Friday, January 30, 2009

Translations

video

Translations are usually done informally with team members while in the field. Ecotourism consultants don't travel with official translators. That would be too formal and stiff. But someone in our project generally speaks both languages well enough to provide the necessary translation.

In the attached video, I am gathering information about the Baika Beel, or hoar, where the local community is managing a preserved wetland and offering boat rides on the hoar.

Every field circumstance offers the opportunity to gather information, that might never come out in more formal meetings. As a result, it is a good idea to perform interviews even out in boats or hikes, or other active situations.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hill Tribes


Most of Bangladesh is a massive delta with the huge Padma and Meghna Rivers flowing out of the hills of India to the Bay of Bengal. As a result, the Bengali culture is a delta culture, with rice planting and fishing at the core of their livelihoods. But on the periphery of the country are hills, that lie at the borders of India and Myanmar (Burma). There are wide variety of ethnic hills tribes living in these border zones. The Chittagong Hill Tract is the most famous of these regions, and these groups have sought autonomy and even independence from the delta for generations.

With Bangladesh awakening to the potential of tourism, the hill tribes are suddenly a hot commodity. This has both many dangers and much opportunity.

Last week, before my illness we visited with two hill groups, the Tripuri and the Khasci. In our visit to a pivotal Khasci village on the main tourism route in the hill areas bordering Assam,India - we had the opportunity to sit down with their head man. This village has had historic access to the forest reserves in the region to collect the Betel leaf and nut. The Betel nut is consumed by a large variety of Bengalis, as a mild narcotic/stimulant that is chewed and spit out. The marks of red Betel juice can be seen on walls throughout the country. Here in this tranquil Khasci village, we met women who were packaging the leaves and offering us the opportunity to taste the nut. One of our project leaders said to me, "taste the nut right at its source! It is a once in a lifetime experience!" So I did. You wrap a piece of the red nut in a little leaf package, add lime powder, and pop it in your mouth. It is bitter! But stimulating! Immediately, I was reminded of chewing coca leaves. I spit it out quickly, but I could feel the effects for about an hour afterwards.

We headed up to the village head man's home, and he was there to receive us. I asked a range of questions relating to their receptivity to tourists, their consent to have tourism in their village, and the issues that might relate to how they manage tourism in future. It can never be assumed that ethnic, indigenous groups want tourism. There must be a clear, and informed consent process. This is frequently overlooked, when there is a rush to develop new tourism areas, and my concerns are running high in Bangladesh that extreme caution is required.

The headman was clear that the groups visiting his village were too large, up to 100 at a time. They had had problems with folks entering their homes, and most importantly interrupting their work. There is a lack of permission for visitation, and the village had worked with our project to introduce a gate to close the village from unwanted tourism. But he was also very eager to let it be known that they see tourism as economically beneficial and do not want to eliminate it. There was discussion of how a cultural heritage center, that is not in the village that could provide them with a place to present information would solve the problem. We were all enthusiastic about this. He mentioned that tourism provides a new and different type of employment, especially for youth and women.

The next day we visited a Tripuri village. They were not in the main tourism region, but very close. Our project had been working with the women to market their remarkable hand loomed cloth to a hotel shop in the Radisson in Dhaka, via an organization called Folk Bangladesh. This had been very successful. The women were very pleased with the income, and were thrilled to receive us and wanted to encourage more tourism. They had already formed a cultural team that was reviving traditional song and dance. They had not had many visits, and therefore had not seen the negative impacts. But it was agreed a cultural center where they could perform their songs and dance would be ideal, and also a permanent center to display their cloth. Their key challenges were the lack of electrification, and the need for more education.

All our interviews indicated that the hill groups were not receiving equal access to education. Apparently the young girls suffer when going to school- as they are not Muslim, and at times are harassed. This made parents fearful of sending their girls to school.

It was inspiring to see the Tripuri girls so engaged in dialogue. As we sat with them, they were front and center on this project, and quite young women were leading the charge for more opportunity.




The classic double edge sword of tourism development can be easily observed in these cases.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Call to Prayer

One of the most distinctive parts of staying in an Islamic country is the call to prayer. AT 5:45 AM, I woke to the ethereal call from a mosque that can be seen across the flowering mango trees from my window. I am out of the hospital.

