Thursday, March 27, 2008

Job Listings in Bangladesh
March 27, 2008

Since I will be hiring over 40 employees this year, I decided to do a little research on job listings in Bangladesh. I looked in newspapers and on a few internet sites to confirm that the salaries that I put into my business plan were accurate and to get an idea of where the best place would be for me to advertise my open positions. Some of the things I discovered appalled me.

First, many of the job listings had age requirements: you couldn't apply to be a receptionist if you were over 40, some jobs you had to be between 20 and 25! Second, and this really boiled my blood, some of the job advertisements actually said, "Only males are allowed to apply." Can you believe it?! The discrimination is right there in black and white! The ad that pissed me off the most though was for an "attractive woman between the ages of 20 and 25" for a secretarial position. What do her looks have to do with her typing and filing abilities?!

It is things like this that really make me want to hire women into as many senior positions in my company as I can. I am off to a decent start since my architect, attorney, and construction consultant are all women! Of course then I would be discriminating on sex too, which also annoys me because I do prefer to have gender balance in the workplace...

I have to say that living in Bangladesh for the past year and a half has given me a new perspective on Affirmative Action. I had never really supported the program before, but after seeing the blatant discrimination that goes on here today, and realizing that in the not-so-distant past the U.S. was in a similar place, I definitely understand why the program was needed.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Land Ho!
March 15, 2008

I found land! After being out for two weeks traveling and down for another two weeks with gastroenteritis, I was finally able to make it back to Jessore. Koli told me about a property that he found that was next to a river in a different area than where I had been previously looking. It is 37 km north of Jessore, where I had originally been looking south and east of Jessore because it is closer to Khulna (the main jumping off point for the Sundarban trips.)

Even though the land was further from Khulna than I hoped, it sounded interesting. Plus the price was half to a quarter of what the people south of Jessore wanted. I really wanted to see the land, but Koli told me not to. He said (and I know by now from experience) that as soon as they see a foreigner the land price will go way up. I can't buy land without seeing it, however, so we tried to figure out what to do. I told him that I could put on a burka, but Koli suggested that I dress up as a man instead. He said that a woman gets so much attention because there aren't many women on the streets in Jessore, but a man on a motorcycle would go unnoticed.

So manly I would be... I bought men's clothes and shoes, cut my nails, bound my breasts, put up my hair beneath my motorcycle helmet, and set off for Jessore. I have had men in Dhaka come up and ask me if I am a man or a woman on my motorcycle even when I am wearing women's clothes, so I was confident the disguise would work - at least from a distance and going 40 km/ hour. While I may be able to hide my sex, it is almost impossible to hide my skin color (no self tanners here), so I wore long sleeves and hid my face behind Koli's back when we got closer to the site.

We took the long way there so that we wouldn't run into people that Koli knows. I only had about five minutes at the site, but I liked what I saw. It is about 12 acres off of a small, paved road next to a river. It is in the middle of the country and it is not in a development corridor, so it will stay auiet for awhile. Plus, there were no houses in site.

The land next to the river had several trees (though not as many as some of the other properties that I looked at.) Behind the wooded area was a large, open rice paddy. Right now my architect is trying to determine exactly what land we want to buy - whether we want the narrower, wooded strip, or if we want part of the wooded area and part of the rice paddy behind it to make a more square-shaped plot. I may also buy some land on the opposite side of the river for a future expansion of a spa and wellness center.

The three main disadvantages of the site are a) that it is 20 minutes further from the airport than the first location, b) it is the opposite direction from Khulna, and c) that the land is owned by 40 different people. I don't think that a and b will be large issues. It still takes less time to get to the resort than to get from the north to the south end of Dhaka in rush hour traffic. Plus, people are used to traveling long times to get places here and my survey respondents ranked travel time to a resort low on their priority list. I will also have a free shuttle from the airport and bus stop so the resort will be easy for people to get to.

The forty owners issue initially worried me, but Koli assures me that all of them are interested in selling. He is working now to verify all of the paperwork. Hopefully I will not run into anymore title issues...

Here are some photos of the site.

February 25, 2008

I arrived in Rangamati in the evening. I was excited to discover that there was an internet cafe in town. (There is no phone service in the hill tracts because the government has restricted access and most towns are not advanced enough to have internet cafes...) Their computers were having power issues, however, so the machines weren't working. I was able to bribe a guy there who had a laptop though so that I could check my e-mail!

