Fifth diary entry for the Disability Awareness Documentary Project in Bangladesh

Woke today early to a most beautiful morning. Dark leaves outside our veranda cutting into the brightness of the day and at this time it is not unbearably hot so I sat and ‘reflected’ for awhile. It’s the best bit of the day. ‘Early to bed and early to rise’ should be my motto here.

Elspeth is far from well today and is actually taking some time off. So I am going to do the preliminary talk /interview with the two patients we have lined up. And faithful Rafad will translate. The first was, I must say rather depressing. A sweet and beautiful girl whose ambition, her dream in life is to get a job and contribute to the family income. And at present it seems even that is too great a dream. The problems here are 1, poverty 2, poverty and 3, poverty(my analysis of course).
I meet the transport for the next interview at 3.30 so there is a bit of time. Perhaps Poppy would like to wander round the grounds in her chair and perhaps a cup of coffee at the tea-shop. She didn’t so I watched a bit of a film with her and felt rather refreshed as a result. We have TV up here in the flat. We have watched ‘BBC World News’ but we could be a bit more adventurous.

The second interview was very interesting and encouraging. It was the story of a man who is holding down a good and responsible job, has a comfortable home and loving family and is happy to talk about all his experiences but is quite clear that he doesn’t want to be filmed or be seen on TV. He has stong and interesting views and is very perceptive about the plight of the disabled in Bangladesh. He confirmed some of our suspicions, squashed others and added to what we think we know.

Today has been rather a grim day so perhaps I will cover it quickly.

It is Eid and an overwhelmingly hot humid and overcast day. Pretty much everything is closed up today as Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadam with their families. They have taken it very seriously so they deserve a party. It’s not the same for the Hindus and Christians so they keep ‘vital services’ going here at CRP and, I imagine, across the country too ….very thoughtfully provided the volunteers here with a vehicle and driver for the day and in the absence of any better idea we went to Dhaka. Elspeth was not up to gallivanting and didn’t want to share her horrid cold with the rest of us so she stayed at home.

We saw the parliament building, a fascinating Hindu Temple with the statues of the Gods in the process of being made for next weeks’ Hindu festival, the Durga Puja. We drove on to Old Dhaka, normally a bustling, almost impenetrable mass of humanity to find all the shutters up and the streets (almost) silent. The Red Fort was closed though we peered through the railings and read its history over the doorway. So we headed off to the Bhaga Club where the Brits. go to drown their sorrows. And when we eventually got in (what’s wrong with us? Why didn’t anyone want to sponsor us?!) I enjoyed welsh rarebit a can of beer and a luxurious air conditioned ladies room. And then we came home – me to a message “phone home because a family member has died”.

It wasn’t a family member but it was a very close friend. I had said ‘Goodbye’ to her before I left but nevertheless had hoped to see her again. And a sad co-incidence, it is the third anniversary of Peter’s death. I shed a tear or two but to be honest to grieve too much for people who have lead such rich lives as Peter and Heather is a bit of a nonsense – though it doesn’t stop one missing them.

So all in all a grey day and I was glad when it was over.

Had a ‘domestic’ morning and met Elspeth who had, I think, been working with the students, for a drink at the tea shop. Then, amazingly Topham came by and when I asked him the best way to get to the National Monument said he was going that way with his wife right now and would give me a lift. Whow, my stars were in the right position. So I have seen the monument and the gardens and also the craft shops opposite where I bought some bangles. Coming back was a little trickier – first locating a bus going in the right direction, then getting on it and lastly getting off at the right place. Getting off was the most difficult bit. I asked the conductor for CRP and he obligingly put me down … somewhere…but it wasn’t anywhere I had ever been before. I waved and ran after the bus and the second time they put me down it was the right place!

In the afternoon we had discussions with two disabled young men, both of whom has very fascinating stories to tell of great relevance to our theme of ‘disability and employment’. Both were painful as well as interesting to hear. People do suffer in this country, where, beyond the family (and many families are too poor to help) there is no safety net.

Poppy and I read and prayed in the evening but decided to give the singing a miss!

We keep, rather unsuccessfully, trying to watch Bangladeshi TV. The funniest thing this evening was seeing a few moments of Maggie Smith pouring out torrents of Bengali on a dubbed version of David Copperfield.

The story board is the name of the game at present and the students are encouraged to draw their own. These are short ‘dramas’ indicated by the ‘storyboard’ which depicts five or six happenings in a short series of events.

