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Poor Options

April 23, 2012

Its hard to believe more than a decade has passed since I was here last.  It only seems like yesterday that I was bashing through the traffic of Dhaka behind a certain Mr Chowdary (their equivalent of “Smith” it seems) who was anxious to jam as many fleeting business meetings as possible into the time we had between arriving from India and our connecting flight to Chittagong. It seems little has changed (why should it?) though the hour of arrival (midnight) means the zoo into which you usually arrive in these South Asian airports is less like feeding time than usual. The hotel is quite a run up the road so we join the river sound of horns and beeps and flow along in the dark, as best we can avoiding large construction trucks that drift across our bow every other minute or so.  For a section of road I am in one of those sets for cheap science fiction movies as sparks rain down in showers of orange light from points unseen, pouring out of a dark sky and cascading to a bouncing mass of pinpricks of light that die on the ground. 

Regrettably this is a cocooned visit. I usually get out on the streets as quickly as I can but in this case there is work to be done and so I lock my self away in preparation for meetings the next day. Sealed from the city in the car, and sealed from the city in the hotel. By glass and a world of difference. I break from my preparation and gaze down into the mud yards of slum dwellings and time my musings to the toilet break of a worker who simply breaks stride for a moment, squats, manures the public ground and moves on. Everyone moves around and on but for the teeming thousands of  people who are squatters in every sense of that word I am reminded they have no choice. Which defines poverty does it not? No choice. No choice but to live and eat and work and squat where I can. No choices about how I get educated, if educated at all. No choice about work, status, housing, water, food.  Those of us in the affluent west, regardless of how tough we think we are doing it, still have choices about how and where we live, a luxury beyond the comprehension of these citizens.

I forget. There has been change. This tired looking airport was a construction zone of bald, undressed concrete when I was here last. It is a new airport? Really.  Afflicted by the aftermath of a gut full of giardia I spent an agonising few hours here using a toilet which was positioned crossways on the booth and was sitting in four inches of water. I had no choice but to use it. But that undoes my definition… Doesn’t it?

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