I will stay in a very nice hotel now until Sunday, when I finally depart for the Teknaf Peninsula. Departing from the hospital was sad, and there was a deep sense of gratefulness and many smiles and farewells when I departed. This morning I awoke feeling healthy, and rested for the first time since I arrived!

There is much to report from the previous week. The evening of Obama's inauguration, I was ill and retired before it was carried live, in our little guest house in Srimongal on Al Jazeera English. These are my notes from the following morning.


January 21 09 Srimongal, Bangladesh 5:45 AM

The call to prayer is ringing across the rice fields.
It is now a new day and a new age is dawning.
Obama is president.
The world has felt the illness of what America can be,
the wrongs it can do, the Nero of America's empire
is now gone. Salaam Alikuum, Salaam Alikuum

Voices of Muslim praise to the gods are the first sounds I hear
Their sad, minor loneliness grabs my heart and I remember
we are all one.
It is the voice of reconciliation, awe, fear and longing.
Three men are singing from the two corners of my simple bed
as if in harmony, calling, calling, reminding, reminding
We are here but for the grace of the patterns of the universe

Life is transforming.
We are building on the sails of a destroyed burdened earth,
skies heavy with the carbon of our excrement.
Here in this massive delta, there is rice planting.
The early rice plants stick their shoots above the watery floodshed
demanding nourishment from the cool Bangla wintery sun.
The men push water from field to field, encasing it, securing it
demanding its nourishment. 120 million people are fed.
But the flow of the natural, renewable, life giving waters is blocked and the system is dead.
Stagnant, dirty, muddy waters sickens the once vital delta,
and the factories of brick belch unscrubbed black smoke.
80% of Bangalis are poor, but the system of of polluted water
and growing factories feeds them, if only rice and vegetables. This is life.
Textile and leather dyes now flow untreated, and the waters near Dhaka
look sad and vile. People live in shanties on this water,
scrounging their lives from its toxic mud.

It is the dry season. I am told the whole system comes green,
but with the monsoon rains also come the floods.
I will not see the whole cycle. But today we will see patches of forests
tea gardens and hill tribe groups who live a life that tilts towards renewal.

It is a new day in this flat patch of earth.
6AM and the call to worship is done.
The crickets sing a soft refrain.
This gauzy, netted bed a shelter.
This dawn a new age.

Well, I am no poet. But there are times when prosaic field notes cannot express all of the things an ecotourism consultant observes. I had traveled out through the delta that day, observed the rice planting and brick factories, we had gone to a restored wetland and observed how by removing the many levies and blockages to what is called a hoar, the natural flows of water bring an outburst of life with fisheries now restored, and fisherman showing off proudly their catch.



In these notes are recorded what I learned about the Bengali delta, the cycle of rice planting, factories and their pollutants, of course my own feeling about the inauguration which all of us on the planet felt as a moment of renewal.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hospital

There are times when things just don't go as well as we would hope. An ecotourism consultant's life has its challenges. Arriving in country after flying across the globe is hard on the body, and the 11 hour time difference is rough to adjust to. On arrival generally you are given an hour or so to get unpacked and showered, and then it is right to work. Now if you are feeling well, and all systems are go that is not a problem. But in my case, I had a very suspicious cold, cough and occaisional fever by the time I arrived in Bangladesh. I got some rest my first two nights, and appeared to be on the mend with some over the counter medications.

We went to the field for 3 days, and it was just a terrific set of experiences in the two upland reserves in the North - we took a hike and saw Hoolock gibbons - which are a very rare gibbon that lives only here in Bangladesh. We visited 2 different ethnic, hill tribe villages both of which are taking part in our project and discussed issues related to tourism management. We met with a team of ecoguides who were trained over the last 5 years and had very strategic and helpful comments how to improve tourism management, and we toured a restored wetland that has gone from being a dead ecosystem to a vibrant refuge with over 10000 waterfowl and migratory birds. The local community manages the wetland reserve, and the project has installed an observation tower.

