Dhaka, Bangladesh Report of what it's like to live there - 01/07/11
Personal Experiences from Dhaka, Bangladesh
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. Ouagadougou, Niamey, Ndjamena, Nouakchott, Dakar, Bamako.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
3. How long have you lived here?
under one year
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Most of he expatriate community lives in either Baridhara or Gulshan. Most, but not all, embassies, NGOs and aid agencies are there, too. However, the Secretariat of the government where all the government ministries are is 10 KM away, which takes between 1 and 3 hours by car. You could usually walk faster, if walking 10KM were practical.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Western goods are limited and expensive when avaialable but there is plenty of local staple foods including rice, lentils, other beans, and vegetables. Fruit is of quite poor quality and can be expensive. It is very difficult to find decent lettuce. Fish is often not safe to eat becasue formaldyhyde is used to create the appearance that it is fresh. There was an outbreak of anthrax which meant that for a several month period, most red meat was not readily avaialable.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Very few good options. For instance, there is only one decent Chinese restaurant, one decent Italian restaurant, one decent Indian restaurant, one decent Thai restaurant, a good steakhouse and several Korean restaurants. This in a city of 16+ million persons. Though it is not an Islamic Republic and 20 percent of the population or so is not Muslim, alcohol is not sold in restaurants or shops.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
Vegetarians could do well with vegetables, rice and lentils.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes are by far worse than in any place in Africa we have served. While there is reportedly no malaria in the capital, there is dengue fever. Several expatriates in town known to us have fallen ill with it in the past 6 months.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Luckily through diplomatic mail.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
low cost and plentiful.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
At embassies and clubs.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Not too safe but can be done.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Cable, mostly pirated from India and in Hindi, but there is some English.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It would be useful to speak as much Bangla as possible. Most people, even professionals and intellectuals, as well as government officials up to the highest level struggle in English. People of lower socio-economic status typically speak no English at all.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Even people without physical disabilities have tremendous difficulties getting around the city because of the volume of humanity and cars.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Affordable but unsafe.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
You can live easily without an auto and would be doing the country a service if you did not bring one in.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. from $40 per month for wireless.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
This is a conservative muslim country.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There has been little in the way of crime or terrorism threats here in the past, which may explain why most Westerners, including embassies, seem to have a blithe attitude towards personal security threats. Household security is more lax than in any post where we have served in Africa. There were similar perceptions and attitudes in Nairobi and Dar e Salaam with regard to terrorist threat levels before the attacks on U.S. Embassies there.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
It is one of the most insalubrious environments we have ever been in. Prepare to be ill regularly because of the poor air and water quality. Even rinsing a toothbrush in tap water is not recommended.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Very unhealthy even if there has been a successful move to compressed natural gas for most public transport vehicles. Our 4 young children all suffered from upper respiratory illnesses requiring anti-biotics multiple times during our first year.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's a candidate for the most inhospitable climate of any capital city in the world. It is like Abidjan squared in terms of heat and humidity for much of the year. December and January are cool. During the hot period, there is a pervasive smell of sewage/feces throughout the city.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The American international school has a great reputation but one that outstrips reality in our experience so far. The administration is often not responsive to parent input and criticism. There is rumored to me significant drug and alcohol problem at high school level. Quality of math and science teaching often seems sub-par. Insufficient after school activities for children even though their cost is supposed to be covered through tuition. A school year that starts too early (August 7th or so) and which has a too-long Christmas break (nearly one month).Both of these--the early start and the long Christmas break--are to accomadate the teachers apparently (there is a regional international school conference in early fall which requires that school be out of session for a week in October). Skipping the fall break and cutting back Christmas break to a week (or 2 maximum) would allow school to start begining of September or at least late August. August is also one of the most oppressiely hot months.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
The school recently took a very retrograde attitude towards the daughter of a colleague who was arriving after the opening of the school year in Dhaka. His daughter needed an evaluation for a mild learning disability, and the school administration attempted to force the father of the child to take her out of the country for an assessment, since the school's assessor was "booked up" for a month. The principal also proceeded to mock the quality of the school where the young woman had been studying previously in South America.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
There are several local facilities in Baridhara including Jingle Bells. Both French and American schools have pre-schools.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
School programs are available.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Those who thrive on the club life, or have a very rewarding professional situation, or are able to get out of Dhaka into the countryside are happier than those who are not able to have these coping mechanisms.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
There is much entertaining in the homes of expats.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It is not a good city for families, singles, or couples. It is also not a good city for most Bangladeshis who live here, except the super rich.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It would not be a good city for straight, gay, bi-, oversexed, undersexed or a-sexual persons.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Many Bangladeshis will stare at anyone who looks different from themselves, so different racial groups will experience that.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
A 5.1 earthquake in October that shook houses and caused little damage.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Very little. There are very few restaurants, coffee shops, parks, or other public or open spaces where one can divert oneself.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Spices are great.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It is a realtively convenient jumping off point for visiting other countries in the region such as Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, etc.
11. Can you save money?
No. You will need to spend what you would have saved to get out of the country every other month.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
mosquito repellant and 100% deet.
4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Bangladesh's Cruel Birth. By former US Diplomat Archer Blood.
6. Do you have any other comments?
It is not politically correct to say that a place is difficult for expatriates because we live a privileged existence. But Dhaka is the most difficult assignment for living that many in the foreign service/diplomatic/development community will ever experience -- even if they will never say that out loud.