Day before yesterday (17 November 2017) I got to know about your existence. Your didun told me that it’s a girl! It brought smile on my face in the midst of all the sufferings I am currently going through. Perhaps I would have celebrated if I were with my near and dear ones. I always knew you would come, sooner or later. Sad part is, I won’t be there to hold you in my arms or see you in person, or stay beside your mum when you will be born.
I am your khama (your khala and mama both), Mahnoor. Your mum’s sister. Your mum took care of me when I was little. More or less, she has some role to play in shaping my life. Trust me, I can already feel your presence in my life and how that presence going to change me as a person. I felt the same way, when your brother was born. When your mum was expecting Mahir, I thought it would be you. You were named back in those days, even when you didn’t exist at all. This doesn’t mean, I will love you more than Mahir. My love for you two would be same.
I don’t know how much I can influence your upbringing. Your parents have the most right on you. But always remember, you and only you have the full right on your life. This is an amazing world. It has many things to offer. I will say, try everything, to gain experience and knowledge, but before trying, make sure you have the intellect to measure what is right for you and what is wrong. Never do anything that would make you feel ashamed in front of your parents. People will try to make the list of “Never Do” long, but trust me, a lot of thing in that list doesn’t count. It’s all about what you prioritize and how good are you at handling certain things. Just have fun! But stay in focus.
People say, “Fortune favors the brave”, but I say, “Fortune favors those who know what they want in life”. What do you want in life? The earlier you figure this out, the better. I am not asking you to figure out things by the age of ten! Take your time, explore yourself, get as much exposure as you can. These will keep your perspective straight. When you are sure what you want, stand for it, spend every moment pursuing for it. Be what you want, but be the best version of you. Your parents will approve of it when they will see you shine. They will take pride on you, even if they don’t approve of it in the beginning. Trust me, your parents want the best for you, they want you to be happy. They might not know how, but they do. It is you who will assure them that you are choosing the best option and that you are happy.
Our society is more judgmental towards girls than they are towards boys. You will see your brother is allowed to do a lot of stuff that you are not allowed. Don’t let that bring your spirits down. People know you are capable of making magic, they are just too scared to see that. I will say, reach that level of awesomeness where this people’s voice will not reach your ear anymore. I am saying again, stay focused and everything will fall into place.
A lot of time you might feel unsure of what you are doing with your life. We all have been there at some point. It’s normal. Trust your intuition and stay focused. In case you are still confused, your khama is always there to listen to you. I might not give you the best advice, but if you are able to explain your plans to me, you are probably on the right track. I will always understand you, without any question or judgement.
I just have one advice for you: Read as much as you can, read anything and everything! Read novels, biographies, newspaper, magazines, blogs, fairytales, sci-fi, erotica even! The more you read, the more broaden your mind will be. Just follow this one and only advice from khama, please!
My Mahnoor! I can’t tell you what a wonderful human being you will be when you grow up! And I am so excited about that!
With all the love in the world,
Your khama ❤
19 November, 2017
(She is born today at 8 am German time and 1 pm BD time. Posting it on this occasion. She shares birthday with Virginia Woolf, so she better follow my advice!)
When the end of another year is nearing, we tend to take various New Year resolutions, some are realistic while some are wishful thinking. Why not take some resolutions that would bring some positive changes in our lifestyle and also address the Sustainable Development Goals.
Now, it’s not just the development organisations and practitioners, who are responsible for achieving these goals. We, the VSO National Alumni Association, want to spread the message to the mass that each and every individual can contribute in addressing and achieving these goals from their personal level; just by bringing some positive changes in their lifestyle. Each of these resolutions indirectly addresses one of the targets under each goal. This new year, let’s take an SDG resolution because we care about ourselves and our community.
While 836 million people are leaving in extreme poverty around the world, some of us spend extravagantly on unnecessary items; things that we want to possess, but not really need. By deciding to give more instead, be it monetary donations, people who are in a vulnerable situation might get access to economic resources and other forms of essential properties.
