Archive for the ‘Analysis and Opinion’ Category

Prolonged traffic jams are symbolic of Dhaka.

Dhaka, Dec. 28 – The transport system in Dhaka is not something you will find in Lusaka, Zambia or any other part of the world.

Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital city has an acute shortage of transport. The road network is limited. It seems there are as many modes of transport as is the population. The road is as chock blocked as the various transport objects available in this city.

Movement from one place to the other is not easy at all. It takes an art of patience and creativity to wade through the Dhaka’s road network. There are constant and prolonged traffic jams on almost all roads and highways in Dhaka. The roads are wide enough but there is no organised manner in which traffic moves.  A four-lane highway can have six rolls of traffic heading in all any direction. Lane discipline and road courteous are not in the books of Dhaka’s road users. The overwhelming presence of private owned vehicles, public buses, motor bikes, bicycles, pedestrians and the Dhaka famous Rickshaws all add up to the traffic build-up in this city. Dhaka is known as the Rickshaw Capital of the World. Approximately 400,000 cycle rickshaws run each day. This is way too much for a limited road network.

Rickshaw City

The cycle rickshaw is a small-scale local means of transport; it is also known by a variety of other names such as velotaxi, pedicab, bikecab, cyclo, becak, trisikad, or trishaw or, simply, rickshaw which also refers to auto rickshaws, and the, now uncommon, rickshaws pulled by a person on foot. Cycle rickshaws are human-powered, a type of tricycle designed to carry passengers in addition to the driver. They are often used on a for hire basis. Cycle rickshaws are widely used in major cities around the world, but most commonly in cities of South, Southeast and East Asia.

Rickshaws are used for various tasks and come in different designs. Here a cycle Rickshaw is used to transport bags of building cement.

An auto rickshaw or three-wheeler (tuk-tuk, trishaw, auto, rickshaw, autorick, bajaj, rick, tricycle, mototaxi, or baby taxi in popular parlance) is a usually three-wheeled cabin cycle for private use and as a vehicle for hire. It is a motorized version of the traditional pulled rickshaw or cycle rickshaw. Auto rickshaws are an essential form of urban transport in many developing countries like Bangladesh.

Jaywalking or Right of Way?

There is a huge combo of road users – pedestrians, automobiles, motor cycles, bicycles, domesticated animals and other human propelled modes of transport. Not all roads are smooth or paved. A large portion of the tarred road network has pot-holes or badly damaged. Some roads have pedestrian crossings but people never use them. This is because they can easily cross the busiest highway at any point without being cited for “jaywalking”  – in fact, a pedestrian has a “right of way” and can stop moving traffic if they so wish. All it takes is to raise a hand and wave a stop sign and all the incoming traffic will reduce speed, stop or change its direction.

Observation

What is most frustrating about Dhaka’s road network and transport system is that no one pays attention to traffic rules and regulations. The few that attempt to use road facilities and services smartly are easily seen as docile and end up staying on the road for longer periods of time.

Lack of stiff traffic regulation and implementation of the pieces of legislation that exist makes it very difficult to control road usage in Bangladesh. The available public buses are usually overloaded with people packed to fit in as many passengers as possible. Buses can stop anywhere on the road, pick or drop passengers without any offence. In certain places, there are traffic police officers and private security guards that try to control or guide traffic flow especially during peak periods.

It is very common to spend more than an hour held up in traffic jam – even where the destination is within reach.

Besides being over crowded, Dhaka has so many moving objects on its road network. This in turn creates the jams that last forever. Few road users care about other users. It is like once on the road, others do not matter. Road users ahead of the traffic pack control the flow or movement of things on Dhaka’s roads. The combined presence of pedestrians, vehicles, motor bikes, bicycles, cycle and auto Rickshaws creates this never ending traffic jams in Dhaka. There is also a general feeling that Dhaka dwellers do not like walking –even the shortest distance – they would rather hop on a Rickshaw. They also never share the few available seats in their cars or on hired Rickshaws.

