Lost in Translation

These past 14 hours have served as an example of one of the many frustrating challenges a project like this faces.

What many non-Bangla speakers sometimes don’t realize, is that there are many variations of Bangla. There is city Bangla, Bangla used by those who emigrated away from Bangladesh, and rural village Bangla. Each one comes with different accents, meanings, and translations.

This can be a lot of trouble when trying to translate words I’ve heard for the first time in rural villages. This was exactly what happened when a local villager tried to explain to Paul that Cyclone Aila had destroyed many “bhitas”:

In many ways, I relate to this villager a lot. I often throw English words into my Bangla when I don’t know what the Bangla equivalent is. And this villager, while explaining the damage caused by Cyclone Aila, had to throw in “bhita” because he didn’t know the English equivalent.

The problem is that there is no direct English translation for “bhita”. And thus began my 14 hour struggle to find a translation.

The first people I turned to were those from the American-Bangladeshi community. This consists of Americans who originally were born and raised in Bangladesh. To my surprise, many of them told me their Bangla was too poor to properly help with any translation. This includes people who still do business in Bangladesh! I was shocked and surprised.

Those in the American-Bangladeshi community that did try and take a stab at translating each came up with different words. One suggested it means “embankment”, another suggested it meant “landscape” or “property”, someone else suggested it meant “home”, finally one of them suggested it meant “mud hut”. How could one word mean so many different things?

Well it turns out they were all wrong… and right at the same time. Click the jump to find out what the word “bhita” means.

A

A woman stands on top of a clay & mud platform or "bhita" as part of Canadian funded Post-Cyclone Sidr relief efforts

“Bhita” is the name of the artificially landscaped ground used to raise a home above the surrounding ground. It serves to keep low-level flood waters out of the home. In many respects it’s kind of like a “household embankment” even though that’s technically not the correct use of the word “embankment”. It also kind of means “home” or “property” because this platform serves as part of the house. This platform is usually made out of mud and clay – similar to what many mud huts are made out of.

The problem with Cyclone Aila is that the flood waters were so high, these household platforms were not high enough to keep the flood waters out. Not only that, but the force of Cyclone Aila’s flood waters ripped to shreds many of these household platforms. You can see the damage in some of Paul’s photos:

Broken

The ground underneath this home used to be several feet higher. What was underground is now exposed.

Broken

"Bhitas" can also be considered to be a foundation of sorts. Without a bhita, as seen here, many homes start to collapse.

As you can see, many of these homes still stand despite losing the very ground underneath them. In the second photo seen above, much of what you see used to be buried under the ground inside the “bhita”. This also connects to why poverty, global warming, and disasters are all connected. If they were wealthy enough to afford a higher platform made of concrete – their homes could have very well survived intact.

6 Responses to “Lost in Translation”


  1. 1 Jeff

    I really appreciate your posts. I lived in rural Noakhali district from 1994-1997 working for an agency called Mennonite Central Committee. I can relate very easily to what you write about. . . I appreciate the video and information on Bangaldesh, and what you’re wihtin your project is great.

  2. 2 Jeff

    I really appreciate your posts. I lived in rural Noakhali district from 1994-1997 working for an agency called Mennonite Central Committee. I can relate very easily to what you write about. . . I appreciate the video and information on Bangaldesh, and what you’re wihtin your project is great.

  3. 3 Owen

    Very graphic illustration of the hard end of climate change and a reminder of who the people who will suffer the most are going to be.

  4. 4 Owen

    Very graphic illustration of the hard end of climate change and a reminder of who the people who will suffer the most are going to be.

  5. 5 merajul

    I was like just browsing through “youtube” and somehow found the video “the disregarded disaster Cyclone Aila in Bangladesh”. I have seen the aftermath of the disaster on TV news and read about it on news papers. You know what we bangladeshis are very much accustomed to these terrible disasters appearing one after the another. Its amazing how much we can take and still have the strength to rebuild our future.
    But what startles me the most is that every time we are into such terrible events there is always people like you to help us to get through.

  6. 6 merajul

    I was like just browsing through “youtube” and somehow found the video “the disregarded disaster Cyclone Aila in Bangladesh”. I have seen the aftermath of the disaster on TV news and read about it on news papers. You know what we bangladeshis are very much accustomed to these terrible disasters appearing one after the another. Its amazing how much we can take and still have the strength to rebuild our future.
    But what startles me the most is that every time we are into such terrible events there is always people like you to help us to get through.

  1. 1 Lost in Translation II | the uncultured project

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