Sunday, November 4, 2007

Since those last emails, I haven't written many more worth noting. The next one I wrote was all about asking for funds for flood victims.... my friends and I bought bags of rice - massive, 80kg bags- and distributed into smaller bags for about 100 families at a 'bosti' in Banani, Dhaka, called ‘Purbo Matha.’ A 'bosti' is the makeshift housings for people who really have no land of their own. They move around from place to place, making their homes from tin and bamboo, or whatever else they can find or afford. They are usually asked to move off areas at will, and usually can be found living on the outskirts of nice areas. Because of the floods, the people from this bosti were living on the side of the road, using plastic tarp sheets and bamboo to make shelter... my friends and I visited them a number of times before the floods hit badly. My friends found this bosti via this little boy named Hosen, who was part of the crew of little boys who collect and sort garbage. All the garbage disposed of by households are collected and/or sorted- and as awful a job it is for anyone, it’s obviously more distressing to see an 8 or 9 year old boy do it, for whom school is not an option…

Every time we went to Purbo Matha, the bosti kids would come running up to our rickshaws, or running alongside, with beaming smiles radiating on their faces, saying “Apa! Bhalo asen?” (‘Apa’ is the term for ‘elder sister’; ‘bhalo asen’ is ‘are you well’) …And every time we asked them in return how they were, they did the half-nod and smilingly replied, “bhalo.” It always fascinated me that these poor children, who barely had enough to make one meal a day of rice and daal (lentils), were so ready with their smiles, so ready with the answer that they were doing well, even if in reality that was questionable. They would run up to us and take our hands and melt us with their smiles. And then would begin the onslaught of “Apa, amar akta chobi tulen na...” (Apa, please take a picture of me…) The requests for pictures were never-ending. Some of the little girls were particularly aggressive, and would show up every fifteen seconds with another sibling or infant relative, asking for a picture with the little one. The little boys never were keen on pictures; it was always the little girls. We did take tons of pictures, but it never was enough… after our visits, we would sit in the tiny little stalls and have tea and puris. The children would show us how they travel from their flooded shacks on the river to their temporary housing on the sidewalk. They would use these floatation devices created from large cement bags, filled with Styrofoam or the like to keep them afloat. One of our friends was even brave enough to go on a “boat ride” on one of those things…!

The packaging of rice into small bags was work, but fun work. Our fingers were kind of sore from tying the raw string around the bags, but every bit of discomfort was worth the while when we saw the people in the bosti later on and how happy they were just for this little bit of help. We had previously asked them to arrange matters such that fights and arguments won’t break out over how many bags of rice and how many families and etc, and after overcoming the first few obstacles, we were pleasantly surprised to find they really did take care of it- and it was mainly three or four women who did so. But on the whole, the distribution went well, and we left feeling like we have finally done something worthwhile in this world….

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