— Part 2—
Today I’ll be talking about how the current security situation in Bangladesh is making an impact on my life. Honestly, it’s a big factor in almost every aspect of my day. If you missed Part 1, please read through that before clicking on this one (it might be a bit confusing without any context).
So how does the security situation affect my life, you may be asking?
This is the majority of my life in Bangladesh, in my bed, on my computer, and surrounded by a mosquito net.
Here is my everyday series of events:
- Get up, shower, eat some breakfast (usually cereal or an apple).
- Walk 1 min down the street (which is protected by a gate) to the office.
- Work at my computer.
- At 1pm, walk 30 seconds back up the other street to the other office.
- Eat lunch (with colleagues)
- Walk back to first office.
- Work at computer until 5pm.
- Walk 1 min back up the street to my house.
- Eat dinner
- Sit on my computer (Netflix, learning languages, Facebook, emails, etc.) until bedtime.
- Repeat steps 1 to 11 for 6 months, except for Fridays, where there’s only meals, computer, and then sleep.
As you can see, my life is pretty boring and repetitive. Once a week I get to go for groceries in the company car (which picks me up at my door and drops me off at the door to the grocery store), and twice a week (if I’m lucky), I get to have lunch at the house of my boss, where her daughter is teaching me Bangla. However, I’m not even supposed to cross the street on my own to buy an apple or a Sprite from the corner store. I can’t attend exercise classes, walk to a local coffee shop, go to social events, try to make new friends, or explore the city. Honestly, this is not at all what I expected from Dhaka.
People often hear about the situation and worry about my safety. I tell them I feel safe and they’re so relieved. But honestly, that’s not really the point. Of course I feel safe, I can never leave my house. I’m basically a prisoner… This morning the gate to the front door of my building was closed and a guard with a baton was standing in front of it – sound like prison much? What they should be more worried about is if I’m bored, if I’m lonely, or if I’m having fun. The answer is yes, yes, and not really, respectively. It’s really hard to be in a new place and not have any friends, and not even be allowed to make friends, and not even be allowed to see other people you already know in the city (like other volunteers).
The problem is that all of the threats that foreign governments say are present are super vague. It’s dangerous to be alone on the street but also in a crowded event at a hotel. It’s dangerous to be a foreigner, but also part of a local religious group, or to be vocally non-religious. Personally, I think the “security situation” is a bit dramatic and extreme given the actual events that have occurred. One murder in a huge city and everyone is on high alert. Police are collecting everyone’s information, nobody is allowed out of their house without a car, and police are amped up. I feel that this is based on the fact that this is Bangladesh, and people assume the worst. Other foreigners are also feeling the pressure. Some NGOs and international brands are no longer sending people to Bangladesh, and are pulling their diplomats, interns, and representatives out of the country. One lady I know (the wife of a diplomat) has to go back home, since she has two small children who can no longer even go to the park.
Sharna and I, on one of our adventures around Dhaka before the security situation.
Although the attacks on foreigners were over a month ago, they keep releasing new advisories, though it’s not clear to anybody why this is the case. Are they just paranoid, do they have good reason to assume things will get worse, or are they just trying to cover their bases? Of course future attacks ARE POSSIBLE. Anything is possible. Attacks anywhere are possible. This does not seem like a good enough reason to impose restrictions on people’s ways of life. It seems that it’s in a country’s best interest to restrict people as much as possible, which really sucks for actual people. The people imposing the restrictions suffer no consequences, and don’t have to deal with any of the actual inconveniences of the actual people who live here (so why not make restrictions as high as possible, just in case?). For example, the U.S. State Department put out an email advisory this week (November 10, 2015) about the advisory (bolded words for emphasis are my own).
Although U.S. government officials in Bangladesh continue to conduct official business without incident, the Embassy has imposed strict restrictions on personnel movement. U.S. government officials and their families are not permitted to be in most public places and are also prohibited from traveling on foot, motorcycle, bicycle, rickshaw, or other uncovered means on all public thoroughfares and sidewalks. They are also restricted from attending large gatherings in Bangladesh, including events at international hotels. The Embassy encourages U.S. citizens to adopt similar security measures.
Yes, the murder of an NGO worker is very sad. Yes, the police force should do everything they can to find the criminals. Yes, it should be investigated for a possible terrorist motive. But shutting down a whole city because of one incident seems extreme. People are murdered every day in the United States, and no foreign embassies warn their citizens to leave New York or LA after a murder (even if the murder is of a foreigner, or if it’s a terror attack). I’m also sure that the American intelligence agencies (who are one of the biggest groups to talk about the current threats) also have intelligence about serious threats in large American and European cities. However, they don’t tell people to stay home or stop going to social events. Yes, there is a threat, but I don’t think every foreign person in Bangladesh should be afraid to leave the house. However, I think I am in the minority with this view… so it should be an interesting – and by interesting I mean boring – next four months.
P.S. Sorry this blog was a little depressing, but it’s the honest truth about my life right now. I’m trying to make the best of it, and I will try to make future blogs less pessimistic. If you’re interested in reading more of my blogs about risk and security, check out the links below:
- Stuck in my House – The Heightened Security Situation in Dhaka (Part 1)
- “I hope they don’t hear this at home…” – Keeping risks hidden from friends and family
- Feeling (In)Secure in Bangladesh (coming soon)