Saturday, 14 January 2012

Knocking your head against a brick wall

A room with a view...Shrimp ponds in Bangladesh. © Mike Lusmore

I’ve been in Bangladesh for just over a week now with Benjamin from duckrabbit and in that time seen some wonderful things, met some lovely people and experienced some things I probably never would have anywhere else in the world. To add to that I have on occasions laughed pretty hard. This evening was no exception to that as after three days of shooting my way through all the cf cards in my bag it was supposed to be a special evening. Our videographer supremo and unofficial Bangladesh fixer Rajib had been trying to track us down a beer since he arrived a few days ago in Khulna. Ever since we arrived in the dry country (that would be Bangladesh if your not up to speed) Benjamin had assured me that Rajib was our man and would secure us some proper liquid refreshment just when we needed it. After a few failed missions including the promise of beer at a hotel in town only to arrive to the possibility of warm take away cans of Fosters for twice the price of our dinner (each!) at the Hotel Royal (Benjamin’s new fav hotel) we thought we had it nailed. One of the guys at our Hotel had arrange via a whole host of mobile phone calls passed back and forth with Rajib to deliver 8 cans of Heineken to the hotel in the day and put them in the fridge for our arrival at dinner. The day was long and I was looking forward to that beer a whole lot when Milton the manager of the hotel approached us in the lobby to say there had been a problem. It transcribed that our beer hadn’t been delivered but Milton had arranged for it to come now..only it wasn’t Heiniken anymore and it wasn’t fosters and it wasn’t anything I had actually ever heard of. ‘Was Royal Dutch beer ok?’ Having never heard of it we asked about the percentage to which Milton beamed a big smile and replied ’6%’. The six turned to eight and by the time the beer arrived it had changed it’s name to Barons Extra Strong and become a whopping 11.8% can of of warm lager. Naturally we declined the offer of what would be affectionatly known to me back in the UK as tramp juice and returned to the dinner table. I searched the beer online and found a review that described as ‘like knocking your head against a wall’. As a photographer I spend most of my days doing that already so a beer is supposed to have the opposite affect for me!

Benjamin tries to ride all of our equipment into the rice paddies! © Mike Lusmore

So having a beer wasn’t to be, and we settled for a couple of cold cokes, well a microwaved warm coke for Rajib and tucked into our rice, dahl, shrimp and oily potatoes. It’s a pretty basic menu here at the hotel but it’s been good food considering some of the stories I have read including the one I found when I typed in ‘Khulna’ and ‘food’ into google. The story of two women who went out to get food and died within hours of food poisioning two months back. Hmmm….yeh that kept everyone quiet for a bit, that was until our encounter with Ali Baba’s.

Rajib (right) looking for a beer. © Mike Lusmore

Ali Baba’s was it’s name – and strange looking food was it’s game. Now I don’t do restaurant reviews but I haven’t laughed so much over dinner as I did at this place, so for entertainment value I’m going to give it a four out of five. In the car on the way to the place we were told by the guy that recommended it that we weren’t getting the shrimp that we had pre-ordered (everything needs to be pre-ordered here in Khulna) as the last two people he had brought to this place had gotten food poisoning. I think these are the sort of things we should discuss before heading over to a place but by this time we were pulling up at Ali Baba’s. It said ‘Chinese Food’ in big letters on the doors which was a bit ominous as I figured we would be eating Bangladeshi cuisine but we pressed on and as I entered the place I realised half of the restaurant did Chinese and the other half did the rest. I say the rest as you seemed to be able to order fried chicken, burgers, dahl…infact it looked a bit like most kebab houses in most cities in the UK with an extended seating area and way to many balloons tied to the ceiling. Come to think of it I have never seen a kebab house with any balloons on the ceiling but this place was obviously celebrating something. We waited whilst our food was cooked/prepared/killed/warmed and Benjamin entertained us all by trying to read the back of a kebab box which he thought wa a menu – very funny. As we were no longer allowed the shrimp our mutton curry arrived looking like it was in a sauce made up of the chesty cough I have had all week (not good) and served with a dose of everyones favourite here, a lot of oil. To be honest I wasn’t hungry by now and picked away at my rice like a five year old as Benjamin tried to work out what had happened to the real Bangladesh cuisine we had come for. ‘I told you this restaurant couldn’t cook’ was the only words forthcoming from our host which I think just about summed up Ali Baba’s. I don’t think I’ll be heading back there anytime soon.


It’s a shame Ali Baba’s was so damn random as when you step outside Khulna into the countryside of Bangladesh the food seems so plentiful and obvious it’s amazing. Rice paddies being planted and harvested all year round, vegetable plots, shrimp and prawn ponds, freshwater fish, saltwater fish, coconut trees, wonderfully sweet Bananas and fresh date juice being tapped from every other tree are just the things I managed to see on my small trip. I’m not saying every one of the estimated 170 million people here in Bangladesh are eating well but the farming methods are really something to marvel at. The mixed use small holdings are just how small time farming should be and provide within the villages and further afield it’s hard to imagine that anyone reading this wouldn’t have eaten some shrimp or rice that came from somewhere here in Bangladesh. I only mention it because it seems to always be mentioned how poor it is here in Bangladesh and I think that is a very relative thing. Don’t get me wrong it IS very poor here in a lot of ways. There aren’t many cars or modern machines, the roads are very poor and the mobile phone is about the only bit of technology I see on a regular basis but they are rich here in other ways. I have never seen people work so hard in my life, it’s almost like a race to get all of the fish fished or build as many things as possible before dinner coupled with the wonderful contrast in the villages that are so peaceful and unspoilt. I think we would all be jealous of the beauty and simplicity of some of the lives here.