Rangamati is located on the large man-made Lake Kaptai. Rangamati town is basically a collection of islands that are linked together by roads and boats. The lake is enormous and beautiful. I hired a boat for the day and went around to see several islands. I stopped at a couple of hotels in town to check them out. There were a few island places that had bamboo huts, my hotel (the Hotel Sufia), the Parjatan Hotel, and a couple of other locals hotels with basic amenities.

Again, there are no beautiful, international standard resorts in the area. After seeing the area I decided that Rangamati will be the location of my second resort. Rangamati is the closest hill tract town to Chittagong, which is a large port city with an airport. It is about a 2.5 hour drive from town and is already a tourist destination. I would love to get my own island!

I was planning on seeing more of Lake Kaptai my second day, but unfortunately I got extremely ill and decided to fly home to Dhaka where I was closer to a good quality hospital. So, sadly, I only got one day in Rangamati. I will be back though...

Kaptai Lake
The lake is very large. Rangamati is a set of islands on the western side.

The islands break up the waterway a bit and create fantastic views.

Private Island
My future winter home?

More of the Lake
Some of the islands are connected by bridges. Others, like these, you have to take a boat to get to.

Boat Trip
These are the two primary kinds of boats on the lake - one is smaller (but still motorized) and the other is larger and covered.

Stilt Houses
These houses are built on the water next to the dock.

February 23, 2008

I arrived in Khagrachari in the evening. The Parjatan hotel that we were staying at looked nice and new, but I discovered it had two serious flaws: 1) there is no generator so when the power goes out everyone fumbles around in the dark and 2) the food is TERRIBLE! (Parjatan is the national tourism organization in Bangladesh; they also run several hotels.)

Borhan and his tour group arrived by bus the next morning. The group was very nice; there were a couple of extended families. I originally thought the trip was going to be a hiking excursion to some of the hill tribes in the area, but aside from myself and the guides, the other tourists were not really in good enough physical condition to do any hiking.

We did visit a cave while we were there. It was very "Indiana Jones" - we carried torches and climbed through a cave with a stream running though it that was barely tall enough to stand up in. You had to be careful not to step in the water (as I was unfortunate enough to find out), because the pools were several feet deep in places. Some women went through that cave in saris and heels! I have no idea how they did it!

There was also a small waterfall that I visited with the guides (the other guests weren't able to climb back up the steep hill.) The waterfall was really mostly just water running down a cliff, but it did end in a very cool incline, which created a kind of natural water slide.

Borhan's organization put on a cultural show in the evening which I thought was quite nice. We got to hear singing, watch dancing, and eat food from the various tribes in the area. Some of the tribes woman rode in the car home with us. The tribes are all matriarchal, and it was very interesting to observe these women. They definitely seemed much stronger than the average Bangladeshi woman and were not at all intimidated by the men. It was quite refreshing actually!

The next day I made a trip to the local market and bought a few of the local tribal skirts.

I was supposed to take the bus from Khagrachari to Rangamati the next day, but that evening the guards came to my hotel room and told me that I should take the bus back to Chittagong and then take another bus to Rangamati. This would be traveling three times the distance, however, so I was not at all happy about that "suggestion". They told me it would be much safer and that I would be much more comfortable. They also told me that because the roads were so bad through the hills that it would take five hours to get there (it was only 60 km away). In the end, they did succeed in intimidating me to going back to Chittagong, but I was cursing their name all the way to Rangamati, because it took me EIGHT hours to get there their way and I had a lot of difficulty finding the bus that went on to Rangamati. PLUS, I had to take the local bus anyway. Next time, I will definitely just take the direct local bus. My chances of getting kidnapped are quite low I think!

Anyway, after a lot of hassle, I did finally arrive in Rangamati...

I always wanted to try pulling a rickshaw. In Khagrachari I finally got my chance! Needless to say, the white woman pulling the two Bangladeshi men in the rickshaw got quite a few confused looks...

Biriyani is a typical Bengali rice and meat dish. It is prepared in these giant cauldrons and is often made when you need to serve large amounts of people.

Because of the hills, jeeps are used to travel to places outside of the main town. As you can see, they try to pack as many people in as possible!

Cultural Program
These tribal dancers performed at Borhan's cultural program. It was quite impressive how they danced around with plates with candles on their head!

Weighing Holud
I love these scales. This guy was weighing holud at the market.

Holud means "yellow" in Bangla. This type of "holud" is a spice, however. Remember the gai holud wedding party?

Tribal Women
Photo of a couple of tribal women at the market. All of their textiles are hand made.

Banana Tree
I just love bananas! Not only are they yummy, but they are also photogenic!

This is the waterfall/ water slide that we visited.

