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Bangladesh Cellphone Network – Cyclone Proof (Almost)

It took over 24 hours after Dhaka City lost power for the cellphone network to fail. And, it took less than 6 hours to bring it back up again. Now that’s reliable. This isn’t the first time I’ve praised Bangladesh’s cellphone network. I’ve said its cheaper and better than Canada’s (Rogers Wireless sucks), I’ve been able to use it to watch TV streaming live from Canada, as well as to blog during a military curfew, and to upload all my videos and photos that are part of this project. But, during the Cyclone, it became an important lifeline for many people.

After my laptop battery died (and I could no longer type blog posts), I used my cellphone’s built in web browser to get text-only updates about the current situation. I was also able to keep myself somewhat busy by being able to check my mail and log into facebook. But, this was also an important means of letting loved ones from far away know that they are safe and sound. As Bangladesh From Our View points out, some used it to let their friends and famiy in the USA know they were safe.

The cellphone network only died once and that was around 2 or 3 am. This was after the area I was staying had no electricity for over 24 hours. The cell network was running on backup generators and reserve power. Eventually they must have run out of supplies and so the towers in my area went offline. But, overall, it’s been more reliable than everything else around here. I am currently without power for the third time today. But I haven’t missed a beat when it comes to my EDGE network-based internet connection.

I really should be paid for such glowing endorsements.

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt Creep In

I would like to say that everything is okay – but it really isn’t. Lately – for about the past few weeks – I’ve had this nervous feeling at the pit of my stomach. Am I doing the right thing? Is this project – at least the part of it that is online – making a difference?

I guess this feeling first started to creep in after I was able to meet Mikey Leung. Mikey is another fellow Canadian blogger trying to make a difference in Bangladesh. But, instead of coming here by himself, he joined with the Volunteer Service Organization. I actually had a chance to meet up with Mikey in person a few weeks ago and meet some of his fellow friends from the VSO.

How would be the best way to describe my feeling when I met these people? Have you ever run around – when you were really young – with a blanket tied to your neck pretending to be Superman? Now, imagine yourself meeting the real Superman. That’s kind of how I felt. There was no doubt in my mind who the real heroes were. In comparison to them, I felt like a fraud.

While I am walking around with one of my various Notre Dame t-shirts, these guys are wearing t-shirts they designed themselves promoting the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. That’s how hardcore they are. They also have none of the advantages I do. They don’t have family here or relatives here to lend support. They don’t have knowledge of the language before arriving. And, if they get sick (as many of them have), they just keep toughing it out and don’t stop working.

To put things into perspective, these are highly educated people who could have had successful high paying jobs anywhere in the world they wished. I met one of Mikey’s friends who happens to be educated from one of Britain’s best schools (and has a Masters degree), but is working here (like all other volunteers) for 9,000 taka a month. Let me put that into perspective: that’s about $130 dollars US a month. All of them work full time so that averages to about 50 cents an hour.

I wasn’t the only one at Notre Dame inspired by Dr. Jeffrey Sachs. On the Notre Dame facebook, I’ve found tons of people that have since gone off to Africa and other parts of the world to build schools, provide clean water, and make a difference. In fact, Notre Dame recently made a TV commercial featuring Tyler Stavinoha’s work with people in Haiti. You can watch that amazingly inspiring video on youtube at this link.

This isn’t the first time I’ve doubted myself or this project. I also know that this project is a lot about making a difference in just a few lives – and I have been able to do that thankfully. But, I can’t help but wonder how much more I could have done if I wasn’t trying to blog or make youtube videos while I’m here. There are tons of volunteers like Mikey – but very few of them blog. There is a very simple reason for that – when you are working to make a genuine difference, it’s actually very difficult to do much else (like blog or video blog).

As true as that is, that’s one of the reasons I want to be blogging and making youtube videos while I am on this project. Although there are already so many people trying to make the world a better place, there are even more that would love to be able to do so but can’t. Blogging and video blogging can be a way to share this experience. There are also those out there who might be the kind of person who would want to make a difference – but have not yet been inspired or informed on how to do so. If I can inspire others like Dr. Sachs inspired me – all the better.

In many ways, I guess meeting up with some real heroes has made me question my own project because their work is so unambiguous. You can’t question the humility, dedication, and purpose of someone who works for next to nothing (in a country he or she doesn’t know) all while doing it all in relative obscurity. They can also take pride in their work in a way I can’t. My project is a bit more ambiguous. I am trying to make a difference on the ground while trying to make a difference to others online. But, when it comes to the internet, it’s hard to tell whether you are making an impact or just talking to yourself in the dark.

A Family Traumatized By Bangladesh

I am probably the last person in the world who should be trying to do a project in Bangladesh.

I realized this from talking to Mikey Leung – a fellow Canadian in Bangladesh. Like me, Mikey is here to try and make a difference in Bangladesh. He works for a charity, raises money for flood victims, and is working as an IT professional in Bangladesh. But, unlike me, he has no extended family in Bangladesh. For me, having family has made this project feasible – I don’t have to worry about spending money for a place to stay, I get great home cooked meals, and I can even bum a ride most of the time. But, more often than not – it means I’m restricted in where I can go and what I can do.

As a kid, I used to resent this overprotectiveness. As an adult, I now realize that this overprotectiveness comes from a family traumatized by their experience in Bangladesh…. Continue reading ‘A Family Traumatized By Bangladesh’

Bangladesh Cellphone Service Better than Canada

As a Canadian I’m both surprised and sad to report that Bangladesh beats Canada when it comes to cellphone service. I’m writing now from a rural village in Bangladesh (called Madhupur). There is no electricity, no running water, and the diesel generator that was powering a ceiling fan and light bulb died earlier this night. Bangladesh is still a third world country afterall. But, despite all this, I am still able to check my mail, see what’s going on at Digg, and post to this blog.

Bangladesh is one of the few countries in the world that can guarantee each one of its residents can get a cellphone signal – no matter where they are in the country. With a population of over 150 million (over four times Canada’s population) that’s pretty impressive. There are populated parts in the North in Canada that most cellphone service providers don’t bother putting up towers for. Not only can Bangladeshis send and receive calls from anywhere in the country – they can also surf the web on either an EDGE or GPRS network. Part of this has to do with free market competition in Bangladesh and corporate collusion in Canada. Continue reading ‘Bangladesh Cellphone Service Better than Canada’