Walls or Bridges? A Two-part report on Bangladesh

Ken PowellBy Ken Ford-Powell ken@egremont2day.co.uk

Part One

WELL I survived my trip to Bangladesh – did you miss me? No, never mind, better I don’t know!

You may recall my nerves about going last month. Things are a bit volatile over there at the moment, with attacks on foreigners and religious minorities happening all too frequently.

Security was taken seriously as a result.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My wife and I were taken around by armed police guard to village clinics, where she assessed children with disabilities for three days. Normally, while my wife does the useful work, I get to wander around taking photos and being nosey. I can travel for miles in the middle of nowhere in complete safety and be sure of conversation and hospitality from those I meet on the way. Not this time – it was like being under house arrest!

Nevertheless, I got to see a lot more of what goes on in these village clinics in the impoverished Northwest of the country.

Each day about 120 children came – from babies to teenagers with severe disabilities – and most had never received any treatment before.

Some were sent urgently to hospital. Even after ten years of an affair with this country, this was an eye-opener for me.

Tight security was still enforced in the capital city where I spent a week seeing friends.

I was under strict orders while in Dhaka to only take baby-taxis (where you’re caged in) rather than open, visible pedal rickshaws which make foreigners a target.

ken column 2Alas, when my taxi got stuck in traffic and dropped me in a part of the city I didn’t recognise, I put myself in greater danger, wandering the busy back streets at night trying to find a landmark I recognised, rather than hop on a rickshaw to take me instantly home!

But, risky jaunts aside, it was yet another remarkable and refreshing time in that beautiful country.

The hospitality of the people is remarkable.

We were overwhelmed by the love of our many friends there; but I was amazed again how complete strangers – often poverty-stricken – will gladly welcome you into their homes and feed you as best they can.

Nothing is too much trouble.

Getting deep for a moment, I can’t help but be startled by the extremes: such welcome, despite a deep, brooding anger at how the West treats the rest of the world.

I look at the likes of Donald Trump and his wall-building anti-Muslim rhetoric and feel dismayed at how we look to the 2/3rds world – and the Americans seem to love him!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Are we Brits any better, with our determination to keep refugees out as we watch what little they have bulldozed in Calais?

The world is undoubtedly a dangerous place – something we’re no longer accustomed to here in the UK.

But it is also a beautiful one and it would be a shame if we build walls – physical, economic or legal – to keep it out.

Better to build bridges. I’ll pursue this theme further next time.