Tag Archive for 'Cyclone'

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.

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.

Disaster Relief – Day One Begins

The more things change, the more they stay the same it seems. Back in 2007, I was in a car on the way to Southern Bangladesh. Cyclone Sidr had just hit and I was going to see how I could help.

Now here I am: it’s 2009, I’m in another car, heading to Southern Bangladesh, to try and help in the aftermath of another cyclone.

I don’t know what to expect. I’m reassured, somewhat, by the significantly lower death toll. It’s in the hundreds, not thousands. Small condolence if you’ve lost a loved one though.

There are a couple of things different this time though. First, I’m traveling with a friend this time. Hopefully this will be less of a solitary journey compared to my work during Cyclone Sidr. Also, it’s not just by money this time. With online donations, there is already enough funds to provide emergency non-food assistance to 45 families.

If you want to chip in, you still can here. I can monitor incoming donations from the field.

Open Letter & Appeal to Charities in Bangladesh


Image via AFP

Although not anywhere near as bad as Cyclone Sidr which hit Bangladesh in 2007, Cyclone Alia has already killed 100 over 200 people with many more displaced and without access to shelter or clean & safe drinking water. I want to help – but I might as well be back in my bed in Canada because that goal is so very far away.

I need a hero.

Nick Downie (Save the Children) On the Boat with Me

Nick Downie (2007)

I was able to help during Cyclone Sidr because of someone who is now a personal hero of mine. His name is Nick Downie. Back during Cyclone Sidr, he was working for Save the Children UK. In the midst of all this death and trauma, Nick saw the sincerity in my desire to help… and gave me the opportunity.


Helping Kids with Save the Children

Thanks to him approximately 35 children at a Save the Children Safe Center were provided with blankets to sleep under in advance of the winter season that was quickly approaching. Without any homes or shelter, those blankets were the only way many of those children & families were able to stay warm that winter. I’m willing to help again and have even more to offer this time.

One LifeStraw = Clean Water For One Year

One LifeStraw = Clean Water For A Year

Thanks to Vestergaard-Frandsen I have 45 personal water purification units. These can turn water from any salt-free source (a pond, a river, a lake) and turn it into safe drinking water. I have 10 insecticide treated tarpaulins – useful as shelter and to keep disease spread by bugs away. I also have donations from over 22 different countries ready to be spent. But I have no means to help anyone just by myself.

I need a hero again.

Thus far, my friends at Save the Children are working up the various chains of command trying to see if I can team up again. No word yet – but I am hopeful. A friend at the American International School helped me network with the Deputy Country Director of Care Bangladesh. The Deputy Country Director thanked me for the offer – and then politely denied my request.

I am ready willing, and able to go to the field right away. I know it’s not going to be a glamorous experience. Last time I went, the “toilet” was nothing more than a hole in the ground and my “bed” was nothing more than two abandoned school desks put together. I don’t ask for much except the opportunity to get out there, help, and share the story with those interested in following along.

It’s disasters like Cyclone Alia that highlight a painful reality for me here in Bangladesh. Charities are more than happy for people like me to raise awareness & funds for them back home. But doing the same with them on the ground is a completely different reality – and the majority of charities haven’t given me the time of day to even consider the possibility.

Now more than ever, I need someone to help me so I can help others.