Ambassador Mikael H Winther along with his wife Ratanawadee Winther in front of a more than 200-year-old crumbling building in Old Dhaka currently housing 52 families (collected)
Danish Ambassador in Dhaka Mikael H. Winther wants to be a person ‘approachable’ to all. He wants to get closer to the people’s needs, and for this purpose he believes in going out into the rural heartland or countryside.
Since arriving in Bangladesh last September, Ambassador Winther has maintained the principle by putting it into practice, racking up a number of visits to several districts outside of the capital, where foreign diplomats can often get cooped up in the bubble of the Diplomatic Enclave of Gulshan, Baridhara, Banani.
In the process he has been won over by the sheer beauty of Bangladesh and its people.
“In recent months my wife (Ratanawadee Winther) and I have been visiting several parts of Bangladesh. We have been to districts of Rajshahi, Chittagong, Sylhet division and quite recently I myself went to Barisal and Dinajpur,” he told Dhaka Courier.
All these trips, Ambassador Winther says, have been “wonderful” and gave them a chance to meet the Bangladeshi people in all their diversity and to see rural Bangladesh – in the process discovering that Bangladesh is a lot more than Dhaka.
Speaking of Dhaka, the ambassador said they also had a “wonderful trip” to Puran Dhaka (Old Dhaka) together with the most qualified guide, Taimur Islam who – together with a great number of young volunteers – works hard to preserve the historical sites and areas of this crowded yet dynamic as well as historic part of Dhaka.
“Not surprisingly, my impression of Bangladesh gets more and more nuanced the longer I am here – in particular because I meet so many people from different layers of society,” said Ambassador Winther.
“As a musician I have had the immense privilege to perform with some really fine musicians of Bangladesh and discovered that so many people share my passion for music,” said the diplomat who plays guitar and also has a powerful voice.
Ambassador Winther continued: “It is great that there are public concerts where both Ratanawadee and I have the chance to discover and experience the Dhaka music – both classical, folk and pop – and also to discover the active music scene and meet the artists themselves.”
He said it gets him in touch with people that share his interest and also allows him to pursue a hobby in his free time.
Travelling around the country has also provided the couple with first-hand experience on the resilience of the Bangladeshi people, said the Ambassador.
“Faced with many challenges, people seem to be struggling on and the impressive development that Bangladesh has made is clear and visible anywhere we go,” he observed.
The ambassador, however, said there is no doubt that many people have a hard life – and in particular women are facing difficulties – but the spirit is high and challenges are met with enthusiasm and curiosity.
“As an ambassador of Denmark, naturally I am very pleased to see many results of our co-operation in so many areas in Bangladesh,” he said.
“Our focus on women’s economic empowerment seems to pay off – and it is both encouraging and inspiring to meet many of these women in person. Chatting with them and learning about their background, struggle and efforts to improve their lives for themselves and their children gives me hope and optimism for the future of Bangladesh,” said Winther.
Coming back to their trip to Puran Dhaka, Ambassador Winther said it was special because they had a chance to walk on historical sites and to encounter the crowds and charming messiness of the old part of this city.
“Not all of it beautiful, and it reminded me of how much work there is to preserve the heritage of this city,” he said laying emphasis on preserving heritage.
The Ambassador said he was impressed with the enthusiasm of these young people who are dedicated to get people to pay attention to the beauty of the past and go against both commercial and political interests in the pursuit of the goal for the society as a whole.
“It was also refreshing to get out of the car and experience the real city and the life of the people,” said the Danish Ambassador having a career spanning over nearly three decades.
Responding to a question, the Ambassador said he is looking forward to continuing his travels around Bangladesh with Ratanawadee, a Thai citizen.
“We both enjoy adventure and we love new experiences. There are so many areas and towns we need to see. We will continue to travel for work and for pleasure,” he said, adding that he is also looking forward to playing more music and meeting more Bangladeshi people – musicians and others – who enjoy this.
“I will see you all out there,” said the diplomat who is very passionate about his music.
The Danish envoy said he does not want to do his job only in a formal way. He believes being briefed only by government officials and diplomats will not allow him to know the country. “I won’t be able to sense what people really think of.”