Monday, February 20, 2012

hell hath bad traffic

Aid work is bizarre, to say the least. We are good at trashing it. we should be. Critical and self critical personalities are not only useful but a necessity.  To survive, to stay  relevant. 

But maybe sometimes we should also highlight "the other" side. The one most of us signed up for. 

Yesterday was one of those such days. I woke at dawn, compliments of a massive jetlag that keeps me half a day ahead of the people I love. With my brain and my heart in different time zones, it is sometimes difficult to keep track of which day I'm in. I had breakfast in an empty lobby next to a pool I'll never use, and then headed off to the "office"

First stop, I found myself surrounded by 20 imams. 20 male religious leaders of a faith I barely know. we spoke of child marriage and of dowries. They ate grapes while I munched on almonds.

Second stop a support center for people living with HIV aids to see a group of courageous women survivors of violence. They told me their stories. we smiled and talked while some of the children slept on the mat. Women who's own families won't allow them to sit on the same sofas they use, who won't feed them. One, just a child, had joined their ranks at the age of nine. All fighters. I felt proud to sit side by side with them, and embarrassed when they presented me a gift, a gift they can ill afford. They asked me to come visit them again. 

"I cannot" I excuse my self  "I live far and I have left small children behind to come meet you"

then comes  the translation of their response
"she says she too has children, but she has to die and leave them"

slapping me back to my place. that of a stranger that can barely touch any of their lives. I leave humbled and embarrassed.

Third stop a training center for women who have chosen to leave all they know in search of money.  Most of them headed for Saudi Arabia to work as domestics. Here they are taught to make beds, how to use machines that you and me take for granted, like the toaster or the vacuum cleaner. A small mannequin of a child stares back at me. A buggy next to it.  These are the things they must come familiar with for their new life. 

Then the airport. Children smile as I photograph them through the  glass barrier that divides our worlds: that of those  sipping tea while waiting to board a plane from those begging for food. 

"at least you made them smile" replies a little voice inside me. I feel smaller than the voice.   

Back in Dhaka my "assistant" speaks non stop during the long taxi ride. It's night and I'm tired. He tells me stories that unveil the world that surrounds me, even if just a little bit. He  keeps referring to me as his "master", I suspect fully aware of how uncomfortable that makes me. The density of the traffic makes me think that this is not only a god forsaken place -in the most literal sense of the word- but in addition it has bad traffic. Of course it figures that hell on earth would have bad traffic