Sunday, December 7, 2008

Bangladesh: The unbelievable Saddarghat in Dhaka

Dhaka is a giant mass of conglomerated people, constructions, slums, cars, rickshaws, markets, noise and traffic jams.
Dhaka is an amazing place on earth, worth letting it absorb you and give it what it demands: all your energy at its service.
Once you accept this, the giant city shows its charms. Wandering around the Old Dhaka streets and finding oneself lost in the shapeless bazar that is formed of thousands of markets and foodstores is the preparation for the big river experience: Saddarghat, the river port looking into the Buriganga river.

This is the main river port of the city, and certainly one of the busiest in Bangladesh.
The Buriganga, which for some authors is the lifeline of Dhaka, is such a dirty mass of viscous black water, that one might think that life can come to an end at any moment. False. No other place offers such a high concentration of people and machines, crows on air and the rest on water. People use the river for transportation purposes, as a vast number of ferries and passenger cruises depart from here to many places around Bangladesh. Cement transport vessels cruise the river up and down all along the day, so heavily loaded that they literally are half-sunk, the top deck is submerged at its lowest part (the center of the vessel). People work on loading and unloading these artifacts, as always seen around this country, by carrying weight on their heads forming efficient human chains. Coconuts arrive from the countryside, and some amount is preprocessed right at the ghat (port), leaving to decompose the outer shell, giving room to life, they serve to feed insects and other lifeforms.

People, people, wherever you look people move by water, wash their clothes, rush to pick a ferry, eat, spit, work, all in there.
Ships are repaired right there, by hand, by hammer, the noise of hammers against metal is constant and creates its own atmosphere.

Great numbers of tanneries and industries are located by the banks of Buriganga, and although many of them vomit wastewater into the river, not all use any wastewater processes. Animal and human disposals, waste of all kinds, oils from ships, all, everything, into the water.
This is the lifeline of a city, an overcrowded city in an overcrowded country makes it difficult to know which are the options to start cleaning the river. In fact, even if it were possible, how could it be done when so many people are sustained, have room here, everything appears to work in a complex semi-stable equilibrium that may be difficult to break, and the options after this equilibrium is altered are unknown. Liars those who shout answers. If any complex machine, any organism requires a dirty and noisy heart or engine room, this is Dhaka. Just out of there, rural life appears again.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Bangladesh sundarbans: the waters that flow up and downstream

The Sundarbans is the greatest mangrove swamp in the world. It grows in the Bengal Gulf, between India and Bangladesh. The region of Khulna in Bangladesh holds the major part of this forest, about the 60% of the total surface. India keeps the rest in the West Bengal region.
The definition of water here is given by the equilibrium between the sea and river waters, therefore water is salted, and water is fresh, somewhere in between certainly. Vegetation is a good witness, just here there are immense numbers of plants that only could grow here. Some of them show that life here is extreme, letting their roots out in the air to be seen, seeking for the oxygen that the saturated ground appears not to provide.

This forest is located at the interface between sea and fluvial waters, and therefore, the water levels are directly determined by the tidal variations. The sea level acts as a downstream boundary condition that propagates upstream through the main and branch channels that cross the Sundarbans. The tidal variations have an influence on the way people live here in reation to the water by dealing with inundated areas, on navigation, and even on the movements of fauna. Anyone willing to cruise the waters is aware of the dynamics of this system, local people are aware of this from childhood, learning how and when to sail.

The vital equilibrium between fresh and salted water has been altered by man: the construction of dams and prown farms are interrupting this exange, causing the phenomenon of the "desert of water". In fact in some zones, because of the decrease in fresh water immission, the salinity of the water had reach a rate so high that vegetal and animal life is not able to adapt to the rapid change and is disappearing.

Among local people, a mystical way of thinking says that we are here to move not from the Creator to the sea, the end, but the other way, from here to the heights, to the Source. This is the doctrine of the reverse way (Based on "La Fabula de Shelabuna" by P. Marino Rigon, s.x.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bangladesh first impressions.

An old advertisement of the Bangladeshi Tourism Office says "Visit Bangladesh..before tourists come!". Tourists have not come, and Bangladesh has remained a country in which people are able to be surprised seeing foreigners, able to offer them a warm and deeply true hospitality.

After a long trip crossing the border point between the two Bengal states, one can experience something unusual in such a journey as ours: silence. Motorbikes and other motorised wheeled things are almost completely substituted by cyclo-rickshaws. Of course, buses exist, and many. One takes you from the border to Khulna. Indeed, busy city, but again, busy with human-paddeled vehicles. So one can feel the crowd, but the place is clean and somehow more relaxed than usual in India.

Our expedition takes us to the Sundarbarns, the biggest mangrove tidal forest on the planet. On the way, Mongla appears, a small village grown around an Italian mission, where Father Rigon had built a church, a school and a hospital. What one can see in Mongla is simply a small village. As simple as that, one can feel how life is in a rural Bangladesh. Life does not appear easy here, the influence of the tide is strong, as well as the salinity of the water and the terrain. Flood events keep most of this land wet, and the sediments allow fertile land only for some months. Life is though here, but people haven't lost their smile around here. Not our appraisal only, this is as well the comment of the missioner.

Because of bandwith problems here, we cannot offer any video, hardly a decent picture. The jungle is absorbing us... Soon more audiovisuals will appear here, and they will be surprising for sure.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Delhi - Kolkata in 27 hours

The way one travels in India is strange. What seems to be a waste of time can eventually become a complete experience.
Traveling by train in India is spending hours and hours in a box, where people come and go continuously, a caleydoscope of persons, food, sounds and smells that is worth to be observed with care.
Surprises occur, and one can wake up to the sound of clapping hands at early hours. Then a Hijra asks for a few rupees, in exchange for not disturbing or cursing people around. Superstition surround these figures, not men, not women, mighty in their curses, annoying if they want, and as nice as anyone.

For more information on Hijras,

Friday, November 7, 2008

The last three seconds of Delhi daylight

The eye of the witness can be overwhelmed by a lot of different Delhis. Myriads of pictures speak about the guts it takes to endure life and vice versa: how hard is for the environment to embrace our existance. This first recording, taken within the time of our sojourn shows the intensity of dusk in Old Delhi when the Muezzin calls and all of us stay steady for a while. A million of different stories could be shown, it only depends on the place we happen to be.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The beginning of a journey

We are at the beginning of a trip that will send us to the lands of the Bramaputra, through India and Bangladesh. This is not the first time we go there, and this time the way we understand the world and especially the Indian subcontinent will be reflected by our works.

The written word and the registered image and sound, with photography and video, register what we are seeing in a moment, the way we understand it and, essentially, ourselves in a certain moment. The impressions that we print will be unvariable in time, as opposed to us, who will be changing in time and along our journeys.

And this is the purpose of our new journey, to get to know and give to know untold stories and places, people and circumstances that perhaps are not very interesting to the media. Indeed, what we don't know does not exist.

This is the evidence of a quest that can be followed by anyone at any time, learning with us about this world.

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