In today’s world, we already produce enough food waste to feed 3 billion human beings. The UN estimates that in just 20 years, the earth’s population will need at least 50 per cent more food, 45 percent more energy and 30 per cent more water. Consumers have the power to change the entire system. And it would take just one simple personal step: stop wasting food.
According to World Health Statistics of 2008, the status report of the road traffic injuries indicated that it may become the fifth leading cause of death by 2030, overtaking complications of diabetes and HIV/AIDS. The fatalities on the road have emerged as a major public health concern because of the deaths, disabilities and hospitalisations that have raised socio-economic concerns across the world. This goal’s one of the targets is to halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents by 2020.
While this goal focuses more in improving the quality of education and making sure more people are literate, we can address this from a personal level through improving our own knowledge. Everything we read fills our head with new bits of information, and we never know when it might come in handy. It could even aid in our career, as those who are well-read, well-spoken, and knowledgeable on a variety of topics tend to get promotions more quickly (and more often) than those with smaller vocabularies and lack of awareness of literature, scientific breakthroughs, and global events. This also addresses the target of ensuring all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity by 2030.
Around the world, women spend two to ten times more time on unpaid care work than men, which also is a missing link in analysing gender gap. One of the many targets under this goal is to recognise and value unpaid care of domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and, above all, the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate. From our personal level, this simple act can definitely help in achieving the target.
By 2030, this goal targets to increase water-use efficiency across all sectors halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally. In an average home, showers are typically the third largest water use after toilets and clothes washers. More than 80 percent of wastewater resulting from human activities is discharged into rivers or sea without any pollution removal. This one behavioural change from personal level can contribute to the target.
About 2.6 billion people in the developing world are facing difficulties in accessing electricity full time. Many more suffer from supply that is of poor quality. On the contrary, much of the world has become completely reliant on electricity. Unfortunately, many people overuse or waste electricity, resulting in negative impacts both on the environment and the pocketbook. Saving energy through simple measures, such as turning off lights in unused rooms or when there is daylight can provide us and the environment with a wide range of benefits.
One of the many targets of this goal is to take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking. A lot of time, it’s the vulnerable and naïve people who fall victim to it. Now think of a situation where our domestic help is receiving a good working environment and a good pay. This dissuades them from being lured into human trafficking for a good pay and also allows them to continue to work and educate their kids for a better future in some cases.
Least developed countries have immense potential for industrialisation in food and beverages (agro-industry), and textiles and garments, with good prospects for sustained employment generation and higher productivity and this goal’s one of the targets is to create that space. By purchasing products locally, consumers are supporting local businesses. Often smaller local businesses suffer when larger, big-box stores enter an area. In some cases, these businesses are forced to go out of business if they are unable to compete with these larger stores. As a result, this takes money away from the local community, causes more vacancies in buildings, and reduces available options for consumers.
Of course, there is more complicated and direct way to address this goal, but from a personal level, we can contribute to it as well. Just when we are overwhelmed with stuff cluttered in our household, little do we realise that there is more life to our stuff, and it is just as likely that someone else needs it more than we do. We have got old textbooks, calculator, cellphone, warm clothes, and other stuff that might be considered as essential items for others that would help them excel in life.
Littering the environment has a negative impact on our planet and damages areas where we live, work, and play. Some of these sources directly relate to what we do. If we become a little conscious and wait until we get a trash bin to dump our waste, we can contribute in providing universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces (which also happens to be one of the targets).
We use over 3 trillion plastic bags every year worldwide and only 1% are recycled. Chemicals that those plastic bags contain enter the soil and our drinking water, which can be very harmful to all animals including humans. To address the target of having an environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle and minimise their adverse impacts on human health and the environment by 2020, this tiny act can be the first step.
The open burning of e-waste releases toxic metals, such as lead, into the environment, creating air, soil, and water pollution. This adds to the already flourishing curse of Global Warming which is really dangerous for every soul on this planet.
As much as 40 per cent of the world oceans are heavily affected by human activities, including pollution, depleted fisheries, and loss of coastal habitats. To prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution by 2025, joint effort needs to be made from all level.
