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3-Aug-2013 Bad News From Bangladesh – Shahed Kayes

Saturday 3 August 2013 Leave a comment

I received some sad news from Bangladesh via a Facebook post from Chris Hesse concerning our mutual friend Shahed Kayes. Shaded of course is the CEO of the Suborogram Foundation which is the organisation that was key to building the school I was raising funds for earlier this year.

The Human Rights Watch Asia website posted the following article below (original article here). Luckily Shahed will probably make a full recovery, more background available here.

Shahed Kayes survives stabbing; attackers still after his life, August 2, 2013

Human rights defender and philanthropic educator Shahed Kayes knew there were serious risks involved in his work. He had to, as nothing in Bangladesh comes without associated risks. He knew that his attempt to educate impoverished children from the low castes was unacceptable to the deeply entrenched local power structure and those at the top of it, as schooling can lessen the abundant supply of uneducated labour at their disposal. He was also trying to stop illegal sand-mining, a crime that threatens the very survival of the Meghna river communities. The sand mafia was bound to be irked.

That is why the only thing surprising about him being attacked on the July 25th was the brazen way it was done and the impunity it came with. Shahed was kidnapped from a boat while sailing towards Ramprasader Chor Island by thugs who arrived by motorboats. The assailants were not bothered about the fact that Shahed was with an American Peace Fellow and several others. They tried to force everyone into their motorboats and only spared the others when Shahed agreed to go with them without resisting in exchange for their safety.

He was then taken to a nearby island on the river named Faraji Kandi where over forty joined the abductors. Shahed was brutally beaten with rods and sticks before being stabbed in the neck and slashing his left wrist. The abductors were intent on killing him. They cursed at him for “fighting against us,” and making them lose “a lot of money because of your movement.” Shahed recalls one of them saying, “We made the mistake of not killing you before.” “This time we will kill you. We will cut the arteries on your wrists and legs, tie your hands and feet together, and throw you in the river.”

Shahed, though, proved to be lucky this time because of the timely intervention of local journalists alerted by the American Peace Fellow. They, through considerable effort, got the Sonargaon police to rescue him. The Superintendent of Police of Narayanganj immediately alerted his counterpart in Comilla and requested them to save Shahed’s life and arrest the perpetrators. Comilla Police then reached the spot and rescued Shahed. They only arrested one of the assailants, seemingly under the influence of local Member of Parliament, a retired Major General of the Army. The way in which criminals operate with impunity in Bangladesh is exposed by the brash admission of the MP, who asserted that his men had not wanted to kill Shahed and he had ‘scolded’ them for their misadventure.

Shahed was taken to a private hospital in an unidentified location, as his security in a public hospital could never be guaranteed with that politician at the helm of affairs in the district. The MP is still trying his best to find the location where Shahed is getting treated, claiming to want to ‘talk to him’, but many strongly suspect that Shahed would be killed if he is found.

Shahed, an engineer by training, has been working to provide schooling to underprivileged children condemned to live in thatched huts along the banks of the river. He started a ‘boat school’ for the children of so-called ‘water gypsies’ (people belonging to a low caste with no fixed addressed, who get heavily discriminated against in Bangladesh) out of his own money earned by selling his ancestral land before getting supported by some nongovernmental organizations. He is also the Narayanganj district coordinator of the ‘Save the Environment Movement’ (Paribesh Bachao Andolan, POBA).

Shahed’s work has earned him a lot of goodwill among the underprivileged communities living off the Meghna river. He has represented the community in writ petitions filed against the government under Article 102 of the Bangladesh Constitution, concerning fundamental rights (as defined under Part III of the constitution)[1]. He is a figurehead in the fight against illegal sand extraction which has led to acres of lands from Mayadip island eroding into the river Meghna throughout the year 2012 and thus seriously jeopardizing the community. Shahed, together with the community members, organised several protest rallies in Mayadip, Sonargaon, Narayanganj and the capital city Dhaka. The continuing struggle has caught the attention of both local and national media and they have published a large number of reports on the situation.

The struggle has also led to the High Court taking action in the case and it instructed the Deputy Commissioner of Narayanganj to come to the area and form a committee named Illegal Sand Extraction Prevention Committee at Mayadip-Nunertek, Sonargaon. Shahed Kayes was made the Chief Advisor of the Committee. The decision severely hurt the illegal sand miners and cut their earnings from the lucrative trade and this is why they deployed every possible method, from threats to fabrication of criminal charges against Shahed and other activists, in order to stop them.

When these strategies failed, the sand-miners started attacking activists of the anti-sand-mining movement directly. In one of the most serious incidents, which occurred in August 2012, hired thugs went into the villages of the fisherfolk and attacked their families. They did not spare the elderly, women and children in those attacks, which took place across Mayadip Island. The armed squads of the sand mafia also stopped fishermen from fishing in the Meghna river on many occasions and brutally assaulted them. Several of the activists were jailed under fabricated charges filed by the sand mafia.

The attack on 25 July was not the first attempt on Shahed’s life. One of these attacks came on 3 September 2012, when the sand mafia tried to abduct him along with the Assistant Commissioner (AC) of Land of the Sonargaon sub-district when they were on a court ordered visit of the area to assess the problem. The perpetrators surrounded the AC’s speedboat in the middle of the Meghna river for more than two and half hours and left only when a large contingent of police arrived.

It is in this respect that the attempt to kill Shahed assumes such importance. The mafia’s success would not only affect Shahed but would in fact end up silencing the entire community. Knowing that Shahed is out of the equation for at least a while, the sand mafia is already preventing the fishermen from fishing in the Meghna River. Attacking Shahed, a leader in the movement for the rights of these communities, has been a demoralizing blow.

The only way to save Shahed and the community is speaking up for them. It is high time we force the federal government to provide them security and prosecute those responsible for attacking him. Shahed’s life is still in danger and he continues to get medical treatment in hiding. The MP has brazenly admitted to journalists that his thugs carried out the attack and the only ‘justice’ in this case of attempted murder is an alleged ‘scolding’ from the MP to his thugs.

