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Remembering Cesare Tavella

The Cherokee Indians have this saying as a yard stick to measure our lives against and for Cesare this was certainly true. He passed away from a horrific tragic incident on Monday and left the rest of us crying in his wake. We lost a great deal that night – a great friend, colleague, doting father, son, brother, loving boyfriend. He was many things to many people, much-loved, respected and truly dear to all who knew him. If I had called Cesare a great man on his face, he would’ve laughed at me. But he WAS a great man to work with – kind, humble, knowledgeable, with a wicked sense of humor. He was efficient and practical about getting things done. As a professional colleague if you had a problem that you needed to get resolved, he was the person to hand it over to.

Cesare and I met earlier this year when he took over the job of leading PROOFS, our food security project. We hit it off from the very beginning and quickly developed an easy camaraderie. He was that kind of person, he had a way of putting people at ease. A man of his word, he earned trust through his actions. One of his favorite sayings was that ‘we don’t have to like each other but we must respect each other’ and that sums up the way he was with the people around him. The respect that he gave to even the bearers or drivers in his office was telling of the way he treated all people with dignity. He was not impressed by titles, status or hierarchy – he was impressed by how much people would bring to the table and could contribute to improving the lives of others. He had a way of cutting through the bullshit to get to the heart of the matter. He called a spade a spade but was tactful, diplomatic & always had a smile on his face.

As we became friends, I discovered that there was no BS’ing around him, none of the tedious small talks that barely scratch the surface. Our conversations jumped topics, ran deep, was heated, long & would range from our frustration with our work, how change doesn’t happen fast enough, to our weirdest travel experiences, our kooky retirement plans or wildest dreams. He was easy to talk to, to get to know, to let your guard down with. He was so positive with this ‘joie de vivre’ about him that you could not help but be utterly charmed by his enthusiasm for life and all that it had to offer. Decades down the road, Cesare hoped to buy an island to retire to and Kate & I tried our best to convince him to let us live on it as caretakers. The island dream was something that would materialize far into the future but we talked about it like it was right around the corner.

The day he passed away, we exchanged messages back and forth about the long weekend get-away (respite in nature) in which he was supposed to join our group but decided at the last moment that he couldn’t. He teased me about being a city girl for loving the comforts that civilization/technology offers us and declared that my love for air-conditioning is the reason Bangladesh is sinking from climate change and our Island would disappear before we ever get a chance to retire …. “I love to swim but to swim on a permanent basis….”.

We spoke briefly barely an hour or so before the incident, which made it that much more harder for me to wrap my head around the fact that I would not be able to pick up the phone and hear him on the other end anymore. The hours since then has been interminable. Why? How? Who? The what if’s? And in the midst of this crushing grief, this sudden loss of a great person, a friend, I am now confronted by questions from others on what was he like? how will he be remembered?

The answer to that is I want him to be known not for the tragic way his life ended but the incredibly kind, passionate way he had lived & dedicated his life to a cause, to the greater good.

I want him to be remembered as he was – warm, loving, kind, funny, intelligent, a witty gentle old soul. He’s the only Italian I knew who didn’t care for coffee at all but was very specific about how he wanted his pizza. He doted on his daughter, loved his girlfriend and was very close to his family.

I want to remember Cesare the way I had seen him – always relaxed with the creases around his eyes deepened by his smile. He smiled with his heart, it sparkled in his eyes and lighted up all those around him. A truly remarkable human being who gave selflessly of himself to the service of others.

It is incredibly sad that Cesare’s life ended so soon and I cannot put into words how much we will miss him. Cesare was a positive person and would not want us to be sad today. If he were here he would tell us to cheer up, smile and remember all of the great memories we all shared. Even though Cesare may be gone, his memory will live on in all of us forever.

Buddy, you will be sorely missed! May your soul rest in peace … much love from all of us you left behind, to follow in our time.

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(All pictures of Cesare is by Laurent from their joint visit to the PROOFS project in June 2015).

