I have not posted a blog for a couple of weeks for a number of reasons. One has been simply getting used to term time again with the kids back a school and trying to establish a happy balance between writing, studying the Masters I have begun, keeping up with emails, getting a bit of reading and music making in and – oh yeah, spending some time with this family of mine! That, along with re-learning how to tidy, wash up and do the ironing again after 3 years of wonderful ayahs in my life doing it for me and also the odd bit of homework marking for students both here and at LAMB, has meant that there has not been a lot of time for blogs. But that has not been the main reason for not writing.
It has been the internet.
We have had terrible troubles trying to get onto the web. A friend has lent us a dongle which he is paying for with a whopping great 5Gb download per month which, in Bangladesh, would be ample for all of us. We all use 1Gb dongles over there and never reach the end of our download limit (though I nearly did it once after a frenzy of downloading free teaching videos and powerpoints one month!). Here though, each month, our internet suddenly stops working several days before the next month begins.
This month, it stopped more than 2 weeks early. It was our own stupid fault really. My daughter received an Amazon voucher for her birthday and she immediately bought a load of album downloads from various films she loves (drat that Harry) and I did not even think about the fact this would take up a lot of the download space. But it did.
The annoying thing is that it could easily have been avoided if we had downloaded them at my In-laws home where they have unlimited download and where we go several times each week. Stupid.
Still, here I am typing away knowing that I don’t know when I will get this loaded up onto the blogsite (I hope today as I write) but knowing that if I wait until the internet is back it could be another week gone by. Again.
The reason for telling you all of this is that I am quite stunned by how rubbish the internet is over here in the UK! I don’t mean to be funny and, of course, there are some good things. It’s fast, for instance. Really fast. But then, we don’t have broadband yet up in Dinajpur, Bangladesh. When we go to the LAMB office in Dhaka, which does have broadband, there is no difference really. Maybe a little slower than in Britain.
But after that, the advantage is all Bangladesh’s. I know when I am spending 12 hours stuck on the train there that I will be able to facebook away, surf the net, write blogs on my laptop and do my emails with relative ease – all from the use of my phone as a dongle. The Bangladeshis have got the mobile internet market absolutely sorted out. For those of us who have a reasonable income there (ie we’re not starving) it is quite affordable and much cheaper than any internet offer of any sort over in theUK. You can pay as you go for all your internet needs whether on computer or mobile but here we could not find anything for the laptops that was less than 12 months contract. Totally rubbish.
Using our mobiles has been a problem too. I still cannot get my mobile to work properly on the net here and I get charged for its use too. I know there are possibly better deals for this but they come at a price and usually mean you can’t get texts or calls or something else that causes me problems. In Bangladesh, I call, I text, I surf the net from my phone. Simple. No hassle (as long, of course, as it works).
How has this come to happen in a country whose Prime Minister has recently expressed the political hope that they will be a ‘developed country’ by the break of the next decade? Still a far off goal that may never happen in the timescale Sheikh Hasina has suggested yet an internet service is already there in place. How did this topsy-turvy situation happen?
I think it came on the back of Professor Yunus’s ground-breaking Micro Credit scheme that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. He believed that poor people, if given the chance, could be trained to use money responsibly and would repay it if given the chance. And they did. Grameen Bank (Gram means village in Bangla) was set up and gave affordable small loans to people so they could invest in cows, goats, chickens and a whole range of other money-making ventures that enabled them to feed their families, earn reputations in the villages and pay back their debts. I have heard criticisms of the scheme, Yunus and Grameen since but the only researched work I have seen on micro-credit in Bangladesh, which was a Phd work on the affect on impoverished women, was glowing in its praise. As is the rest of the world.
On the back of this, Yunus and his Grameen business went into mobile phone network providing and, whilst not being the only company offering this service these days, is still the major player in Bangladesh. The idea, again, that facilities and services should be made accessible for the poor has resulted in most villages having at least one mobile phone for use to keep women safe when out alone or late and often a lot more than one. We live in a poor area in the north-west of Bangladesh but I can’t think of a single family at least, who does not own a mobile. Most have internet access. Probably nearly 50% of my Bangladeshi friends and students have a Facebook account! This does include, though it is far from normal yet, those living without electricity at night, living in mud huts and cooking on open fires. They may not know what the harvest in their fields will hold for them this season but for the equivalent of 5p they can make sure their daughters are safe when coming home from school this week. For that, I don’t think a Nobel Prize was enough.