22 November 2007

Week 11: Cyclone Sidr Comes to Bangladesh

So, I wish I could say more about Cyclone Sidr which hit Bangladesh hard, and tragically killed many people. I know many people read about it in news reports, but honestly, I cannot provide more important information than that. In my blog you'll find how it affected my personal life. However, Dhaka, at least what I get to see roaming around the city, was not devastated. Some shacks were knocked down and many people lost power and water, but it was all restored within two days. So what follows in this post is just snippets of what happened here, and how it affected me. Again, I wish I could say more, but the worst hit areas are 12+ hours away. I would like to let you know that if you'd like to make donations to help in the relief efforts, two places to do it is through the Red Cross or Save the Children. My roommates and I have talked about ways we can help out, and will be looking around to see what is possible. Dr. Haque, who I worked with on his GIS project, has produced some good maps himself of how the cyclone hit Bangladesh, see the link to his blog in the left column.

11th-1st in Dhaka 11/14

Zoo day! Both the beginning class and the intermediate class are going to the zoo. We have a van from the school to take us across town to see the animals. Before we left, Shakil and Santa went over my test with me, got 40/50! Yay. Not bad.
Getting into the zoo only cost Tk10. So cheap. We brought our lunches in that we’d bought from Cooper’s. We saw all different kinds of animals, some you wouldn’t see in US zoos, those which were Indian varieties of African species. Like the Indian lion, the Indian porcupine, and such. The Bengal tiger was there of course. The cages weren’t the best, but weren’t as bad I imagined. Not made to look like habitats, but not cramped cages. The otter for example had a linoleum pool in its cage, not that much effort, but also not that much money I’m sure. The animals probably aren’t the happiest, but I will applaud the effort, its important for education of people. Food is covered in flies, but I guess that would be the same in US zoos as well. (pics: monkey's cage and zoo visitors, the Indian lions cage, Shakil snapping photos and Santa looking at the animals, a peacock who put on this display for a few minutes)

One gross part was the zoo museum, where stuffed animals were held. They were old, and falling apart, and thus a bit gross. What was also really gross were jars of animals preserved…like little monkeys…or parts of animals, like hippo skin. It was not the best. (pics: stuffed animals of different sorts, jars of animal parts/whole animals

We ate lunch by a lake. Little kid played with us, and I ended up giving him my extra cookies. Climbed a tree with him. (pics: Nadia/Farah/Erin/Santa/Shakil sitting down for lunch, myself and the little kid in the tree)

After we went to the botanical gardens which was right next door to the zoo. Entry was Tk5. The gardens were pretty big. They were also covered in trash. You would hope the gardens would be well taken care of. We took many pictures as we roamed the grounds, went all the way to end where there was a lake. The last place we went in the gardens was a giant “fountain” which many Bangladeshi movies have been filmed at. (pics: the intermediate Bengali class at the gardens, I really felt this picture captures what there is to do in any botanical garden around the world...stand and observe, Santa at the famous "fountain")

Upon getting back I went to Aktel’s office to drop off my passport information to Saifullah who will give it to the trip organizer for our trip to Bandarban in December. The place, if I haven’t mentioned is restricted to foreigners, so I need to special permission to enter. He also told me that an opening might be happening in the apartment building I’m going to be room-sharing. He said he had his friends reserve it for me and it’ll probably open up in January. It’s a bit bigger, so more than Tk7000, maybe 8000 or 9000. still in my price range for sure! Very excited!

11th-2nd in Dhaka 11/15

After class I headed to the American Center to pick up packages. Got two from parents, NCSU stuff and some Halloween goodies…Oreo cookies! Yumm!

I was in a bad mood because of the lack of transportation options today. It was raining today. The cyclone in the Bay of Bengal made it rain all day, and its coming our way, so throughout the day the winds were picking up in intensity. So, due to the bad weather, not many rickshaws were out riding. Thus finding a rickshaw took forever, and 2 out of 3 times I tried, I couldn’t get one, and ended up walking to my destination. When it’s raining, a rickshaw will give you a piece of plastic to hold up in front of you while you sit. The rickshaw top covers your head, and the plastic covers your legs and windblown rain from your body. The plastic also serves to cover the seat when no one is in the rickshaw, so the seat stays dry.

In the evening I headed off for the concert in Dhanmondi. It took me 2.5 hours to get to Dhanmondi, and another half hour to get a rickshaw to bring me across Dhanmondi in the rain to the concert venue. There was tons of traffic since it was a Thursday afternoon/evening/night (last day of work week) plus the increasing rain and wind from the cyclone. Luckily I had a seat, but its still a long time to be on a bus. For many minutes at a time, our bus would just sit and not move. Then finding a rickshaw in Dhanmondi was tough because there weren’t many because of the rain and the increasing wind. Plus they weren’t willing to go very far. There was a lot of competition to get one from everyone trying to get out of the rain. I stood under a shopping center awning in between asking for a rickshaw to remain mostly dry.

