Tag Archive for 'Dhaka'

The Foreign Pornographer

“What are you doing? Making poverty porn?” I asked.

It was a Sunday night here in Dhaka. I was drenched in sweat having nearly completed a 50 mile bike ride around the city. I was passing by the upper class part of town when I had to stop.

In the middle of the street, stood a foreigner taking a photo of the most crippled street beggar he could find – an elderly man with stubby deformed legs roaming around in a wheelchair.

Armed with a DSLR and lighting rig, worth more money than this beggar would see in his entire lifetime, the foreigner had the beggar pose with a photo of Ronald Regan in front of his face.

“Why Ronald Regan?” I asked the foreigner. He ignored me – pretending I wasn’t there.

I pedaled right next to him – putting myself between him and the expensive luxury SUV he had rode up in. I didn’t notice it at the time, but the car sported yellow license plates: a privilege reserved for diplomats and dignitaries.

“Excuse me – why Ronald Regan?” I asked again. The foreigner coyly shrugged. “Because why not?” he asked. “But why Ronald Regan? What are you trying to do? Besides make poverty porn?” I asked. He turned to me and smirked.

“That’s exactly what I’m doing” he replied.

His flippancy was astounding. It only got worse.

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Photoblog: Orphans Study by Candlelight

Dharmarijika Orphans Study By Candlelight

The Dharmarajika Orphanage is home to approximately 500 students – mostly poor children from the Chittagong Hill-Tracts. It is run by the Buddhist community here in Dhaka but it is not home to only Buddhists. All the residents here are too poor to go to afford to school. The Dharmarajika Monastery helps by providing free schooling, food, and room & board for these students and orphans.

Although it’s a life far better than living in the slums, it’s far from luxurious. Lack of running water force residents to use a local green-colored pond instead. Wooden boards and old tables serve as “beds” for these students. The frequent power outages make it near impossible to study. Many use the outages as an opportunity to rest or spend time with friends. Few students, like the one pictured above, struggle to keep studying by candlelight.

Expect to see more about Dharmarajika in the future. In the meantime, there is a album with a lot more photos on Flickr. Not seen in the photo is another student (to the right) – too dim to be seen studying in this candlelight.

A Walk Through a Slum

Slum Lady Washes Clothes by the Pond

Slum Lady Washes Clothes by the Pond

When it comes to my work in Bangladesh, I tend to focus a lot on rural villages. This probably seems strange since there is so much poverty just outside of my door here in Dhaka City. A few days back, along with a more adventurous friend, I decided to take a closer look at one of these slums…

I’ve seen people in slums wash their hands, do their dishes, and use the bathroom in ponds adjacent to slums. Until this walk, I always assumed that this was their primary (and only) water source.

In reality, many slum residents (dwellers?) dig make-shift wells by digging large holes into the ground. They can than use this water from everything to washing clothes, taking bucket-showers, and drinking. It’s not great – but it’s far better than drinking from the filthy ponds.

Slum Dwellers Dig Make-Shift Wells for Clean Water

Slum Lady Uses Make-Shift Well

Many charitable organizations and communities in the city (like this Buddhist monastery in an older part of Dhaka) have water stations. Local residents and slum dwellers fill their pots & pans to use back home. It’s crystal clear water – but unless you boil or purify it – you can still get sick.

Along this particular walk, I found not only make-shift wells but also mothers doing laundry with and bathing their children with well water. It may sound silly but it really made me realize that people living in slums are just like us.

No – let me say it another way. People living in slums are us.

Filling It Up With Water

In Line for Water at a Water Station at a Buddhist Monastery

People living in slums like drinking clean water as much as we do. They like having showers, staying healthy, and having clean clothes. And, as the mother who bathed her child behind some discarded straw bags made into a “shower curtain” can probably attest, they like to keep their dignity just like us.

