While I unfortunately can’t say that the mystery bacterium have disappeared, I do feel the need to take a step back from my recent cynicism – and, for better or worse, I still have plenty of time to stay lost in thought.
As a friend reminded me over lunch the other day, there is a great danger in portraying Bangladesh as a perpetually plagued country. Yes, there are problems; floods, poverty, rising cost of living, and a caretaker government that is looking ever clumsier in its attempt to clean corruption out of power. But these negative aspects are all too often all that is shown of Bangladesh to the world. Triumphant students whose dedication is rewarded when exam results are announced, joyful celebrations of Bengali culture, and incremental successes of its economy just don’t make for exciting news.
In a lot of ways, this has a familiar ring. Hasn’t media everywhere generally turned to covering the most sensational, sexy, sometimes chilling, sometimes infuriating events as a means of selling their news? I’m not nearly well traveled enough to say that it is so everywhere across the globe, but I think it is safe to bet that selling sensation, be it sex or utter desperation, is a whole lot easier than selling modest achievements in many countries around the world.
The problems of Bangladesh – the poverty, the disasters, the political wrangling – have proven an easy sell, but only when the proportions are so outrageous that people can’t help but stop to take notice. I came into the country thinking that maybe, in some small way, I could help to make the less outrageous, but equally important problems apparent – the workers who struggle day after day to put two meals on their family’s table, the people with disabilities who face unbridled discrimination as they search for jobs, the preventable illnesses that lead to a significant portion of disability throughout the developing world.
But, after talking over lunch about Bangladesh’s image abroad with a Bangladeshi who was educated in London and chose to return to Bangladesh to serve his fellow citizens, I’m beginning to think that telling the important stories is much more difficult than I had first imagined. First, there is danger in making the problems outrageous in a way that is nearly the same as the media and falling into the exact same sensation sells trap. Secondly, there is the very real possibility that my advocacy could simply contribute to the “bad luck country” image – and that image honestly doesn’t do Bangladesh any good. It isn’t exactly a tightrope act, but it is certainly a challenge
Then I step back and realize that there is so much hope to write about that, even if it doesn’t sell, it certainly isn’t hard to find and is almost impossible to escape. Bangladesh has its share of problems, but it also has a huge bounty of beauty and energy. “Every day I wake up to the sounds of people working,” my friend told me over lunch, “and they are working hard – they’re shouting out their wares and carrying 20 kilos in a basket balanced on their head.” He went on to emphatically tell me that, “there is great potential here for people to improve their lives – we just need to give them a chance.”
It is this chance, along with the small steps in the right direction, which really deserves attention in the international limelight. If we could get people as excited about vitamin A deficiency-related blindness in kids as we could in former Bangladeshi lawmakers’ last minute maneuvering to somehow debunk the corruption charges brought against them, just think of what could be accomplished.
Posted By Caitlin Burnett
Posted Jul 26th, 2007