The concert, at least the bands I saw was good. I was with Farhan. We hung out and talked. Between the two bands we got some pizza. The last band, Radioactive, who performed on the American Idol-esque DRockStars was incredible. The guy had an incredible vocal rang. He pulled off Skid Row and Guns n’ Roses, and the last song was their original and was impressive as well.

Farhan and I took a rickshaw (long time to find one of course) for a high cost to the bus stop closest to his house so I could grab a bus and he could go home from there. Rickshaw was really having to chug through the wind. The buses I liked were not running at this time. And there were no CNGs either. So I ended up taking a local bus home again. But this was not the nice local bus, it was the short tiny ones, that always have jammed people in them. And look like they are falling apart. And you just jump on and off and hand money to the doorman. And it was a cyclone, and it was rainy and windy…what an experience.

11th-3rd in Dhaka 11/16

Last night was a crazy crazy cyclone! The cyclone came from the Bay of Bengal. The wind and rain was incredible. Although it was bad during the day, it came worst at night. I was supposed to go to Mymensingh today with Ayon and his university friends, but we cancelled at like 7 in the morning via phone because of the bad weather. Actually by 9am it had calmed down, but it was still gross out. It was hard to sleep with the incredible wind, howling. Erin took our clothes in which were hanging up outside.
This morning, branches were everywhere, some shacks were destroyed, including Megan’s favorite tea shack. People were everywhere picking up the debris, from kids to older citizens. It’s been a long time since a cyclone has come apparently I was told. (pic: Megan's favorite tea shack near my house crushed by debris, the man in the red shirt owned the tea shirt, and the tea shack is under the pile of brush behind the fallen tree)

Our power is out because of the storm.

Worked out this morning. Went up to the roof of my apartment building and jumped rope. Our apartment building’s lift operator was up there too. He told me he lived up there, and showed me his one room concrete home on the roof. It’s cool he lives up there. It’s neat to look out over my local area.
After that, I went on a run around Baridhara, my first run in the daylight. Saw the debris everywhere.
When I returned I stretched in our parking garage. I gathered a crowd of about 7 people. All the guards on duty, the apartment caretaker, and the drivers all watched me intently. The lift operator even did some of the stretches with me. He said he exercises on the roof in the mornings. They were very interested. One of the bigger guards showed me his belly, and told me how he needs to exercise. Funny experience to say the least.

The power was out in the city all day. Internet down to. The cyclone must’ve really affected the area. Our home was working off of generator all day, meaning only certain circuits are given priority. In my bedroom, it means only one outlet works, the one my computer, lamp, speakers, and mosquito repellent is attached to…best one to be working in my opinion. It’s not too bad I guess for our place. But parts of the city don’t have water either, since the water is pumped and that requires electricity.

11th-4th in Dhaka 11/17

Still no power or internet this morning.

But spent the morning writing, and such. Then remembered Lauren had asked about hanging out today. So we decided to meet up. We first went to fix a problem with her DVD player, then went to the market to look around. She decided to buy some potatoes so she could make some French fries. Went back to her place and we made the French fries. She had internet so I got the chance to check online my email and saw that many people had sent me letters of worry. So I sent one big email to everyone to let them know I was still alive.

We then headed out to go to the Parliament building area. The bus we took there was packed to the max, and she and I were left standing near the front door. Worked out well since we were one of the firsts to get off. We took a walk around the Parliament buiding, which you can’t get close to right now. Currently the two infamous ex-leader’s of the country, Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina are being held in sub-jails on the Parliament Building’s property, so no one gets to be there anymore. But you can still walk around the streets surrounding it. We walked around the Zia Uddyan as well. This time in the light. And the grounds surrounding it too. We decided it was time to get a late lunch, and so we went on a search for the Chili’s I saw last week.
Well after a lot of walking we finally found it. To see the “chili’s” sign outside (I'll post a pic when I get them from her), with its recognizable shapes, but to see inside only Thai and Chinese food, well its makes you laugh. Also reminds me of the Best Buy in my nearby market. Same yellow sign, same black block letters and font, but it’s an iddy biddy store NOT selling tvs, computers, dvds, cds, etc.

Celebrated Tamzid’s birthday with Siraj and Megan at Spaghetti Jazz.

11th-5th in Dhaka 11/18

I set up a meeting with Professor Rahman tomorrow at 4 pm, he called me during class.

In class today I made a challenge with Shakil and Santa. I told them I could learn all the names of all of Bangladesh’s 64 districts by final exam time. And for every ten districts I get correct on the exam, I get a bonus point. We’re also going to include 6 of the major rivers, for a total of 7 possible bonus points. Today I started preparing my study system. I took one of my maps with all the districts, outlined their shapes dark, and scratched out their names.
A district is similar to a county in the US. A division would be equivalent to a state. The 6 divisions are: Rajshahi in the northwest, Dhaka in the north-central, Sylhet in the northeast, Chittagong in the southeast, Barisal in the south-central, and Khulna in the southwest. As late as 12 years ago, Barisal was a part of Khulna, and Sylhet was a part of Chittagong.