Farming with a view east of Khulna. © Mike Lusmore

Friday, 13 January 2012

In and around Khulna in four photos

Just a quick post as I need to get to sleep before I become awake again or before anyone decides to treat the town to another megaphone church service.

Thought I would post a few quick pictures from the last few days in Khulna, Bangladesh. We headed down the river today with some help from local cameraman Rajib. It was great to get out of the city and see some amazing countryside and meet some lovely people.

Photographs below in order:
Khulna evening fish market.
The view from the roof of our hotel.
The rice paddies south of Khulna.
The pedals I want for my pub bike at home!

Monday, 9 January 2012

View from the car

The rest of the light..and the first bit of beautiful light I have seen in Bangladesh.

Just sitting back not sipping on a beer (there isn't any) and taking five after a long day with our group working on photography and audio skills before heading straight into the field to record some material. We thought the weather was bad yesterday but thunder beckoned this morning over breakfast so when by lunch the rain had ceased we took the opportunity to visit a village working with World Fish. It's a bit of a trek to anywhere round here so it we packed up our vehicles and headed out in search of a story and to catch the rest of the light.

I'm currently hiding from the call to prayer underneath my lovely headphones. I'm sure I'll get used to it but it's driving me a bit insane at the moment. I think the speaker is on the other side of my seriously!

Everyone gets straight to work as we travel back to Khulna (I think Benjamin on the right is just playing games).

Sunday, 8 January 2012

5089.1 miles

The view from my room at Lake Hotel Castle, Dhaka

It's taken a few days to get here, including one very long sit down in Dubai's infamously boring shopping mall airport type thing, one cold, about 20 paracetamol, way to much hand luggage and my old favourite, a plane with a faulty engine. I always think it's time to worry when the air hostess is getting involved in the mechanics of the plane. Thankfully they asked us to leave whilst they completed this task. Honestly my confidence was low.

The captain and mechanic have a go at fixing our broken plane. Not cool.

Bristol to London. London to Dubai. Dubai to Dhaka, Dhaka to Jessor and Jessor to Khulna. It's 5089.1 miles as the crow fly's and seeing as it's more for us it's been a really tiring trip. Especially seeing as I managed to somehow get a cold just as I left somewhere cold! I'll thank the British weather for that.. Well if I thought I was entering the opposite side of the temperature scale I was wrong too. There have already been calls to head to the shops to pick up a jumper and that wasn't even me. Even so this looks like an amazing place. Over a million people live here in Khulna and it's the third largest city in Bangladesh. It's about the same as Bristol in the UK and I am hoping that as I get on with work I can explore it a bit.

For now I've been doing a bit of work with the group I am here training from World Fish and having a bit of dinner. They are a really interesting bunch and it's been great to here in a bit more detail some of the programmes they work with here in Bangladesh to improve food security in this region.

I'll leave you with the view from my room. To be honest the picture looks better as the visibility is super low but hey that's what a photograph can do sometimes.

The view across Khulna to the north from my hotel.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Fish & Fish

For eighteen years of my life the only fish I would happily devour was that from the local fish & chip shop. I mean I have always loved fish & chips and it's still my favourite takeaway to this day, possibly one of my favourite meals.. So unless we were drenching dinner with salt and vinegar and wrapping it up in that day's misprinted papers, I wasn't interested. According to my parents I happily spent my youth referring to the dish as 'fish & fish', so I must have liked it deep down inside just not when it came to dinnertime.

So it comes as no surprise that I can remember quite vividly the first fish dish that stopped me in my tracks, and made me sit up and take note. I was at my Uncles in California (that would be you John - thanks again) enjoying the delights of the surf, the beach, my first surfboard and getting driven around in a lowered F150 truck (such a child!).. John suggested some fresh fish from this killer place on County Line that serves up the freshest fish, caught daily from the pacific opposite the restaurant. What with me being very British I felt it was a bit rude to say that I didn't really like fish so I shut my trap. What followed was a culinary delight though, Sea Bass sprinkled with flaked almonds, a generous pinch of salt and pepper and a hunk of butter. All wrapped up in foil and cooked to perfection on the barbecue of course. And perfection it was. Now I like fish, I said to myself.

I'm not the only person who now likes to eat fish. Statistics say that in 2009 the world ate over 120 million tonnes of fish. It's a staggering statistic and that rate increases by 6% year on year. So maybe we should be worried about running out of oil but we should also be aware of the rate at which the world eats fish. Some of the practices that directly affect fish heading for the UK markets were highlighted last year by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on a Channel 4 series called Hugh's Fish Fight. It was heart wrenching, educational and made me want to act. It also seems to have made another 770,617...and counting people want to act, which is great.

I'm glad to be heading out to Bangladesh at the end of this week with duckrabbit to work on series of photofilms for a Fishing & Aquaculture research institute there. It's made me think about how important fish are to this world, for sustenance, to provide livelihoods and in the environment as a species.

It's also made me think about just how hard it is to get a nice piece of fresh fish nowadays. Thankfully my brother is a chef so I had the nicest piece of trout I have ever eaten on Christmas morning this year.

And if you don't know my brother then perhaps it's easier to just go fishing. Like James Brown here..