It’s now five months since we arrived in Dhaka and in that time I’ve posted only one blog on how life is going here. The reason for such thunderous silence has been down to two facts, firstly that I’ve been so busy it has been difficult to sit down and compose anything and secondly that reporting on the situation here is awkward to say the least!
I’ll finish this piece with commentary on the political situation in the country but please appreciate that I have to choose my words carefully. I’ve also tried to present an unbiased account, in that I am a guest in Bangladesh and how the Bangladeshis chose to sort out their problems is their business and not mine. Obviously the circumstances have affected our lives, and lifestyle, but we chose to come and work here, it is therefore up to us to learn how to live with it.
Since my last blog we have moved house and are now very happily accommodated in a much nicer and somewhat smaller apartment in Bashundhara. It was a relief to get out of the aircraft hanger that had been our home and the new place suits us just fine. We’ve made a few slight modifications and have been able to hang or place most of our artwork and make the place feel like home. After living without most of our belongings, and then living with 50 boxes, the new situation is wonderful. Plenty of storage exists; we have an office, an abundance of bathrooms and just two bedrooms, which is perfect.
The school arranged our move and we were quickly set up with TV, which to be honest is only good for cricket and the English Premier League, all other programmes have so much advertising viewing becomes a disjointed affair! Our water supply is good, the electricity situation is much improved and our only power cuts here have been on two occasions when they have been servicing the power lines. We do seem to have a lot more mosquitoes in this location; the lift, particularly, is always full of them. Fortunately the apartment has very good insect screens and we are only bothered by those that come into the house from the balcony or the front door, which opens into the lift well. It is my intention to fit a mosquito curtain around the balcony for which I have to get permission from the landlord.
Another great improvement is the landlord! Our last one fell out with the school and we never felt comfortable with him, our new landlord is on the floor below us, is friendly and accommodating, although we see him rarely. The apartment block is eight storeys high and we are on the fifth floor; it was built to house an extended family but due to emigration our floor, we have the whole floor, was left empty. There are certain aspects to the place that were clearly designed for a particular family but we’ve gradually got used to them. There’s lots and lots and lots of wood around the place, which gives it an older atmosphere than the couple of years existence that it actually has.
Amazingly we have some views, although these are gradually being blocked as other buildings go up. At present, if you thought of it as a square, divided into nine sub-squares, with our block occupying the middle of those sub-squares, we are surrounded by six empty plots and two on which apartment blocks have been fully constructed but await internal fittings. This is a “good” thing in that there isn’t too much construction noise but it could become a “bad” thing if someone began to develop one of the vacant plots. This might explain the excessive number of mosquitoes as the empty plots tend to have stagnant water on them and assorted vegetation, allowing breeding grounds and homes for the six legged killer.
We’re right on the north-eastern edge of Dhaka, some 4 kilometres from the airport, 3 kilometres from the ex-pat hub of Gulshan and just 500m from the school and hospital. There is a supermarket within five minutes walk and each week the stock there seems to diversify; they now have a comprehensive butchers. It’s possible to walk into semi-countryside within ten minutes, although it’s clear that the land is zoned and awaiting the development of both factories and housing.
Directly to the East there is an expanse of salt/mud/sand flats that appear to be related to the course of a branch of the river that would once have passed through Dhaka along the line of the present Bashundhara canal towards the Ganges. It would appear that this has been diverted and the flow in the Bashundhara Canal has been reversed to join a major shipping canal to the East; I would imagine that this will be the major transport route for the garment factories. Unfortunately our view of this open space is gradually disappearing from view behind a building going up some 60m away.
I’ve made it sound as if we’re undisturbed by building work but I doubt that anywhere in Dhaka could make that claim! Within 100m of where we live there are at least six active building sites, some noisier than others, although the worst, and closest of these has closed down since the pilings were put in. I reckon I’m becoming an expert on Bangladeshi construction techniques and, at a push, with a little capital, reckon I could construct an eight storey building myself, with the help of some contract labour and a few skilled workers.
Since returning from holiday we’ve taken up tennis again, after a layoff of ten years. Both of us played regularly in Tanzania but since then I have only played once I believe. We’re two games into the new campaign and our next sessions are both with the coach at the BAGHA Club; we both need it! The first step was to have new handles wrapped and our strings replaced, as the racquets had become unusable. Bizarrely we found a couple of thousand Australes, an obsolete and worthless amount of Argentinean currency in one of the racquet bags; it’s still a mystery how it got there.
I also decided to have my cricket bats sorted out and they’re now no longer the sad mess they were; the rubbers had actually melted into grotesque shapes. Now all that remains is for me to find somewhere I can get some net practice, which might prove a very different proposition.
At some point I had to bring up work so it might as well be now! With an overloaded timetable, a subject that I am relatively new to, in economics, which although I have taught before I don’t really think of myself as having done so, and a range of classes from Grade 6 to Grade 12, I always had a tough task ahead of me. It proved harder than expected in that some of the materials for the Grade 6-10 courses needed considerable improvement and then along came the hartals.
Basically these one day general strikes and, the alternative weapon of the opposition, the blockades, have made it very difficult for many students to get to school; others have used them as an excuse not to come in. I guess attendance has ranged between 40-60% on these days, although this figure is beginning to improve, and we’re providing online learning for those students who are not present. I would estimate that this increases teacher workloads by 50%, which is fine if you have very low teaching load, but if you’re on the maximum, like me, it becomes a near impossibility. Administration, planning and marking are all significantly more time consuming, whilst within lesson time attention has to be divided between those who are there and those who are not. I would suspect that both groups of students are suffering from a diminishment in the quality of teaching.
At least one third of the teaching days between August and December were affected in this way. There comes a point where this is bound to have an effect upon the end result and in this case the Grade 12s, who are running up to their final exams, are the most directly affected. The bright, hardworking kids will probably get away with it; it is those in the marginal bands that will see potential success slipping away and college places disappearing. At least we have been opening; some international schools have been closed and most local schools shut down. At this time the local schools should be sitting “O” and “A” level examinations; I believe some are already cancelled.
One of the major dangers to students is that buses have been targeted by terrorists and therefore the schools have not wished to increase the risk by running services. To date only one student I know of has been threatened by violence but obviously that is one too many and nobody wants students injured. If the situation continues as it is there will likely be a drift back to school and an increase in attendance, however, if there is one incident involving students, from any school, it has to be expected the numbers attending would be decimated.
So...it’s been hard work and I feel like that’s been the case for over eighteen months now. My last year in Qatar was bedevilled by the worst timetable I’ve ever had and the first five months here have been plagued by the political breakdown. I’m very tired. On our holiday in October I was unable to do anything; I just sat and read. This last one, for Xmas, was much better but, three days into the new term and I’m exhausted again; too many balls and not enough juggling skills!