Back in blighty following a trip to Bangladesh for a couple of weeks over the Xmas/New Year/Eid period. It wasn’t just tourism as the country is my ancestral homeland. I was visiting for the first time with my two year old in tow who – it must be said – had a ball. The little ’un particularly liked traveling around the mean streets of the capital Dhaka by Rickshaw (one is pictured above). Perhaps Ken Livingstone should do one of his fact finding missions over to those parts to check them out. They are non-polluting and inexpensive. The ride is hairy at first (“bumpy mummy!” Rafi would excitedly burble) but you get used to it and there is no dark alley that one of those (always lean and fit) drivers can’t negotiate. Furthermore the motorized version which are more recognizably vehicle-looking things hewn from mopeds were called “baby taxis” when I was last over but since have all been painted green and are now called CNGs as they have been converted to run on the altogether more sustainable than petrol fuel of compressed natural gas. All public transport runs on this stuff. I was cheered also to see that placcy and polythene bags too are all a thing of the past – banned in favour of more sustaintable recyclable paper and Hessian/cloth alternatives – double hurrah.
A perpetual annoyance to the spoilt westerner however was the fact that every evening with no forewarning of exactly when it will occur the capital is subject to an hour long power blackout – known euphemistically as “load-shedding”. The idea is to share out electric hours so that there is enough for offices in the day as the supply-demand equation has gone all wrong. Private function halls proudly advertise “Own generator – no power outage”. This should not happen to my mind in the twentyfirst century but the locals whip out their halogen lanterns and candles and it is on with the show. Looking beyond the twentyfirst century I managed to catch Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” on the plane au retour. The ex VP has a chilling passage where he predicts that if we carry on screwing up our natural resources as we are, what he calls “the low countries” will just disappear under water – high up on his list of nations that will cease to exist is Bangladesh.
Lots of politics in the aforementioned water too over there. There are something like 40 political parties. It is the sort of country where 14 party alliances are talked about as a matter of fact. Indeed there is a joke that if you get two Bangladeshis in a room together for half an hour you will end up with two political parties by the end of it. The two main “sides” are the BNP (no not Nick Griffin and chums but the Bangladesh National Party) and AL (Awami League) with Jamat Islamia and extremist religious outfit also wiedling power. The country is frequently hit by national one-day strikes (hartals) and currently is being run by a caretaker government of neutral retired judges pending elections on 22nd January – all though not all sides seem to accept the legitimacy of these. One weekday I happened to be in the back of a bus stuck in a traffic-jam. Edging closer I saw the cause was an open-topped lorry carrying feisty female singer, backing vocalists, flautists, drummers and accordion person belting it out into microphones and distributing tracts. The occasion was the close of voter lists and a last minute push to get people to get registered. The sight in the heat and dust of the gridlocked Dhaka cityscape punctuated by the odd cow running around in time for sacrificial slaughter of Eid- Ul-Adha was a memorable one. People are always banging on about making politics fun – here is a living breathing example.
Anyway I think I’m still on Bangladesh time and 4 days after the date I was meant to be back, my luggage still hasn’t been reunited with me.