Time to leave Dhaka

I can hardly believe the time has come for me to leave Dhaka.  I arrived two months ago, green-eyed and busy tailed, not knowing what to expect.  Boy was I in for a surprise! Dhaka is a megacity teeming with 15 million inhabitants, a far cry from Bowen Island and from my time in Banepa, Nepal.  The smells, the sounds, the traffic … all so new and different, and at times overwhelming.  But I survived Dhaka and in fact am only getting the hang of things now.  I think there should be a medal given for every month you stay,  a badge of honour for sure.

The key to living in Dhaka is surrounding yourself with a support system – kinda hard to do when you know nobody.  But one thing that is great about Dhaka, is how generous ex-pats are with welcoming newcomers to their own networks.  Jolene Park (who worked on the PHNIC Conversion project in Toronto) gave me a name of a friend of a friend of hers, who would be in Dhaka for 5 weeks working on a project.  Teresa was a Godsend!  She has a good group of friends, all working on international development projects over the past 20 years, some of whom are currently in Dhaka.   That’s when my social life went from Billy No Mates status to being one of the gang – Teresa from Canada, Sarah from US and Sonia from UK, along with Glenn (US), Girish (Canada) and many others.

We met for many dinners, went to concerts and had massages.  And I cooked for the gang of women a few times which was a pleasure.  We talked about all sorts of topics – life, love, politics, religion and how to solve the problems of the world – you know, the usual when a group of strong independent women get together :-).  There might have been a bottle of wine or two consumed during those discussions thanks to Sarah’s access  to the US Commissary – a store primarily for US diplomatic officials but also open to any US ex-pats in Dhaka.  They stock all sorts of US products not available in Dhaka, and most importantly, sell alcohol.  You have no idea how much pleasure a bottle of wine or a beer gives to folks here.  Alcohol is one of life’s delicious pleasures here in Dhaka.  When you can’t have something, you want it even more – you know the story.

As Teresa’s work is done for the time being in Dhaka and I am about to leave, for one last fling we decided to go out for a karaoke night at Pyongyang Restaurant – a North Korean restaurant run by the North Korean government.  Yes, North Korea.  Apparently they run these restaurants around the world in an effort to shore up their stashes of hard currency.  Unsure how Bangladesh’s taka made the favoured hard currency list. The food was delicious and the karaoke was hilarious and a ton of fun.  We were also treated to some traditional songs, dances and music by two entertainers.  No photos of the entertainers allowed – they were very specific on that, but we could take photos of one another.

Sarah (l), Teresa (m) and me

Sarah (l), Teresa (m) and me before the karaoke started

Me with Sonia.  Fortunately there are no photos of  us singing & doing a dance routine to Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up - does anyone even remember that song from the 80s??

Me with Sonia. Fortunately there are no photos of us singing & doing a dance routine to Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up – does anyone even remember that song from the 80s??

Sarah and Glenn belting out another tune, complete with gold plated microphones

Sarah and Glenn belting out another tune, complete with gold plated microphones

Monmi getting into the groove

Monmi getting into the groove

More photos and a video on Facebook if you are interested.

I’ve had a busy two months in Bangladesh.  After the initial disappointment of not being able to work with BRAC, I decided to learn as much as I could under my own steam.  This was probably better as I ended up with a wider breadth of experiences and got to see the pros and cons of different models, and see the daily operations of many social enterprises – things I would not have seen had I been working for BRAC.

I am now more than convinced this is the area I want to work in going forward – it’s a real good feeling to know this.  The impoverished women of Bangladesh were key to inspiring me with their hope and optimism despite their desperate circumstances – a lesson for us all really.  I was very fortunate to be so welcomed into their life’s stories and their homes out in the villages – some of my most memorable times in Bangladesh.

Next stop is Northern India, I arrive into Kolkata tomorrow and will take it from there.  I fly to Melbourne from Delhi at the end of July so have a full month to make my way from Kolkata to Delhi, hopefully by train (one of my favourite modes of transport) and stopping off in Varanasi, Agra and Jaipur.  I’ll figure out what is possible once I arrive in India. Khoda hafez from Bangladesh …. which basically means goodbye according to Rabbani Bhai from BRAC who taught me a few Bangla words.  It literally means “God be with you”.

BTW, I am struck how much of the Bangla language is centred around Allah and quite descriptive …. not unlike Gaelige – the indigenous language of us Irish.  Goodbye in Gaeilge is “Slan agus Bennachtai” which literally means “health & blessings to you”.  many similarities between the Irish and the Bangladeshi.  And the Irish and Nepalese!

About Kate Coffey

After 30 or so years in the investment management industry, 2013 saw me turn my life up-side-down, making my way first to Nepal, then Bangladesh during that first ‘year away’. The year took me on a journey I did not expect, had me fall in love with Nepal and its people, and become inspired at the work of Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) located in Bhainsepati - 2 hours east of Kathmandu in the Saanga foothills. Since 2014, I have returned to SIRC numerous times, working closely with the folks there in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes. In Bangladesh I marvelled at the strength and resilience of marginalized women who have the courage and audacity to break the rules and make a better life for themselves and their children through microfinance programs with BRAC. 2016-2017 saw me embark on a totally new experience in Sri Lanka, a place I never would have chosen to end up in. It’s the 40C+ heat, big humidity and tropical snakes & animals that scared me! But I ended up love love loving! my time there, working with predominantly Tamil small business owners in remote villages in north and east of the country, trying their best to recover their businesses and the lives of their employees, after decades of a civil war. My time in Sri Lanka made me realize my hard-earned business skills and experience can really be put to good use! The work the BIZ+ team and I did there ended up earning me International Volunteer of the Year Award in December 2017, presented on Capitol Hill, Washington DC no less. I am currently home on Bowen Island, in the west coast of Canada, shoring up my finances before I head off to who knows where, for my next expert volunteer assignment. This blog initially started out as a travelogue of sorts to keep friends and family worldwide updated while I was off on my travels in 2013-2014. Since then it has morphed into a life story of the many places I have lived and worked and of the wonderful people I have met along the way. I hope you enjoy.
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6 Responses to Time to leave Dhaka

  1. Beverley says:

    Safe travels Kate! Sending much luv & good wishes ur way. Look fwd. to hearing of ur adventures in India.

  2. Jen carlington says:

    Hi Kate, so glad u having such an amazing time! Life here on Bowen is good, sun is shining summer has arrived. Emily has graduated IPS, and Philips footy team won the Bowen co-ed finals so he is very happy! Take care and look forward to hearing all about India. Luv Jen

  3. Tonya says:

    Wow, I can’t believe you are already finished! Good luck in India (LOVED Jaipur!) and hopefully our paths will cross at some point.

    Sadly, it’s unlikely we will get to Nepal this trip (we are slowing down and adjusting our plans to include fewer place) but I appreciate you thinking of me and the introduction to SIRC.

    • Kate Coffey says:

      I see you and Cal are now back in Europe, such a transition from Asia for sure! Nepal is definitely a place that requires a longer visit so keep SIRC and Nepal in the back of your heads for another trip. And if you ever want to go trekking, I know a brilliant Sherpa who would look after you well! Good to hear Jaipur was a hit with you, it’s one place that has been on my list so am happy that I can visit there this trip.

      Continue with your happy travels!

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