Saturday, August 23, 2008

Report from Dubai and Dhaka

On the way to Bangladesh, I flew to Dubai, which is one of the United Arab Emirates. This is a new country for me, making my total countries visited and lived in 70, if you include the United States. I feel very privileged to know so much more of our globe than most people.

Since I had a 5-hour layover in Dubai, I decided to leave the airport and pay a taxi driver to give me a tour of this tiny emirate and afterwards leave me at a mall near the airport. The ride wasn't cheap but was a good way to get a bit acquainted with this country. It reminds me of Kuwait, only more extreme. It’s a land where you hear a bit of Arabic, a lot of South Asian languages, and a lot of English. It’s a land of men, where more than 2/3 of the population is male, thanks to imported male labor from South Asia and elsewhere, and where women are less visible. It's a land of sand, cement, and sea. Everything is the grey of sand except for the exquisite turquoise of the Persian Gulf waters. Developers and the government are pumping sand out in the Gulf to build up islands that together form huge designs in the water like a “palm tree” and “earth.” Then they build huge bridges to the islands, where they build hotels and other large buildings. It's really crazy.

The mall was, well, a mall, but surprised me by having postcards, postage stamps, and a post box, so I sent off 2 postcards. I enjoyed checking out the shoppers, who are a mix of peoples from all over the world.

After the 12-hour flight to Dubai, the 4-1/2-hour flight to Dhaka seemed short. Unlike on the first leg, I didn’t indulge in watching some of the 50 movies (!) available on the system. I had 3 seats across to myself, so I stretched out and slept soundly.

The hotel sent two people to meet me. One had the job of greeting me at the exit from customs and escorting me to the parking garage, and the other had the job of driving me to the hotel. A third, an airport worker also looking for a tip, had the job of taking the luggage cart back into the airport. In these developing countries, they often have creative ways to make a lot of jobs.

The ride to the hotel took about ½ hour and I enjoyed seeing some of Dhaka’s evening activity. The traffic doesn’t seem as chaotic as I remember it from 11 years ago, at which point all different sized vehicles – from truck to car to 3-wheeled taxis to bicycle rickshaws to human-pulled rickshaws to mopeds to pedestrians – shared the roadway however they could. There seems to be more organization now, but tomorrow’s explorations may reveal otherwise.

(Dhaka has nearly doubled in population size in the interim and now is at about 12 million in the city and 23 million in the metropolitan area. Bangladesh has a total population of 150 million, making it the 7th most populous country in the world – about the same population as Russia but with 1/120th the land.)

The hotel seems to have good Internet connectivity. I will stay here all 5 nights, because the trips to the project areas are day trips (Tuesday and Wednesday).

My working partner Sol (Soledad) from the audit firm CCSC arrived earlier today and has the room across from mine, so we're set to get to work at a leisurely pace tomorrow, which is designated as "documents review" time. The documents of this sponsorship organization seem to have a lot of talk about capacity building and sustainability, with a lot of reporting on implementation of projects that are just one hand-out after the next. Should be interesting to see what the real situation is.

It’s 10:30 p.m. here (12:30 p.m. in the U.S.), so I’ll be heading to bed with the hope that my body is ready for a solid 8 hours of sleep.

I hope the house foundations and building of our stone wall are coming along well.

-Spee

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