But on the last day of our first field trip, I started to have a fever again. By the time we arrived in Dhaka we had to head straight to the hospital. The doctor had x-rays done on the spot and announced I have pneumonia.

I have been in the hospital now for one day. I am receiving good care and my USAID and IRG team are watching out for my every need. The care seems good. But I am way laid now in hospital for several days.

I pride myself in my ability to adjust to different time zones, foods, and cultures with ease. But this time, the pneumonia bug put this ecotourism consultant out of commission.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Expatriates

My first full day of meetings was underscored by the importance of expatriates in the Bangladesh economy. In my excellent small hotel, I am amusing myself by observing the clientele in the dining room. Last night, at dinner while eating a Bengali steamed fish, spicy, and wrapped in banana leaves, I overhead some Bengali business men discussing textiles with some clients from Asia. Textiles are an important export industry here.

This evening, I enjoyed an excellent Bengali Biryani, with chicken and raisins. I heard two men chatting about Colombo, and the war in Sri Lanka - one British and one Canadian. I started to engage the Canadian fellow after the British gentleman departed, and he was full of venom about the U.S. and all of our paranoia and how Bush had ruined our standing in the world. He didn't care much for his own prime minister either, and blasted their policies on the Alberta tar sands. I just ate my Biryani and urged him on, to entertain me. He was a veteran international consultant working presently for the World Bank.

My hotel seems to be largely populated by visitors from Asia, the UK, and North America, here for international trade or development. It is pleasant to be in an atmosphere, where you are all temporarily thrown together and can talk about world affairs and share perspectives from across the globe. I like the fact that the hotel offers a full fledged DVD library with a DVD player in the room. This is a clear indicator of a strong expatriate client base, as folks like me generally have to work or entertain ourselves in the evenings.

Today we met with the head of the Tour Operator Association, who is the GM of one of the most prominent tour operators here, Guide Tours. He explained that the expatriate market is probably the best market for nature tourism in the country. The domestic market is very large in the South, as they all like to take the weekend at the beach, at Cox's Bazar, which is just north of the Teknaf Peninsula - the focus of my work. But, the Bengalis have not yet acquired a taste for ecotourism. There are presently over 1 million visitors to Cox's Bazar, and just 10000 to the Teknaf Peninsula reserve. But, the youth market is coming on strong. There are scouts and adventure tours for young people, and apparently there is a growing interest nationally in birdwatching.

We had a fascinating meeting with all of my project's Bengali organizational partners this morning - NGOs, academics, and specialists in management of the project in our target zones. A research and communications firm is part of the team. This project has sought over the last 4 years to convey to Bengalis why they should seek to conserve natural resources. A recent survey, by our partner firm, revealed that the local concept of nature and nature conservation is simply to "plant a tree." The concept of preserving nature is painfully limited to replanting it, as so many forest reserves have been damaged and illegally logged.

It may be some time before the domestic populations begin to be interested in ecotourism, but the expatriate market is often a ready set of clients for more innovative tourism programs in countries that do not have a large international client base. As the concepts of sustainability begin to evolve and take off, the younger tourists quickly begin to adopt what has been originally designed for expatriates. This is an interesting but helpful way to move the sustainability agenda forward via tourism!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Arrived without a hitch

After a journey halfway across the globe, I arrived in Dhaka on Monday morning, just an hour behind schedule. The airport was modern and well managed, but the baggage claim was jam packed with hand wrapped bags in all manner of jute, and even blankets wrapped with twine. I don't think I have ever seen a crowd that thick around baggage claim. The whole belt must have had 10 people deep for its entire length. I managed to secure my bag with amazing speed, which was truly fortunate as I had acquired a fever and fairly bad cough during my journey, and was feeling quite poorly.

Once through emigration I was greeted with efficiency on the part of my team, with a schedule they have drafted and revised at least 5 times, a cell phone with charger, and a phone list for our entire team. We went over my journey for the first 3 days, hour by hour! Our main goal is to see the most well organized parks in the north that already have eco-cottages, previously organized by the project, community organizers interested in tourism, and many different officials from an alphabet soup of agencies who supervise the areas we will visit.

