BANGLADESH: Use a UK VOTE comes to Dhaka!


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Dhaka!!!!
Three days feels like three weeks, and three weeks is what we have to make Give Your Vote and Use a UK Vote, as it is called in Bangladesh..  enormous..!!

www.giveyourvote.org          www.useaukvote.org

Three days ago I met with the Equity and Justice group and Lisa, a wonderfully pro-active Canadian who is doing VSO out here. Though the idea was well supported, little had been established in Dhaka and there had been quite a bit of miscommunication.

But after a hearty discussion, lots of use of a white board we established all the things we hoped to achieve. To begin with the team here hope to get 4000 (!!) Bangladeshis to vote in the UK elections! Amazing!

The E and J group are long term grassroots Human and Environmental Rights activists, they manage to get 1000’s in Bangladeshis to take action against the impending Climate and labour problems that the country faces. They know their stuff and though they were a little apprehensive of speed at which I was suggesting we did things, they have proven they can definitely do it.

We have decided to focus our attention on 4 areas; Dhaka students and intellectuals, The Dhaka Slums, the island of Kutabdia and a garment factory.

We are hoping to firstly engage these groups in the ‘idea’ of voting in the UK elections and why they may want to or not want to do this, while also asking them to pose questions, those who have internet access they can do this via the website, those who do not, we will do this through interview and the traditional pen and paper. Then second half of the month we hope to engage all types of media to help circulate the UK Politian’s answers so Bangladeshis have an idea what these Parties are all about and what they are saying in particular about Climate Change, Student Visa’s, Labour rights, and Migration… that  is our plan anyway! Not a day to spare!

Every day our little initial group is expanding and as the seed is planted in more peoples mind, within a few days they have trees poking out their ears!! This campaign certainly gets people talking!!

The one little problem here is the TRAFFFFFFFIC!! It can take up to an hour to travel just a few miles!

The roads in Dhaka are like nothing I have ever seen. There seems to be no rule for which part of the road is used;  to walk, drive or bike down. There is also no rule deifying how many cars can be in a lane and it appears to be quite normal to have a 3 tuktuk’s 5 rickshaws and 3 cars attempting to go down a lane at once.

It will be little surprise to many that I have fallen in love with the rickshaws, they are mini gypsy caravans!!!! Totally  beautifully decorated, very similar to the trucks in Pakistan and almost every form of transport in India. As a rule the more decorated the better, for business and for luck.!

My first rickshaw ride wasn’t too great. Not use to being  ‘pulled’ by a skinny man on a elevated seat above all those below me and my pasty April English skin provoking curiosity, I felt a little self conscious. Worse still, as we approached the gradient of a bridge, with the pounding 38 degree sun, the material of my friends back turned a darker colour.  With sweat pouring off him he jumps down from the bike  and starts to push the rickshaw. Horrified that my weight is the reason for this, I jump down beside him and start to help him push our rickshaw……

Errrr.. Very much the wrong thing to do!  Not only does my rickshaw man stop amidst mental traffic and stare at me in horror, but the 23 other moving contraptions seem to miss taking of my life my milimeteres!  I jump back onto the thrown, embarrassed at performing this faux pas and realise that I have become ‘soft’  in my ways and quietly clearly no longer the ‘tough’ little traveller.

So my days have been spent meeting people, journalist, activist, students, people form governmet; some times socially and sometimes at the ‘equity office’ I feel like im walking a little in the dark, there is no format to follow, nothing to compare this campaign too., I suppose it is just developing organically with everyday another person pops up and clearly fits a missing peice of the puzzle.

I am so lucky to be staying in an lovely flat with a great Bangladeshi girl called Julian, and May’s great friend Layla.

Late into the night Layla and I have sat with our wavering candle light ( constant power cuts) our illegal beer and sweat dripping down our backs talking about the project, the possibilities, the ways of the world, Palestine, (she is Palestinian), working in other countries, the frustrations, the hilarities. I am beginning to realise when working amongst people in their way do I begin to learn a little of this ambiguous term ‘culture’.

Today after practising for the press conference a very important and Human Rights activist Shahadat Chowdhury came into the room and heard the last part of the paper and was really impressed and started to fire suggestions and I felt for the first time that people were going to run. Run with this and this was going to be amazing.

The Equity office is great, there is always an activist of some kind or an Important national speaker coming through the door. Of course I have heard of none of them, but the respect shown by all and the stories they tell me of the fights and struggles, for the poor, the refugees, the fight for independence, for climate change, for  workers rights, makes me feel quite honoured to be in the hub of this city’s activist meeting place, not a hippy or vegan in sight…just a lot of Men!

It  is a funny experience to be working mainly with older men, with who’s language and culture I am unfamiliar with. But there is a lot of respect at least I know form my part, and maybe from there’s too. They love that we hijacked a coal train and they all get in fits of giggles and mi mick me, doing big hand signals and say ‘AmaZINg AmaZING!!! -

As I left last night after our press conference rehearsal,  Mustafa one of the big Chiefs of Equity motioned me in to his office and said told me to make sure I  ‘try dress a little too not scruffy’….

’Er yes Mustaffa’ I swallowed…… Why do hot countries make me so unglamourous!!

So today, early rise with Laylas  ‘tiny’ sized suit jacket  in an attempt at ‘smart’ and a read through of the ‘Presentation Paper ‘ while bumping about on the rickshaw, I met the crew, downed a bottle of rescue remedy and we went into the Reporters Conference Hall!!

There were about 20 journalists and few photographers. The guys did their Bangla versions and there were lots of encouraging noises and shacks of the head (this is a good sign in the sub continent!) Then I did my presentation and it was very exciting and I felt quite honoured to be speaking of such things as working towards  global democracy and justice. I had goose pimples I think for the whole speech.

Then we had questions, which were interesting, Here were a few of the tougher ones;  whats the UK going to do about student visa’s; What are the UK’s parties  policy for reduction of CO2, Why had we chosen only three parties, did we think we were actually going to influence UK government..

We all answered as best we could, in both languages and our audience were satisfied. Infact all those who seemed to ask tough questions in the conference, came up after wards and said how much they thought it was a brilliant symbolic act, and that ‘thank gods someone is trying something’!! This was my fav comment.

After quite a few interviews, Atique and I hurried back and sent off all the press releases and arranged our trip to the island. I then went to meet our new Filmmaker, who is going to document the next 3 weeks. As once again Im pretty hopeless at filming and organising, so its going to be brilliant to have him and his assistant on board, he is a very sound guy and very keen to  highlight whats happening in Bangladesh.

Did you know, that 3000 people a day…..a day!! Arrive in Dhaka form the Islands as homeless migrants. This is quite unbelievable. Atique, PAvil  (the filmmaker) his assistant and I, are heading to one of these islands , Kutabdia, to hold group discussions with residents, farmers and activists there about the idea of voting in the UK elections to see what they make of it. We are also going to do the same thing on the coastal villages which have become refugee sites. Or the correct term, home to the Climate induced Migrants. This is their first stop on the way to the Dhaka.

Okay, so we now have a power cut (3rd this evening!) so I that is all for now, off to bed. Getting up early with the hope that Use a UK vote.. will be all OVER the Bangladeshi Press !!!

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ক্ষুধার রাজ্যে পৃথিবী গদ্যময় পূর্ণিমার চাঁদ যেন ঝলসানো রুটি

“Poetry, we do not need you anymore. A world devastated by hunger is too prosaic, The full moon now reminds us of toasted bread” Sukanta Bhattacharya



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"Thank God someone is trying something!" I love it. :)