February 19, 2008

Banderban is a town in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The Hill Tracts are located in the southeastern corner of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is basically a giant delta, so it is generally flat as a pancake except for the southeast (hill tract) corner and the northeast (tea estates) corner. I had not been to this part of Bangladesh before, so I was really looking forward to it.

Unfortunately, there was not a direct bus from Cox's Bazar to Banderban, so I first had to take an AC bus to Keranihat and then transfer to a local bus to Banderban. After arriving in Banderban, I had to take a tempo up the hill to the Hill Resort. The road to the resort is very steep and not well paved. I was afraid at points that the tempo would not make it to the top as it stalled out quite a few times.

I finally arrived, however, and checked in to the resort. The resort is built on about 8 acres of land on top of one of the hills. The restaurant has a deck that overlooks the river below. The rooms are very basic and clean, but not very well maintained (my walls were repaired with tape in several places.) The staff and guides were very friendly, however, and I met several nice people during my stay there.

The first evening I happened to run into a friend of mine from Dhaka. She was there with a group of her friends. I ended up hanging out with them that evening, playing games and drinking smuggled-in wine. (Bangladesh is a teetotaler country.)

The next day they let me tag along on the river trip that they had booked. I found out the night before that two of the guests - Mikey and Belinda - are here in Bangladesh to write a new guide. I was very excited to hear that as the only existing guide that I know of is the Lonely Planet Guide and its coverage of Bangladesh is quite sparse. Mikey actually organized the group to go to Banderban and I believe runs a few other tours to other areas of Bangladesh. He was interested in my eco resort project and I am hopeful that I will be far enough along by the time he publishes next year that Panigram Resort will be included! Mikey already has a lot of great travel information on Bangladesh on his website: I highly recommend checking it out.

The river trip was beautiful. The scenery was just beautiful and it was quite peaceful to be on the river.

The next morning Mikey's group left. Just when I thought I would be alone for the day, I met a very nice Danish family. The two parents had actually done development work in Bangladesh fifteen years ago. Their son (who was traveling with them with his wife) was born in Bangladesh and they came back to visit.

I convinced them that they should take a boat ride, since I had such a good time the day before. After a bit of finagling to arrange the trip (there have been a few kidnappings in the area, so all guests need to take guards with them when they leave the resort), we finally arranged a guide. We took a man-powered boat the opposite direction that I went the day before. It was even more peaceful than the ride on the motorboat the day before. We went quite far and then stopped at a tea stall before turning around to come back.

The third day I hired a guide on my own (I figured the Danish family would like some time alone together) and went around to some of the tribal villages in the area. The tribes are matriarchal and are known for their textiles; we saw several women weaving. I really liked their bamboo homes as well. I was fortunate to see one being erected. It seemed to go up pretty fast, so I think this might be a good option for temporary housing for my workers at the resort site...

Finally, it was time to move on to Khagrachari where my friend Borhan was waiting with his tour group. Unfortunately the Hill Resort does not provide transportation down the hill. I guess most groups have their own cars or transportation, because there is no way to get a tempo at the top of the hill. I could have waited several hours for them to arrange a car for me, but I wasn't too keen to wait twiddling my thumbs, so I put my backpack on and started hiking down the hill. It was quite steep and my pack was heavy because I bought a lot of textiles. About halfway down I found a guy with a rickshaw. While you can't take a rickshaw up the hill (it is too steep) I did convince the guy to take me down. After a rather scary roller coaster ride down the hill I finally made it to the bus station.

I had to take a bus back to Chittagong to catch the bus to Khagrachari. Apparently there is a local bus that goes through Rangamati from Banderban to Khagrachari, but I didn't have permission to go that route. (You have to have permission from the government to enter these areas because they are not very politically stable. The hill tribes are in conflict with the "Bangladeshis".) There are apparently two bus stations in Chittagong. The one I arrived at was not the one the Khagrachari bus left from, so I had to find my way to the other station. Then I got on a local bus. The local bus was so packed with people that some people were riding on top and others were riding out of the windows. After an excruciatingly long ride over bumpy roads I finally arrived at my next destination...

On the River
The river was really beautiful with the green fields beside the water. It has been a long time since I have seen hills too!

House Boat

This is a typical Bangladeshi fishing boat. The fisherman might spend a couple of days on the boat, so inside the covered area is a small bed and other necessities.

One of the boatmen.

Banana Boat
No, not the sunscreen! This is the real deal!

Me on the Boat
This is me with the young Danish couple. You can see our two guards as well.

These are blankets woven by tribal women.

This is the loom they use to weave the blankets.

Fish Stand
Dried fish is favorite dish in this region. Personally I can't stand the stuff, but the fish stands are interesting.

