It’s early Sunday morning, and in a little while I’ll be doing my first presentations at the American International School of Dhaka. (The work week here is Sunday – Thursday.) Yesterday was my first day in Dhaka. Photos and account to come; for now, I’m jotting down a few thoughts about current events here.
Bangladesh has been in the news lately because of hartals. A hartal is a general strike, nationwide. As a rule these occur perhaps once a month or so. In recent weeks there have been hartals once or twice a week. Hartals are called by the political parties and are usually peaceful. Sadly, the latest hartals have resulted in violence.
The so-called ‘dip’ zone in Dhaka — short for diplomatic, where the embassies are located — is to some extent immune from the hartals: Those who work at the schools, embassies, and hotels in the zone do not go on strike. (Interesting, no?) However, the zone is still affected: traffic in Dhaka, which normally does a good imitation of Medusa’s hairdo, goes even more insane; shops close; and perhaps most significant, foreign nationals are forbidden to leave the dip zone. (Maybe not forbidden, but very strongly advised…)
Thus, I’ve been told, even if there is a hartal, it will have very little effect on my visit here. I’ll be working in the dip zone and spending most of my time here anyway.
I guess I should feel relieved about this. But I find I’m having mixed feelings. A nationwide strike? This is something I’ve never experienced. If I’m visiting a country where a general strike is happening, shouldn’t it affect me? I’m probably being naive here…and don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the haven of the dip zone. But contrary to appearances, ha, when I travel abroad I’m interested in more than just the food.
I travel to renew the discovery that cultural differences are, at root, evidence of our shared humanity. Those differences aren’t always ‘charming’. They’re often inconvenient or disturbing or worse. Such moments are a great gift: the opportunity to learn, and it seems to me that experiencing a hartal might well be one.