Project leadership discussed the big picture with me, and we discussed how to balance the needs of protected areas - which want to see revenue from tourism and remain in control, and private business which will likely not want to be hampered by government. We discussed the importance of my visits not simply providing plans, but leaving a legacy, and this quickly became a theme.

So we are off and running, if only I could feel better. Hopefully, I will get out and take some pictures tomorrow. I was impressed by Dhaka's shady lanes and cannot wait to explore, but right now I just have to recover from the long journey and illness I have acquired.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Day of Departure

I am hitting the road. This is a photo of me waiting for a bus in the Dominican Republic just about a year ago, to set the mood. I will be posting more photos once I arrive in Bangladesh.

A US Air flight landed in the Hudson river today. Not exactly encouraging. Canadian geese flew into both engines. The evening news was full of eyewitnesses and survivors telling their harrowing tales and footage of the fuselage sinking into the icy waters. Fortunately, all the passengers were safe.

My flight is to Washington tomorrow evening and overnight to Dubai tomorrow night. My strategy for reducing the trip's carbon footprint is to travel via the Middle East instead of Europe. It is much more direct and eco-friendly, and easier on the traveler too. I booked an airport hotel in Dubai. My helpful travel agent explained you can obtain a temporary entry visa to exit the airport, which is reportedly very fast, hop a cab and get some horizontal time, before re-boarding. I board my non-stop to Bangladesh at 3:45 AM. It takes two days to fly, departing on the 16th and arriving on the 18th.

Am still putting all my electronics in a bag. It seems more and more electronics are necessary every year. The electricity is 220, so a converter is required, and European round plugs. I have every plug known to man and all the necessary wires in little cloth bags, and two sets of rechargable batteries with a charger. I carry my ipod loaded with new music, podcasts, and audio books, my Skype headphones, and my laptop computer is about to go into a roller backpack!

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Time Disappearing

The last week before departure is always a blur of preparations and taking care of final details. I picked up my new eyeglasses today, Ambien for sleeping through jet lag, and a new notebook and pens for all my notes.

I heard from my supervisor today in Washington. He wanted to make sure I had received everything I need. He let me know that Bangladesh is completely and totally "dry." There is no beer or wine or any spirits available even in hotels designed for foreigners. He mentioned that there is one Duty Free shop right before the immigration desk if I want to have a little supply of my own, for private use while traveling! Interesting detail. He lived in Bangladesh for 5 years, and he said when he forgot to mention this to other consultants, they were a bit peeved! I appreciated his thoughtfulness.

I received some exciting and interesting maps of my project area. There has been initial zoning work done, some early trail design, and work on interpretation centers. Apparently, some Indian consultants have already been to the site to help develop interpretation of the parks.

I was sent statistics on the visitor numbers for the parks for 2007 and 2008 along with how much each visitor paid for entry fee and other goods, such as T shirts and hats. This is outstanding information, and vital to understanding how tourism is impacting the region and its potential for benefiting the parks.

I have also received word that I can meet with a gentleman from a local university who is writing his masters thesis on tourism in Lawachara National Park. I will be visiting this park my first week to learn more about how tourism is being managed in Bangladesh's parks, before proceeding to the Teknaf Peninsula where I will review the strategy for the entire region.

My visa arrived today for 6 months, multiple visits. That is always a very important moment.

I am rushing to complete work with partners on many other projects before departure. I may now write again only after I begin my journey! Time is disappearing as my flight is only 48 hours from now.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Mind and Body Preparation

It is Friday afternoon, and I have one week until departure. On weekends, I turn to questions of physical preparation, mental strength, focus and acuity before a trip that will be this long and possibly demanding.

The good news is, I am going in the dry season. The humidity should not be very difficult, and there will be little rain. The mosquitos should not be in swarms! I will be doing a fair amount of hiking, but given the country is flat as a pancake, the physical demands should be quite light.

But, the mental demands are very great on these assignments.

