and sometimes harmful (over-prescription of antibiotics is widespread here, for instance), the argument is that, given the size, accessibility and utilization rates of the private informal healthcare sector, and the dysfunctional state of the public sector, it must be true that the informal sector is playing a bigger role in the progress of MDG 4 and 5 than it has been credited for. The goal is to explain what their role may conceivably be, exactly. Of course, there are major challenges associated with this, given that there is no retrospective data on treatment practices in the informal sector as they would directly relate to the MDGs. Through key informant interviews, and some triangulation of research techniques, we expect to be able to make a pertinent argument for the largely undervalued informal healthcare sector in Bangladesh.

The implications of this type of research are many in terms of future policy-making in Bangladesh: the volume of informal healthcare providers could help to quell the shortage of human resources in the country, and utilization rates of informal services could be channeled, through referral and collaboration, into higher utilization of trained medical services, among other possibilities. In terms of broader development practice, the Bangladeshi case presents a very relevant lesson on the assumptions often made about ‘what works’ in development. Official reports on MDG progress paint the picture of development outcomes as being the result of government intervention alone, without considering additional social or cultural factors that may be at play. As I am uncovering in my research, the Bangladeshi scenario illustrates the need for critical thinking on these matters, as well as in-depth investigation into concurrent contributing factors, such as the care-seeking behaviours of Bangladeshis or the rationales behind treatment practices, in this case.
Needless to say, I have so much left to learn, but so far I’m really appreciating the opportunity to see how this work happens first hand at the icddr,b offices and I’ll be trying to wring out all the lessons I can in the last two months.

The Charm of Dhaka

October 23, 2012 | Alicia, DVM, BRAC, Bangladesh

Since the beginning of September, I have been interning at BRAC in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Searching numerous travel blogs and website about Dhaka will tell you all you need to know about traffic, the chaotic urban (lack-of) planning, and the heavy humid heat. But at the core of it, really, is an energy and desire to reach high aspirations. Everyday buildings get taller, the population in Dhaka gets denser, and the enterprising spirit is ever-present. This is my second time in Bangladesh – I completed a semester on exchange here in 2012 – and the time away has given me even more appreciation for the swiftness of the development that the country is pursuing. Always changing, always growing.

I am working under BRAC in a program called ‘Challenging the Frontiers of Poverty Reduction – Targeting the Ultra Poor (CFPR-TUP)’. BRAC is one of the largest non-governmental organizations in the world. It began in Bangladesh, but now has numerous international programs focussed on empowerment of those living in poverty. BRAC has many poverty alleviation programs; however this specific program in which I am interning targets the most vulnerable of those living in poverty. Over time, BRAC noted how the poorest of the poor were being missed through their traditional development interventions, and decided to establish a more flexible program that could “graduate” individuals out of ‘ultra-poverty’ so they may benefit from other forms of development intervention. Their approach became less ‘cookie-cutter’ and much more collaborative with the beneficiaries in order to give each individual the support they need in their situation to stop, what BRAC refers to as, ‘hand-to-mouth sustenance’.

I have been tasked with reviewing an element of the CFPR-TUP program that is a more recent addition, called Gram Deridro Bimochen Committees (GDBCs). These GDBCs are village poverty alleviation committees composed of community-members that work to support those living in poverty. These committees hold general community-wide meetings where people can come and share the challenges they are facing, and the committee will make strategies for how to move forward and raise the standard of living for all – particularly those living at the margins.

For two weeks I travelled to some northern areas of the country – called Rangpur and Nilphamari – to get a deeper understanding of the various aspects of the program by speaking with a variety of individuals (beneficiaries, GDBC members, BRAC branch managers, etc.) as well as observing GDBC meetings. Able to see much of the theory I had been learning in lecture halls applied on the ground was a great opportunity, of which I hope there will be many more.

I am continuing in my pursuit to learn Bangla, and those around me are always elated to see when I have learned new verbs, new tenses, or even when I have perfected a specific sound. Although, when Bangladeshis hear that I speak some Bangla, I am generally faced with an overwhelming amount of quickly-spoken sentences that I am not yet able to respond to – but I remain optimistic! With perseverance, practice, more lessons, and the help of friends and colleagues, I am sure I will be conversational in no time!

Deadlines, departures and last days in Dhaka

April 14, 2012 | Grace, DVM, AUCC, Bangladesh

The other day I approached a rickshaw wallah, and asked him if he would take me where I needed to go. He replied yes, and I asked him the price. He told me a ridiculously high price, and I laughed as I told him that was way too high, and told him the price I would pay. We argued back and forth for a while, before agreeing to my price, and then we hopped on the rickshaw and I gave him directions towards home. The only reason I’m sharing this story is to brag a little bit: the whole conversation happened in Bangla. Though I haven’t had time to take classes since being here, I have learned enough of the language to actually converse with the people of Dhaka. I had a whole conversation yesterday with one of the women who works in the building I live in: I asked her where she was from, we talked about her children, about Canada, about Dhaka, and her husband. The conversation was slow and halting, to be sure, but it happened. Learning the Bangla language has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I’m sad to leave the country just as I’m getting comfortable conversing in it. As if the people of this country couldn’t be any more friendly or generous, their friendliness and generosity explodes when they hear me speak their much-loved language (the people of Bangladesh fought hard for their language, and are fiercely proud of it). In a country where bargaining fiercely is the custom, shopkeepers offer discounts when they hear me speak, the family who own the restaurant I frequent for local snacks won’t let me pay for my dinner and people glow with pride when I tell them I am trying to learn their language, and are endlessly amused by my horrendous pronunciation of every word. Exchanging pleasantries with co-workers, something I don’t think twice about at home, takes on whole new meaning here when it happens in the Bangla language, and is something I will greatly miss.

