Monthly Archives: October 2008

Sixth diary entry for the Disability Awareness Documentary Project in Bangladesh

History is made every day. I am writing Saturday’s diary on Saturday. I might even write Sunday’s today too!

I think we (well Elspeth and Minu to be more accurate) have cracked the next great problem, which is to ‘capture’ the interview with Munni on the computer. They spent a fair bit of the morning on it and seem to have succeeded, including sound. It’s a miracle to me. It will take a while for Minu to capture it all but once she has, it’s up to Joyti and me to transcribe it.

While Elspeth was working with Minu I was working with Riaz, Sabiha and Ruma. They were still using the big camera but were effectively using it to create ‘stills’ (which happen to move slightly). The task was to select one place for the tripod and from that one spot find six good, interesting, even beautiful shots. I gave them each a cardboard viewfinder through which they were encouraged to look afresh at the world. It was even possible to find quite abstract pictures in this way. I got quite excited about it and did a bit of jumping up and down and from the way they eventually started using their cardboard viewfinders I think they ‘got it’. And the proof of the pudding being in the eating – the work they produced by late morning was lovely. I shall miss the four of them when I go. They are a merry crew. They never grumble and their lives are far from easy.

Lunch time. Lunch is an oasis in the day. We go ever to the guest house where most of the other volunteers live – physios, O.T.s, nurses office support staff – and take off our ‘ornas’ and relax over the rice and curry that Mary cooks. The conversation can go anywhere, but its always easy and pleasant and they are such a very nice crowd. They have invited us for supper tomorrow evening – a sort of farewell- ‘Posh frocks and black ties’!! Elspeth is very tired. I hope she will feel up to it. It won’t be late. My transport to the airport is coming at 4.30a.m. the next morning.

How excited Alex and Susannah must be feeling. I’m sorry we don’t overlap at all.

After lunch Joyti and I started transcribing the Munni interview. Once we got into the swing of it, it went quite well until, sadly, we realised we had done as much as Minu had managed to capture. That will be the hold-up tomorrow, but at least I am now convinced it can be done……or rather that Joyti and I, or Joyti and Susannah will be able to do it. I do hope we can do a bit more tomorrow. There will still be plenty left for Susannah to ‘cut her teeth on’.

I have counted my presents to take home – twenty-nine, but all very little so I shall be travelling underweight, since I bought out a laptop and various other things for the project. But that’s fine. It will make travelling easier.

It’s a very early start tomorrow. I hope no-one is up. I am reminded of the lines from a poem- “then steal away. Give little warning. Say not goodnight but in some brighter clime bid me good morning”. ( It doesn’t quite fit since I am not dying.)

Goodbye Ahad, goodbye Minu and Muni, Riaz and Sabiha, goodbye Rafad and Jafor. Thank you all for your patience and good humour at all times and for your kindness. Goodbye.

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!

Forth diary entry for the Disability Awareness Documentary Project in Bangladesh

We awoke to a bright sunny day, blue sky and dry paths. But the idea that this might mean lower humidity was a delusion. The day proved hot and sweaty and exhausting – but not without rewards.
There has been a lot of trouble about the Eid hokidays. Since Elspeth and I have to complete our brief in three weeks to have a large part of the middle one gobbled up by holiday is disappointing. Elspeth and the film group, Ahad and others have had much discussion which seems to have lead to an amicable arrangement today. The dynamics have been complicated but the ‘students’ will get Eid and a day or two more on condition that they return with completed story boards and that they locate and study the manual their previous teacher, Loz, so beautifully prepared for them. And where their days don’t overlap the students who are here will get extra teaching and practice.

Ruma, Sobiha and Minu areready and waiting at 9.30 (office hours are from 8.00 am) which is a pleasure and relief since so many things don’t work out as one expects. The day went well, marked by good humour and hard work, as they set up and filmed short clips around the hospital and grounds. There is a great scope as anyone who has been here will know – trees, ponds, buildings, flowers, wide open concrete spaces, small intimate ones …….but perhaps that’s jumping the gun.

But I do love this place (CRP and the bazaar just outside). It is a community in a sense that has largely been lost in the UK. Everyone knows everyone and even in the shops of the bazaar I am making friends with the man who has an international phone facility; with the shopkeeper who sells toilet rolls and honey and note-books; with the vegetable seller and the tailor and the many children who ask as often as they see you ‘What is your name’ and then, ‘What is your country’. There is one special child who asks, ‘Hullo, what is my name’, and I really haven’t thought of a good answer.

