My final podcast from Bangladesh. I talk about the close of the conference, shopping for souvenirs and learning the right way to pronounce Dhaka. -andy
October 26, 2005
Video montage of a telecentre based at a girls school in Comilla, Bangladesh. The telecentre is run by Relief International’s Schools Online program, which coordinates 20 telecentres across the country.
Over the course of the last week, several people including my friend Osama Manzar had suggested I go shopping at a place called Aarong. They’d commented on the high quality of clothing and handicrafts available there, saying that the store even had a fashionable outpost in London.
During the iftar on the last day of the conference, Shahiduddin Akbar suggested we go to Aarong after dinner. He was planning to go with a friend, and wanted to know if I’d like to come along. Word soon spread around the table, and my colleagues Josie and Milton expressed interest in coming along. So the five of us said our goodbyes to everyone at the banquet and jumped in Shahid’s pickup truck for the ride to the store, located in Dhaka’s Gulshan neighborhood.
Arriving at Aarong, we passed a group of security guards before entering. Inside, literally hundreds of Bangladeshis were shopping at a furious pace. It’s tradition to shop at night during Ramadan, purchasing clothes and other items for Eid, the holiday immediately following the month of fasting. The store was a cross between the fair trade handicrafts store Ten Thousand Villages and Filene’s Basement in Boston: aisle after aisle of clothes and handmade goods, with shoppers creating heaps of their Eid booty.
We decided to fan out and regroup by the entrance in 30 minutes, then re-evaluate whether we needed more time. I headed straight for the men’s clothes department, where I thumbed through several hundred shirts. The t-shirt selection was excellent, while the button-down shirts were the Bangladeshi equivalent of Hawaiian shirts, featuring elaborate, colorful prints. I eventually settled on five shirts averaging around four dollars each before moving on to the handicrafts section, where I purchased a 12-piece set of hand-woven table settings, costing another four dollars. The bargains here seemed bottomless.
As I stood in the checkout line, I noticed various signs referencing BRAC, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee. BRAC is an enormous NGO focusing on economic development and women’s empowerment at the village level. I asked Shahid if Aarong was affiliated with BRAC; it turns out the store is one of their biggest projects. Rural villagers craft all of the goods available at the store, receiving a fair wage while generating revenue for BRAC’s economic development work. I’d been to similar handicraft stores in other parts of the world, but none of them had the crowds and the vibrancy seen here.
The prices at Aarong may be a little higher than your average Bangladeshi shop, but spending the extra takas was well worth it. Nothing like buying souvenirs to help lift people out of poverty. -andy
One of the pleasures of being in Bangladesh this time of year is that I’ve gotten to experience my first Ramadan, or Ramzan as it’s known here. Most Americans simply associate Ramadan with fasting: Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset for an entire month, avoiding even water or swallowing one’s own saliva. But the flip side of this is Ramadan at night, when Dhaka and other predominantly Muslim cities really come alive.
Each day of the conference, we’ve ended the proceedings in time for everyone to make it to iftar, the traditional meal served at sunset to break the daily fast. The conference attendees gather in a banquet hall, sitting at tables that have been pre-set with plates of assorted foods. Then, everyone waits, until the muezzin makes the sunset call to prayer. The moment you hear him singing, everyone in the room simultaneously reaches to their plate, picking up a morsel to break the fast. Following iftar, a full dinner is served, so the foods included in the iftar plate are generally light in nature – unless you manage to go for seconds, of course.
I’ve experienced three formal iftars this week. There’s been some variation of what’s served on each plate, but generally the foods are similar. In each case, at least half a dozen foods are served together, including dates, chickpea fritters and grilled meat patties. For those with a sweet tooth, there’s the Bangladeshi equivalent of jalabi, a syrupy fried sugar treat shaped similarly to a German pretzel. But one of my favorite parts of iftar was feasting on gram, a nutty legume similar to a chickpea, but smaller, darker and crunchier. The gram are served in a spicy sauce, reminiscent to Indian chana masala. But there’s an added twist: at each table there’s a large bowl of puffed rice for mixing in with the gram. Yes, it’s just like Rice Crispies, but without any sugar added. It seems like a bizarre combination, but the tactile sensation of crunchy puffed rice exploding in your mouth as you savor a nice curry will be one of my most pleasurable memories of Bangladesh.
During my final iftar at the conference, we went to the Sheraton hotel for a banquet sponsored by Microsoft. Our van from the Pan Pacific hotel ran a little late, so by the time we got to the Sheraton, all the tables in the hall were taken up by journalists covering the release of the Dhaka Declaration, which had been drafted at the end of the conference. So around a dozen of us went down the hall to have our iftar in the main restaurant.
We sat in a row of booths along the side of the restaurant. As I sat down and began eating, Belgian Internet Society president Rudi Vansnick turned to me and said, “Do you see the men praying?” I looked around the room and saw lots of men standing at the buffet stations or finishing their iftar plates, but no one praying. He then pointed towards the wall. Somehow I had managed not to notice that the wall was mostly glass, and on the opposite side of the wall were rows of men in Islamic skullcaps kneeling in prayer. They were facing Mecca, of course, but the direction of Mecca just happened to be our table.