I am very dependent on taking excellent notes. While, I have tried recording with a small recorder, it is too time consuming later. Rather, I must work like a "reporter." I have a notebook that can fit easily in a bag that is rugged and waterproof. I use simple pen and paper, and I am very fast at outlining what is being said while I speak with each person. I take photos with a camera that is light, but very good quality, with an excellent telephoto lens. I want to be able to capture the people, their geography, the wildlife, birds, and the architecture that is typical of the place.

I have to be very quick to notice how my hosts perceive things, and what their attitudes and viewpoints are. The cultural differences are vast, and I must immediately understand how their culture background gives them a different way of perceiving the world.

To prepare, I read about the history of the country, and its religion and culture. I try to understand past wars and conflicts. Where there are many ethnic differences, I work to begin to understand how majority cultures interact with minorities.

There is alot more to say, but it is Friday! My focus is on Mind Body preparation. I try to stay physically fit. I work out regularly. I do yoga to keep limber and to keep all of my mental and physical systems working optimally. I rely on my good health and the ability to resist disease, But, I like to eat foods in an adventurous way, in fact I must eat local foods. This puts me more at risk. I find doing mind body work in advance helps me to be acute, healthy and ready.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

How to Dress

Modesty is always a good policy for women when traveling! I am amazed nowadays when I see the attire of young women on university campuses. Tight fitting, labels in provocative places, belly buttons showing, low cut garb. Everyone knows about this now in Western countries, and it may be fine when young people are among their peers, but what really curls my hair is to see women traveling with provocative attire when they are overseas.

I have had some pretty uncomfortable feelings myself over the years trying to avoid too much attention. It can be tough just trying to swim in a pool. In Cairo, I went down to the pool at a major hotel, and was scandalized to see all of the men sitting around the pool in traditional Saudi garb watching the women go swimming in their typical western bikinis or bathing suits. It was clear we were there for their enjoyment, and they did not hide it! They simply ordered drinks and enjoyed the show.

I am heading to a beach area in Bangladesh, and I am advised not to even think about wearing a bathing suit! Because I do not have too much experience in Muslim countries, this will be a first.

I wrote my supervisor, with the firm International Resources Group, who are managing my project. I asked him to fill me in on appropriate attire. I had read that loose long sleeve shirts and pants are the best choice, but what about for meetings in the city? He informed me that Western women are treated differently, but that clearly modesty is the best policy! I asked if I could buy a few salwar kameezes (dress like tunics over baggy trousers) on arrival, and was given a quick go ahead to go shopping. That will be nice. I find the cottons and rayon clothing of India and Bangladesh are so comfortable in the hot weather, and I have always wanted to wear these tunics with trousers.

Women friends of mine working with me in India told me that they were thrilled to adopt the salwar kameezes for every day wear, rather than the saris. Saris are so beautiful, but I have actually gone hiking with women in saris, and I can frankly say they are not designed for active women!

I will also need a dupatta, or long scarf to cover my head. I will hope to have some pictures taken of me in my new outfits after arrival. I loved the way women like Benazir Bhutto wore here clothing and her dupatta was always such an important part of her modestly beautiful attire. She was such a beautiful woman, and her attire made her that much more a local woman to admire. How sad she is gone.

On the more practical side, I bought a brand new pair of trousers at Outdoor Exchange in Burlington, that are zip offs. They should be good against mosquitos and with all the pockets you could dream of for days in the field.

I think I am ready with the clothing I need, and that is an important consideration for any traveler.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Biodiversity and tourism

I made comments on my proposed schedule yesterday for the team in Bangladesh. A GIS/GPS specialist will be traveling with me as we are going into areas where there is no tourism at all presently. As we travel into these forest reserves, we will be scoping out options for a wide variety of nature attractions and mapping the sites we feel have the most potential.

In this preparatory period, I am still doing my reading. I need to know what the scientists are saying about the biodiversity at the site, and then match that up with what can be of interest to travelers. It is highly important that I work with conservation scientists to understand what areas need to be left entirely alone. Preferably there will be a conservation zoning scheme already in place, but I have not heard that there is any zoning at my site.

As I learned yesterday, many of the reserves in Bangladesh are very new. Frequently, I am working in a situation where a variety of donors are involved, and I need to know precisely what each donor has done, and their plans for each site if at all possible. This can get extremely complicated at times. But, lately, as I have been working in countries with little tourism, and incipient conservation planning, I can make a greater impact and work directly with the other pioneers working on site. That is really fun.

