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Christine Galipeau - Blog Post 1: Dhaka: a megacity that divides

Christine Galipeau - Blog Post 1: Dhaka: a megacity that divides

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Every person has to relate to Dhaka in his or her own way. My relationship with Dhaka started at the moment I was boarding the plane from Dubai to Dhaka. People were behaving like they were about to lose their seat. It was chaotic. In that moment, I realized that I was getting a glimpse of my new home. As it turns out, the boarding experience was a preparatory drill for what was to come…

With a population of about 15 million, Dhaka will impose itself upon your shoulders. It really doesn’t care if you protest its colossal presence. Combined with the heat, the humidity, and the poor air quality you are facing one robust opponent. You will however, have to show Dhaka your resilience. Besides, the people around you demonstrate their strength and will to live, every day, hour, and minute. If you are open to it, they will teach you a thing or two about survival.

Mike Davis, the author of Planet of the Slums, compares the air quality of Mumbai to smoking two-and-one half packs of cigarettes per day. If that is the case, I must be smoking 5 packs per day in Dhaka. At this moment, this seems to be the least of my problems, for it is the traffic that can be potentially lethal. The streets are inundated with cars, trucks, buses, small compressed natural gas vehicles, taxis, motorcycles, cycle-rickshaws, cyclists, and pedestrians.

In this urban jungle, there is a hierarchy: cars, trucks, and buses reign supreme. The drivers relentlessly press down upon their horns, echoing a cacophonic concerto throughout the city. As a pedestrian, I am at the bottom of this human constructed hierarchy. I am learning to move swiftly and safely in this sea of frenzied traffic. There is no time to get lost in reverie, I must stay focused and know what is around me at all times.

I walked to work this morning. For part of the way, I felt like my heart was is my throat. My brain is starting to process what I have been observing during my neighborhood walks…

I saw an elderly man crushing bricks with a hammer. I inquired with my co-worker as to how much this kind of work pays. At the end of the day, this elder may receive $2.00 for his unskilled yet arduous work. Around the corner, a middle-aged man is washing a fairly new car. There is an adoring air about the way he examines and delicately washes the vehicle. I am dumfounded by this contrast. In fact, I am constantly witnessing the difference between classes and a part of me wants to believe this callous divide isn’t real.

Reality can be unsettling.

I look up and see an old, weathered, and unattractive building. It appears deserted to me. Yet, it is the place of work for garment workers. The Wall Street Journal claims that Bangladeshi garment workers earn about $38 dollars per month. At these wages, a car is a luxury that most can’t even dream of affording.

I see a train go by in front of the garment factory. Young boys are riding on top of the rail cars. Wearing but tattered shorts, they are embracing the winds created from the train by opening their chests and arms towards the open sky. Children will find a way to play no matter what conditions you throw them into. I see their smiling faces and can’t help but to be uplifted by them.

Since my arrival in Dhaka on June 14th, I found a journal excerpt that resonates with me. It is from the work of a Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore. I thought it would be fitting to share the work of an artist who has contributed to the heritage of Bangladesh. In this excerpt, Tagore captures wisdom and shares it with the reader in the most poignant way. 

Whoever wishes to,

May sit in meditation

With eyes closed

To know if the world is to be true of false

I, meanwhile,

Shall sit with hungry eyes,

To see the world

While the lights lasts.

I remind myself of Tagore’s words when I am confronted by what I see in my surroundings. I want to unravel the stories that speak of injustice. By staying hungry, I hope to get there one day.