Today I have sent my first email but only because Rafad took pity and helped me. Why is technology so difficult? Or why am I so inept? Perhaps part of the answer is that I really don’t mind being off the radar for three weeks. In the past holidays took one away from all the regular hassles (and pleasures), now nothing is further away than a text or an email. It’s a bit like having daffodils at Christmas and brussel sprouts all the year round! The effect is to diminish them. Here endeth ……

Another first today was to try the staff canteen. It was good food but not many people. You pay ‘up front’ so what your receipt says is what the server gives you.I didn’t understand the system so I ended up with a feast of rice, egg, fish, vegetable curry and dhal for 27taka(20p). Tomorrow my dinner will cost about 12p!

Before bed I watched a bit of a weepy film with poppy (Hugh Grant). She must be tough. No tears from her. I should have got some tissues but my una sufficed.

Tuesday morning and I woke up groggy from having taken half a sleeping tablet and felt a bit odd all day.

I met with the drama group at 8.00 am. The plan is that they practice each day from 8.00 to 9.30 on their own but today is the first day so an exception. They were working on sharpening their skills esp. focus and framing by using short dramas. We started on the basket ball court but it was like an oven by 8.30 so they moved under the trees. Elspeth and I figured rather large in these clips to neither of our advantage!

Elspeth has been busy with the great and the good and has found some possible candidates for the film, which is a relief. I did a bit of my blog in the office after lunch but by 3.15 I was completely exhausted (I’m afraid I keep complaining of tiredness) and came back to the flat. I have started to avoid the dogs – Poppies’ pets, who spend most of their days tied up on the front of the house. They don’t look terribly well, Holly looks positively ill and I’m sure they must have fleas. So with my bad experience of fleas I’m making a very wide berth.

I went to the guest house at 4.30 to give Loki my fabric for a salwar Kameez . Am very glad I didn’t just leave it, since she said it was too thin and would be see- through. Not, I think, a great idea for either CRP or Savar bazaar. Shame as it was a lovely colour and design. Anyway she came with me to the fabric shop and we changed it for something a bit more modest. I also got some pink fabric to make a top to go with my white trousers. Won’t I be smart? Well, I certainly won’t be as smart as the beautiful Bangladeshi girls walking around the campus. They look just lovely.

Went to the canteen again for supper and have more or less cracked the system.Rice is 3 taka, dhal is free, Vegetable curry is 5 taka, egg is 6 and fish 9. Its fantastic value, but there is a certain ‘sameness’ about it. One secretly longs for a bit of cheese or chocolate or perhaps even a glass of sherry!

We watched the news on BBC World News and wondered what was happening to our savings. And so to bed.

Third diary entry for the Disability Awareness Documentary Project in Bangladesh

It’s difficult to get a handle on the week when Thursday and Friday are the W/E and Sat. and Sun. normal working days. Today is Saturday but feels much more like Monday!! The plan is to do lots more ‘camera training’ and the emphasis now is on focusing. Each student is to take six wide shots of three different views from the same position – one focusing on something near the camera and one on something further away. It sounds dull, but the group manage to make each pair of shots into a little drama with a face in one position expressing one emotion and a face in other expressing something quite different. They used a ball, a flower and a letter for their props. They enjoyed it and so did I, though the two shots inadvertently taken of me didn’t look like it!

At 3.00 we reassembled to look at the mornings work on the computer. Nothing is simple is it? And this wasn’t. In the end we watched them direct from the camera to the TV. Their shots were steady, the horizontals and verticals pretty good but the “distant” focus was not good and it turned out the automatic focus had been left on and had been over- riding all their efforts! A mistake but not a disaster at this stage – I preached a short sermon based on the text that “we learn more thro’ our mistakes than our successes”. No-one was convinced.

The evening, which started at 4.30, was very long and hot. I wandered round the bazaar, bought some fried cookies, read, visited Poppy who is worried about my relationship with God. She thinks I am angry with Him. I’m not. Though looking around CRP where every patient represents a tragedy for the individual and for the family I do feel depressed and perplexed.

