Monday, December 29, 2008

Election Day!
December 29, 2008

Today is finally election day in Bangladesh! I gave Hamida the day off so that she could go vote.

Motorcycles are not allowed on the road today, so I have been staying inside. So far there does not seem to be any violence...

The polls closed about an hour an a half ago here. I am interested to see who won the election - the Awami League or BNP... Either way Bangladesh will still have one of the battling begums in power, but hopefully they will have learned a little from the two years that they have spent in jail and will keep some of the positive, anti-corruption policies instigated by the Caretaker Government.

I have read several articles in the paper about the police arresting people who are trying to buy votes here. Apparently in the past this is the main way that candidates won elections - by giving poor people money, food, or clothing to vote for them. Despite very strict rules set by the election commission, it seems that some people are still trying to work around the system.

It is very interesting to have been in Bangladesh these past two years. I arrived in October 2006, three months before the originally planned election. I witnessed the hartals and riots that crippled the country as the two main political parties fought over who would run the Caretaker Government during the election period. The fighting became so bad that the army stepped in and took over the government. They set up an Election Commission and have spent the last two years trying to create a fair voting system.

Since the ballots here are not electronic, it will probably take several hours (if not days) to get the final results. I am now interested to see if the losing party accepts the election result or if they will result to rioting. I hope it is the former... Bangladesh has been so peaceful for the past two years!

I Visit My Land and the Nearby Pottery Village
December 26, 2008

The best Christmas present that I could have received was finally being able to visit my land! It was even more beautiful than I imagined it. For photos, you can visit my Flickr site at:

I also discovered that there is a pottery village only a ten minute walk from my property! I think that people would be really interested to visit it. When I was there they were making tila (pots) for collecting the sap from the date palm tree which is cooked into ghur, a delicious brown sugar. I even got to taste some of the juice directly from the tree!

The Potter
The potter spins his wheel, which is made from a board on a tire.

Forming the Pots
He then begins to work the clay into the pot.

Pottery Building
The pottery wheel is in a small bamboo and thatch building. There are several of these pottery wheel buildings in the pottery village.

Woman and Rice
An old woman is grinding rice in the same building. (It has nothing to do with the pottery, I just like the photo!)

Drying the Pots
The pots are actually made in two pieces - the top half and the bottom half. After they have dried a bit, they are assembled. These are the top halves. Manure (used for fuel) is drying on the wall in the background.

Whole Pots Drying
The assembled pots drying before they are placed in the kiln.

After the tila have dried they are placed into the kiln.

Inside the Kiln
This is what the kiln looks like on the inside.

Final Tila!
After the tila pots are finished, they are hung from the date palm trees to collect the sap. This sap collection is done every winter. Each tree will fill two tilas a day.

Christmas in Jessore
December 25, 2008

I took my motorcycle from Dhaka to Jessore on Christmas Eve. I needed to go deal with some issues with my land and couldn't bear the thought of being in a crowded bus for 6 hours, so I strapped a bag to the back of my bike and took off. It was cold and foggy in Dhaka when I left. As I drove further south, the clouds lifted and the landscape became cleaner and greener; I knew I was approaching Jessore!

I don't celebrate Christmas anymore, but Koli (my agent) really wanted me to celebrate with his family. He is Muslim, but as a child he went to a Christian school and would go out singing Christmas carols with his friends. While I was there a group of Christian carolers did pass by his house. They sounded more like a political rally than "Silent Night", however!

Koli wanted me to bake him a "Christmas cake", which I believe is the tradition in Bangladesh. Since we don't really have Christmas cakes in the U.S., I was going to make them a gingerbread house instead. They didn't have an oven, however, so we had to buy a cake from the store. Bangladeshi food is prepared on burners, so most Bangladeshis don't have ovens. Only a few rich people who like to eat Western food have them.

Instead of the gingerbread house, I decided to do stockings for the children. This too proved to be a bit of a challenge since most Bangladeshis don't wear socks! It is so hot here and you take off your shoes whenever you go inside, so most people wear sandals. Some of the men wear socks when they wear suits, however, so we were able to scavenge up a few. I suppose that I complicated things a bit too when I told them that all of the socks had to be different so the children could tell which ones were theirs... In the end, we scavenged up several socks, a couple of hats, and one glove for Koli!

I explained about Santa Claus and his reindeer which really amused the children. I also told them that each year Santa makes a list of the children who are naughty and nice. The nice children get presents and the naughty children get coal or rocks.

Then when all of the kids went to bed, Koli, Shompa (his wife), and I filled the stockings with candy and oranges. I was surprised that the socks (real socks!) were only half full. In the U.S. we use giant oversized socks and every year they are brimming with presents. I honestly think our Bangladeshi stockings were probably more authentic!

Since they don't have fireplaces in Bangladesh (it is hot here!) we pinned the stockings on a line above the door to the kitchen. In the morning the children all came down and got their socks. The kids were particularly delighted with all of the candy which is relatively expensive here and therefore is not eaten as often (and certainly not in such large quantities!)

