Broad smiles, curiosity and an overwhelming hospitality are the first things that come to mind, when I remember my trip to the Wikimedia community in Bangladesh in November 2017.
I was able to combine work with personal travels with my husband and spent almost four weeks visiting different parts of the country and meeting with Wikimedians from Bangladesh. Three workshops about Wikipedia and Safety were held at convenient intervals in the capital city of Dhaka, the port city Chittagong and in the University city of Rajshahi. Between the workshops, I had time to explore the country, see its beauty, problems and most of all to socialize with the local Wikimedians and learn from them.
Nahid Sultan, Moheen Reeyad and Masum al Hasan were of invaluable help to me. They helped organize things in advance and in situ. One or more of them was with us or available to us day by day, showing us things and people, the best places eat or drink tea, helping us get around, and giving me many hard fights on who is paying: Bangladeshis like to invite their guests and pay for everything, if you are not wary and crafty!
They and other members of the community we met made us aware of how small minded we often are in splitting costs exactly. We (re-)learned from them that it is not the money spent that is most important about an outing, an evening in a restaurant, a boat ride together on a river, but the time and experiences shared together. Thank you all for that repeated lesson!
And they did show us wonderful things! Together we went to Museums and impressive heritage sites, they organized group boat rides on the majestic, but unfortunately heavily polluted rivers of their cities (they found out quickly that I love boat rides), took us to the seaside and advised us on the best dishes, the best streetfood and the best places to buy souvenirs. We saw a splendid pink Mughal Palace, the National Martyrs' Memorial (a beautiful modern concrete structure in a lush garden), met poets, University teachers and artists as well as lots of Wikimedians, visited a deserted city, as well as a fascinating Hindu temple district in a lively village and so much more.
They also provided opportunities for us to meet and talk with other Wikimedians at the free time between the workshops. The workshops were all three well-attended. In Dhaka, there were more seasoned Wikimedians than in the other cities, as the event also included the prize giving ceremony for the two big photo competitions Wiki Loves Monuments and Wiki Loves Earth. In Chittagong and Rajshahi the workshops attracted also a lot of people that had not contributed to the projects before.
What really made me happy, was not the numbers, but the way participants in all three workshops paid close attention, even in Rajshahi, where it was held in the evening and attended mostly by students who had already had a full day of classes.
Even if asking questions from a foreigner like me visibly took some courage, participants came back with important questions — for example on how women can be safe at Wikimedia events, or how translating can be helpful to the Wikimedia projects.
These events were an opportunity for us to learn about some of the challenges Wikimedians face in Bangladesh. Already before, but also on the way to the workshop in Dhaka, we experienced the problems of getting around in Dhaka — traffic jams are a serious issue there and even short trips can take an hour or more. Similar to that there also a lot of other small things that just take more time and energy, than I, as a European, am used to. Things like shopping, or even crossing the street. In addition, most areas of Bangladesh suffer from repeated power outages and the internet is not reliable everywhere.
Also, we were told, volunteering for an institution like Wikimedia is not regarded as something to be applauded by the general public. Parents, friends and strangers might not nod approvingly, as they often do in Europe or Northern America, but rather chide you for wasting your time, when you contribute to Wikipedia. It really made me wonder — if I had so little time for relaxation and fun and did not get public recognition for volunteering — would I still be willing to edit Wikipedia and its sister projects in my precious free time?
Another challenge for Wikimedians in Bangladesh is the disproportionately high cost of technical equipment. While the cost of living and often the wages are comparatively low, all electronic equipment costs about as much as in other countries, or even more because of taxes. Cameras for example, are not something most people own — and because of this, some have trained themselves in making excellent pictures on their smartphones. So good, they even get awards in the national photo contest of WLM. But even smartphones are a kind of luxury and I have heard of users editing Wikipedia extensively from a normal cellphone. Just imagine what more these people might do with good equipment!
Despite all the challenges, the Users in Bangladesh are very active. The editors community is not a big one, I was told around 150 to 200 very active contributors. But they, with Wikimedia Bangladesh, the independent Wikimedia chapter, take an active part in the international community, where they serve as Stewards, Affiliations Committee members and admins on Wikimedia Commons. They organize wonderful events and even if they are not many - they spread enthusiasm and Wikilove.
If you want to learn more about Wikimedia in Bangladesh and get to know some of the wonderful contributors from this country a bit better, you can contact them yourself! Be bold, it is worth it!
পোস্টটি বাংলা ভাষায় পড়ুন