The international community must exert pressure on the Bangladeshi governmental authorities to defend not only Shahed but all human rights defenders. They must isolate the Bangladeshi government if it fails to do so.

Shahed is on the right of this photo of us back in April 2013:

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4-Jul-2013 A talk to 100+ people

Thursday 4 July 2013 Leave a comment

I have a talk at work today to about 100+ people about my trip to Bangladesh – it was in the auditorium at Kogarah to Westpac, St George, Optus & TElstra staff including some senior management. It was only about 10mins with a few slides/photos. It seemed to go well – I am not too bad at speaking in public and am good at ad-libbing (I didn’t have any prepared notes). I should do it more often!

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15-Jun-2013 Bangladesh School Opening

Saturday 15 June 2013 Leave a comment

The school in Dhaka had it’s official opening and its the first time I have seen the photos (Sheela, Chris’ wife took them). I am very impressed and it’s all very exciting!

See the photo album here for more.

There is quite a good write up and more photos on the official blog here.

Chris & Mark are talking about raising money for a 2nd school, which was always the intention. I am keen to assist where I can as they are good decent blokes and I want to be involved with some international/ third world “charity” but don’t want to be part of a big machine and with Chris & Mark it’s pretty clear that they are doing something low key with no overheads and no bullshit – their approach really appeals to me. I like it a LOT.

 

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27-May-2013 Article about me in r4yl

Monday 27 May 2013 Leave a comment

I got a copy of this month’s Run for your life magazine, one of Australia’s best running mags. There was a very short article about me in the ultra running section:

I got a write up in the latest Run For Your Life magazine.

23-Apr-2013 Summary of Bangla-Dash

Tuesday 23 April 2013 Leave a comment

I emailed the following summary to all the people that donated money to my Bangla-Dash adventure.

It was funny as I am still getting emails from the Smart Traveller website about the situation in Bangladesh, and this arrived just as I was sending the email:

Current Advice Level: “High degree of caution”
Change Summary:
It has new information under Summary, Safety and security: Civil unrest/political tension and Local travel (hartals/general strikes can involve the shutdown of all activity; violence surrounding hartals may target public transport and private vehicles).

Anyway, the summary is :

This email is to all the people who donated money to my recent Bangla-Dash adventure – many thanks for your kind & generous support. I met the people that will receive your money, and can report that it is being wisely spent and will make a small difference to the world, but a big difference in a small village near Sonargoan just outside of Dhaka.

Short version:

I went to India to run 290km from Kolkata India to Dhaka Bangladesh to raise funds to complete building a school just outside Dhaka. I carried $5000 cash which I was very relieved to safely handover! I completed 40% of the run (115km) through the Kolkata metropolis and rural West Bengal villages as I was stopped in Bangladesh due to an unprecedented general strike over 4 days that prevented any traffic movement between towns, stopped ferries etc. However when the strike was lifted for just one day we were able to grasp the opportunity to run to the town where the school is being built and I was able to meet the builder, architect and project manager. Whilst disappointed that I was unable to finish the run due to political issues, I know I would have been able to physically finish and ultimately a life lesson is that sometimes things are outside of your control and you just need to just let nature take it’s course. I specifically chose this project because it would be difficult and there was a chance it might not go according to plan, but I had a great adventure doing it and met some great people and saw some great sights. I enjoyed meeting many people in India and Bangladesh and never once felt threatened or unsafe, in fact I clearly saw that people everywhere are just people trying to make the best of their lives and for their families, it was a real refresher on how similar we all are, as people of this world. I am impressed by my friends Marc and Chris’ desire to continue with a difficult project in a difficult country and the three of us are still continuing to seek donations to fund a second school.

Long Version:

Sometimes you just have to go with your heart.

Last year I read about 2 teachers, an Australian and an American who had been working in Bangladesh and had this idea to do a sponsored run from Kolkata India to Dhaka Bangladesh, a total of 290km in about 4 days. I was mightily impressed by this – I have been a runner for many years and was keen to attempt some kind of “journey run” for a charity and was half looking for inspirational ideas. I am very interested in India and even went to India for 6 weeks in 2012. The timing of their run wasn’t good for me, but I followed them up afterwards and found they had raised more than $20,000. They donated half to a school that was being built and which opened in January 2013 and they lined up an architect to design a school that they would fund and build to replace an existing shed that was being used as a school by a disadvantaged community.

I contacted them to see if they were planning on doing the run again, they weren’t, but they said if I was keen to run myself then they would help with the logistics in Bangladesh. They seemed like genuine friendly blokes doing something very worthwhile but the idea was pretty scary. I decided to commit to doing the run anyway and try to raise some money myself and trust that it would turn out ok. Sometimes you just have to go with your heart.

Timing was difficult, it was February and Chris was the only one still in Bangladesh, but was leaving in June. The weather would be best in March or April, but I couldn’t go in March (too hot and/or too wet afterwards). As he is a teacher and we would borrow the school’s minibus, I would be limited to the school holidays in April, although he was going away overseas for much of the holidays with his family, so we locked in the only week that we had to do the run.

Luckily I had been training hard over the summer and I just had to sort out my flights and logistics for the 82km that is on India side of the border. All my injections from my India trip in 2012 were still current. I emailed my friends, family and work colleagues to see if anyone would donate to the cause and to date have received over $4500 from about 80 different people. Chris in Bangladesh was very impressed as this was pretty much just the right amount remaining to complete the school building – the funds will be used for the solar-powered lights, shelving and furniture and some teacher-training.

I left Australia on 26th March with $5000 in a large pile of crisp $50 notes from Westpac Bank safely in my backpack. I had a few days sightseeing in Mumbai and then a few days in Kolkata where I planned the start of the run, the route and surveyed the first section. I visitied Gandhi’s house/musuem and also Mother Teresa’s which I enjoyed greatly as well as having soem great indian food. I would leave as early as possible on Weds 3rd April, starting from Howrah station and running across the Howrah bridge then find my way out through the suburbs and head for the Bangladesh border. I purposefully brought as little as possible, just to fill a very small backpack – later weighed by the side of the road at 9.2kg – however try carrying it on your back and it still feels heavy!