Limited roads are shared by pedestrians, Rickshaws and automobiles. This photo shows about this is possible.

Possible solution?

It is a known fact that Dhaka faces a very serious transport and road problem. As a visitor to Dhaka and Bangladesh in general, Bengalis can do justice to themselves and ease up their ever-growing transport problem by considering adhering to some of the basic road rules. If they coordinate the way they use public transport and follow instructions from the traffic controllers, much could improve. Bengalis must also learn to share transport with others. It is unbelievable that people going in the same direction or place would all hire vehicles, Rickshaws or drive in 14 seat buses with only one passenger.  The more objects on the road, the more jams and the longer the time spent in traffic.  The prolonged hold in traffic leads to lost productivity, which has a very negative effect on economic growth.  Public service transporters could do better if they consider being courteous to other road users. It does not make one a loser if the consider other road users. Hooking and hooting never stops. Its like road users move with their fingers on hooters and bells all the time. I wonder how my ears will be after close to two months in Bangladesh. The completion of the on-going overhead road project and flyover bridges in selected areas will also ease up the burden of traffic jams in Dhaka.

Fair road record

What is somewhat impressive about the drivers and riders in Dhaka is the way they make some scene look like a major accident is bound to take place when in the actual sense none takes place. There are very few road related accidents but there are scenes that create an impression like an accident is likely to take place. They drive and ride way to well within the sidelines of each other but never bash other road users. I am very surprised that despite the close shaves between pedestrians and other road users, I have not seen any major accident. I have seen some trucks by roads sides with damaged parts – signifying that they had been involved in a road accident. It leaves me to wonder whether bus drivers in my country (Zambia) can navigate through these roads. Zambian bus drivers are criticized as being mean and selfish of all road users in Lusaka. But what I have seen here and to some extent what I witnessed in Mexico City (Mexico) and Cairo (Egypt) would make any rude Zambian driver look like an amateur.

Generally, there is nothing safe on the roads. The only precaution is strict adherence to basic road rules.

Advertisements

With my flatmate, Sunny (r).

Dhaka, Dec. 20 – It is fair enough to claim that I am well travelled and exposed to different cultures and traditions but for the first time in my many errands in different parts of the world I feel like a real non-native.

It is my first time to be in Bangladesh, a South Asian state that was formerly East Pakistan until it claimed its independence on December 16, 1971. It is bordered by India on all sides except for a small border with Burma (Myanmar) to the far southeast and by the Bay of Bengal to the south.

Bangladesh has a population of about 160 million. Since I arrived in Dhaka – the capital and largest city – on December 05, I have been around different places and sites around Dhaka. Before my arrival here, I had some misconceptions, visual impressions and stereotypes of this country. So like I always do, I turned to the Internet to do a background check on Bangladesh. After my online briefs I thought I had acquired enough to equip me for my five weeks stay in Bangladesh.

What do you think of Bangladesh?

After an interview with Bangladeshi actor and ex-BBC correspondent, J-lasan Masud. PHOTO: Maria Salam.

This question popped up as I was driven to my apartment. I rather did not respond. I opted to reserve my first impression of Bangladesh because I had arrived at night.

The strangest feeling for me here is the fact that I am a non-native. I am a black of African origins. Being black (African) is normal in my native country Zambia as the majority of the population are blacks.  In Bangladesh, about 98% of the population are native Bangladeshis (Bengali), 2% are non-natives groups comprising whites, Asians and blacks. To some extent you can refer to this group as minority because the majority are native Bengalis.

Without being racist or racially prejudicial, Bangladesh has nationals who are either light or dark in complexion but these cannot be classified as blacks. They are natives too.  There is a mistaken belief here that all black people come from Africa – African Americans or blacks from the Caribbean are thought to come from Africa.

This is somehow a fair misbelieve because in some places I have been, it is thought that all white people come from Britain or the United States.

