Tag Archive for 'BBC'

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’

Blood Covered Streets: Eid Festivities in Dhaka

Last Friday was, by far, the most surreal day since arriving here in Bangladesh over six months ago.

December 21st was Eid here in Bangladesh. Eid ul-Adha is a religious holiday which is as important to Muslims as Christmas is to Christians. Like Christmas, it’s a time when people get together to spend time with their family. What that means for someone like me – living in Dhaka City – is that most of the city empties out as people head to the countryside and rural villages to spend time with loved ones. It was very weird seeing all these empty streets that are normally filled with bumper to bumper traffic. I was able to get from my uncle’s home to my grandmother’s home in under 10 minutes. Any other day it would have taken anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.

Eid, like Christmas, is also about giving. But, there are no presents under a tree for this holiday. Instead, it’s all about feeding the poor and feeding family. Those who can afford it usually buy a cow, a goat, or lamb. They then divide it so that a minimum of 1/3rd goes to the poor, another third goes to loved ones, and the rest is kept for oneself. Early Friday morning I had gone outside of my home to a very odd sight. Every few feet there was a cow or other farm animal tied to a fence or post. It’s like how you find bicycles in Toronto tied down to almost anything that doesn’t move. Except it was farm animals instead of bikes.

So the busy streets of Dhaka – normally full of the sound of cars honking and rickshaw bells – was eerily silent. Except for all the mooing. What came next though was really something.

As part of Eid, it’s a religious tradition that the family that buys the farm animal divides the animal up themselves. And by “divide” I mean that Dhaka basically became an open-air butcher shop. I have photos but, in good taste, I’m not uploading them. Friday morning started off waking up to the sound of mooing instead of the sound of cars. Friday afternoon that mooing was replaced with the sound of knives cutting. Along the roadside, every few feet, there was someone cutting and slicing. The streets were literally filled with blood. What was even weirder is that those parts of the city that had gated communities had their gates all closed and locked up during the day. Outside those gates stood dozens upon dozens of homeless and poor – hoping to get some of the meat that was being chopped up inside.

As shocking as such a sight was, upon reflecting on it for a couple of days, I think it’s been more good than bad. No wait – don’t close your browser window just yet – hear me out. First off, for me personally, I’ve become more respectful and mindful about where my food comes from. Back home, it’s sometimes easy to forget that a life had to be taken for you to enjoy that steak on your plate or that burger in your hand. After all, the meat from the supermarket comes prepackaged, vacuum sealed, and saran-wrapped. It’s also a refreshing change to see a religious holiday where the gift of giving is not just extended to friends and family – but also to random poor strangers.

Giving meat and beef away to the poor is actually something the poor need. Malnutrition is actually a major problem in Bangladesh. The most common issue with malnutrition is a lack of protein – particularly among the very young and poor. The poor in Bangladesh usually can only afford to buy foods which are high in carbohydrates and low in protein. Some may not even buy food. Before coming to Bangladesh, I saw a news report on BBC World News which showed that a lot of the poor in Dhaka simply boil up leaves they find near their homes and eat that for dinner. For many of the poor that had gathered near the various gated communities, Eid was the first time this year they were going to be able to have a meal with protein.

And since anyone partaking in this tradition has to give a minimum of 1/3rd to the poor – it also makes you more mindful about the plight of poverty. Can you imagine what kind of world we would have if 1/3rd of the presents we were buying during the holidays were to be given away to poor strangers?

Cellphone Plans and Service: Bangladesh Beats Canada. Period.

Canada maybe a “first world” developed country, but when it comes to cellphone service, it’s got nothing when it comes to Bangladesh. Don’t believe me? Ask Piotr Staniaszek – who recently got a bill for over $85,000 from Bell Mobility. What was his crime? He used his cellphone as a modem so that his computer could get on the internet. He downloaded some high-definition video and transferred a lot of large files which, as the BBC put it resulted in “massive extra charges”.

You know what’s so funny? I do the same thing but it costs me only $20 a month. I seriously give my cellular provider a run for its money. I’ve done over 2 gigabytes of activity in the past few weeks alone. The latest episode of The Uncultured Project on YouTube took me 300 megs alone. But, unlike Canada, the cellphone providers here don’t care how much you use or whether you are using the internet on your phone or connecting your phone to your computer. Plus they have a feature so that prevents you from accidentally incurring excessive charges.

I used to think that Canada, having the status of a “first world” country meant that it did everything better than “the third world”. I guess, when I hear those terms, I imagine it as an analogy of a race. But, whenever I look at my cellphone here – I’m reminded that there are some things Bangladeshis do better than Canucks. I feel sorry for my friends in the Frigid North.

I wrote an article about this on NowPublic.com. It’s after the jump. It’s the same thing that I said here though – just more news-ish sounding.

Continue reading ‘Cellphone Plans and Service: Bangladesh Beats Canada. Period.’

Cyclone Sidr Deaths Now Exceed Sept 11 Attacks

“We really got to make sure that we educate – not just the [local] people, but also ourselves,” explained Nick Downie. Downie, a British national, had come as Operations Co-ordinator for an alliance of Save the Children charities from around the world to come and help those affected by Cyclone Sidr. I had accompanied Downie for a day, earlier last week, to a remote region of the disaster area that could only be reached by either boat or helicopter.The location for Downie’s plea for education could not have been more imposing. We had just walked for 30 minutes along a path full of make-shift refugee housing and buried bodies. The largest grave we had found had over 13 newly buried bodies – over two-thirds of which were children. In the middle of the interview, I interrupted him. There was a powerful smell that made it almost impossible for me to breath. “Is that smell the dead bodies? Or the dirty water?” I asked…

With the official death toll currently being reported at 3,268 (source: Bloomberg.com), the loss of life caused by Cyclone Sidr already exceeds that of the September 11th attacks. With new bodies being found everyday – a great many of them children – the official death toll is most certainly expected to exceed the total number of coalition causalities caused by the Iraq War. However, despite the ever increasing scale of this tragedy, the plight of Bangladeshis affected by Cyclone Sidr seem to have faded from international headlines.

