Is It Politics?

I am not a politically minded person, so I am feeling a little over my head in Dhaka. Every conversation turns to politics because they love it here.

There is a sophistication and air that comes with politics. I remember my parents always getting into a fray with their friends as to which view was right or wrong. I struggled with the conflict.

I feel that kind of struggle here. There is a debate taking place with the Opposition Party about the upcoming election. An election they are not certain when will take place, but it is certain that it will at some point in the next year.

The sticking point appears to be the appointing of a caretaker government during the election. The current ruling government does not want one. The Opposition Party does to the point of seriously considering not running against the Prime Minister as a way to draw international attention to the issue.

The concept of a caretaker government, as I understand it, is an assembly of people would be appointed for approximately three months to run the election to insure that neutrality is kept in place. I guess the main concern is pressure from the ruling party on the people to vote their way.

Similar to my parent’s discussions, I understand the desire to debate. I feel it is healthy to get all of the ideas out on the table. Where I struggle is when a line is drawn in the sand with no willingness to come to consensus.
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It seems to me that we all need to be willing to give up something along the way. I am coming up on 21 years of marriage and feel sometimes our success is due to our daily negotiations. What we will eat for dinner? Who is going to do the dishes? Who will get up in the middle of the night to take the dogs out? If I didn’t come into these conversations with a willingness to concede on some things I would spend most of my life sleeping outside.

The debate here is much more important than whether or not I am going to take out the trash, I know. Where the real struggle comes is a lack of meeting people on their turf instead of our own. A willingness to view the world outside their own beliefs. A “My way or the highway” mentality.

At some point the Opposition Party is going to find it will need to concede something. I hope they do and do not find themselves sleeping outside another 20 years.

Our First Day in Bangladesh

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.
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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
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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.

Check out all of the photos of our journey at http://www.facebook.com/MikeSextonNC and read about what we are doing on http://MikeSextonNC.wordpress.com.