World meat production has quadrupled in the last 50 years. The livestock population now outnumbers people more than three to one. Studies have long shown that vegetables require less land and energy to produce. Reducing the land area used for agricultural purposes is a major way of contributing to biodiversity conservation.
Corruption, bribery, theft and tax evasion cost some US $1.26 trillion for developing countries per year; this amount of money could be used to lift those who are living on less than $1.25 a day above $1.25 for at least six years. This goal’s one of the main targets is to substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms.
Global partnership from an individual level is not quite possible, but partnership at any level begins with knowledge sharing. 30 percent of the world’s youth are digital natives, active online for at least five years, but more four billion people do not use the Internet, and 90 percent of them are from the developing world. We should consider ourselves lucky for having the access and while doing so, we can know more about Sustainable Development Goals and share our knowledge with others.
Recently, I was asked to submit a write-up on this topic “What will I do if I were made the Prime Minister of Bangladesh for a day?” for a job application. So I became “Super-creative” and submitted a listicle (I have nothing to loose) instead. Later I thought, this could be a good post for my blog.
One day is quite a short span of time to get anything done in Bangladesh, but the scenario is superficial anyway. Below is a list:
1. Free lunch for everyone!
Starting from something light-hearted: why not treat all the government employees with free lunch? This will make them remember the day for quite a long time. Actually, let’s mark that day as “Farah Day” when free lunch will be served in all the government offices every year (unless the “oppositions” cancel it being envious)! No hard feeling for the privet sector; it’s just logistically easy.
2. Initiate emergency helpline number
Like the USA has 911, Bangladesh surely needs such an emergency helpline number which will be toll-free. This number will connect the caller to an answering point that will send emergency responder to the spot. The number will be used only for emergency purpose and any misuse of the number can be considered as a crime. And just think of the all the employment opportunities we can create through this!
3. Make streets clean again.
Okay, I know it’s the job of the city corporation, but each time I see someone throwing some trash out the car window, I cringe a little. DCC has placed trash bin along the footpath which is great, but those who are commuting somewhere via car/bus/CNG/Rickshaw, almost never wait until they get down and find some trash bin. Therefore, I will enforce a law that no one can throw anything on the road while riding a vehicle. Those who will not abide by the rule will be fined 500 taka. Buses will be instructed to place trash-bins inside the bus.
4. Bio-Degradable revolution!
Some of my friends and I have this brainchild aka social business plan of Bio-Degradable Bin Liners (BDBL). We made this plan during our senior year. Even if we graduated and got busy into other stuff, we still have this plan at the back of our mind and I think this would be a perfect time to bring that plan into reality. I will form a committee involving my friends, some scientists, consultants, and myself who will be taking the plan forward, especially work on the prototype development. Government will be taking care of the funding of course. If things work out, Bangladesh will never see a plastic bag in the long term. (Let’s face it; even if the Government banned plastic bags long time ago, it’s still there in some other form).
5. Change the Electoral System
This is serious and next to impossible I guess. Right now the electoral system is First Past the Post (FPTP) where a candidate gaining the highest number of votes from a particular constituency wins a seat in the parliament. Number of votes that goes to other parties does not count. I would change the electoral system to Proportional Representation (PR) where distribution of seats in the parliament depends on the number of votes each party achieves. For example, a particular political party obtained 20% of vote in an election, so this electoral system will allow the party to hold 20% of seats in the parliament. If we really want democracy in the country then PR should be the electoral system that ensures strong opposition to the ruling party as there is a variety of political parties seen in the parliament, eventually making the ruling party accountable. Read the full argument here.
Soon it’s going to be one year that I have graduated. So I pressed the rewind button, recalled everything I have been through, and came up with this list. I might look a bit lost, but hey, that’s not that bad.
Haven’t settled down for anything
Isn’t it too early to commit for anything right now? I worked 3 months for the Foreign Ministry, 4 months for Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO), 3 months for a startup and somewhere in between, 2 months were spent chilling, travelling a bit, and contemplating what I want to do next. I could have extended my tenure at VSO or continued my full time job at the startup, but who knows, I might be missing something out there which is more worthwhile! Or maybe I need a bit of more time to decide where I actually want to “settle down”.
