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.
“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:
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.