Finding my way in Dhaka has been a long, difficult journey, and it feels almost cruel to have to leave just as I’m feeling incredibly settled and so happy here. My internship proved to be one of the greatest learning experiences I have had to date: working in a global health research institute, I was given the chance to learn to conduct better research,and to take part in various teams working on a DFID-funded project to evaluate the health and facilities available to poor urban women. I learned so much about public health, about the life of the poor in Dhaka, and
about the city and country in general. As this burgeoning mega-city explodes, I’m pleased to have seen it as it is today – the population is set to hit nearly 30 million in the next decade, and in a city already bursting with as many people as it can hold, and infrastructure not nearly able to catch up, it is fascinating and worrisome to wonder which direction this city will head in the next few decades, and how the systems and services will keep up. As more and more people (1000 per day) flood Dhaka in the hopes of better jobs, education, and access to services, more and more groundwater is extracted – making the city more susceptible to major earthquakes, as the groundwater is no longer there to absorb the tremors; just one of the many ways this city is becoming more disaster-prone by the day. Monsoon season hit early this year too: one night I trudged home from a day trip to a nearby village, through torrential rains and winds, to find my street flooded – knee-deep in water (and sewage, not something I want to think about…). The next morning, I woke to feel my whole building shake – a minor earthquake. This place could be described as many things: chaotic, overwhelming, intense – but certainly never boring.

Despite all of the difficult times I have had here, I know I will look back with nothing but fondness for my time in this wonderful country, and I am so so fortunate to have had the experience of living and working here for three months. I can’t wait to come back. Until then, Ottawa: your clean streets, sidewalks, trash bins, and safe-to-drink tap water beckon! See you soon!

My Bangla of Gold

March 28, 2012 | Grace, DVM, AUCC, Bangladesh

My first week here, my roommate and I tried to imagine our lives in threemonths – if we would have managed to settle into this city at all, if we would finally feel comfortable, if we would be able to speak the language and communicate with ease, if our lives here would ever start to make sense. Two and a half months into my time here, and my life in Dhaka is.. happy. It’s not easy and often not comfortable, but it is filled with happiness. Though this city is intense, difficult and exhausting to live in, I love my life here. My friends, a fairly even mix of other foreigners and Bengalis, are wild, wonderful and fun and are up for anything – dinner gatherings and late nights on my balcony overlooking the city, hotel parties with Dhaka’s elite, crashing private parties with fake names, 15 hour bus rides to distant islands, bike adventures through tea estates, scouting out the best cupcakes in Dhaka and eating them all, attending stranger’s weddings across the city… and I don’t want to think about how hard saying goodbye in four weeks will be.

 

I am so proud to work with ICDDR,B. Whenever I mention my internship organization to a Bangladeshi, they praise the organization, and it’s adjacent Cholera Hospital, which saves thousands of lives every monsoon season (Al Jazeera wrote an amazing article about them last year! l). My first weeks were a bit terrifying: I am literally the least qualified and experienced person in the entire organization, and had no experience whatsoever working for a research organization. Never even having worked a 9-5 job before, office life was a huge adjustment. Luckily, I followed my usual ‘new job’ routine of talking my co-workers ears off and distracting them from their work until we were friends – leaving them will now be one of the hardest parts of heading home. Finding my place in the organization was also difficult; everyone was so qualified and experienced I didn’t know what I could possibly offer. Slowly, I found myself immersed in the work of several different teams, with my own reports and projects to work on, and work became something I looked forward to every day. The other day my co-worker said she doesn’t know what she’ll do when I leave, and it was wonderful to finally feel useful.

I’ve finally had the opportunity to travel around the country a bit and have been floored by the beauty of this place and its people. In the Northern part of the country, I stayed in a village surrounded by tea estates, and spent hours exploring the countryside and nearby national park by bike. At the most Southern tip, I stayed on a small fishing island with no electricity, overlooking Burma, and swam in the Bay of Bengal. Everywhere I go, people invite me into their homes and stuff me with food until I beg them (in the most polite way I can muster) to stop. Every experience here has been extreme; the highs and lows have been some of the highest and lowest experiences of my life. With two and a half weeks left, I still feel like I have so much to do, and can’t quite imagine what returning to Canada will be like. I am already both excited and sad at the prospect of the bittersweet departure to come, and trying to make the most of my last weeks here.