I started running at 5am totally scared out of my wits – would I find the way ? Would I be safe by myself ? Would I get squashed by the crazy traffic ? Would the Police just decide I wouldn’t be allowed to do this ? Luckily I found my way out of the city ok, and as it got daylight and I got further out the conditions improved. But boy was it hot ! Luckily there were lots of places to get water, cold drinks and the ever-present sweet indian chai. Most people saw me as like an alien that had dropped from the sky, in disbelief. Who are you ? where are you going ? where have you come from ? why are you running ? As it was hard work running, often all I could manage was a wave and a smile!

I had allowed myself 2 days to make the 82km to the border with Bangladesh and my appointment with my support crew. Doing it in one day would be tough and there were a thousand things that could delay me, so I went on the side of caution and planned for two days. I figured 47km on day one would leave an easier 35km for day two. I reached the town of Habra, 47km into the run at 3pm on day one and was shattered, with badly blistered feet and literally almost ready to pass out. If truth be told, the previous few hours had been hard. The road was narrow and I was close to a lot of traffic and my rest breaks were becoming more frequent.I stopped and sat and drank anything I could lay my hands on but there was no hotel so I took a rickshaw to the next village to stay the night. They’d never had a foreigner stay there before and I slept beside the mosque.

On day two I took a rickshaw back to Habra and continued my run, gently, as my feet were still sore. I ensured I took time to rest properly and tried to eat some food but I just didn’t fancy anything. It was just as hot today, approx 40C. I made it to the border at Benapole at just gone lunchtime. I received a txt message to say that my crew would meet me at a hotel in the town of Jessore and I should catch the bus there. I made the border formalities still in my running kit and dripping with sweat, so everyone waved me through as I probably looked too poor & deranged to worry about. I got changed, and caught a bus to Jessore, ate and slept. In the morning I met my crew who said that for the first time ever there was a general strike over the weekend (starts Thursday night in Muslim countries) and that we would have to drive back to Dhaka as the only alternative would be to stay in Jessore for 4 days as its too dangerous to travel between towns during a Hartal. Even then, we saw some demonstrations and found some ferries were already stopped leading to traffic jams several miles long already.

The run was pretty much over as we would lose all our available days to the Hartal. The newspapers had lots of stories of demonstrations, torchings and people being killed, so it was not idle threats. Luckily however on Sunday night we heard that the Hartal planned for Monday would not be happening so we rapidly made a plan to run the 35km from Dhaka to Sonargoan to visit the current school and building site. It was great running without my pack and running with Chris who had put in so much planning for the Bangladesh side of the trip. It was truly the highlight of my trip to make it to the village where the school is in the process of being built (completion approx June). I took some photos and its pretty clear that this is a very poor village indeed and the people can do with as much help as possible.

I stayed on in Dhaka for a few extra days but all the other trips we had planned were cancelled as there were more Hartals called and made planning anything very difficult.I decided to catch the bus back to India and made my way home eventually.

Please email this onto any of your friends or family who may also wish to donate as we are still trying to raise more money. Any help will be gratefully received!

 Links

 -My website & blog diary : http://kevintiller.com

-My photos from the trip : https://picasaweb.google.com/101800124194210937689/Bangla2013Kevin

-Chris’ photos of the run to Sonargoan village https://picasaweb.google.com/101800124194210937689/Bangla2013Chris

-You can make a donation at https://kevintiller.com/bangla-dash2013/donations-for-bangla-dash-2013/

16-Apr-2013 Complete set of photos from trip

Tuesday 16 April 2013 Leave a comment

Now that I am back I have posted a full set of all the photos:

If you have been following my instagram feed, you’ll notice I took a lot more that were not posted.

All the photos I took were just using my phone (Samsung Galaxy, 8Mb) and I think I will just do that in future, as the quality is really impressive.

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15-Apr-2013 Mumbai to Sydney & Home

Monday 15 April 2013 Leave a comment

I didn’t have many Rupees left and so only had a quick look through the shops (although I could go to the ATM if required – but I guess I don’t like shopping much and airports are usually over-priced factory-produced stuff). I did feel a bit hungry and so bought a masala dosa – a last gasp return of my appetite.

As the flight was gone midnight, the leg to Singapore was totally in the dark and I slept for most of it.

I had about an hour in Singapore’s Changi airport which seemed heaps better than when I came through before. Maybe it was a different section. I bought a fresh juice and looked thru the shops but didn’t buy anything.

On the flight to Sydney I listened to music and watched films.

I hadn’t checked in any bags as just had my rucksack. So I got a quick getaway and hopped on the train. My Indian Vodaphone Sim was still working (I left my Australian one at home, so couldn’t use it) I txted Dawn and she met me in the rain with Jazmin at Sutherland. It was great to see them again and great to be back.

I had a great time away but it’s always good too come home!

14-Apr-2013 Kolkata to Mumbai

Sunday 14 April 2013 Leave a comment

By the morning I still felt totally shite and still wanted to go home, so bought a chai, sat down and drank it and decided that was what I would do. I guess I came to do the run, and the run was done, so travelling off down south, whilst a good plan, felt a bit aimless particularly as Dawn and the kids were all off work and off school.

All the travel agents were still closed as it was only 8.30am or so. I went to the Swiss cafe and had a banana lassi (that was on Dawn’s recommendation) and a honey lemon ginger as I still couldn’t bear the thought of any food. Then I found a travel agent that was open so bought a ticket for later today to Mumbai (2.30pm flight). I went back to the hotel for a bit of a rest and pack and txt Dawn again, then checked out and got a taxi to the airport. The domestic airport was pretty new. I had a bit of time so bought a magazine and took some selfies. I was looking for a barbers to shave it off but couldn’t find one. I didn’t even feel like a coffee.

