Bangladesh: cyclones, floods, poverty, George Harrison sang a song about it. Maybe if you’re a little older than me you remember news reports from the seventies about the liberation war. More recently perhaps the name conjures thoughts of a Nobel Prize and micro credit. None of which has anything to do with everyday life, with the possible exception of poverty. But even that, I would wager that whatever vision or perception you have, the reality is incomprehensible.
Bangladesh is an incredibly poor country. So much so, that I’m not sure I can put it into words. UNICEF estimates that 50% of the population is living below the international poverty line of $1.25 USD/day (2009 stat). I expect that to be a very conservative number. The fact is that the people likely to be missed by such a survey including the homeless, rural farm workers, and gypsies, are likely to be many of those living below the poverty line. Begging is a way of life, a day job, especially in the city—and it breaks my heart a little almost every day. On my first visit to Bangladesh one of the things I taught myself was that there is no shame in closing your eyes. It took some convincing, but I came to the conclusion that it is not cowardly or hiding, its protecting my psyche. As with anywhere else in the world where begging is rampant, it is impossible to tell who is asking because they truly need and who is just looking at it as a job—if there is even a difference. And there is no magic wand or fairy spell. I could give away my entire savings, and it would make no difference here. Until there is sustainable employment, the pattern will continue. Dhaka is crushed with people. Villagers travel to the city hoping that they’ll find a job, a better situation, something to send home to their families. The city is bursting at the seams; there is no room for the crux of humanity. Aid organizations flock to the country. Maybe they do good—I certainly hope so . . . but I also know that for every $2 that comes into the country in aid, $1 lines someone’s pocket. Everyone here knows it. Corruption is the name of the game. I recently heard that Bangladesh was ranked as one of the top, if not the number one, most corrupted government/country. The response of people around me—not surprised at all. Not even a little. Politicians are getting ridiculously rich off of the suffering. Aid organizations are building themselves bigger offices. Nothing is accomplished unless you know someone in the right circles. And in my ear, George Harrison is still crying.