I learned today that my area has a Coastal and Wetland Biodiversity management Project (CWBMP) managed by the United National Development Project - Global Environmental Fund, implemented by the Bangladesh Department of Environment. I have their print out with pictures in front of me. They are establishing an innovative system for management of ecologically critical areas in Bangladesh. They should be very interesting partners to meet and work with.

Their website explains that Bangladesh has both inland freshwater and tidal salt-water wetlands. The majority of the 120 million people living in Bangladesh are dependent on the country's wetland systems, through fishing and agriculture. My study area, the Teknaf Peninsula has one of the longest sandy beach ecosystems in the world (80 km) with 81 migratory birds species recorded, as well as 4 species of threatened sea turtles.

I also have St Martin's Island in my study area, which is apparently a unique coral-algal community with no parallel in the world. And I have Sonadia Island as well, which is a mangrove island which supports many waterbirds and sea turtles.

It will take a bit more time to investigate how well an average visitor will be able to appreciate any of these wondrous biological assets. Frequently, biologists - who are almost always there long before me - assume that biodiversity in and of itself is a tourism asset. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, this is not the case. My job is to put these assets through a variety of evaluations. I love birdwatching, and so I can appreciate what a bird watcher will come to see. It is not always what the biologists think. I love scuba diving, but a coral algal community with no parallel in the world might not be the best place to allow diving - if this unique ecosystem could be easily damaged. These are just some of my considerations!

I love the opportunity to confer with the biologists and protected area managers, after all I was trained as a wildlife biologist myself! But I then have to begin to "train" them to see the tourism economy in a whole new way!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Gathering more information

Yesterday, I received my copy of the Lonely Planet Bangladesh. Copyright 2008! Quite exciting to have an updated guide book with recent details on travel there. It states, tourism in Bangladesh is so little established that there are currently very few "eco' options in the classic sense of environmentally sustainable hotels and restaurants.

Now this is the kind of challenge I seem to thrive on!

There are many promising signs about the political landscape. Elections were just held. Good friends of mine dropped by their latest Economist, which reports that after 2 years of army-backed caretaking, Bangladesh has returned to democratic rule, with a 70% turnout and an overwhelming majority for the winning Awami League. So huge is the opposing party's defeat, that protests will hardly be credible.

The Economist reports, asked what they wanted from the new government, most voters - of whom some 45% live on less than a dollar a day - had one simple answer: cheaper food. In this one respect, the government may be in luck. There was a good rice harvest and lower fuel prices are also helping.

What is fascinating about this work, is how the image of a country can be so entirely different from reality. What I have been told is that the government has woken up to its huge natural wealth, and though they face extraordinarily difficult environmental problems, they are expanding and beefing up parks and reserves and implementing environmental laws that other countries could learn from.

For example, they banned petrol and diesel vehicles in Dhaka and have banned plastic bags nationally.

The IPAC project that I will be working for has already undertaken ecotourism development in the Lowacherra and Satchari National Parks. Lowachera is a wild and mysterious patch of semi-tropical rain forest. Satchari is a superb patch of tropical rain forest with higher biodiversity. IPAC launched the concept of eco-cottages at both sites. My first week I will visit these areas to learn how the project has worked for local villagers and for the forest department. There will be time to learn about the management of the cottages, and also to discuss how the effort to tame elephants has worked.

According to my colleagues, elephants had never been tamed for tourism in Bangladesh before. Until now they had been used strictly as beasts of burden and for labor. Apparently it can take quite some time to retrain an elephant to carry a tourist! I will need to learn the feasibility of retraining elephants for tourism as part of my assignment, the time it takes, the talent, and which mahoots can even take this kind of project on!

Each new point of information becomes an exciting gold mine of opportunity. I must learn about every aspect of the culture, the natural resources, and begin to understand what special elements will appeal to tourists.