Skills needed are drawing and imagination, neither of which are very easy. Ruma is very good at drawing. I wish she had more real opportunity to use it. And Riaz who was not keen has been persuaded to try. The group do some of their own, I do some for them and they chose them like cards from a pack not knowing what they will get and one day I drew the first picture from them and they had to develop the ‘story from their. One lesson I have learned is that mobile phone is necessary for a Bengali short drama. They are a big part of life here. One man in Vocational training told us how he worked in a ‘mobile shop’. We assumed it was something like a ‘hot dog’ van, but, no, it was a shop selling mobile phones – of course.

A busy day which left me very weary.

This time next week I will be somewhere high above Asia on my way home and Susannah and Alex will be on their way. Only six more days and Thursday is a major Hindu festival when I am sure all work will stop. We have a lot to do before I leave if we want to keep to our schedule. The film team have had lots of practice and supervision and have improved enormously. So as I see it our tasks are to continue collecting ‘candidates’ for the film, to start practicing interviews and to get on to the task of transcribing. I would love to see that happening before I go.

Tomorrow we meet two ex-Patients, both at the Vocational Training Centre and on Wednesday, two more in Dhaka. The plan today was that I would have a quiet morning at the flat, but the Rafad who is our translator, organiser and helper in a hundred different ways, had other ideas. His wife had made breakfast barfi for us so when the tea trolley came around he called me over and we all had a party, which was really nice.

And in the afternoon we did our first practice interview with Munni, whose story I had previously written but will now have to rewrite as it bore little resemblance to the material we gleaned form the first interview. How could we get it so wrong. Is it the translation? Or our assuptions? Or Munni’s telling of it? It is quite worrying. Of course when we established that her business in ‘Wallnuts” wa actually a business making ‘wall mats’ a few things were clarified.

It’s been a hard day but interesting and we have moved forward, Elspeth and the film group watch the interview on the TV. I limped back to the flat for a rest.

It’s definitely cooler – I think!

My morning consisted of encouraging Ruma and Riaz to turn their story boards into short dramas remembering all the points about verticals and horizontals, focus and framing that we have been emphasising over the past two weeks and more. Focus it seems to me is by far the most difficult, what with wide and long and mid-shots and close ups, all of which are written into their dramas to give maximum practice.

I was working with Riaz and Ruma for a large part of the morning. It was hot and they were slow and communication was difficult so that at they end, when they had both finished their individual drama I apologised for being so bad tempered. As once before hey claimed not to have noticed! Elspeth took over with the other two. I notice her Bengali is improving at about the same rate as mine is deteriorating. It’s very depressing.

In the afternoon we interviewed another young man who was at the wrong place at the wrong time (refusing to give robbers money out of the till) and got shot in the chest and spine. What a brave and unassuming young man! He is currently studying computers in the Vocational Training Centre. He arrived with a ‘pusher’ who was also disabled in that his thumb and two first fingers were joined at the ends. He seemed to have the right bony skeleton underneath. I felt a quick snip with a pair of scissors would do him a lot of favours. He has seen a surgeon who said he would operate but it would cost – well I won’t say but it was a lot in any currency.

Next we met and interviewed a beautiful young woman in a wheelchair who had fallen from a roof top. After treatment in a government hospital she has come to CRP where her spinal injury has been stabilised, her pressure sores healed and where she is now learning tailoring. However her husband has had to sell everything to achieve this and he and their son have returned to his parents. He can’t visit because he doesn’t have the money. He does sometimes phone.

Many more things have happened today but they all seem to reinforce Rabibdranath Tagore’s gloomy approach to his observations of life in Bengal. And that was over a hundred years ago. “T’was ever thus and thus will ever be”. Tagore didn’t say that. It comes from ‘Dead Poets Society’. I hope it’s not true.

There is a beautiful marigold half moon hanging over CRP as I call it a day.

Today we set off at 9.30 – or some-time after – to meet an 18 y.o. young man in Dhaka suffering from cerebral palsy. Time and energy and space don’t allow to give this story justice. The boys condition is dire. I have rarely seen anything so distressing, but his loving and intelligent, educated and devoted family believe he has an exceptionally sharp mind and want the best for him which they believe is to be found outside Bangladesh. Oh dear, oh dear, they are probably right on both counts but it’s impossible. I have said I will talk to a paediatric physio. in the UK and email any good ideas. We left with a heavy heart to go briefly to ‘Arong’ – a rather smart handicraft shop in Dhaka, which claims to help artisans across Bangladesh by providing an outlet for their crafts.

Our second visit was fascinating too, but much more optimistic, since the young woman’s paralysis was due to T.B. which since it is being treated the paralysis is improving. She also has a job when she chooses to take it up in the local Madrassa run by her Uncle and Aunt.

Perhaps the most interesting bit of the afternoon was the journey through the outskirts of Dhaka and through the ‘tanning’ area. Phew what a smell!

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