News - February 14, 2013

Cycling in Bangladesh

Who? Imke van Asseldonk, MSc Environmental Science
What? Did a seven month internship and research at the World Fish Centre, an NGO and research institute
Where? Dhaka, Bangladesh

'In Bangladesh I got to know a new side of myself. I turned out to be more adaptable than I thought. Dhaka is a megacity and I thought I would find that stifling. But not so. The traffic there is very slow so after two weeks I bought a bicycle. A strange thing to do in Bangladeshi eyes. Many Bangladeshi have never seen a white person, let alone a white girl on a bicycle. In their eyes, whites are rich, and if you are rich you buy a car with a chauffeur. Cycling is for the poor. In Bangladesh, class distinctions are still very much in evidence, and that can be difficult. As a woman, you are treated differently. That made it hard to be sure what men's intentions were. On the streets it was normal to be stared at, so if you want to feel like a film star, go to Bangladesh.
My internship consisted of helping with a study of the different levels of fish consumption in the rural and urban populations of Bangladesh. We looked at the trend towards farmed fish rather than wild-caught fish. I was given a database and worked a lot with Excel and on making graphs. That is something you can do in the Netherlands too. Boring, really.
After the internship I did research for my MSc thesis. I looked at the development of pangasius fish farming in two villages since pangasius was introduced into the region at the beginning of 2002. My focus lay mainly on the impact on land use and the livelihoods of rural households. I was allowed to do field work and it was no longer a nine-to-five office job. That gave me a chance to get to know another side of Bangladesh: the countryside. The people were incredibly interested in me; I was invited everywhere and was offered food all the time, even during Ramadan. In the Netherlands everyone has a much bigger social circle, whereas there it is small and very close. I miss that now I am back here.'