The Legislative Fellows begin our journey today in Dhaka, the capitol of Bangladesh. It feels a little strange to me already because today is Sunday. The work week starts on Sunday in Bangladesh and will end on Thursday.
Our local guide is Jamil Ahmed. He is the Chief Executive at JATRI which is the Journalism Training & Research Initiative for all of Bangladesh. He is very well connected. Our first stop is to meet him at his office which is a couple of miles away. With the traffic in Dhaka it could take as much as an hour. We are lucky and get there in thirty minutes.
After seeing the JATRI facilities with everything from a computer lab to recording studios we set off to meet a very large group with the Khan Foundation. The event is bringing together many of their partners from all over the country to meet us. The Khan Foundation was founded by Former Minister of the Government of Bangladesh, Dr. Abdul Moyeen Khan and his wife, Advocate Roshsana Khondker. This was a very productive meeting including hearing stories from women elected as representatives in one of the 450 areas of Bangladesh. There are nine wards within each of these areas along with three overlaying wards. Women are now represented in nearly 2,000 of these wards.
Dr. Khan laid out these main points for us today.
> The local government structure has been in place for nearly 100 years.
> Bangladesh is not a Muslim county. Even with 95% of the population being Muslim, religion is confined to the individual.
> Women became voters in Bangladesh long before the Suffrage movement in the United States.
> People can perform far better than the government. Bangladesh has averaged above 6% GDP for a number of years.
> The people can transform the country.
> The Central government feels they can control the local government level. If they succeed, democracy is ruined.
After this great discussion, The Khan’s hosted a lunch for us. The chicken was rough, but the prawns with curry were really good. Overall, I feel we made some friends.
The afternoon was slated for a cultural tour, but with Jamil’s desire to build relationships we stopped in for a visit with Barrister Kayser Kamal. Interesting gentlemen with a jovial nature and a sinister smile. He is an Advocate in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh working human rights cases. The Barrister offered us tea, local sweets and snacks. It became obvious that he’d be offended if we didn’t partake, so we obliged. Our discussions surrounded the air of the controlling party and the struggles of the opposition party.
It is apparent that the Prime Minister (http://tiny.cc/ls67qw) and the Opposition do not speak with each other. Bangladesh is a government dominated culture. (49% of the people have no voice) The Prime Minister is the ruler of the country. She assigned the current President (http://tiny.cc/hg77qw) who is viewed as an ornamental position.
The Cake Festival
We did make it to the Dhaka Cake Festival which had music and bakers from various districts of Dhaka demonstrating and selling their tasty treats. (See photos > http://tiny.cc/v867qw) This was a lot of fun, especially when the crowds started to gather. I thought initially it was the local men gawking at six American women, but it became clear the people were intrigued by our interest in their local customs. A reporter from the largest newspaper in Dhaka, The Daily Star, was there and interviewed me and one of the ladies. It is possibly going to print in tomorrow’s edition.
Our work day ended with a visit to The Daily Star which proved to be another opportunity for tea and sweets and yes… snacks.
Elizabeth Has A Birthday
Most of the Legislative Fellows gathered for a birthday get together for Elizabeth Gomez who turned %$ today. Secretly a couple of our colleagues got a small tart (since we have had enough sweets already today to make Londoner Keith Martin want a break) and a boat load of candles, plus a postcard we all scrambled to sign. It was sweet.
Celebrating over poorly made Tom Collins and Heinekens from the can, the local band played “Happy Birthday” on their gubgubas and odd looking accordion in a wooden box. Very cool. (To be posted at a later date since YouTube is banned in Bangladesh due to interviews of villagers that were posted causing mayhem.)
What’s Up For Tomorrow?
Monday we will go to the U.S. Embassy for a briefing. We do not know if Ambassador Mozena will meet with us or not. We will meet with two members of Parliament and tour the National Parliament. The day will end with dinner in the home of a former Legislative Fellow from Bangladesh.