As I sit here, barricaded in the safe confines of our office, a former Prime Minister awaits justice, facing charges of extortion. Sheikh Hasina served as the prime minister of Bangladesh from 1996 until 2001. During her tenure as Prime Minister, Ms Hasina ruled over a country that ranked number one on the list of most corrupt countries in the world. In case you didn’t fully comprehend that last sentence, Bangladesh has had the honor of playing host to the top spot on Transparency International’s list of most corrupt countries for 5 consecutive years.
I had not been able to fully grasp the magnitude of the Bangladesh corruption subject until Ms Hasina was arrested. Bangladesh has recently been under the watchful eye of a caretaker government backed by the Bengali military. One of the important jobs of this government is to try and resolve the issue of corruption. I personally am not an academic on this issue and therefore am not really sure how successful the caretaker government has been, but I do know that there have been many “very important people” arrested.
Having the opportunity to chat with some of the more affluent members of Bengali society I have heard some interesting instances of extortion. Take Sheikh Hasina for example, one example of her corruption is that she has allegedly forced a local businessman attempting to develop a new power plant here in Bangladesh (which is a whole other topic to write about) to pay $441,000 in order to receive proper government approval. For a government to extort this kind of money from a businessman trying to supply additional energy to a country starving for electricity baffles my mind.
Four days have now passed since Ms. Hasina’s arrest and I am personally starting to feel the effects. Ms. Hasina is unfortunately not the only person in this country to have stolen money. Apparently, there will soon be a domino effect of arrests including other former prime ministers from opposing parties. The culmination of these events is forecasted by some of the people whom I have spoken with to result in some form of chaos. Now I have never been to a third world country, let alone a country with as much political turmoil as this so I can only imagine what sort of chaos will present itself.
I was hoping that with the country on the brink of political revolution, the masses would have a sentiment of fear deterring them from leaving their homes. This fear would, in a perfect world would result in fewer cars, rickshaws and CNGs on the roads. Unfortunately for me and my patience, this has yet to occur. Still every morning I doze off in the back seat of my car while the driver accelerates and brakes propelling me into the head rest of the front passenger seat and then back again. I hear the incessant sound of bus, car, and CNG horns as they slowly drift into our lane blatantly disregarding the very apparent lines painted on the road. While sitting in traffic the tapping of begging fingers still rattle my door’s window. No nothing visually has seemed to change on the outside of my safety zones but what I can’t see may be heard by most on streets as they reverberate the sounds of political revolution and change.
Some frustration has begun to set in. New restrictions are slowly being placed on me in hopes that my safety will be ensured. No longer can I make the walk from the American Club to the Fortuna Office, a walk that equates to about 200 yards. Even while carrying a tennis racquet as a weapon and walking with another individual equally as equipped as myself, the walk is now deemed unsafe. Unwilling to give up the oasis of Bangladesh that is the American Club I now have to schedule a car to drop me off and pick me up.
A few nights ago while making a delicious apple pie I needed to buy a stick of butter from the convenience store located 20 yards from the entrance of my house. Thinking as any American would, I went to grab my video camera hoping to shoot some footage of the streets of Bangladesh but was abruptly stopped and told to trade the escort of my video camera for two people. As you might imagine I was a bit perplexed with these instructions but naturally complied. Later, after baking my delicious apple pie which won an enormous amount of praise, I asked about the reason for me being unable to take my video camera outside. I was then told numerous stories of theft and assault that would intimidate just about anybody.
At Ultimate Frisbee last week at the highly secure US commissary I met a girl Emily who was unable to play due to some severe scars on her arms, legs and feet. Emily has been in Bangladesh about the same amount of time as I have but has had quite a different experience. Emily typically uses the rickshaw or CNG as transportation from point A to point B. One night Emily was riding a rickshaw home carrying her satchel around her body. As she sat comfortably on the rickshaw a man reached out of his car window grabbing Emily’s bag. As the car sped away and with the bag’s strap around her body, Emily was ejected from her seat on the rickshaw. After being dragged along the pavement for some time, the man in the car decided to let the bag go leaving Emily physically and mentally scarred. She told me that she couldn’t bring herself to leave her house for some time, worrying constantly that her experience could very well happen again.
I have come to realize that my sugar coated experience in Bangladesh is quite far from the true pulse of the Bengali culture. Being a white man in Bangladesh maybe isn’t so grand. Maybe my white skin is seen as a bull’s eye to most Bengali people seeking out their prey. I would like to think that I am invincible and that nothing could ever happen to me but of course I know a sentiment such as this is an obvious fallacy. I am now trying to find the balance between thoughts of invincibility and the reality of the situation here in Bangladesh. Yes, I am often frustrated with the restrictions I have here, having to always be driven everywhere regardless of how far or close it may be and having to be home at a decent hour, but I know that at any moment this country could erupt. I would like to remain ignorant to this possibility and live a more liberal lifestyle here but I am also aware of the dangers of any type of ignorance. For now I can only obey the rules of the house and hope for a swift shift of political power here in Bangladesh so that I might have to opportunity to one day experience the true colors of the Bengali culture.