Thursday, April 9, 2009

Life Back at the Computer

The journey home to the United States went smoothly via Dubai. Though it takes over 30 hours on the return, a rest stop at a nice hotel in the Dubai airport, including a spa with jacuzzi and sauna definitely makes this trip more enjoyable!

The team in Bangladesh has now submitted all of the completed data sheets and notes for the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats study in the Sundarbans Reserve Forest, and I am already hard at work preparing the report. The revised Teknaf Peninsula Strategy will also be produced for our team by the end of April.

There is alot to do to create a more sustainable set of circumstances for the management of ecotourism in Bangladesh. Detailed action steps will be provided as an addendum to the revised Teknaf Strategy, as part of my report. With this information, the local team should have the appropriate tools to begin the real work!

For now, I will discontinue the blog as I write up all the results and provide the action plan. This blog will come alive again when action begins. Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Traditional Boats of Bangladesh

Our team visited master boat maker, Yves Marr, today. Yves' story is unique. He flew over Bangladesh in an airplane when working for Air France, and decided this watery delta would be the destination for his latest adventure - in a life dedicated to exploring the world by boat. He arrived in 1994 in a boat he had built himself in France. Just when he was in striking territory, a cyclone was slamming the eastern region of the country near Chittagong. So he piloted his boat into the safety of the Sunderbans mangrove system, on the west side of the Bay of Bengal. There he saw for the first time the most remarkable diversity of traditional boats on earth. Yves was dumbstruck but quickly came to learn that traditional boat makers were disappearing and that this unique world heritage was slipping away. Few would have understood the importance of this cultural resource. But Yves did, and as a result he never left Bangladesh. He fell in love with and married a Bengali woman and has since devoted much of his time to preserving traditional boats and the craftsmen who still design them by eye to perfection.

We visited his boat yard today and traveled in the smaller boat he crafted for day trips. Yves successfully launched a beautiful museum exhibition on the traditional boats of Bangladesh in 2005, which was displayed in Dhaka and is now touring Europe. To his immense surprise, Orson Welles did a documentary on sail boats around the world, and a big portion of the documentary was shot in Bangladesh. The film is now part of the exhibition.

His current plan is to create a museum of traditional boats, with a working boatyard on the property with boats under construction by traditional boat makers at all times. We toured the boats that are presently in his inventory including this remarkable shampan - a large ocean cruising boat that he and his team built from scratch based on the memories of boat makers, as the craft has disappeared from use. The name Shampan is derived from the Chinese boat name, sampan. Before European arrival, Dhaka and the delta were influenced by both Arabian and Chinese boatmaking styles. On our visit to the Sundarbans we encountered smaller river going shampans, but the ocean going craft has disappeared.

The opportunity to discuss boat making with such a master made for a great afternoon. He explained his new approach - reproducing traditional styles with fiberglass. He is no longer able to maintain the full size historical craft, as it takes immense amounts of costly labor. Instead, he will create molds of the traditional styles and preserve the heritage in fiberglass. Naval architects are also creating a digital archive of the traditional designs, as the boat builders simply bend the boards to their needs by eye and practice without any written record.

Our hope is to work with Yves on creating a new ocean going replica for cruising along the Teknaf Peninsula.

Today is my last day in country, and our core team traveled to Yves' boat yard for this last mini-field trip. In this picture, Nasim, Zahangir, myself, and Sumaiya gathered for a group shot. We have created a strong camradrie after many days traveling in remote parts of Bangladesh together. We met many people throughout our journeys, like Yves, who strongly support our mission to conserve natural areas and benefit local people through ecotourism.