Thursday, May 30, 2013



After a very short time in Delhi, I am now in Dhaka. I planned this trip after I found out that my friend Zubayr, whom I met at a negotiations course at HBS back in 2008, would be here doing research for his PhD. What better way to visit a country for the first time than with someone who knows the ropes?

After a 2AM wake up call and a 2:30 cab ride to DEL (which turned out to be WAY earlier than necessary for my 5:45 flight), I was pretty exhausted when we finally rolled up to the Dhaka airport gate. Let me say that flying Air India felt a bit like stepping back in time...but not far enough back to when service was given with a smile. Old plane, bland food, grumpy attendants. But who cares - it was just two hours!

Zubayr and his Father-in-law, Professor Huq, met me at the Airport. It was a bit of a comedy of errors trying to meet up at the VIP lounge, especially as I arrived 30 minutes early! ("no, I really am on the list - can you check again? - Maaaatthew Azzaaara - oh, forget it"), but Professor Huq eventually saw me. It was great seeing Zubayr again after 5 years. I think he got younger. I definitely didn't.

The weather is cooler here than in Delhi, about 85 degrees F, but very humid.

We went to Professor Huq's apartment at the University of Dhaka, where we had an amazing home-cooked breakfast waiting for us courtesy of Mrs. Huq.

 Breakfast! Professor Huq, Zubayr, myself

After completely stuffing ourselves, Zubayr showed me around Dhaka a bit. Let me say that if I thought Delhi was vibrant, Dhaka is even more so! A riot of activity and color and sound - horns and bicycle-rickshaw bells, people calling to each other, chattering birds. Really a feast for the senses. The bicycle rickshaws are all ornately painted, and they weave in and out between the autorickshaws (called "tuk-tuks" in Bangkok for those who have been there), cars, trucks, buses, carts, and walkers.

We first saw the Shaheed Minar, a monument dedicated to those who died in the Bengali Language Movement of 1952, one of the events leading to the successful struggle for independence from Pakistan in 1971 - the Bangladesh Liberation War, probably the single most important event in the cultural memory of this country. After the Partition of India in 1947, the Dominion of Pakistan was created, and what is now Bangladesh was named East Bengal and renamed East Pakistan a few years later. After over 20 years of internal conflict over language (Pakistan had declared Urdu the single language despite the fact that the majority of those in the East spoke Bengali) and unequal representation in government, East Pakistan (backed by India) seceded in an extremely violent and bloody war. Students played a significant role in leading the secession, and to this day University of Dhaka students take pride in their continued political activism, as evidenced by their role in the Shahbag Protests this year - which was really a sort of conclusion of the Liberation War, 42 years later - and evidenced by statues and art on the grounds of the University itself.

 Me at the Shaheed Minar

"Undefeated Bangla" Monument at University of Dhaka
After a stop at Dhaka Medical Center, a moving experience (free healthcare is provided for anyone in need, and the hospital was teeming with patients and their loved ones, many sitting on the floor or crowded into rooms), we visited the University, where we had the chance to see Professor Huq (he leads the Department of Soil, Water, and the Environment), meet some of his students, and discuss their research. We then walked through campus, and had a glass of milk tea at a local watering hole. The two young boys that served us our tea decided to camp out at our table and stare at me, something that I understand I'll have to get accustomed to!

                                                                 Artwork celebrating the students' role in civil protests

We also took a walk through the School of Fine Arts, and down the street to Shahbag Square, home of the aforementioned protests of a few months ago.
Rickshaw Driver
Political Paintings in front of the School of Fine Arts
In Shahbag Square



After a quick lunch, we met with Mridul and Rubayat, friends of Zubayr's, and shared some great discussion about their work in Global Development, very much aligned with the sort of work I'll be doing with CARE. We had a late dinner at a Mexican restaurant (!) called El Toro, after which we called it a very productive day.

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