For a while I felt somewhat awkward about the situation; I had always regarded praying towards Mecca as a highly personal, intimate moment, and felt that stuffing my face just a couple of meters away from these men was invading their privacy. But I looked up and down the row of booths, many of which were full of Bangladeshis eating and talking and laughing, paying no attention to the men behind the screen. After a few minutes I got used to it, eventually forgetting about them.
Near the end of our meal, my friend Shahiduddin Akbar arrived, after finishing iftar with his family at home. As we left the restaurant to return to the main banquet hall, I turned to him and commented on the large number of men praying on the opposite side of the window. Shahid laughed and insisted it was perfectly normal: restaurants hosting iftar typically make a space available for people to pray prior to their meal – the Ramadan equivalent of saying grace before dinner. Suddenly it made perfect sense. I imagine that similar prayer rooms must have been set up at the two previous iftars, but since I wasn’t seated by a glass wall in those cases, the prayers went unnoticed.
Tonight I leave for the airport at 6pm; iftar at the hotel takes place just before 5:30pm. Maybe I’ll have one last iftar before I leave. -andy
October 25, 2005
One of the most difficult things for first-time visitors to South Asia to experience is the number of beggars who wander in city traffic, rapping on the window or reaching into the car demanding alms. It’s a fact of life in cities like Dhaka, where traffic lights are slow; you often have to wait for five or 10 minutes at a traffic stop as one or more beggars, often children or the disabled, stand by your window until you’re able to drive away. Your instinct is to give them alms, but this causes two problems. First, it’s seen by other beggars, who then swarm your car and start banging for their share. Second, many beggars actually work for syndicates in which the money is kicked up to local criminals, who often use the money to bribe the police. So in general the only way to leave with a clear conscience is to make a donation to a legitimate charity, which I do every time I visit the region.
It’s a troubling experience sitting in a car while a beggar does this. I made this 30-second recording documenting what it’s like. -andy
October 24, 2005
Yesterday my old friend Larry Anderson from the National Center for Technology Planning emailed me about the podcasts and videos I’ve been posting from Bangladesh. He asked me some questions about the setup I use for creating the content, saying it would be useful to share with my friends and colleagues. So here are some details about my setup, responding to Larry’s specific questions.
1. What are you using to record your audio?
I have several ways of recording audio. If I’m just sitting in my hotel recording a podcast that doesn’t require much audio mixing, I use the internal microphone on my laptop, using the open source audio editing tool Audacity. Audacity allows you to save your files as MP3s and compress them as well. Meanwhile, if I’m moving around while recording my podcast, I use a handheld digital recorder – specifically, an Olympus WS-200S. With 128 megs of RAM, it holds almost six hours of high-quality audio in Windows Media format. I then use the open source tool Easy WMA to convert it into an MP3 and compress it. I wrote a review of the WS-200S when I first bought it.
Some of the podcasts I’ve recorded have had Bangladeshi music. To mix the music with my voice, I generally prefer the video editing software Final Cut Pro, since I’ve used it a long time. It’s not designed for audio editing per se, but I’m a lot faster at doing it with FCP rather than Audacity, which has a somewhat more technical interface.
2. What are you using to capture your video?
Until yesterday, I was using two cameras: my old two megapixel Canon A60, and my new eight megapixel Konica Minolta Dimage A-200. The A60 (before it was stolen, at least) shoots AVI format video at 15 frames per second, while the Konica shoots Quicktime video at 30 frames. The Konica lets you use the zoom lens while shooting, but its audio is much poorer than the A60. So generally I shoot more often with the older camera; all the videos I’ve posted so far were recorded with the A60.
3. Are you editing the video in Final Cut or something similar (or iMovie, etc.)?
I use Final Cut Pro HD 4.5. I’ve been using FCP for about five years and absolutely love it. First time video bloggers often use iMovie, which is really easy to use. But I prefer FCP because I can do more complex edits and compress it to my own specifications.
4. How are you getting those rather large files hosted in such fine style?
My blog is hosted by ibiblio.org. They provide free, unlimited hosting for websites that are created for the public interest. I’ve been with them since the late 90s and am grateful for their generosity. Other video bloggers also use sites like ourmedia.org for free hosting, which I highly recommend.
5. How are you mixing the audio? Do you use GarageBand or Final Cut or something to lay down multiple tracks, then mix those down to a final output?
See my response to question 1.
Lastly, I’ll just add a few thoughts on compression. For video, I use a compression codec called 3ivx. It’s accessible when I use Final Cut Pro as File/Export/As Quicktime Compression option in the drop-down menu. I click the options button and make a variety of adjustments, setting the codec to 3ivx, lowering the audio quality somewhat (since I often have content that’s not CD quality anyway) and setting the frame rate to 15 frames per second.
So that’s a quick overview of how I’m recording my podcasts and videos. -andy
Podcasting while strolling through the busy market streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh. -andy
A very bitter podcast from me after having my Treo and one of my digital cameras stolen at the conference today. Meanwhile, as I was recording the podcast, Alexander Felsenberg came by my room and told me his passport and credit card were stolen. Oh, and I talk about visiting a nuclear reactor and staring at the glowing blue uranium rods. Overall, a day I’d like to forget. -andy
October 23, 2005
A six-minute podcast from my hotel room prior to heading back to the conference. I talk about yesterday’s sessions, including my dead battery problems and a minor India-Bangladesh development statistics kerfuffle in the afternoon plenary. -andy