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#Beard #selfie at #kolkata airport by #kevintiller

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#Beard #selfie at #kolkata airport by #kevintiller

A post shared by kevin tiller (@kevintiller) on

The flight to Mumbai was fine. I then caught the transfer bus to the International Terminal. I was surprised to see the slums/chawls go right up to the very wall of the airport. I half expected to see a “Beautiful Forevers” billboard there as in the book “Behind the Beautiful Forevers“. That is a great book and worth reading!

My plan to change tickets almost came undone as I wanted to change the ticket at the Singapore Airlines desk but you can’t get into the terminal buildings in India without a valid ticket. I figured I could just blag my way in. I couldn’t (am guessing it happens a lot) and they sent someone out to negotiate with me. We got it sorted in the end, after some hours. I fly out at 0015 Monday morning and arrive Monday night in Sydney. I then spent a while just hanging around the airport.

Final photo in India:

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#mumbai airport by #kevintiller

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13-Apr-2013 Bus to Kolkata

Saturday 13 April 2013 Leave a comment

Today I was up about 5.30am. Kamal was coming at 6am to drive me to the bus station which is waaay across the other side of town. I packed and was very conscious to leave Chris’ phone on the table and not take it with me (!) and was downstairs waiting for Kamal to arrive by about 5 mins to 6. He turned up soon after. As expected there was not a lot of traffic so he took me a roundabout route pointing out Parliament house, the President’s house etc.

He dropped me off about 7am. You could see the bus. Jesus. the Best bus I have been on in India!

Bus from #dhaka to #kolkata by #kevintiller

It started on time. With free bottle of water! Soon after we started he came round giving out a few breakfast box which was highly impressive.

Breakfast box on bus by #kevintiller

I had to the roti and a bite of something with custard in but then left the rest of it as it looked a bit too sweet and gunky. The trip started out driving out of Dhaka, pretty much the route we came in on – we would follow the exact route back to Jessore and then through the same Benapole (Bangladesh) / Petrapole (India) border that I came in on. It was certainly interesting to see the countryside, very rural as you would expect.

There are not many roads, and we were travelling on the biggest and it was pretty small. Much of the country is just offroad with only walking paths between villages. The day heated up and we had a couple of ferry crossings which was an opportunity to get out and stretch da legs and see what the hawkers had to offer.

Snack seller on ferry by #kevintiller

Interesting (or not) there were always a lot of beggars and a lot of the Bangladeshi people donated – I didn’t see another foreigner all day so it was good to observe to local people. There even donated a reasonable amount 10-20 taka or more to each one (its about 75 Taka to AU$1). I felt a bit guilty about not donating as much and put my hand in my pocket a bit more.

We stopped for lunch as it was really hot. It was way over 40C in the shade and I dread to think what it was on the road in the sun. By now I was starving and knew I needed to eat something else I would just die later. It was one of those stops geared up for buses and they whipped out food very fast “fish, mutton or chicken” and when I said veg they got me a plate of gruel to go with a big bowl of rice and potato/green chili that everyone got.

Lunch on bus from #dhaka to #kolkata by #kevintiller

I paid 60T for the lot so pretty cheap but the quality was… ack.

Back on the bus I started to get a headache and to zone out I listened to my ipod. Although the bus was comfy we were being “shaken and stirred” by going fast then dodging other vehicles. It was making me feel queasy.

Eventually we hit the border and it was all a bit chaotic as per before: some guy grabbed my passport and started filling out the form. He took me to the front of a long queue and just said “foreigner queue” ie he was starting a new queue just for me. Then I was bundled across the border and did the same through the Indian immigration with a different guy “assisting”. When I exited at the end I waited for the bus and/or other passengers from my bus but none came so walked back to the border, had a chai, and got someone to get my bus driver who explained I was meant to get back on the bus on the Bangladeshi side then we all drove over together and did the Indian side together. Too bad no one explained that before. Anyway we eventually got all sorted and got on our way. The border must have taken 2hrs or more.

By now my head was killing me and it gradually got dark as we went back along the roads I had run on. I was holding my head in my hand and closing my eyes to sleep and kept opening them to scenes of us flashing past people, honking, shops, rickshaws like some scary dream.

Eventually we got to the terminus as everyone got out.

I then saw the famous poster that everyone seems to talk about – “Visit Bangladesh before tourists come!”

Sign in tourist board office - "Visit Bangladesh Before The Tourists Come" by #kevintiller.  Yeah right...

When I worked out that definitely was the end, I went outside and hopped in one of the cool Kolkata yellow cabs and went to Sudder St. It took forever driving through the streets. It must have taken about an hour, or felt like it, so I think the 250R was quite reasonable.

In Sudder St, the hotel I stayed in before was full and the guy on the front desk said I could try in the morning to see if they had any rooms then. By now I was totally dying and just wanted to go to bed. It was probably around 9pm. Bed. Right. Now. So I walked over the road to the fancy Bawa Walson and just paid the $70 they were asking as I didn’t want to walk around anymore or have any hassles. I had a shower – a great shower I should add – and went to bed. It was a great room.

I originally had this idea of not going to a hotel but going straight to Howrah station and catching the train to Bangalore (35-38hrs) as the trains all left at 10pm-1am depending on the day. However I just could not even bear the thought of it. I just decided that rather than spend the last week and a half traipsing round the country by myself, that I might just go home early.

I txted Dawn as my Indian vodaphone sim was now working ok and she seemed to think that was ok (she was in bed asleep at 2am!)

Then I went straight to sleep.

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12-Apr-2013 Last Day in Dhaka

Friday 12 April 2013 Leave a comment

Today, Friday, is my last day in Dhaka as I am catching the bus at 7.30am Saturday morning. I got up late, sorted some washing and eventually walked to the coffee shop. I txted Al as I wanted to get my deposit back from the cancelled Rive Dolphin tour. He sais he’d meet me at my flat in 30mins so I walked back there. Then afterwards I just went off for a walk in a massive circle and ended up at Gulshan-2 and had a look in a few shops there. I found a small-ish decent-looking Bangla eatery. I just had a puri:

Bengali puri & chutney #dhaka #bangladesh by #kevintiller

I then got a txt from the US embassy about some more upcoming demonstrations:

Txt from US Embassy in #dhaka #bangladesh by #kevintiller

It sounds easy to ignore all the hartals but not really in practise. No buses run, no offices open, no schools open, most shops closed and a very palpable fear that the place is about to go off any minute. Lots of edgy guards with guns.