Tossed job offers
I had one rule to follow in terms getting into a job (and basically anything): I am gonna get out of the restaurant if I don’t like the menu. I understand I might not get exactly what I want from a job, but it has to have at least some scopes that interest me, make me wanna try out. A corporate job with a good salary and possible increment that eventually will turn me into a slave with no weekend and late night office hours for at least 3 years doesn’t trickle my taste bud. Rather, I loved receiving a nominal allowance, staying in a remote village, and actually doing something for the people out there. I worked on weekend there as well, but that didn’t feel like slavery to me. Weird, isn’t it?
Traveled around Bangladesh
Nothing posh. Traveled to some new places and some old. I went to the Northwest region of Bangladesh for the first time and stayed there for three months at a stretch with the local people. I won’t brag that I could come out of my comfort zone there because the home I stayed in was quite decent. I didn’t have to use a make shift toilet with no ceiling. I went to Chittagong back to my friends twice for a weekend and got to see some new places; like a river with knee-deep water, a tiny village by the river, an island with only one family living there, protecting a waterfall, and a restaurant serving tribal food. In between there 4 road trips to my hometown with family and with colleagues for project purpose.
Met new people
Another perk of not settling down for anything is meeting new people in each station. I met people from every sphere of life; from a serious foreign diplomat to a talkative school girl from the village; from a courteous British feminist guy to a friendly shopkeeper at a small town who would offer me tea each time I visited his shop! Each of the people I met taught me something new and that’s why I will never be able to forget them. Or might bump into them at some point of my life, who knows?
Worked for development: Myself and others
I had the experience of being part of a development project. A brand new project, with a brand new team, at a location that has never accommodated an intervention of any kind! The number of people we reached through the project work is countless and we could see the outcome even after our tenure ended. The time spent at the project area taught me about disparity and simplicity. The amount we spend to get a burger in the city could feed a family in the village for a week! It’s not a lot of effort to ensure basic needs to these people; it just needs equal distribution of resources. I was fortunate to be able to do the least for them.
Learned to let go
Okay, not talking about boyfriends here. I lost 4 elderly family members and I had to cope with the idea that we don’t have the luxury of keeping our favorite people with us forever. Likewise, I learned not to get emotionally attached with people real soon because it will hurt real bad when they leave. I loved my nephew even before he was born; I even imagined myself dancing with him in his birthday party! Since the day he was born, I had to take him in my arms at least once. Staring at his face while he’s asleep had become my favorite pastime. Suddenly, one day his parents had to take him away from me and I couldn’t even say him goodbye. And that’s okay.
Adopted healthy(-ish) habits
It’s not like I used to lead an unhealthy life, but I made some little changes that might pay off in the long run. I’ve stopped drinking fizzy beverages, and have started to drink green tea with no sugar, twice a day. Even if at times I fall weak under peer pressure, most of the time I just think of all the money I can save by carrying lunch from home to office! I drink a mug full of hot water with lemon twice a day for detoxification. No, I am not looking forward to writing a success story of losing a massive amount of weight. The internal organs in my body have always been nice to me and this is my way to give them back.
Pursued my hobby
My hobbies changed like seasons but one thing that could never change is photography. I felt the happiest when I had a camera in my hand. Each time I took a photo with someone else’s camera, I promised myself to get one for myself some day. I saved as much as I could. I had to look away from that sexy pair of shoes or that cool backpack on the online store just to keep my promise. And finally I could buy one, even better than the ones I used to borrow from others!