What do you see?

I have tried to look in different places each time I am going to or from my work station at banglanews24.com – Bangladesh’s largest online news portal – I have seen fewer blacks than five since I arrived in here. This is not to say there are no black people in Dhaka. There are there but they are very few. They account for a very minimal percentage. Anxiously to know more about why there are few or no blacks on the streets of Dhaka, one person told me there are blacks of African origins who are mainly from Nigeria and Sudan. Yes I have seen fewer than five from a distance and waved at two since I have been here. I am yet to have a conversation with any of them.

Looking at who is staring

Throughout the time the days I have been here, I have received crushing stares, experienced looks and greetings I have never received in my many travels and stay abroad.

Some stares and looks at times make me feel uncomfortable because I literally notice how shocked or surprised on-lookers are when they see me. Some on-lookers turn their heads just take an x-ray look at me or initially suspend their walking spend to catch a glimpse. I look back then turn my eyes to the ground or look elsewhere.

Showing off my Bangladesh Cricket Team replica uniform.

What do you get from all this?

I have come to understand that being a non-native resident is not as easy as it seems. I came to Bangladesh with my own visual impressions, beliefs and stereotypes but my time in this part of the world has offered me an opportunity – an opportunity to feel and experience how different groups feel when they are in a situation where they stand out or they are not as many as the other group.

My experience here has taught me to put aside my beliefs, misconceptions or stereotypes and learn to understand how to treat different people with respect and treat them all equal.

We are one people despite the different cultures, traditions, beliefs and races. A willingness to learn and accept the reactions I receive from people here has opened up questions which would have remained unanswered if I remain to myself.

Hospitality, generosity and smiles

The best lesson I have learnt from my brief experience here in Dhaka, Bangladesh is that the people here are so hospitable and welcoming. They will always greet you, look you in the eye and smile at you. This is a total opposite to the situation in Hong Kong where I am currently staying and attending university.

In Hong Kong, few people will look you in the eye or attempt to greet you or answer back when you offer a greeting. The majority are usually more content and comfortable being glued to their electronic devices and seal their ears with headsets or ear phones. They will not even dare to say sorry when they accidentally bump into you. Accidental bumps and incidents are common in highly populated places. On a second thought, maybe this is also a unique way about Hong Kong – my second home.

Interactivity

Here the Bangladeshis like to interact with non-natives. They attempt to express themselves in English just to strike a conversation, know more about you or your nationality. Bangla or Bengali is the official language but some attempt to communicate in English. Their generosity is also another trait that is special about Bangladesh.

The other day, a friend said, “Bengali people like foreigners because they see the different side of the world when they see non-natives in their country.”

This experience came true on December 16 – surprising enough, it was a Friday before my birthday on Saturday, December 17 – when I went to this country’s Victory or Independence Day at the National Monument for the Martyrs of the Liberation War of Bangladesh, northwest of Dhaka. Despite the usual stares looks that I am now getting used to, I became an instant high profile figure – many people wanted to take a photo with me. I am not sure whether it is because I am black, my looks or the new hair style I am now dawning after close to 13 years of being a baldy. I was a mini-celebrity and this status came just hours before birthday in a foreign country. Although the photo requests were too many at times, it was an experience I will cherish and treasure for a long time.

The National Monument for the Martyrs of the Liberation War of Bangladesh.

The interactions, the smiles, the cameras, flashes and postures were so worth remembering why I should again come to Bangladesh.  To top it all I had to do television interviews. Television journalists asked me what I thought of Bangladesh’s Victory Day and I offered my views – only this time I was not a journalist (interviewer), I was a source (interviewee).

Later when we went for lunch with comrades from the media outlet I am interning, one senior executive from Banglanews24.com joked, “If you had charged all the people that asked to take photos with you today, you would have been an instant millionaire.”

Next time you considering a trip abroad, mark Bangladesh as an option.