I then went back to the flat for a shower and pack my bag, making sure I hadn’t left stuff around, and just did some reading etc. Bed early.

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12-Apr-2013 Videos about Bangla-Dash Run

Friday 12 April 2013 Leave a comment

I shot some video of Chris talking about the Bangla-Dash run. This was just after we had returned from Jessore, in the pool at the American Recreation Club in Dhaka:

I managed to record a video after day one of my run from my hotel room at Bangaon (background vocals from the muezzin at the local mosque):

And I am afraid they are the only videos !

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11-Apr-2013 Dhaks

Thursday 11 April 2013 Leave a comment

I guess it feels like I am falling into some sort of routine, which I always try to fight against. I got up late – gone 8am – and had breakfast and lazed around a bit and walked to the coffee shop for a bit – a quick coffee and update my blog.

Today I went and picked up my bus ticket to Kolkata for Saturday. This was from the travel agent on 6th floor at Gulshsn-2. Then I caught a CNG from outside which is a Bangladeshi version of a tuc-tuc but they lock you in, so it’s like a cage on wheels. Probably very dangerous in an accident ! I wanted to go to Old Dhaka to some of the laneways there and figured today is almost the last opportunity. I got the travel agent to write the location in Bengali which didn’t help much as the vast majority of drivers are illiterate!

It took about 45mins and the cage although ventilated had no air when boxed up against rickshaws and buses. So I felt a bit sick but also had the adrenalin pumping as was well braced in case of accident.  The traffic of course wss insane but resistance was futile. Just brace yourself.

The laneways were actually quite good, and I enjoyed pottering around. I took a bunch of photos.  In general no one hassled me at all.

My favourite photo is this one by the river. I was surprised it was any good as I just took my camera out, snapped and moved on. For the whole trip I have just been using my camera.

I caught a CNG back to Gulshan-1 and went into the fancy new Gloria Jeans not for a coffee but one of the strawberry ice drinks as I was sweating buckets and just wanted to sit down in the cool.

After I caught a rickshaw back to Baridhara and had a shower and siesta.

In the evening I made some dinner in the kitchen then wstched some Tv – stuff I don’t normally see, so I’d class it as educational ie BBC News, Al Jazerra and of course Indian MTV. I also installed an offline Guardian app which downloads updates overnight if on wifi. That will be cool to read on trains etc. I also installed the AirBnB app as I might look to stay somewhere different when I get to Mumbai.

In fact I have barely used a computer the whole time I have been away – just my samsung galaxy smartphone. There was a big report out on the news about the slide in number of pcs being sold. Smartphones are just so cool and sooo convenient.

It was about 11pm when I went to bed.

10-Apr-2013 Another down day in Dhaka

Wednesday 10 April 2013 Leave a comment

I took it pretty easy today. Got up approx 0830am.  Breakfast was beans on toast. Walked in the hot to the coffee shop.  Past big hole in road:

Hole & open sewer in #dhaka street #bangladesh by #kevintiller

Then went to Gulshan-2 and Gulshan-1 just to have a look around. Not much happening.

Found out Friday’s trip to the schools has been cancelled due to the troubles. I got sn email from Chris so had to contact everyone. It’s getting a bit tiresome that everything keeps getting cancelled. See article in newspaper about torchings in Dhaka !

At 5pm I had an oil massage, the guy was recommended by Lauren (I didn’t catch his name) . It was pretty good and only just over $10. But it was funny as he asked me for the sheet and the oil! However after the running and carrying my rucksack I could do with the relaxation.

In the evening I went to Al’s flat with the Canadians to see Zero Dark Thirty on his fancy setup. Very good.

Walking back home it turns out we live next door but one to the Afghanistan Embassy. The front gate of our block was locked and the guard was not around so I hopped the fence, hoping no one would shoot! Bed at midnight.

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9-Apr-2013 An easy day in Dhaka

Tuesday 9 April 2013 Leave a comment

Chris, Sheila and the kids are going to Thailand & Burma today at 11am and I am staying on at the apartment so I had a hundred questions about the driver, the air con, locking the doors, phone numbers etc etc. I spent a bit of time reading some of their very interesting books (Sheila is doing a phd in public health so I guess some of the books are hers but they are both into education so who knows) – feels like heaven anyway as I love non-fiction books with a passion.

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I then walked out to the coffee shop – it feels like days since I was last by myself. In fact its been just 2 weeks since I left home, but it feels literally like 2 months since I caught the ferry to the airport. I guess you go to so many places and see so many new things and your mind is constantly ON. That’s why today I thought I would just go slowly.

I then walked to Gulshan-2 and had a look at the shops and had a juice out. I had a look at Jatra a good handicraft type shop.

I was back home by 5pm and skyped with Dawn. Watched some BBC World News. Had some leftover rice & dahl, did some reading and went to bed at 1030pm.

I have not written much about beggars here or in India. They are all over and everywhere constantly hassling me. Sometimes politely,  sometimes funny, sometimes more aggressive. I have been torn, over the years, as to how to deal with them. Politely say no? Ignore them completely? Give the most seemingly needy some money? Firmly ask them to leave me alone? Try to explain why I WASN’T giving them money? In the end I still can’t decide which approach is best and do all of the above at various times. I usually prefer to just give very small amounts, coins etc to either the oldest or most handicapped beggars as whether they are working for someone or not they clearly have the most miserable lives.

