February 22, 2010

I suppose every westerner who visits Bangladesh must have to find a way of dealing with the poverty. There is such a dark side to this city in particular. I don’t have photos because it feels awful to take pictures of it but the images haunt my dreams. The other morning, when up early, I came across three small children, filthy and dressed in rags, huddled together sound asleep in the middle of a traffic island. So many country people come to the city looking for work and very quickly end up sleeping in makeshift shelters on the roadside. Seeing the women and small children is particularly affecting. They seem to survive by fighting off the crows (massive evil-looking things everywhere) in the rubbish piles, collecting scraps of plastic or card that can be recycled. The toddlers play happily in the rubbish, while older ones are apparently rented out by the day. There is one street the rickshaw drivers use as a short cut, where there are many dumps and hence many makeshift ‘homes’, and I really just have to shut my eyes and nose. The aid agencies that are based here are incredible people. I met a doctor from medecins sans frontiers and the stories she told made my hair stand on end. Fridays are the worst; am usually woken by the moan like chanting of the cripples who are brought into the streets (I assume by their families) to call for alms. It is truly horrific to see them roll themselves from one side of the road to the other in the dirt calling out and pleading. However, this is the day they are given money and it is a system that has been maintained for centuries. There is one old woman who is left to lie on the pavement so you virtually have to step over her. As you walk past her she throws up her arms and cries out ‘Allah’. The first time this happened I was so shocked; am now becoming more numb to it. Feel so guilty when I sometimes take refuge in the Sheraton hotel. It is cool and quiet and no-one stares at me or asks questions or asks for money. There are western toilets and proper coffee.  It is really hard to get my head around how these two worlds can exist so close together. Today I have been sick with a bad cold, cosseted in a cool flat with water and all I need to eat, and I wonder how they cope when they are sick….


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