Although I am reporting from Dhaka, I often rely on British and American news sources for the latest facts and figures. However, finding the latest news on Cyclone Sidr from CNN and BBC is almost impossible. This is strange given that the story is anything but over. During my time in the field, I was fortunate enough to have not stumbled across any dead human bodies. A great many of my colleagues, however, were not so fortunate. Even as late as yesterday night, I was hearing reports of new bodies being found and in need of burial.

Although generous people from around the world are uniting to help donate to disaster relief, aid is still slow in coming. On my trip to the Bagerhat Disaster Area, I had brought 70 blankets which I had paid for with my own money to give away. 30 of which, I brought along with my trip with Nick Downie to this remote region of the disaster area. It turns out, that these 30 blankets were the first aid (of its kind) in this particular region. Whatever sense of accomplishment I felt was overridden by grief. 30 blankets never seemed so little an amount in my life.

“We’re very comfortable back in our homes – whether we’re in London or Toronto,” explained Downie – referring to our respective hometowns. “We just got to do whatever we can,” he added.

One thing is certain – we certainly can do more than just provide a 30 second spot for this news story.

This article has been also posted on NowPublic.com, you can read the same story here.

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Cyclone’s Impact in Dhaka – The Morning After

The sound of generators now fills the streets of Dhaka – power hasn’t come back since last night. I was kind of hoping that this would be like other blackouts I’ve experienced – where some regions would have power and others not. But, after talking to relatives in Shantinagar, Mohakhali DOHS, Gulshan/Baridhara – it seems like this is a city-wide blackout. That’s a first during my stay here in Bangladesh.

The BBC is reporting that at least fifty people are reported dead in the coastal regions of Bangladesh. Unfortunately, not many people in Bangladesh will have access to news – no electricity, means no TV. The cell phones and celluar internet connections still work though which is how I’m able to post this blog.

I plan on going out later today and hopefully will have some photos that I can share. Apparently, after talking to a relative in another part of town, exploding transformers like that one I saw yesterday was not an uncommon occurrence last night.

Cyclone Hits Bangladesh – My View from Dhaka

It felt like something out of a movie. I was in a car on the way home – it was fifteen minutes to midnight. There wasn’t a soul on the street and the only sounds you could hear were the rain beating down on the streets, the noise of the wind, and the car’s engine. It was pitch black too – every home, apartment, and building as far as the eye could see had no electricity. Then – all of a sudden – a blinding bright light and a roar erupts right next to the car – just outside of my side of the car. My window then gets showered in glowing sparks.

I wasn’t in any danger – it was just a transformer exploding. But, for the first time in this whole time in Bangladesh – I was scared…

I’m writing this on my battery’s laptop power. The glow of the screen is the only thing that is lighting up this room. Now, this isn’t the first time there’s been a blackout – but this time it’s different. This isn’t the first time its rained – but this it’s different. It’s different because, this time it’s caused by Cyclone Sidr. It hit the coats of Bangladesh at approximately 6 pm local time and hasn’t stopped.

The good news… well… ummm… the good news for me at least – is that I’m pretty safe here in Dhaka. It’s just a nasty storm with heavy rain. Although, it’s heavy enough that the streets are getting water logged/flooded, things are getting really cold, and the winds are creating a widespread problem with the electrical grid. From the more modern areas where foreigners live (Gulshan) to old parts of the city (Shatinagar) – all have experienced or are experiencing blackouts tonight.

If this cyclone has this effect for people in the city, I can only imagine how things are on the coastline – where many of the rural poor live. BBC is reporting tidal waves of 3 meters in height with homes, schools, and trees just blown away. Many have been displaced and those who aren’t displaced have lives disrupted.

My latest episode on YouTube talks about being trapped in the cycle of poverty. It seems like even Mother Nature makes it hard for people to pull themselves out of the trap that is poverty.

Anatomy of a Military Curfew

Fear, uncertainty, and doubt are key elements to any successful military curfew. The goal is to not to intimidate the population with what they know you are doing, but rather make worry about what they are not sure you are doing. With a military imposed media blackout, those tuning into BBC World news for foreign news find that when the story about Dhaka and the Bangladesh military curfew airs – the broadcast suddenly becomes filled with static. Coincidence or intentional? The BBC correspondent – filing his report via cellphone – cuts off in mid-report. Bad connection or was he cut off on purpose? If there is uncertainty and doubt – there is fear. And thus, there is control.

With my previous post, I had hoped that the military had yet to catch up to the internet age. Despite a media blackout and blocking of cellphone calls, I was still able to upload photos to flickr and use gmail and MSN messenger. Today, the internet has slowed to a crawl. The gateway connecting Bangladesh to the internet via transatlantic cables have been shut down. Even with V-Sat backup connections, websites like BBC World News and services such as Gmail, and MSN Messenger fail to load at all. Even Facebook, which has always been reliable, suddenly displays a message reading “Hey, your account is temporarily unavailable due to site maintenance”. Coincidence? Or intentional?

It’s times like this that the freedom enjoyed by Americans and other Western nations is put in perspective. Even with cameras on street corners, warrant-less wiretapping, or other Big Brother-esque infringements – Americans and much of the Western World have much to be grateful for.