Bangladesh through the eyes of women – interview with Dr. Sakia Haque

Chamber: Together with your 3 friends you take part or rather you have created “Travelletes of Bangladesh”. Where the idea is coming from to travel around Bangladesh and on scooter (on top of it)?

Dr. Sakia Haque: Actually 2. Me and my best friend,Dr. Manoshi Saha started Travelettes of Bangladesh with the motto to ’empower women through traveling’ on 27th November 2016. Under this organization we started a project named ‘Narir Chokhe Bangladesh’ / (Bangladesh through women’s eyes) where 4 girls traveled all around in every districts on scooters.I & Manoshi were the driver and the other two were selected from the committee members.Different girls in different phases.We completed Bangladesh in 10 phases.Among the girls,our vice-president Silvy Rahman were in 31 districts among the 64. We wanted to taste the freedom,stop wherever we want.Most importantly, we wanted to see beautiful Bangladesh. We wanted to talk about menstrual health, teach girls self-defense on our way.

Chamber: Your profession is MD, how can you deal between your profession and travelling?

Dr. Sakia Haque: I am not a MD.I am an MBBS doctor.It was hard to manage duties as a physician and then complete this exciting project. We were not allowed to take leave.That’s why,it took 2 years to drive through the whole country.We would take leave for 5-6 days and then work over-time and take extra duties.

Chamber: What is the source of the greatest pleasure for you when travel?

Dr. Sakia Haque: It is really hard to explain.The speed,the wind around me & the laughters and excitement of the children when we talked with them.The awe of the general people who have never seen girls driving scooters.And lush green countryside.

Chamber: As a traveller you have seen many things and experienced a lot of amazing adventures. Any particular memory that stayed with you?

Dr. Sakia Haque: A lot actually.It will take pages.I will name one/two.
-The hand-made sweets in different districts.
-People sometimes stopping us as they have seen us in newspapers.
-Girls sharing about their health problems,which they never shared with anyone.
-We faced a storm while in Laxmipur.Our scooter slipped and we had an accident &we missed ferry by 5 mins.We reached our destination at 1am.
–Hundreds of waterlilies in Barisal
-Sunset from the top of a hill on the way to Rangamati.
-The tribal people greeting us with songs and dances in Thakurgaon
-In the southern region,we were in the rainy season & we had to gather all our strength and lift our scooters in a boat to cross areas as there were no roads and so many rivers.
-Driving 100km/hr on the highway.
– People making food for us and arranging get-togethers to meet us.

Chamber: Don’t you scared/afraid of travelling around Bangladesh? In your country it’s rather rare (we assume) that woman travel lonely. Did you sometimes face a lack of acceptance of your passion from your people?

Dr. Sakia Haque: Yes, women didn’t travel inside the country that much when I started traveling in 2015.Then we started Travelettes of Bangladesh in last of 2016.It has 37 000 female members now.For the motorcycle tour,we were scared as we hardly knew how to drive.We drove at 15km/hr and people used to laugh at us as we were this slow.We became good with practice and patience. We informed the administrations before going to another district in case we faced any problems. But nothing bad occured.We saw a positive,safe and friendly Bangladesh. Everyone is eager to help, eager to feed and host.
We did receive comments like ‘This is Kiyamat (the end of the world) after seeing us driving. But mostly everyone praised and inspired us to move forward.

Chamber: Do you take many pictures when travel – is there any place where we can see them?

Dr. Sakia Haque: Yes,we have a website Mostly, we are very active in Facebook, the most used social media in our country. And a short video of ours can be seen on Youtube. But we generally enjoyed the journey, so not that much photos. And videos are not of professional quality.

Chamber: Since 2009 Prime Minister of your country: Sheikh Hasina Wajed. Does this fact actually helps you and other women in your country (to empower themselves)?

Dr. Sakia Haque: Since 1991,we are having female leaders as prime-ministers. Sheikh Hasina is the prime minister for 3rd time in a row and the present government is putting quite a lot of emphasis on women empowerment  and motivating projects like ours.And in a male-dominated society like ours,she is a pure motivation for girls like us.If we face comments like:’ You should know your place.You are a female’. (We did face these kind of comments,weirdly from different classes of people). We can gladly retort, ‘Hey,we all are under a female prime-minister’

Chamber: I know that one of your main goals when travel is to visit local schools. Why?

Dr. Sakia Haque: We were unable to share about our menstrual health with anyone.Being doctors we wanted to talk about menstrual health and make the girls understand that it should not be a tabboo-topic.They Don’t have any clear idea about their reproductive system.Though the topic is included in the school syllabus,the teachers skip them considering the topic too embarrassing. We also arranged workshops on self-defense.We talked about topics that will help to empower women. And why school-girls? Because we felt they are the most vulnerable part of our conservative society.

Chamber: Education of children that you do is a long-term strategy. But can you actually see any results (fruits of your engagement) now? Do you think you can actually bring the change? At the end, model of how woman function in societies id taught between mothers and daughters. Do you t think you can change anything with your work?

Dr. Sakia Haque: Yes,it is a long term strategy and this should be a long -term project. We only talked with one school per district. The girls we reached did let us know that they feel more empowered now.They believe everything is possible for a woman as well. And we still receive phone calls consulting about their health.But we are planning a long-term strategy to be started soon,where we will send volunteers in every districts in every school to continue this project.

Chamber: You are a strong, smart and well educated woman that fought a lot of stereotypes about women in Bangladesh. Have you ever had a moments of doubt in your work? If you did, how did you overcome it?

Dr. Sakia Haque: Yes, a lot! Though the journey was very very adventurous and exciting,sometimes I was so tired that I thought I & Manoshi  couldn’t drive any more to any district.I didn’t think we could actually complete this project.We drove so extensively that now I have backpain with only 10kms drive. But people around me inspired us.We thought of the districts and upcoming adventures and pushed each other forward.

Chamber: Woman hast to believe in herself and be brave/courageous. How do you teach this attributes to young girls but at the same time respect your tradition (i.e. that man is a head of the house)

Dr. Sakia Haque: We start with showing them how beautiful Bangladesh is. We show them they should be brave for their own sake, to take care of themselves. To protest against sexual harassments if they face any. We tell them to be more open with parents, tell them their problems complementing the tradition

Chamber: What is your message that you would like to share with Polish women?

Dr. Sakia Haque: No matter where and which part in the world you are in, you can achieve everything if you are passionate enough. Traveling in Bangladesh is an adventure itself, as it is not that tourist-friendly yet. If anyone plans to come here,do give me a buzz. I believe I can suggest and help to make a good plan.It is safe,friendly & beautiful.

Chamber: Sakia, what’s your plan for the future? Do you want to continue to travel or do you want to change something in your current life, open new projects or explore new hobbies?

Dr. Sakia Haque: Traveling is my passion. It will be hard to stop .I would like to visit more countries.The number is 21 now. But no rush! I am recommended as a Government medical officer now, planning to do post-graduation in pediatric medicine. We are restarting the project as I mentioned earlier. (To arrange workshops in every schools in the country) & Travelettes of Bangladesh will continue to empower women, take them to adventures  every month as many times possible and inspire them along the way.

Dr Sakia Haque: Bangladeshi doctor at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH), founder of Travelettes of Bangladesh.

Joanna Zarzycka – Osikowska

Translation: Aleksandra Zakrzewska