The challenge for me is turning this sentiment into something that can benefit those living in (or trying to get out of) urban slums. Fighting poverty in slums is a lot harder than fighting poverty in rural villages. Slums are home to criminal gangs, drug dealers, and people ready and willing to steal any aid you give. Adults and children in slums also are at a higher risk of facing problems such as drug addiction, human trafficking, and violence.

As some of my more charity-centric family members can attest, trying to lend a hand in a slum can be a risky and dangerous experience. But, after my recent experience, it is definitely something I want to look into.

Violence in Dhaka: My Reaction

The more things change, the more they stay the same </cliche>. Back in 2007, one of my first blog posts was about about riots, curfews, and media blackouts. A lot has changed since then. The big one being that, instead of a military government running Bangladesh, there is now a duly elected government calling the shots. But, here I am, still talking about violence, curfews, and media blackouts :P

Troops Gathering in Dhaka

Troops Gathering in Dhaka

If you’ve been watching the news or following me on Twitter you know that recently there was an outbreak of violence involving the Bangladesh border security forces and the government. Although information was sporadic at first (as journalists were initially banned from the area), it appears that this was started due to pay-related grievances by the border security forces.

Civilian Injuries

Civilian Injuries

A lot of friends contacted me worrying if I was alright. Unlike the riots of 2007, I definitely felt a lot safer. I was in a completely different part of the city than where the violence was happening. There was no risk of a stray bullet coming through my window or anything like that. Heck, I was so far away from where it was all happening, I couldn’t even hear the sound of gunfire.

Troops & Guns

Troops & Guns

But, like 2007, there was a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Especially with initial reports being so sketchy, everyone I knew (family and friends) were worried about what was going on. More importantly, we were all worried that it would spread. Because, especially in Bangladesh, nothing ever stays contained. Afterall, the big nationwide riots of 2007 were were sparked by relatively small scuffle on the campus of Dhaka University.

For me, as someone who isn’t really an expert in the politics of Bangladesh, I really feel optimistic about the future of this country. That may not be the lesson that many people will gather from a situation that killed approximately 50 over 60 people and put tanks on the street. But that’s kind of the point – although the situation was very bad, it could have been a lot worse. Here’s what I think Bangladesh should be proud of:

Read about it after the jump.

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The Hiatus is Over – Back in Bangladesh

Hey from Dhaka everybody. I’ve been away from Bangladesh much longer than I ever planned. In my time away from Bangladesh I’ve been to Hong Kong & England (both as stopovers) as well as to Kenya, Canada, and the United States (where I finally got to meet John & Hank Green for the first time in my life).

It’s been a very bumpy ride getting back to Bangladesh. As I mentioned before, I probably have about a year’s worth of funds to continue this project. Instead of spending my time back home to edit videos, I tried to use the time to try and find sources of support to sustain this project. I’ll probably write more about that in the future – but basically (with the exception of Vestergaard-Frandsen supporting my trip to Kenya) I came up empty.

One thing I am very fortunate about is some help I received from a friend who was able to hook me up with an old iPhone. I’ve been using it almost constantly to take photos on-the-god and to provide real-time updates via Twitter. So, if you aren’t already, please consider following me on Twitter or checking out my photos on Radar.net.

After the jump is some photos I took documenting my return to Bangladesh :)

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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.

Sacrifices, Challenges, & Opportunities

Where do I begin? There was no one word that could describe how I felt as I was packing up to go home. I felt kind of foolish because the real straw that broke the camel’s back was my dead LaCie harddrive. When I got home, after the culture shock, I felt lucky. The blood tests I took here helped explained why I was feeling so sick, tired, and ill those last few months in Bangladesh. But, in the best case scenario, this problem was due to the iron-heavy drinking water in Bangladesh. What does that say about what awaits me when I return? I certainly don’t want to stop this project – although, given the financial (and now medical) strains, it’s only a matter of time until I have to stop.

This video is one of my sadder videos. It’s also one of the least watched videos on my channel. So if you haven’t already, please do take a look:

Some photos of my return trip after the jump.

Continue reading ‘Sacrifices, Challenges, & Opportunities’