Onwards to Dhaka…..

Sigh. Its 15th July 2013 – on the 28th July, I embark on the continuing journey of working with Bangladesh, learning about its people, its conditions and ways to improve and contribute toward its built environment.

It has been a while since I have written anything on the blog.  Just attempting to stay sane and on top of all the different ideas that are floating at the moment, forcing some of them to ground.

Turbulence / tolerance: 

I am feeling, as always, quite ecstatic to be on a great and strong journey of learning and doing, that all the different projects are beginning to  fall into some place or other. Of course, being at this junction means that all the variables of all the projects presents a complex end destination – it could all be rosey, or it could be a steep uphill battle!

So, if task one is to learn the language, task two to acquaint myself with Dhaka as city-dweller, engage and catch up with family.  The third task then is to begin to gather information and knowledge on the various projects that exist.  There are of course pit-falls to watch out for, so its always good to enter with an open mind.

Strategic planning, of any sort, requires time and also knowledge of the conditions on the ground.  So building knowledge on the ground is a crucial first step for Paraa, for us, irrespective of what our end goals maybe.  To be tolerant of the existing scenarios, to make sense of them, to engage with them accordingly and to understand that there will be moments of upheaval, or turbulence, but at this junction, it will not be so significant.

Our on-going project to develop a library and learning centre for the Urdu-speaking community continues, as well as looking at some of the existing programmes that are currently being implemented (such as the UPPR) and looking at the conditions for creating and implementing the Safety PIN project (more information to come later) It is perhaps easy to become a writer and critter of these projects and programmes aswell, without having much practical knowledge.  SO for Paraa, to balance the theory with practice has been crucial, to engage with the city, to engage with people and to look at incremental as well as strategic options for progress and transformation.

How do we develop further projects and programmes then? the next 6-9 months give us a real taste of some of the issues on the ground and how we can strategically engage with some of the key issues.  As well as looking at experimentation and alternative methods of practice.  It also means that we can fully engage with both theory and practice and look towards the end of the trip as a key moment for reflections.

So, although our set of projects and programmes are yet to be developed, finishing one or two, and implementing 2 others, will require a lot of thinking and tactics.  It will also require an acute understanding of the local political economy, and the potential room available to manouvre, investigate, research any particular programme or project.  It also allows for a great space to network and engage with other key organisations and institutions.  This really means that we need to be fully receptive to our environment, and to think on our feet as the time goes on.

Reflections/Reflexive Practice
The ‘new’ development practitioner seems to have less ‘set-plans’ or actions, and more tools that can be used to facilitate change or transformation. This new definition means that I enter Bangladesh, not as a Rational Comprehensive type planner, but more as an understanding fellow human being, who has a set of tools and perhaps a body of knowledge that can be useful for the people on the ground to make use of.  To become more strategic in this instance then, requires us to be more reflexive of the environment we are in.  This requires also, developing a network (both of support and of friends) that can engage with the critical dimension of the work we are wanting to do.  It is always rooted in architecture and planning.  But, at what scale, and for WHOM, is the critical question we have asked ourselves.  So it will be interesting to see how we engage with the Bangladesh context – especially as its political landscapes shifts over the next few months and how we reflect on this practice.

Convolute of thoughts/ Overwhelming desire to study the Poetics/ Aesthetics.
What intrigues me then, really, coming from the perspective of an everyday practice, that the lives of the people (those who are poor, those who are not) the perspectives on the city from the young to the old, to the migrant to the trader who has generations of history.  The poetics and aesthetics of the city begin to play on the idea that the city is one of dreams, on of despair, one of joy.  A Calvino type kaleidoscope of views, thoughts and ideas.. It can arrest and convolute, adding layers of stories, that are as significant as the insignificant.  This post-modern interpretation of many narratives, all happening all at the same time, poses a set of difficult questions – how do we make sense of all these stories and who writes/ records or tells them? The story is definitely the power-holder.  IF the urban poor slum-dweller cannot tell his or story through his/her own words, it begs the question, on whose behalf the story is being told, is it the correct and relevant story.  So the overwhelming desire to give everyone a voice, to drown yourself in the banality of everyday existence, in order to find hidden and poetic meaning, becomes a waste of time.  It becomes a waste of time, because a convoluted set of thoughts will encourage further thoughts… creating a vicious cycle of narratives, losing track of purpose.  So rather than becoming a swirling whirling Baul, whose intoxication is inspired by the humanity it often looks to engage with, there is a real need to be quite clear about documentation.

In Going Forward…
Then, there is little else to add. There is plenty to do. AND quite simply, quite a lot to think and unpack, books to write and edit.  Exhibitions to arrange and presentations to make.  In all this however, we must not forget the crucial element, which is to ENJOY the whole experience, to look back on it as a set of experiences that can help US help shape futures that can be positive for many, through aspiring towards positive, social and spatial justice.  We can but dream lofty dreams.

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