Bangladesh is a country with overwhelming needs. Everywhere I look I see beggars with hollow eyes pleading for baksheesh or yet another outrageously skinny laborer slaving in the baking sun. I see grinding poverty daily but often have no idea how to approach the problems. When I was taking International Development studies in university, I naively figured that grand solutions to the world's problems could be found within my lifetime. Now, having experienced life in Bangladesh, I understand that I do not and never will have any answers to the world's biggest development-puzzles. I'm not entirely sure I even know the right questions to ask.
Anyways, as I was ruminating on the ideas I mentioned above, I remembered a project my students completed last year. They students created a short video that asked locals (and some expats) on the street what they would ask for if a genie granted them one wish. The results surprised me at the time but now that I've been here for a bit longer, it makes a good amount of sense...and I think that the people of Bangladesh know full well what they need.
This video contains people I see/saw on a regular basis and far more expatriates than would be normal to find on the street on any given afternoon. Check it out! (By the way, I am super-proud of my students for creating this video.) Cheers!
I love Banksy. He is, in my admittedly uneducated opinion, the most relevant, imaginative and inspired modern-day artist I have ever encountered. His biting social commentary often makes the gears of my mind twirl as I connect to personal opinions formulated during my short experience here in Asia. I don’t always agree with Banksy, but he never fails to make me think.
I recently saw this piece of his art online and it struck a chord with me on several levels as it relates to my travels in Bangladesh and elsewhere. I’m sure Banksy probably intended this piece to provide commentary on the fact that Western prosperity is often literally built on the backs of mistreated workers in the developing world, but it also reminded me how I often feel so much like a voyeur peering in on the lives of impoverished Bangladeshis. Sometimes I feel guilty for just witnessing some of the intense suffering and abject poverty I see on the streets. I feel I am intruding on something intimate and private; something that shouldn’t be nakedly exposed for me, a wealthy foreigner with no concept of hardship, to observe. This uncomfortable sense of impropriety gets me thinking.
I often wonder, how am I viewed by impoverished locals as I stroll around Dhaka? What are they thinking when I snap the odd picture of brick-breakers at work or take random selfies with a 200 dollar camera as a rickshaw wallahs pants and sweats under the weight of my overly chunky frame? What do slum-dwellers think of the wealthy white guy so awed by their poverty that he simply has to document the squalor to show his friends? Am I really that shallow? Should I actually take these photos? I I engaging in some sick form of voyeurism?
There is no way for me to shield my eyes from the poverty. It’s an inescapable aspect of life for most people living here and it would be foolish to attempt to hide from it. I suppose the best I can do is to notice it, learn about it, monitor my sensitivity to it and guide my actions accordingly.
Trying to figure out how to act on it is the hard part!
"It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter." Alfred Eisenstaedt