One of the surprising things was the security setup here. The apartment is in like a diplomatic enclave, and there are a lot of embassies,  foreign schools etc here.  The main entrance to the enclave is on the UN Road where there is a boom gate and a bunch of armed guards. I guess they keep out anyone suspicious. I have seen them hitting auto-rickshaws with big sticks if they are not doing what they say. They are trying to keep out rickshaw wallahs in traditional lunghis (all the foreigners don’t care what they wear). Lights are mandatory at night also on a rickshaw in this area.

Yesterday a car got burnt out round the corner, I think these torchings are quite common. We also saw some people pushing a torched car (after it was put out).

Our day trip to see river dolphins on Thursday has been cancelled due to another hartal. I bought a bus ticket to Kolkata for Saturday as all these hartals are just so unpredictable and make planning very hard.

Sheila & Chris are hooked into sms from the American Embassy and emails from work about the political situation. Here is an email I got from Sheila as she was about to fly out :

Security Alert for all HKI Bangladesh Staff

Current Situations:

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has called for a 36 hour nationwide hartal (strike/shutdown) starting from Tuesday, April 9, 2013 6:00 a.m. until Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 6:00 p.m.
10 injured in Narayangaj clashes
Clashes between the strikers and law keepers have left at least 10 people, including two journalists, injured in Narayanganj as the opposition-sponsored 36-hour strike took effect.
Police and witnesses said BNP and its youth front brought out a procession from Narayanganj’s Kumudini Welfare Trust around 6am. When police tried to stop them, pitched battles erupted.
BNP-police clash at Cox’s Bazar
Agitated activists of the main opposition BNP’s Cox’s Bazar unit on Monday night clashed with the police hours after its Joint Secretary General Salahuddin Ahmed was arrested in Dhaka.

The local BNP unit has also called a shutdown for Thursday in the district following a 36-hour nationwide BNP strike starting on Tuesday.Police arrested former Cox’s Bazar MP Salahuddin Ahmed at around 9:30pm from Dhaka’s Gulshan.
BNP’s volunteer wing Swechchasebak Dal has also called a general strike at the port city of Chittagong for Thursday demanding the release of BNP Vice-Chairman Abdullah Al Noman.
After getting the news of his arrest, local leaders and activists of the opposition brought out protest processions at Chakoria and Pekua at around 10:30pm and vandalised at least 20 vehicles.
Police said shots were fired and crude bombs were also detonated at the time leaving four people including two policemen injured.

Upcoming Days:
Islami Chhatra Shibir has called a nationwide whole-day general strike on Thursday 11 April demanding release of its President Delwar Hussen.
The Jamaat-e-Islami student front is also opposed to sending Delwar Hussen on police remand for questioning.

Hefajat-E- Islam announces:
Hefajat also announced to hold rallies at different parts of the country, including Sylhet, Khulna, Chittagong, Rajshahi, Mymensingh, Faridpur, Brahmanbaria, Barisal and Bogra from April 11 to April 30 to force the government to meet its demands.

It seems full week of hartal and it may continue from next week also after 14th April.

Instruction during hartal:

A hartal is a mass protest, and can involve a total shutdown of the country. It is a recognized political method for articulating any political demand. Hartals can turn violent if the population, or political groups, enforce the shut down. Violence can also occur the evening/night before a hartal. We advise all HKI Staff to exercise caution and avoid unnecessary travel throughout the country.

All Staff are advised to exercise caution and minimize movement and exposure even within the enclave during a hartal. Employees outside of Dhaka are also take additional precautions.
Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. You should avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations. Remain aware of your surroundings, including local events; and monitor local news stations for updates.

1.    Please tune to your local media for information and avoid all area covered rally, meeting and be safe.

2.    Keep  your ID card with you always while coming or leaving to office.

3.    Don’t wait outside 1 place for long time

4.    Better not to use Auto rickshaw (CNG) during hartal, if needs use without locking door.

5.    Use cycle rickshaw if needs to move emergency or emergency vehicle.

6.    Don’t use HKI or rented car.

7.    Don’t move to the field.(depends)

8.    Don’t travel to the field by steamer/ launch/ bikes.

9.    Make sure that your official movement is approved by your supervisor.

Please monitor the local media for updates.

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8-Apr-2013 Out & About in Dhaka

Tuesday 9 April 2013 Leave a comment

Today was a hartal day meaning most things are stopped, closed and all messed up. This is now becoming a routine.

We met the Canadians (Lauren, Tina & Everett) at the coffee shop. It’s kind cool that there is no street frontage and has a “you have to know where it is vibe”. Then we headed off to the international school where Chris and Lauren teach. It is a bloody great school. Very impressive.  I guess it should be as the local students pay $20k a year. You would imagine they would go on to become the country’s elite.

From there we walked to the Solmaid Community School. This was in a slum area just a few minutes walk around the corner. It was hot! This school recived half of the money Marc & Chris raised last year (I donated money to here). The school opened at the end of January this year.

There were 3 classes in full flight and they have a morning session from 8-11am and an afternoon session from 12-3pm. They were expecting us.

After this we went back and then out to the American Club pool for a few hours.

In the evening,  I got picked up by Al (also Canadian)  and we went byhis electrified rickshaw to a Korean Restaurant.  It was pretty good although quite spicy. I wasn’t the only vego. Then we kicked on to the English club, the Bagia, as the Canadians planned to meet an english teacher Martin. He was a pretty good bloke. Of course the music on the jukebox was totally stellar, lots of The Clash, Jam, The Stones, Human League, Eddy Grant – I swear I knew all the words to all the songs. When everyone at the bar started singing to “Going Underground” I just felt like joining in. I got the 7″ the day that came out!

I got home about midnight.

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On hearing the news about Margaret Thatcher dying at the english place, all I could think of was this Thatchera-era song which summed up so much of those times and stirred up so many memories:

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7-Apr-2013 Chris’ photos of final days running

Monday 8 April 2013 Leave a comment

I got these photos from Chris camera. The last one is my own pwrsonal favourite.

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7-Apr-2013 Bangla-Dash run – one last hurrah!