Tea Stall
This is the tea stall we stopped at on our river tour. I love the little Bangladeshi tea stalls. You find them everywhere and they are always small and charming. I am building a more upscale version of the Bangladeshi tea house at my resort.

At the tea stall several men were standing around playing this game. I can't remember what the name of it is, but I see it being played all over Bangladesh. It is kind of like pool on a smaller scale.

Tribal Village
This is a typical tribal village home.

Bamboo House
I think these bamboo houses are just charming.

Building a House
These men are building a new bamboo house. The walls and floor are made from woven bamboo mats adhered to larger bamboo frames.

This is a store in one of the villages. The large seed-like things are apparently used for house decoration.

Fruit Vendor
This woman was selling boroi and tamarind next to the textile market.

Tribal Woman
I thought this woman looked gorgeous in her tribal outfit.

Woman Gathering Water
This woman was collecting water from a spigot next to this stream to carry back to her house.

And of course, what would one of my photo essays be without a giant, unusual bug picture?! This guy came into the resort restaurant. He is longer than a spoon and shockingly green!

Cox's Bazar
February 16, 2008

I traveled to Cox's Bazar on February 14. Since the direct flights there were cancelled that day (of course!), I flew to Chittagong and took the bus the rest of the way to Cox's Bazar. (I didn't really fancy the 12 hour bus ride there from Dhaka. Plus, because I had to take the bus back from Jessore the night before, I would not have arrived on time to take the night bus...)

I met up with Fatema (my attorney) and some of her law students at the hotel. I arrived in the afternoon just as everyone was getting back from the beach. A bit jealous that everyone had been playing at the beach while I was stuck on the bus, I went up to my room to rest while they showered and changed.

When everyone was ready, we went to a little bazar that sold jewelry and household items made from shells. I found a few shell lamps that I actually really liked. (I am envisioning them in my Cox's Bazar resort...) Fatema bought me a bracelet and a little box made out of shells.

Just after dark we went to the beach. It was ENORMOUS! I couldn't even see the water the beach was so deep. It was almost a full moon that night, so the beach was drenched in moonlight. Some of the women on the beach were dressed up in their best, sparkly saris. Fatema thought that they were mad, but I thought they looked like pretty, shimmering mermaids in the moonlight.

That evening we all went to dinner at a nice restaurant called Angel Drop Cafe. It was an open air restaurant built on stilts on the beach. The restaurant was nicely designed and the food was good. The only problem was that it was extremely cold that night and we were all shivering waiting for our food (which took about an hour and a half to come.) I finally figured out that it would be warmer if we sat upstairs, because that part was located over the kitchen and had a roof, so the heat would be trapped in (a little at any rate...) The upstairs area was very small, but we moved some tables around and managed to squeeze in.

The next day we all drove to Inani Beach which is located a couple of hours south of Cox's Bazar. It is actually all the same beach - this is the longest beach in the world at 120 km - but just a different section of it. The beach sand was perfect: soft, fine grains that are hard packed so they are easy to walk on. The water was nice and warm (though not clear) which was great because it was still pretty cold and windy on land.

In Bangladesh people swim in their clothes (a swimsuit would be MUCH too immodest for a Muslim). I put on a sari (over my bikini! hee hee...) because I was afraid the salt water might ruin my salwar kameez. You really can't swim in a sari (or shalwar kameez for that matter), so we basically just waded in the water.

On the way back we stopped at a lookout point which had a little waterfall and good views of the beach below. That evening we watched the sunset on the beach.

The next day Fatema and her students left. Cox's Bazar is the largest tourist destination for Bangladeshis and probably the second largest Bangladesh tourist destination for foreigners (after the Sundarban Forest), so I decided to stay on for a few more hours to do some competitor research.

After that, I headed off to Banderban...

The Beach!
The beach is absolutely ENORMOUS! You can barely see the water when you enter the beach.

High Tide/ Low Tide
There is a very large difference in the size of the beach between high and low tide. We went at a time closer to low tide. The water comes all the way up to the dark sand area at high tide.

Beach Sand
The beach sand is perfect for walking on - soft and firm.

You can rent chairs and umbrellas on the beach.

Fatema and Me
Fatema and me on the beach.

My Bangladeshi Bathing Suit
Me in my swimming sari! :)

As you can see, I am not the only one wearing clothes in the water.

View from the lookout point.

Fruit Vendor
Fruit vendor at the lookout point. We bought some tamarinds for a snack. They are very yummy, but difficult to eat.

Sunset Crowd
We were not the only people who had the idea of watching the sunset on the beach.

The sunset was gorgeous!

The colors reflected on the water.