Friday, November 23rd, 2007

Sidr / Onward

Filed under: Notes from Bangladesh — alison @ 23:12

Another letter from my father in Bangladesh.

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Dear Family and Friends,

Happy Thanksgiving! Apologies to those who feel the reference is out of date (Canadians) or a cute local reference (most of the rest of the world).

Vivian has asked me to send out an announcement that I am fine following Sidr, the recent Bangladesh cyclone. I live in a concrete and steel building in the capital city, well out of the path of major destruction. I was wakened by the clattering and roar of the wind and stepped out on the balcony for a couple of minutes. Then stepped back inside to wait for the light to fail. In the morning the ladies were out sweeping the street as they do every morning. There was just more to sweep. We got electricity back a day and a half later.

Last weekend I did get out of the city on school visits and saw about of a third of the rice crop lying down from the storm. This was in areas not badly affected. Poor people will be paying more for rice and eating less. As a rich person, by local standards, I have a 50-kilo bag of rice in my larder. (Is it appropriate to be thankful for being rich rather than poor when living in one of the world’s poorest countries?)

The papers are full of human-interest stories and statistics. All are horrific. I think nearly everyone in North America has heard that there are ten thousand dead, despite what is generally accepted as good planning, storm shelters, and warning systems. Some communities have been totally wiped out. In others, most families have lost members — often those responsible for feeding the family. Eight thousand schools have been flattened. Houses were damaged or destroyed. Broken fishing boats lie on their sides in the forests. Most shrimp operations are devastated, leaving their owners in terrible debt.

Many relief organizations are helping out but the scale of the disaster is difficult to deal with. Potable water is often not available in areas of high salinity. Rice dropped from helicopters can’t be cooked because there are no working stoves. But there are also stories of people starting to rebuild. And, like in New Orleans, there will be more than one industry doing well with new construction. Today, on the front page of the newspaper I read, was an ad announcing a donation of 1 taka (not very much) for the relief of Sidr victims with every bag of cement sold, but nothing about a discount.

As I was leaving the bank this afternoon, a group of college students came up and told me that they were collecting money for Sidr victims. I could tell them, “So am I.” Several of my family members, on hearing that one of Beli’s sisters had lost a side of her house and all of her fruit trees, pledged contributions. The husband is a good and thoughtful man and a tailor, whose customers will not have money for tailoring for some time to come. We’ll be taking our contribution to them tomorrow in Jessore (for those of you with maps) so they can start to make urgent repairs.

Saturday we are planning to return to Dhaka through the Khulna, Bagerhat, Pirojpur, Jahlkhati, and Barisal (for those of you with really detailed maps). These are some of the hardest-hit districts. I don’t know what I’m expecting to see. It should provide context for what we’ve been reading about and seeing on television.

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Vivian said I should send some disaster pictures. See attached photos of Patrick Just After The Fall
Patrick Just After the Fall

… and One Day Later.
Patrick One Day Later

It was about 6:30 a.m. and I was entering the final third of my stately 7-kilometre jog around the Dhanmondi Lakes. Suddenly a toe caught a ravenous slab and hurled me onto the concrete path. Just as suddenly, I was surrounded by a crowd of middle-income Bangladeshis, whose doctors have told them to walk every day to treat their diabetes and high blood pressure. (I have never seen a foreigner out there, though I’ve heard there is one.) I was helped to a bench, offered handkerchiefs, and provided with advice. One offended onlooker announced to the others in Bangla that Bura (the old man) shouldn’t be running. I was slowly becoming the victim of a campaign to get me to the emergency department of a brand-new hospital nearby when a wonderful man identified himself to the crowd as a doctor (he may have been one), examined me, announced that despite all the blood it was only abrasion, and helped me into a rickshaw. I was pretty spectacular for several days, but this is now history.

The second day after the accident my driver told my national counterpart, with whom I spend hours each day, that I had been injured. Muhammad Ali looked in horror at the bandages and contusions and asked me why I hadn’t told him.

I’ll try to have some pictures of how the real disaster is recovering in a few days.



Addendum: I am travelling along a somewhat bumpy road southeast of Khulna. I can’t see the screen because of the sun.

I feel odd about being a disaster tourist, but I’m sticking with Ogden Nash’s advice that not doing things you could have done is worse than doing things you shouldn’t have done. Onward.

This is beautiful country and it is clear that nature has the upper hand here, and will cover up the losses.

Right now we are about to stop and see an ancient mosque, rising in the jungle.

More later.

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