Archive for the 'Family' Category

Christmas Wish List

Santa sitting and waving

... Maybe Next Year

Santa’s not putting anything underneath the tree this year unfortunately. In fact, this past year, there have been no birthday presents, nothing for the holidays, and definitely no surprises. Between my parents helping me replace my busted external harddrive, helping provide the airline points so I could meet Hank and John in Texas, and helping me return to Bangladesh in the new year – they have been supporting me as much as they can.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things on my wish-list. In this blog post, I’ll list some of the things that would make a huge difference in this project. However this isn’t a ploy at Christmas-time cyberbegging because the most of the things on this list require a Christmas miracle (or two).

Click the jump for the list…

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Living the Life of Luxury in Bangladesh

Haha – just kidding. This is just a video of that cockroach infestation I had photoblogged about on Flickr a while back. I sure have come a long way in my phobia of cockroaches. (Heads up – this video is not for the squeamish).

Looking at this video from the comfort of my home here in Canada, I actually feel real sad. Because the fact is I have a few well-to-do relatives in Bangladesh. They all live in nice big modern homes free of insect infestations.

But, they couldn’t care less about me and – in fact – have gone out of their way to make sure I don’t stay with them during this project. So, instead, I live in an old pre-war house that often floods, nearly got my mom killed due to the mosquitoes in the area, and goes for days at a time without running water or electricity.

Unfortunately, things got so bad for me in Bangladesh, that I now know that I can’t rely on my well-to-do relatives even if it’s a medical emergency. Unsupportive relatives are one of the many reasons, I decided to come back for a break.

The Struggle to Survive to Five

If you have 45 minutes to spare this weekend, I highly recommend you watch this episode from a BBC World documentary called Survival – Fit For Life:

[UPDATE: If you want to watch the embedded version, just click the jump]

The program focuses on the challenges of childbirth in rural Bangladesh. After seeing this documentary, I began to better understand why Bangladesh’s child and infant mortality is fifty times worse than the developed world. It’s not just lack of access to medical facilities, medicine, and equipment – it’s also about educating people to move away from traditional beliefs.

In rural Bangladesh, traditionally, when a baby girl is born the placenta is buried inside the house. If it’s a boy, it’s buried outside. Why? Because they want the girl’s heart to stay at home and the boy to wander. But not all traditions are harmless – some do affect newborn’s chances of survival.

In traditional home birth situations, babies are usually given honey shortly after birth. It’s believed this will “sweeten the speech” of the child. The same goes for feeding – babies are usually fed cow’s milk the first few days instead of breast milk because they believe that will enhance the immunity of the child. And often after birth the baby’s arms and legs are tugged at in order to “stretch them out”.

I am really glad the BBC made this documentary. This is exactly the kind of stuff I couldn’t easily capture. Not only do I not have the filming and production resources of the BBC – but also, as a guy, there is also a gender barrier for me to capturing moments like these. I think producer/director Cassie Farrell and her film crew did a pretty even-handed and insightful job.

For more information on the Survival documentary series – you can check out their website.

Continue reading ‘The Struggle to Survive to Five’

An Emotional Low Point

Today was one of the days – or perhaps the only day – where this project has brought me to tears. Nothing particularly spectacular happened, it’s just been a culmination of the emotional toll this project has had on both myself and my family.

Just the other day my uncle had made a long distance call to my mother to tell her how much I’m wasting my time here in Bangladesh. “The internet isn’t real life” he pointed out and – therefore – what I’m doing is meaningless. As much as I’d like to villianize my uncle – he’s not the only relative to be saying these kinds of things. And, admittedly, I can’t deny their logic.

Do I officially have a title other than “unemployed”? Nope. Is this project earning me a degree? Nope. Is this project earning me an income? Nope. In a culture that emphasizes titles, degrees, and paychecks (and, admittedly, such emphasis is not exclusive to Bangladesh) what I am doing is meaningless by such standards.

And it’s not like this is something I can simply ignore. In addition to chiding my parents, relatives like my uncle have been progressively leaning on my grandmother in the hopes of making her less helpful. I think my grandmother is starting to feel the strain and – as a result – has been less able to help me. Now even doing basic errands – let alone important project-related work – are now monumental tasks.

The lowest point of the day was when I had a phone call with my mother. My mom has had to make some pretty big sacrifices for me to do this project. Over the phone, she got a bit teary eyed as well as she lamented that all the room, board, and transportation she could help me with back in Toronto is meaningless because she’s powerless to help me here in Dhaka. As she points out:

“It would have been easier for you to do this in a country where you had no family connections.”

This project has taught me a lot about poverty – both the kind of poverty you find in the wallet, but also the kind of poverty you find in some people’s hearts.

Some Things Heal, Some Things Don’t

“So what did the doc say?” asked Rick as he put down his book and I re-entered his car. Rick had driven me to the doctor’s office so I could find out what the results were of my malaria test. “Well, I don’t have malaria” I said unsurprised. “So the doctor gave me some antibiotics to take for the next six days” I said as I held up the pack of 12 pills the doctor had given me.

I was happy to get this all sorted out and – hopefully – start to get better. But, I couldn’t also help but feel a bit sad. Literally, a five minute walk from the doctor’s office was my aunt’s apartment (the one that owns the European Standard School). Not only did this aunt not give me a place to stay while I sorted these medical issues out; but also, despite knowing how sick I was, they didn’t even bother to call to see how I’m doing.

My other aunt (the one who wistfully said “we’ll see” when I asked for a ride to the doctor’s office – but never got back to me) never even bothered to call back to see if I eventually did make it to the doctor. And my uncle who owns his own newspaper and his well-to-do children? Well, lets just say that I wouldn’t count on any of them to even bother showing up to my funeral.

I know this is all may come off as a bit melodramatic. Normally, I wouldn’t think about such issues. Normally, I’d be focusing on my project and my work here in Bangladesh. But, ever since I’ve been sick, I haven’t got much work done. And the lack of support I’ve been getting from most of my family here has kind of shaken me up. Fortunately, the kindness of strangers and the support I have back home means this project is in no danger anytime soon 🙂

The Kindness of Strangers…

… or how much of my family in Bangladesh doesn’t give a damn about me.

I try and avoid writing about negative family issues because it kind of feels like I’m airing dirty laundry. Although I’ve tried my best to minimize how much I talk about this issue, the fact is the single biggest emotional toll I have had on this trip is discovering that most of my family here simply doesn’t give a damn about how I’m doing here or if I need their help. That’s not universally true of course. My grandmother has completely blown me away with her endless compassion and generosity despite her unemployment and her limited fixed income. But, as she often points out, “big wallets don’t always mean big hearts”. This also connects to what I’ve been saying earlier about many wealthy Bengalis living in an “aristocratic dome” (something thicker than just a bubble).

This ended up being a much longer article (rant?) than I imagined. So the complete article is after the jump.

Continue reading ‘The Kindness of Strangers…’