Archive for the 'Cyclone' Category

Instant Replay

Today I had one of my flashbacks of Cyclone Sidr. I don’t know if you’d call it PTSD or not but it’s certainly not fun to have those memories replaying in your head like some DVR. Instead of keeping it to myself, or writing it in my Moleskine, I thought I’d talk about it here.

It was 2007 and Cyclone Sidr had just hit a few days prior. I had teamed up with a Western INGO (that was not Save the Children) that was one of the first to respond. Bodies and corpses were showing up everywhere – burying the dead hadn’t even begun yet.

This INGO was helping provide clean water to what was the equivalent of a Save the Children Child Safe Centre – a place for children to stay safe, get help, have shelter, and be protected from human trafficking during this post-disaster period. One of the kids, if I remember correctly, lost her last surviving parent and had become an orphan.

I remember timidly interviewing her on camera – choosing my words and my tone ever so carefully. This was quickly disrupted by the INGO that I had come with. The lead aid worker barked at me to stop filming and to pack up. The reason? “Their needs trump mine” and they want this girl for themselves.

The girl was quickly whisked from a private corner with me and her current guardian and plopped in the middle of a group of children. Why? Because it looked better on camera. She was then strung and wired up with AV gear – stuff she’d never seen in her life. Why? Because the audio was better.

Then one of the INGO’s aid workers/videographers propped this giant camera bigger than this girl’s head inches from her face. There, surrounded by a dozen kids, strangers, expat aid workers, and on-lookers she was instructed to talk about her dead parent. The girl, who just a moment ago was calmly talking to me, started gasping and crying.

I don’t have a grandiose point to make with this post. It just… angers me. There are more aid, development & relief organizations out there now than there have been in the history of the world. And the technology to arm each of these organizations with the gear to record video or capture images has never been cheaper.

And, maybe because it is so easy to go “into the field” with this gear, we assume that we have a sense of entitlement. Whether it’s to “capture the truth” or to “tell a story” or to “raise awareness” or to “raise funds” or to “promote the good works of an organization”.

But the purpose of a camera in the field shouldn’t be for the benefit of the viewer, or the donor, or the organization. It should be about serving and empowering those in front of the lens. And just because it’s a video and can have slick editing, music, and graphics doesn’t make it entertainment.

I wish more people understood that. That’s all.

Lost in Translation II

A couple of days ago, I wrote about my frustration trying to translate a single word a young cyclone victim had told Paul. Although it may not seem like much, here’s the fruits of that 14+ hour labor:

What you might not see in this video – because I did have to edit it a bit to make it understandable – is the struggle he was going through to find the right words to express himself in English. He desperately wanted to share his story – and I desperately wanted to make sure I got what he was saying correct. In hindsight, a half day’s worth of work seems like a bargain for that.

This also serves to highlight one of the common things I’ve learned about how Bangladeshi rich fail to understand, empathize, or even acknowledge poverty within Bangladesh. Many of the well-to-do Bangladeshis didn’t have a clue what was being said but instead offered their guesses (such as “he’s talking about river or coastal embankments” or even better “he’s talking about returning a book”).

As this experience highlights, when it comes to well-to-do Bangladeshi elites and their understanding of the plight of the poor in this country. Both literally and figuratively, the rich are often not even speaking the same language as the poor.

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.

Continue reading ‘Lost in Translation’

Out of the Frying Pan…

Cyclone Aila Victim Talks to Paul

A Young Villager Talks to Paul About His Experiences with Cyclones Sidr & Aila

When my friend Paul stepped off that plane at Zia International Airport in Dhaka, he thought he was going to get away from it all. For the past several months, Paul has been living in Nepal. He’s seen regular riots, curfews, day-long power outages, and frequent water shortages. Bangladesh, by comparison, was a place he assumed he could get away from that for a bit.

Being the great friend that I am, his experience was more like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Instead of taking Paul to Cox’s Bazar for a break at a seaside resort, to the Sundabans in the hopes of glimpsing a Bengal Tiger, or even the beautiful tea gardens – I took him to a cyclone disaster area to see what we could do to make a difference. In what was no doubt an act of sainthood, Paul endured stomach aches, blistering sun, peeling skin, and a two day journey to reach a remote village affected by Cyclone Aila.

In addition to my mobile vlogs, I have regular footage and photos of the event. But in the meantime, Paul has a great first blog post about his experiences complete with some amazing photos. Paul also was generous enough to let me repost a select few of these photos on uncultured flickr account and license them under the Creative Commons (which I will be doing in the near future).

Although Paul never got to see Bangladesh’s fancy resorts or tourist spots, by the time his trip was over, he could unequivocally say he’s stood in places that no “bideshi” (foreigner) has ever stood before. Which, knowing Paul, probably made this whole crazy trip worth it.

Back Home from Disaster Relief

Thanks to Morgan for all those blog posts – I couldn’t have kept you guys up-to-date without her help.

Now that I’m back from the disaster area, I will be closing the Cyclone Aila Relief Fund in the next 24 hours. I’m leaving it open for one more day just in case there is anyone who wanted to donate earlier but couldn’t.

I also don’t want my efforts to be mistaken for official fundraising for Save the Children (or any charity for that matter) – so the sooner I close the donation page, the less confusion there will be.

Thanks again for all the support this project has been getting. And, as always, don’t feel obliged to donate. Just stick around – there’s a whole lot more I’d like to do if I can keep this project going.

Disaster relief – Day Three

I mentioned yesterday that Shawn and Paul were headed into the field to hand out the non-food family disaster relief kits to families in need. For those of you who donated, he was able to post cameraphone images of those he gave the kits to. If you’ve been following him on Twitter, you’ve already seen some of these images.

@fngkestrel's donation
@fngkestrel’s donation
@flawedartist's donation
@flawedartist’s donation
@nichis's donation
@nichis’s donation

Shawn and Paul have come back from the disaster area and were able to give us a brief update on YouTube.

Even though they’re back, it’s not too late to donate which you can do by clicking here.

Thank you once again to everyone who’s donated and shown your support on YouTube and Twitter. This really couldn’t have been possible without you guys.


Disaster relief – Day Two

Since Shawn and his friend Paul are armed only with their cellphones while in the field, this blog post is brought to you by flawedartist.

After close to a week and a half of searching for a way to bring aid to those displaced by Cyclone Aila, Shawn’s only a few short hours away from delivering over 45 non-food family disaster relief kits to families in need.

What makes this trip unique is the fact that Shawn has been able to share Mobile vlogs, Cameraphone images, along with updating Twitter to give everyone real time coverage of this weekend journey. It’s amazing to think that within 72 hours of donating, I will be able to see the smiling faces of those I’m helping.

Words cannot describe how amazing that feeling is.

While Shawn has already uploaded several mobile vlogs to YouTube, you can watch his latest mobile vlog here:

… and this is only the beginning. Please be sure to check back, as I’ll be updating you guys again once he makes it to the main relief site.

If you are interested in buying a kit that Shawn will be giving to those in need, you may do so here. These kits include:

  • 1 Family-sized mosquito net (7 x 5 ft)
  • 1 blanket (7 x 5 ft)
  • 1 tarpaulin (plastic sheet you can use as a roof 30 x 5 ft)
  • 1 bucket
  • 1 pitcher
  • 1 mug
  • 1 bar of soap

I would like to thank everyone who has donated so far, specifically two of my good friends Andrei and Russ.