Monday 8 April 2013 Leave a comment

Late last night after 9.30pm Chris and myself were discussing a possible final run before he goes away as the hartal for Sunday has been lifted but Monday’s hasn’t, nor Tuesday’s and it sounds like there will be a new general strike  / hartal on Wednesday now. There was that one last free day where we could finish the project on a symbolic note, but still put in a relatively hard run.

We decided to run from the centre of Dhaka to the site of the new school in Sonargoan on the outskirts of Dhaka.  The distance is approx 35km maybe a bit longer. It would be hot even at. 5am so it’s key to get away early as apparently the traffic coming back is a nightmare.

We had all the kit and equipment needed at hand so Chris organised a driver Mofiz and we were set.

So today I was up approx 4.30am. I was ready just before 5am and we headed off. I was obviously nervous that my blisters didn’t turn into a real problem (they didn’t) or that my fitness would prove wanting (it didn’t).

It was still pitch black when I setoff to a cracking pace along the empty streets, just like I’ve done on hundreds of other Sunday mornings with the Sydney Striders running club. Eventually it got lighter and the streets woke up and traffic gradually increased.

It was actually quite fun flying long, as it was a dead straight road, dead flat and just a few people, carts etc to avoid. I was sweating profusely onto my new Bangla-Dash singlet (locally made & excellent quality). I also starting gulping back gatorade like there was no tomorrow.

After about 10km about an hour in Chris was keen to get in the action and so took a turn whilst I rode the car. We promptly lost him for 20mins+ in an almighty traffic jam with literally more than a hundred bses.

Later on we swapped back and I continued. I’d like say it became more rural but it didn’t really – still a lot of factories, workshops & industrial places all spreading their dirt, grime & worse.

At one point I ran over a flyover and found myself running next to a Muslim boy in kong trousers, long top& skull cap was running up from another direction. It was cool. We chatted. I think he was going a lot shorter as he was really going fast.

Chris had a go at running a few more times and also kept up a great pace – he was conscious not to over-push a dodgy hip. On the final turn onto the small road that leads to the village there wasva full scale market in place and the pace died down (thankfully as it had been fast, was just a bit less than 4hrs). We picked up the project manager, a guy who lives in the village and then walked the last few hundred metres.

Chris was pleased with the building progress. I was impressed with it all. We also saw the old school, a temporary shed with no air or lighting and would be extremely difficult for 40 kids to learn much there. I pkan to comeback on Friday with some others to see it up close. Very honoured.

Chris has the $5000 I have collected in donations snd is using that to fund some of the fixtures & fittings inckudibg the solar powered lights. So thanks all if you who have donated and if not then you can still donate here.

We took some photos including one in traditional bangla lunghi and headed back by car. The traffic was of course way worse now and 2hrs to geet back the 35km. I didn’t care – I was sat in the back with the aircon on and as libg as I didn’t move I’d be fine.

Back at the apartment I had a shower and sleep. Later on we went to the pool for a brief swim but to be honest I feel very fragile and definitely not my best. Had a brief snack of leftovers from what was to be served if we’d run all the way to Dhaka (I am convinced we would have made it – Chris had a great team in place).  After I finish writing this I’ll got to bed at just before 10pm.

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6-Apr-2013 Dhaka Day Off

Sunday 7 April 2013 Leave a comment

I slept well and got up at just gone 7am. No headache and felt heaps better. Everyone is talking about the hartal and there is a big demonstration in Dhaka so it seems like no-one is going to be interested in sorting out the support crew as there are hartals planned until Tuesday which is when Chris goes away.

Photo of “Million Man March” that happened today:

I guess the reality is starting to sink in that the run is over. Pretty disappointing.  However that’s what can happen in places like this. It’s a good opportunity to just let it go. Non-attachment as the Buddhists teach. I can’t change the situation and just have to move on as dwelling on it will just make it worse.

I had 2 great days running by myself from the Kolkata megalopolis through the Bengal countryside. I ran until I could barely stand up straight – I fed the rat (see here for what this means – my running buddies knows it’s one of my favorite phrases):

“every year you need to flush out your system and do a bit of suffering. it does you a power of good. i think it’s because there is always a question mark about how you would perform. you have an idea of yourself and it can be quite a shock when you don’t come up to your own expectations. if you just tootle along you can think you’re a pretty slick bloke until things go wrong and you find you’re nothing like what you imagined yourself to be. but if you deliberately put yourself in difficult situations, then you get a pretty good idea of how you are going. that’s why i like feeding the rat. it’s a sort of annual check-up on myself. the rat is you, really. it’s the other you, and it’s being fed by the you you think you are. and they are often very different people. but when they come close to each other, that’s smashing, that is. then the rat’s had a good meal and you come away feeling terrific. it’s a fairly rare thing, but you have to keep feeding the brute for your own peace of mind. and even if you did blow it, at least there wouldn’t be that great unknown. but to snuff it without knowing who you are and what you are capable of, i can’t think of anything sadder than that.“

I should just remember the good things about the run and I knew something like this could happen.

I am totally confident that with a crew and without carrying my pack I would have been ok to make it.

We had breakfast then me and Chris went to the supermarket by Gulshan-2 (weird name for a suburb – sounds very sci-fi) and checked out some of the antique / curio stores there – totally fascinating  – bits of old ships, clocks from russian submarines,  old tea chests, just so many interesting things. Didn’t buy anything though. Chris has a driver who took us from the “diplomat enclave” where he livesand back.

Afterwards we went to the American Recreation Club and went swimming and had lunch and met Al and Nick (country manager for Cathay Pacific airline) and some other teachers & guests. Quite a nice expat community.

We came home and I had some quiet time reading & writing with the oldest boy whilst Chris and Shiela went out. The we went to probably the best coffee shop in Dhaka, probably better than anything in India (http://www.northendcoffee.com).

We came back home and chilled out reading,  chatting, writing, dinner etc.

I shot some video of Chris talking about the Bangla-Dash run:

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5-Apr-2013 Day 3 & possible end of Bangla-dash run

Friday 5 April 2013 2 comments

At 5am I hobbled out of bed to go try find Chris but didn’t have to go far as there was a note under my door saying they got in at 3am and they’d get up at 7am. Yippee  – 2 more hours sleep!