Made travel plans for the year ahead
After “investing” in my interest, my account balance is in the negative scale as I had to borrow a bit of money from my parents. But, making plans costs nothing. I made dozens of travel plans with friends and family; Bhutan, Kolkata, Assam, Mumbai, Goa, and what not. I have no clue how these trips are going to get financed, but what’s wrong with planning? 😀
Haven’t figured life out
And finally, I still don’t know what exactly I want to do with my life. A full time job? Short term or long term? Which sector? I have a strong feeling towards development sector? So should I opt for an INGO or a national NGO? How about a donor agency? I sure want to pursue Master’s at some point, but I don’t know what kinda program I want to get into. 1 year long or 2 year long? Which course? Home or abroad? There are so many questions I need to answer before choosing one particular way!
I just have one fear: ending up doing something that will turn out to be a burden on me later on. After all, I need to adjust the seat and other settings first before taking off, isn’t it?
Just four weeks ago, I was stuck in the traffic of Dhaka, commuting to my work. Life was stuck in a routine, a boring one. Get up at 6 am, slip into jeans and tops, drape a scarf around the neck, have breakfast while mom packs the same thing for lunch, hop into the car, finally reach office after a sweaty battle with Dhaka traffic, and coming back home after similar struggle. Hardship doubles up when it rains. I used to be the happiest on Thursday nights. Not like I planned a lot of stuff for the weekend, stuff that could balance my weekday struggle. The thought of sleeping a bit longer in the morning and not having to go outside of home energized me a lot. I avoided going out as much as possible. Surprisingly, my parents hate to see me at home doing nothing, even if it’s weekend. They would offer me to go take a walk outside, but my one despising look was enough make them realize how much I hate the idea. Catching up with friends didn’t count and was something I was always up for because that was the only time I could be ME, only time I could rant about anything and everything, only time I could find some solace, altruistically.
I was an intern at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dhaka for three months. It’s not as impressive as it sounds like. Ministry never had interns before; fortunately or unfortunately, I and one of classmates were the first interns (read guinea pigs). We didn’t even have a desk to work on. We just found ourselves a place in the corner of the library. So, the internship went more like a pilot project, an opportunity to make the pitch smoother for the future interns, our juniors at the university who can thank us later. At least in one case, I was lucky because this classmate-turned-to-co-worker is one of my dearest friends. She was the best person to help me out whenever we were asked difficult questions like, “What you want to do next?” or “Why are you here?”; someone with whom I had done multiple group assignments where I always tended to be a free-rider.
We were aliens. Till the end of the internship, we had to explain to the security guard at the entrance why we want to go in. Till the end of the internship, we explained at least one person a day about our position, our motive, our job description, and why we chose to intern here at the ministry rather than going for some other sector that would make a proper utilization of us. Nobody cared or even noticed if we bunked office or left earlier. For three months, we left no stone unturned in search of opportunity to work and receive exposure as much as possible. We met some extra-ordinary personalities who have been contributing with their brainpower in terms of forming foreign policies and building up foreign relations for the country. We looked for opportunities to work where the future interns can be engaged in.
Well, we also undertook assignments that we can boast about; for example, writing up statements for Bangladesh on international issues for the UN General Assembly, researching and reporting on opportunities of some proposed and existing diplomatic missions abroad, and developing resources helpful for day to day operation of the ministry.
Sudden change of backdrop.
Within one week, I am in a van, travelling to a remote village of the Northwest of Bangladesh, a place where I have never been to, with colleagues whom I met just a couple of days ago. I was going there for a field visit because within 2 weeks I was going to shift there with 18 volunteers and my UK counterpart for three months on a development project. In the meantime, I loaded my suitcase with clothes that are “village-friendly”. No more jeans and tops. My office is at ten minutes walking distance, an abandoned room with a tinned roof, broken windows, and doors with completely nothing in it, not even a chair and a table. The only market in the village only becomes alive in the evening for couple of hours where only men come and socialize. Mode of transportation would be 3 wheeler rickshaw van and only needed if I need to get out of the village for some reason. Traffic? Well, the van driver has to slow down or brake if only there’s a queue of ducks crossing the road or a livestock relaxing on it like he owns it.