But, we are not necessarily talking about foreign tourists. In fact, increasingly my job is to develop tourism for middle class visitors - from the same country. This will likely be our approach in Bangladesh - and this makes the challenge of understanding what local people enjoy particularly important, while at the same time creating a development standard that will meet international sustainability goals. The process of working to create a set of consensus built, local goals in concert with international standards is often phase one.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Day of Preparations

The New Year kicks in and I am off and running with preparations for travel to Bangladesh. My hosts, the Integrated Protected Area Co-Management Project (IPAC), supported by USAID, have sent my formal letter of introduction to the Embassy of Bangladesh explaining that I will be working to develop a community-based nature tourism strategy.

I will be visiting the country twice in three months. The first visit is for 3 weeks in January and February. I return to my office in the United States for writing the draft strategy. I return in March/April to meet with a wide variety of stakeholders to review the draft. I finalize all the strategy paperwork by the end of April.

I prepared all of my Visa application paperwork and photos to send off via Federal Express to a visa expediter today. I should have my Visa in 7 days, so we have all the paperwork processed with a few days to spare. This is normal.

You can imagine the size of my passport. I got a double stitched passport years back now, so that all of the visas I need can fit into it. But when I arrive at each new destination they have to page through alot of visas. They look at me, look at all the pages, but there never seems to be much fuss. I heard someone describe the American travel experience as being part of "empire," just last night. We are not questioned, at least I must say I am almost never questioned. I am embarrassed by this, knowing how many others are questioned so heavily wherever they travel. But of course, I have all of the right paperwork and I am very careful.
I am going for very specific reasons, that are very carefully detailed.

And of course, I go in peace, hoping to bring prosperity to other parts of the world via the sustainable development of natural resources. I believe in this mission, it truly does bring prosperity to rural areas especially, places without options - places that are not likely to receive benefits from other development strategies.

Tomorrow, I will begin to work out scheduling and details for my visit.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Countdown for Departure

Preparing for an ecotourism assignment begins with studying the country you have been assigned to. I am heading to Bangladesh for the very first time on January 16, 2009 - a
country most everyone I know associates with poverty, overpopulation, and regular flooding. I see the eyebrows twitching, the question marks in my friend's and colleagues' eyes. I hear their thoughts, Bangladesh for an ecotourism assignment?? Yes, yes, yes - there is no need to worry. Every time I am assigned to a country that no one associates with tourism, I find the most magnificent gems - places that tourists may some day see, but are mostly undiscovered. This is a privilege, an honor to go before the tourists arrive, and I relish it.

How do I prepare? There are many components. Of course, there is the country clearance, the shots, and other health considerations. This time I had to take a live Typhoid virus, to prevent Typhoid. Of course, there is the Malarone to prevent malaria. I am still without a visa, as my country clearance has been held up by the Christmas holidays, even though I am visiting a Muslim country. I just bought my ticket on New Years eve day, as I could not take the risk to wait any longer for my clearance. The usual delays, I don't really worry.

But the most important ritual for me is going to the university library. I went before Christmas. The students were in every corner readying themselves for final exams before the holidays. I was blissfully searching the catalogues and stacks for background and finding myself fascinated - intrigued, excited.

I have been reading the books I selected that day at home over the holidays. I could not help but start with Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet, scholar, and philosopher. He is one of the most revered men in Bangladesh. I must admit I did not know his work. So as the sun set over my beloved mountains here in Vermont, I read Tagore yesterday evening for the first time, and sought to enter in to his life-long journey to bridge East and West.

I found a poem, which I will excerpt for my first post.

A Travelers Wishes

Traveler, must you go?
The night is still and the darkness swoons upon the forest
The lamps are bright in our balcony, the flowers
all fresh, and the youthful eyes still awake.
Is the time for your parting come?
Traveler must you go?

Did we ever try to hold you back it was but with our eyes.
Traveler we are helpless to keep you.

What quenchless fire glows in your eyes?
What restless fever runs in your blood?
What call from the dark urges you?
What awful incantation have you read among the
stars in the sky, that with a sealed secret message
the night entered your heart, silent and strange?

O traveler, what sleepless spirit has touched you from
the heart of midnight?

Excerpt (with edits) from Tagore, The Mystic Poets, The Gardener