After the stockings were open, they wanted to sing Christmas carols. (Bangladesh has a strong tradition of singing.) I taught them how to sing Jingle Bells. Duti, Koli's six year old daughter, caught on really fast! She only knows a few words of English, but after just two choruses she was able to sing along!

All in all it was a very nice Christmas. Next year though I want to bring them a gingerbread cake...

Hanging the Stockings
We hung the stockings (and hats and glove) over the door to the kitchen.

Stockings After Santa
One of the full stockings (which for some reason is inside out.) We kept adding children who would be celebrating with us and so had to keep finding socks! Santa eventually ran out of candy so Koli (the glove) ended up getting a rock for Christmas. The children found this hysterical!

Duti and Candy
Koli's adorable daughter, Duti, with the candy from her stocking.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bangladesh Election
December 23, 2008

The election is coming in just a week (December 29)! There are now signs posted all around Dhaka and men and women with bullhorns ride rickshaws through the streets shouting out support for their favorite candidate.

Apparently this year the candidates are only allowed to post black and white advertisements, so you see them taped to power lines all around the city like little flags. Sadly, I think the signs are pretty ineffective, because you can make out anything on them unless you are standing right next to the sign.

So far the election has been quite calm; it is very unlike the scene two years ago when I arrived - the time when the elections were supposed to be held. So far neither party has rioted or decided to boycott the polls. I will be interested to see what happens on election day and the few weeks immediately after it...

Flags and Fliers
Gulshan-2 Circle was decorated for Independence Day (December 16th). They kept the flags up and candidates have put up their fliers all around the circle.

Black and White Banners
You can see all of the advertisements on the power lines in this photo.

Here is a close-up of one of the posters. All of the fliers have the photograph of the candidate on them.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Hamida Makes Me Cry
December 9, 2008

Today is Eid ul-Azha, the biggest holiday in Islam. It is a day when Bangladeshis celebrate Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Issac by sacrificing an animal - usually a cow or goat. One third of the meat goes to the poor, one third to neighbors, and one third to friends and family.

In the days leading up to Eid ul-Azha the streets of Dhaka are filled with animals in the markets and tethered outside of people's homes. I normally prefer to stay inside on this day because while I respect the cultural practices of the Bangladeshis I don't like to see the actual slaughtering.

This morning Hamida came into my office and excitedly told me that I can see cows from my window. I thought she meant that there were a bunch of cows tied outside in my neighbor's yard, so I followed her to the balcony to see. Sadly, what she really meant was that all of my neighbors were slaughtering animals in the yard! I was quite disturbed by the scene and yelped and ran back inside. Hamida started rolling on the ground she was laughing so hard...

I guess cultural differences can be entertaining from both sides of the fence...

Monday, December 01, 2008

Forming a Company in Bangladesh

Like the road system of Bangladesh, the path to company formation is fraught with potholes, u-turns, and unpaved roads, but for the intrepid entrepreneur starting a business here can be very rewarding – both economically and personally. Foreigners are allowed to 100% own land and companies and they can repatriate 100% of their profits – a rare financial find in the developing world. Businesses also bring jobs to the country’s 150 million inhabitants, many of whom live on less than a dollar a day.

Since forming a company in Bangladesh is a complicated process, I have decided to document the process in the hopes of saving the next entrepreneur a bit of time navigating through the system.

I will use this as the index page for my blog entries so others will be able to link to this single blog entry and will be able to easily find all of my other posts on the subject. I will update this page whenever I add a new entry. If any one else has any other tips that they would like to add, please feel free to add them here.

Company Formation in Bangladesh:

Company Formation Part I - 5/8/08
Company Formation Part II - 5/26/08
Company Formation Part III - 6/17/08
Company Formation Part IV - 2/12/09
Company Formation Part V - 5/17/09
Company Formation Part VI - 6/1/09
Company Formation Part VII - 3/18/10

In Part 1 I cover the following things:
  1. Starting the process
  2. The different types of companies in Bangladesh
  3. Forming/ incorporating a company
  4. Registering with the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies
  5. Obtaining encashment certificates
In Part 2 I cover the following things:
  1. Steps you need to take to form a company (from A to Z!)
  2. What order everything needs to be submitted in
In Part 3 I cover the following things:
  1. "Commercial Side" vs. "Industrial Side" of the Bangladesh Board of Investment
  2. Opening a corporate bank account
  3. "Non-operating" vs. "Operating" bank accounts
In Part 4 I cover the following things:
  1. BOI Registration
  2. Fees for BOI Registration
  3. Getting a Bank Draft
  4. Getting a Tax ID Number (TIN)
  5. Getting a Trade License
  6. Land requirement of BOI Registration
In Part 5 I cover the following things:
  1. Investor Visa Application Process
  2. Work Permit Application Process
  3. Finally Opening Your Bank Account!
In Part 6 I cover the following things:
  1. Amending Your BOI Registration Letter
In Part 7 I cover the following things:
  1. First Annual General Meetings
  2. Overseas Document Attestation
  3. Annual RJSC Filing
  4. Filing Documents with the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies (RJSC)
  5. Audited Financials