At 7am Chris knocked on my door to give me the news that at the last minute the previous afternoon a number of hartals (strikes, protests) had been announced effectively shutting the country down. We knew some these were coming but its the first time they have ever happened at the weekend (friday, saturday in islamic countries like Bangladesh).

Here are some links to news stories :

http://www.turkishweekly.net/news/148708/dhaka-cut-off-from-rest-of-the-bangladesh.html

Dhaka cut off from rest of the Bangladesh

DHAKA, April 5 (Xinhua) — Dhaka remained virtually cut off from the rest of the Bangladesh since Friday morning as pro-ruling groups enforced nationwide road blockades and hartal, in an apparent move to foil the Islamists’ long march towards the capital city slated for Saturday.

Long-distance buses plying between Dhaka and outflying Bangladesh places stayed off the roads since Friday morning as transporters say they have been asked by the ruling party, allegedly backed by law enforcers, to halt operations for two days to thwart anarchy due to the long march.

Fears of a new round of violence in the coming days have raised in the political crisis-ridden South Asian nation as Hefajat-e- Islam, a group of non-political Islamic scholars, is set to hold its long march on April 6 demanding punishment for the “atheist bloggers”, several of which have already been arrested.

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2013-04/02/c_132279660.htm

In pre-hartal violence Monday, dozens of vehicles were reportedly set on fire and damaged fully or partially across Bangladesh.

Stray incidents of clash, arson, vandalism, chase and counter- chase, detention have been reported in capital Dhaka and elsewhere in the country in the early hours of Tuesday’s hartal. Scores of cocktails were reportedly exploded in parts of Bangladesh and capital Dhaka.

Riot police shot rubber bullets and tear gas shells to disperse stone-throwing protesters in Dhaka and in parts of Bangladesh during the early hours of hartal which crippled normal life.

http://www.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/27-hr-hartal-ongoing-in-chittagong/

The 22-hour countrywide rail, road and waterway blockade has also started from 6:00pm to counter the Hefajat long march.

On the other hand, the 27-hour hartal in Chittagong called by the local unit of Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee on the same ground has also been going on simultaneously from 3:00pm.

Shawkat Bangali, joint organising secretary of the Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee, told The Daily Star.

“We will not let any vehicles enter or exit the city during the hartal hours,” he said.

During the strike, they occupied highways, launch terminals and bus and railway stations.

The Islamist party had earlier announced the long march programme to press home its 13-point demand including arrest and trial of bloggers for “defaming” Islam and Prophet Muhammad.

Basically Chris was saying that they decided they couldn’t leave me stranded all alone In Jessore (English signs are almost non-existent and english speakers just as rare). So they have come to pick me up and take me to their apartment in Dhaka until the 4 day shutdown is over. It looks like the run certainly as planned was over.

I met the rest of the team who had still driven out (they left at 7pm and drove till 3am).

We had a quick breakfast and then started the drive back. Some of the ferries were already stopped due to the hartal so we had to go the long way round. We went through some road blocks where the driver Mofiz had to pay an extra charge. There seemed to be a general air of confusion (although that could be normal for Bangladesh).

On the outskirts of Dhaka we went past a number of garment factories and then we saw a dead body in a pool of blood, in the middle of the road, not due to any violence but due to the road & traffic.

We got to the apartment approx 5.30pm and it was great & a welcome relief as I’d had a headache & felt sick most of the day.  I met Chris’ wife Shiela and had a great shower, orange juice and phoned & skyped dawn and the kids.

At about 6.30pm Eric, Pacifique and their daughter came over and Al and we all had a good dinner. I was wiped out by 10pm and went to sleep in a kid’s bunk bed with stuffed dinosaur.

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4-Apr-2013 Day 2 of Bangla-dash run

Thursday 4 April 2013 1 comment

I set the alarm for 5am and got up and hassled the guy about unlocking the front door so I could get out. I very quickly found a tuc-tuc going south to Habra where I finished off yesterday. Nearly had an accident – he stalled it one time and tipped it up and nearly went off the road. Make it to Habra and had a chai and started running at 6.20am to run back north. I only used my water bottle with perpetuem powder and some salt tablets. Now and again I made a conscious effort to stop and take my pack off – sometimes had a chai, sometimes a sports bar and one time some curd was about the only thing I fancied to eat (but knew I needed to eat something). I didn’t want to run myself down into the ground again today.

I made it to the border for my day’s total of 35km at just gone noon and did the immigration for both Indian and Bangladeshi border, changed money, caught a rickshaw to the bus stop, bought a ticket to Jessore and then got to Jessore about 3.30pm, totally wrecked and still in my wet and dripping runing kit.

Jessore looks a bit of a dump and everyone wants some baksheesh for nothing. A guy at the drink stand asked me if I’d bought any gifts like calendars or pens and was disappointed when I said no. Another guy grabbed a form and started filling it in for new at immigration even after I told him I could do it, after he asked for a tip he said that the 10R wasn’t enough. The bloody cheek!

I checked into the hotel after taking a rickshaw ride from the bus stop, paid the 100taka asked for and he got shitty I didn’t give a tip. I only had 5taka left otherwise it was 500taka notes ($10). You don’t really tip rickshaw drivers usually just round up or keep the change.

I had some tomato soup at the hotel with a black instant coffee then had a look at some shops to see if I could get a local sim card as both my 2 can’t get a data connection (hence the delay in writing this post).

The room was faultless so cheered me up – even had a hot shower! I popped my new blisters and txted and called Dawn but couldn’t get hold of Chris. Then had a doze. At 8pm I went to the restaurant as I had a headache probably due to lack of food. Had some cold sprite and a veg fried rice which was  not oily and it really hit the mark. Didn’t go overboard though as I didn’t want to feel sick.

Still couldn’t get hold of Chris so I had no idea when they would turn up. Left a note at reception asking him to bang on my door. Went to bed approx 10pm.

Some photos from earlier today:
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