We had great expectations of change as we arrived in in Dhaka, having not lived in Bangladesh since 2003. As luck would have it, we arrived to a hartal — a nationwide general strike — called by one of the political parties. These were common occurences when we lived here but have thankfully been rare in recent years. During a hartal, citizens are advised to stay off the streets and economic activity slows or comes to a halt. The positive side of this is that the usual traffic jams were non-existent and we made it to the hotel in record time. Our first impressions – the air seems much cleaner (autorickshaws with two-stroke engines have been banned and replaced by much cleaner natural gas-fueled vehicles); the streets seem cleaner (gauze and jute bags are now often used instead of plastic); there are many more hotels and restaurants and the high rise offices and apartments are now ubiqitous (you could count these on one hand just 7 years ago). Tree-lined boulevards and roundabouts welcomed us and, of course, the hospitable Bangladeshi people. The cattle markets were in full force, preparing for the annual Eid al-Adha holiday when animals, primarily cows and goats, are sacrified and the meat is shared with family and the less fortunate.
We are very happy to be back in Bangladesh for a few weeks.