Brick factory, Dhaka
Writing about this place is a lot like approaching it as a traveller, I’ve got no idea where to begin. It’s busy. Over-populated. Intriguing. Dirty. Affordable. Beautiful. Proud. Frantic. Surviving. And each adjective is the biggest understatement in history.
Firstly, to answer you question of Why? Bangladesh has always interested me, and being on the way to India it made sense to “drop” in for a week on the way through. And to be honest, the question of “what am I doing?” kept flashing across my mind as I touched down on the dry landscape, boasting the simplest way of life I’ve ever seen.
I had 5 nights in Dhaka, staying in the northern Mohammadpur suburb. High humidity, scheduled power blackouts (they don’t actually have enough electricity to service the whole city), malaria carrying mosquitoes in what the Economist magazine describes as the 2nd most unliveable city in the world (“losing” to Harare in Tanzania), could turn people off. The astronomically high over-population created the thickest and noisiest traffic jams I’ve seen. But do you know what? The people of Dhaka are content and happy. Damn happy.
The list of sites fits on a Post-It note, it’s the heartbeat of the city that was the real attraction for me. And it was everything and so much more than I had hoped for. Dhaka’s way of life is a huge spectacle, you couldn’t fit another car/truck/bus/auto-rickshaw/pedal-rickshaw/tractor on their roads (if road-rage was introduced there would be hundreds of homicides daily).
For a country of such oppression and poverty, Bangladesh’s no.1 asset is its people. On the northern banks of the Buriganga River an inquisitive 8 yr old street boy and his beaming smile followed me everywhere. His clothes were tattered and his face very dirty. I don’t give money to beggars but I made an exception, and he stared at me in bewilderment as he returned the 10 Taka note back to me. I asked my friend Joy, who was with me, and he casually said “his parents have taught him that he’s not a beggar, so he won’t take the money.” At that young age the kids have dignity and pride. That event, along with so many others kept the wonderful quote “Money doesn’t buy you happiness” fresh in my mind.
Walking the streets of Old Dhaka was an experience for so many reasons. Westerner’s are as rare as snow in the tropical country, so a walk through Old Dhaka consistently attracts a formidable group of inquisitive followers. Tourism is almost non-existent, the sole travel book is the Lonely Planet which is closer to a thin information booklet.
I visited the spinal injuries centre (CRP), spoke to and handed out fluffy koalas to a rural disabled council of women and children, gave food to homeless slum-people, played cricket with numerous groups of street kids, and cried for all the right reasons. I’m humbled by Bangladesh’s tenacious spirit against the plight of their climate, population, geography and economy. We chase the dollar, they pursue survival, and do it with a much bigger smile than you’ll see in any developed city on this planet. Thank you “Joy” Zaed Al Hasan for showing me your unforgettable city.
‘This is a beautiful shot, but these are brick factories. Child labor is prominate and they have children as young as thirteen working in the factories. These children have no choice.Their families need them to work to live. 45% of the population in Bangladesh is in poverty’.
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