Monthly Archives: April 2009

The Promised Land

Sadarghat ferry terminal, Old Dhaka

One of the places that I’m most drawn to is Sadarghat- the ferry terminal in old Dhaka. It’s one of the largest ports in the world. Over 30,000 people- it seems like many more-  use the terminal each day. The shrill of sirens sound like an air raid as boats depart and arrive from the countryside. Wide-eyed families look as though they came from another planet. What are they thinking? Have their dreams of beginning a new life already been shattered the instant they arrive. The children are often dressed in their finest outfits- little girls in pink and red frilly dresses.

The first thing they must do is haggle with the rickshaw pullers and CNG drivers. Where are these people going? Maybe the father has the name of a family member or friend from back home? They will probably soon end up in one of the many slums throughout the city. The men will become rickshaw pullers and in a few years if she is lucky that little girl in the pink dress will become a garment worker.

Bangla Brazil

One of the many Brazilian flags on the walls of Dhaka

I noticed it as soon as I arrived here. Brazilian flags painted on the walls in various neighborhoods around Dhaka. It struck me since I lived in Rio for two years. Here in Bangladesh people love Brazilian football with Argentina as a distant second. It’s not only Dhaka. Ronaldo is a hero all over the world. Now I know that Brazil and Bangladesh have certain differences. Brazil after all is the largest Catholic country in the world but yet the people in both places exude a certain enthusiasm and energy. Maybe it’s the climate?

The Biharis

The  Biharis or “Stranded Pakistanis” are the descendants of Muslims from the Bihar province prior to the partition of India in 1947, and then migrated to East Pakistan. They live in what looks like refugee camps in Bangladesh. During the 1971 liberation war most of them remained loyal to Pakistan but now the situation is much more complicated. They are a stateless people stuck between Bangladesh and Pakistan. Below is a clip from the Plan, an NGO about Geneva Camp.

The largest Bihari community in the country is in Dhaka. I went there recently with Stijn Pieters, a Belgium photographer who was working on a project there. Geneva Camp is one square kilometer and home to almost thirty thousand people.  It’s a small city off the grid with it’s own schools  and small cottage industries. Families live in crowded tiny rooms, the great majority of them without running water. There are only fifty public toilets for the entire population. I’ve never seen so many people packed into such a small area. When Stijn gets his website together I’ll post his work and a link on Verve Photo.