I made the Radiohead 01 and 10 mix, which combines OK Computer and In Rainbows in alternating sequence…apparently it’s supposed to be excellent, that they were “made” for this. But I’m quite sure its just a bunch of good Radiohead songs all sounding good, and maybe not really being made to be fit like this.

I took some pictures of these the other day: the school vans. Like the flat bed rickshaw vans, the school vans are also rickshaws but made to hold people. These cages are also put on backs of pick up trucks or CNG engines, bigger than the cages used for schools, and use to bring around adults. But the rickshaw driver picks the children up and drops them off at home. The symbol on the back is the number. Usually about 10 kids fit inside, all in their school outfits. (pics: two school vans with rickshaws in the background, a clear picture of a school van)

11th-6th in Dhaka 11/19

Got on the bus with what I thought was plenty of time to make it to BUET to meet with Professor Rahman. But by the time I was in Malibag, still half hour away, it was already the meeting time. I called my professor and told him I’d be late, but he said he had a meeting after my meeting, so he wanted to reschedule. I felt real bad, I should’ve known a big jam could’ve happened, but didn’t prepare correctly. I’ll leave extra early tomorrow.

So instead I took the bus all the way to Dhanmondi. I was aiming to go to the Petha (pronounced pita) festival. Petha are considered cakes. They are thin, made in oil, are sweet, and come in a variety of shapes. For many, the center of the petha is softer, with a crispier rim. One looked like a sun, some are decorated and ornamented. But they’re all sweet, and all fill you up quick. I tried two.

After I walked around the lake, heading toward Nando’s since I really wanted to eat there. Nando’s is a South African chain restaurant that I enjoyed many times in South Africa when I studied abroad there.
Nando’s was bit different here though. In South Africa, its only fast food, you go to the counter and order, and they’ll bring it to you. But here in Bangladesh, they had waiters and menus. It was like an upscale restaurant, but the food was the same! I ate my French fries like I did in South Africa: with vinegar, peri-peri sauce, and the salty seasoning I always used.

11th-7th in Dhaka 11/20

Today I met with Dr. Rahman. After class, I got my lunch at home and headed straight to BUET. I wanted to arrive early if necessary, and I did, so I waited around patiently. We met for an hour or so. We started first talking about what he thinks will be my likely course of action, not going into detail, but summarized what he thought I’ll do in a few sentences, now that Jatrabari is not happening.
He was thinking that I’ll first research US, other western world, and other developing countries large scale projects’ planning. The next step would be pick two or so case studies in Bangladesh, and research their planning practices carefully. Finally I would make comparisons between what is happening here and elsewhere in the world, with the idea of making suggestions to the system here. Some of the case studies we considered were some major river crossings here, very big bridges, and also some non-transportation related stuff, such as a new major landfill in the southeast part of Dhaka. He thought it would be better to look at completed projects, because there will be more data available, and more literature. Also a project being worked on would be less willing to share its information. Also talked about looking at Dhaka’s Strategic Transportation Plan (STP), which was just finished. It goes over a lot of the near future plans, seems like a great thing to do, since it is itself a plan!!
We touched on some of the problems Bangladesh has with projects. One issue that stood out in my mind was the lack of data. Many projects get built with very little collected data, non-thorough data, or poor data. And thus many times the actual volumes are much higher or much lower than what was predicted. This lack of data causes money to be distributed to projects that may not need that much, and other projects which should be bolstered, being built underfunded.

Recently they’ve gone to the Paksey bridge which crosses the Padma River, and did traffic counts and surveys of drivers. The bridge is currently running at 60% of the expected volume, which is an issue since it is a toll bridge, and its not making back the money it was supposed to. They’ll have finished a report on it by February.

Afterwards, since he gave me another student’s copy of the STP, I took it to Nilkhet Market to get it copied. The thing is about 200 pages long, and bound. But this place, which I posted about earlier, is the place to come for copies, as they’re stands upon stands of copy machines. I found one which would copy the book for Tk0.72 per page, and bind it for Tk10. Left it with them and was told to come back tomorrow same time.
In fact, most books in Bangladesh seemed to be copied this way. A master copy is acquired, and the binding is removed, than it is mass produced via copy machine, with each being binded after. This seems to be the main reason funding Nilkhet Market’s many copy machines. So I find many books with copy machine quality paper. But since its so cheap to do this, it brings books to more people because they can be sold at a lesser price. All around Nilkhet Market, outside of the copy machines, are book stores, selling the books copied on copy machines.

Naira wanted me to come hang out and watch a movie. We went to her sister’s fiancee’s house and watched Fracture, was a good movie The guy's movie watching room was well done. Basically, his family’s old apartment he turned into a theater with a drop down screen, projector, and amazing sound system. Pillows on the ground to relax on and watch. We got some burgers and sandwiches.

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