I and my counterpart chaired a meeting with the people we will be working with in the village. Here, we, especially my UK counterpart were alien too. We were asked questions that are similar to the questions asked in the ministry. This time, it was easier to answer because the answer involved them, their well being. We were there to work with the youth of the village, mobilize them, make them aware and vocal about their rights, and train them for life skills, skills that would earn them livelihood. At the same time, we will be involving the local government and make them more responsive towards the community. They accepted us at once, without any further question or doubt. They said they’ll be waiting for the time when we finally shift there and get started with the project work.
We came back with hearts full of hope. We met our volunteers, shared all the information received during the field visit. Together we travelled for 14 hours to get to the community, dealing with all kind of hardship together, starting from flat tire to slow service of lunch at a highway restaurant. We got welcomed at our village by heavy rain almost at the middle of the night, yet all of us found our way to different host homes. “Tomorrow is a new day,” said my counterpart.
It had been just 2 weeks I know him. He is not a person to be judged at first sight. The only thought that crossed my mind when I first saw him is, “Whoa! That’s a tall one!” Within two weeks I realized I wouldn’t have gotten a better counterpart. He’s the kind of person who would have a definite direction and purpose before setting out for somewhere. He’s one of the few gentle men I have met in my life with all the British-like manners poured in. You know, adding sorry, thank you, please at the end of each sentence, holding up doors, always let the ladies go first and so on. He’s very focused and passionate about the project (so am I!). He’s a good listener which is much needed for making the leadership role more balanced. Most importantly, he has his share of humor when it’s needed, which is a big relief for me. Altogether, we have built a strong working relationship. We did a great job in terms of team building. Everyone seemed super excited to know their roommates and counterparts. We were so excited to get started with the project. Team Northwest was on!
Then everything got blurred.
On the night of our very first day in the community we got to know that my counterpart has to leave for the UK to resolve a menial visa issue, immediately. After a long day of orientation, me and my counterpart sat together to reflect back to what we did for the day and what needs to be done. That’s when I got a call from the Project Manager and was conveyed this news. He said not to be frustrated, but I know how hard it is to have a straight face. I am not fancied by the line “The show must go on”. I and my counterpart realized we have no control over this issue. So we decided to do what’s best for the project: I stick to the planned activities while my counterpart flies back to the UK to resolve his visa issue and help with the project work as much as possible from long distance.
So here I am, in a remote village of Northwest Bangladesh, with 18 people of around my age from two different parts of the world, standing in one leg like a flamingo, eager to put the first step towards the project, eagerly waiting for the return of the other Team Leader with fingers crossed. I and my team ARE a little frustrated, but we are not hopeless. We are still working together on building the pillars of the project. It’s a full moon tonight. All my team members came together to embrace the moonlight and suddenly I feel so lucky to have such a wonderful team!
All these changes took place within four weeks, just four weeks. I love my life!
A few days ago, I saw an article online which was about thing someone would do if he/she gets to know that they have only 24 hours left to live. There are actually a lot of articles as such if you just google it. When I went through one of them, it made me think what I would do if I were in that very unlikely situation. So, I came up with this list as I couldn’t decide on one single thing to do. Surprisingly, while creating the list, the thought of death didn’t scare me at all. On the other hand, I felt the sheer happiness of carrying out all these things listed below.
1. Spend all my money eating at places I always wanted to but never could.
2. Write letters/e-mails to the near and dear ones, write about my feelings for them, appreciating what they did for me, and apologizing if I have ever hurt them.
3. A night out with my friends, drink and party hard.
4. Give away all my belongings.
5. I would love to experience one more thing which requires a partner, but for the lack of a partner, I’ll give up that wish. 😉
Do you remember when you were a newborn baby, someone took you in her small arms clumsily and you bitterly complained with a cry? You were brought up wearing her clothes which she used to wear in her childhood. You enjoyed breaking her toys that she had preserved with her life for years, but she never complained about that. She is no one but your sister.
A sister is someone who used to change your diapers when you were an infant and your mother was not at home.
A sister is when she took you to the playground obeying your mother’s order. Her peers used to play joyfully there, but she couldn’t help but see that from a distance, holding you in her arms. She couldn’t join them because she had to look after you.
A sister is someone who is born to create competition for you. Sometimes you think…