A lousy night. It’s better to go to bed exhausted and I wasn’t. Heat and mosquitoes and the constant rattle of the fan don’t help. But I have no health problems. I never do in Bangladesh. Simple food – rice, dhal, veg. curry, bananas and lots of tea suit me well. I bought a papaya but it was rock hard and inedible so I gave it to Poppy’s Aya who will cook it. Elspeth bought a pineapple, which was OK but certainly didn’t have the honey dripping sweetness that we had hoped for. But each evening at about 5.00 the stalls outside CRP are selling special little deep fried savoury goodies, which I think, are for people to have as soon as the sun goes down to ‘break the fast’. They are very tasty and help to make up for the fact that the morning tea trolley isn’t coming round during Eid with it’s supplies of somosa and chingri.

Elspeth, Ester and Sandra and I made a plan to go to the National monument after work. We set off promptly in two Rickshaws to go to Savar and pick up either a bus or auto-rickshaw. The chain fell off Ester and Elspeths’ Rickshaw and we never made contact again! Sandra and I rather lost heart after waiting a while so we meandered around Savar and across the bridge over the road. I t was a ghastly walk but once started we were propelled on by the force of bodies. The bridge was lined with beggars suffering with every sort of crippling deformity. It was like a nightmare freak show. We will never, ever go that way again.

On a brighter note, I bought some hair slides and bangles as little Eid presents for Joyti and Poppy and the film crew. Is it a little cooler? Possibly.

Second diary entry for the Disability Awareness Documentary Project in Bangladesh

We are now seriously on to the job of raising the standards of the film group. I doubt if any of them actually own a TV. Riaz, Sobiha and Ruma do have access to one but Mina the leader of the group doesn’t Since TV is pretty much their only way of seeing film that is quite a problem. The management team said yesterday that they would remedy it, which brought a light to Minas eye. It will help hugely, since we keep saying their work must be good enough for TV.

Today is my day to shine! I’m doing a workshop for the group on ‘verticals and horizontals’. Horizontals I discover are very unreliable! A table top or the top of a wall or a door frame is only horizontal if you look at it from head on (ie. at 90o). From any other angle it will slope up or down – as the Renaissance painters discovered and called it ‘perspective’. Fortunately verticals are more reliable and remain vertical. in most positions (tho’ not all). I think Rafad, our wonderful translator and manager/facilitator would have helped make it clear to the students.

By the end of the session each student had three short clips on their personal tape. It was a very satisfactory start and I discover how much I like working with them. They are really splendid. Very keen. Very cheerful. Very good natured. And all of them with very severe disabilities. Minu is the one full time film employee, paraplegic and in a wheelchair, Ruma has very severe rheumatoid arthritis and also hip replacements following a road traffic accident. She is a Receptionist in the main hospital reception area; Sobiha is the Deputy Manager at Gonokbari, a residential women’s training project. She is also in a wheelchair as a result of spinal injury. Riaz, the one man in the group, is indispensible not just because he is very kind and gracious but because he has no mobility problem. His problem is the congenital lack of a hand.

Thursday is a half day (and Friday day off) . I arranged to meet Sandra and Ester, Two English OT students to go to Savar Bazaar (local shopping mall), missed them but went anyway. What an utterly incredible melee! Shops, stalls, people, rickshaws, animals, cars, beggars, children, all jostling, shouting, hooting, blarring (well, not the shops). I came home by rickshaw with a humdinger of a headache and six little bags of beads and sequins.

The evening is almost unbearably hot and oppressive. It rained heavily earlier in he day. Whatever happened to the end if the monsoon and the cooler weather?

Today is a holiday. I woke very early feeling incredibly limp. A long reflective spell and quiet cups of tea helped. Visited Poppy and her new husband. They were still in bed which was a bit of a blunder on my part since their one room is everything –living, dining and bed room. The kitchen and bathroom are separate. It was good to meet Masu tho’, he is an impressive young man with a shy and beautiful smile, despite or perhaps because of his very difficult past life. Visited Poppy which didn’t cheer me up much.

So many enormous problems here almost all related to poverty

Later I got my sketch book out and started to draw. I must do more. It’s tricky. We work most of the day and it’s dark by six.

In the afternoon we had a lovely walk, out through the village and along the river looking for the village where ‘Radio Bhai’ was filmed. We didn’t find the village but had a lovely time. The heavens opened on us several times. One time I was a bit behind the others and a lady beckoned to me to shelter with her and her children in the goat shed – a tiny shed, Perhaps a metre high containing her wood store a pile of bricks, two goats, six children, her and me. It was a privilege and I learned Bengali words for puddle, stream, drip, rain, thunder and others, all of which I have now sadly forgotten.

We had a short Christian service with Poppy in the evening where Elspeth and I excelled ourselves singing and poppy laughing.