On my seventh day here I heard that Dhaka is the second least livable city in the world. I can attest to it being challenging. I know most of how I’ve felt about it has come from being culturally shaken and jet lagged, but there are some facts about the city that just aren’t so nice. Loudness is the “at rest” state of things and everyone and their brother honks day and night. I knew it would be hot, but when I look at my phone and it tells me the “real feel” is one hundred and twenty degrees I shake my head and drink more boiled water. The air quality in Dhaka is like the air quality in a closed off garage after a car has been running inside for ten to fifteen minutes. Every CNG driver has what I call the “CNG cough” because the air they breathe all day is so bad. My friend advised me before arriving in Dhaka: “Do not break a leg, but breathe, and open your heart”. I’ve already made great friends by keeping an open heart, but when I breath its almost always diesel exhaust.
In all of this change, I’ve struggled to hold onto things that remind me of home. In the past three months I had been running everyday. In an effort to hold onto something familiar I’ve tried to continue my running, but it’s defiantly a clash of culture. First off, people aren’t use to seeing a white guy in such short shorts. Secondly, people don’t exercise here and if they do it’s in the privacy of their own home. There is also the fact that I’m a foreigner…that means I’ve got at least 5 kids running behind me at all times. So I’m holding on… just in a different way than I had expected. I still run.
All of the frantic energy of the city makes meeting new people easy and I have been invited into small shacks, offices, and street corners for tea again and again. My most reliable and caring friend here is a benefactor from BERDO’s programming. Soultan was hit by typhoid at a young age and as a result has a deformed lower body and spine. He walks, but with a limp and slowly. I have been walking around my neighborhood trying to get familiar with the place after work. The first couple times I went alone and was stared at by nearly everyone within a fifty-foot radius. I was surprised the first time Soultan and I went for a walk and I wasn’t the one being stared at anymore. Everyone was staring at Soultan because of his deformity. It was then that I realized how stigmatized having a disability in Bangladesh is, and the challenges BERDO faces in making effective social change. Soultan doesn’t seem to mind being stared at and our mutual understanding of being different has strengthened our friendship.
I came across this quote while doing some research on disability and sustainability:
“All environments, built and wild, are not innocently constructed, and disability itself is a relative category, contingent upon social and physical context”.
After reading the quote I thought about what it means for Bangladesh. There has been very little thought given to the challenges the “disabled” face when planning any social or physical environment in Bangladesh. That is not likely to change in the near future. What can and will change the social understanding of “disability” is through empowering individuals by educating the marginalized, giving them access to the mainstream economy, and advocating for their rights. I know there are more options for instigating social change, if you have suggestions please feel free to comment. My work will focus mainly on developing ways for the “disabled” to be economically independent within the mainstream economy. This task seems daunting given that there are nineteen million people in this city and most of them are willing to work for a dollar a day and they don’t have a “disability” but I have seen BERDO’s work change peoples lives. That’s enough for me to give it my all…
Posted By Adam Kruse
Posted Jun 21st, 2012