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Respite in nature

This long weekend, I did something I hadn’t attempted before. I went hiking up a trail to reach a lake, at 1072 ft above sea level. The short hike of 1.5 hours, took me almost 4 hours. Up and down the mountains, scurrying from one to the other, picking our way around trails washed away by landslides, trying not to fall into the abyss as we gingerly attempt to find strong footholds, I watched the locals in pure awe as they went up and down, sure footed, nearly sprinting through the trail. We were left in their trail dust and I kept falling further behind from the group. My head was buzzing, my heart had felt like it would burst through any moment. In those moments, I felt the effect of nearly two decades of smoking, more acutely then I had ever felt before. Towards the end, very close to our destination, I stood on a ledge, unable to take one more step, unwilling to tumble into the abyss, I leaned on my stick as I tried to make up my mind on whether I wanted to throw up or lie down in a place I could not even stand properly. I almost gave up right there.

And I remembered  then – it’s darkest right before the sun rises. In the midst of the chaos of life, we become blinded to it’s blessings. 

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Once we reached the village and soaked ourselves in the lake, I could feel myself relaxing and settling into my new surroundings. We went to bed early only to wake up 3 hours later. The village was quiet, all lights were off and yet it was bathed in silver moonlight. I took a walk through the valley, admiring the full moon, a sky full of stars, the cleanliness and quiet of village life. My group asked me the next day if I had been afraid.

And I realized something else – I am wary of people, not nature or anything that is part of it. 

Boga Lake, Bandarban.

Boga Lake, Bandarban.

I stayed put the next day while a major part of the group hiked up higher to the 5th highest peak in Bangladesh. I went for a walk through the village, photographing children, watching people at work, admiring the serene beauty of my surroundings. I couldn’t help but notice that the children of the village were wary of us, outsiders. We had descended on them like locusts. Large groups had arrived that morning, we were loud, obnoxious and littered everywhere. A clean village turned dirty within a minutes. The local shop keepers watched us from a distance, cleaning up their parcel of land as soon as groups moved on. We had drifted so far from nature, from any sense of belonging that we had no problem polluting our environment wherever we went.

And I knew the reason I am wary of people – we are unaware, unconscious, inconsiderate of anything other than our need to consume and our greed for more. 

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As I walked on, a lady on a loom caught my eye, we smiled at each other and I joined her on her veranda. It was mid-day by then and already quite hot and humid, a few minutes after I joined her, she muttered something and got off her loom and went inside. I sat on the veranda wondering if I had somehow offended or disturbed her with my presence. For the few minutes that I was left alone, I debated slinking back to where I came from, ashamed of what I considered to be an intrusion. But she returned with a drink of water and a bunch of bananas. It was probably what she had at hand to offer, as she indicated that I should eat and drink, I settled down again into enjoying our mutual company. A few minutes later, she took the loom apart and wrapped it up and once again I wondered if I should leave. But an elderly lady came by and helped her set up another loom, this time with bright yarns of green and red, she was going to weave another shawl. I sat on the floor, part of her scene, trying to stay out of her way as I watched their hands deftly set up the yarns in place. The repeated motion was soothing, the dedication and attention to detail felt like meditation.

They chatted quietly between themselves and smiled at me while pointing for me to have more water or banana. A man passing by joined us and she repeated the same ritual, went inside to get him a drink of water and more bananas. He could speak my language, so we struck up a conversation. The ladies were curious and had quite a few questions – we traded answers back and forth, smiling, giggling as we shared our lives in languages we do not speak. Her neighbors joined us and five more kids. The man left, he was going to walk back to his village and it would take him the rest of the day, she offered him more bananas to take for the way. I sat there for nearly an hour longer, the ladies around me talking, the kids playing, slowly relaxing in my presence. When they first arrived, they stayed out of reach, as they relaxed and lost themselves in play, they inched closer, until they started initiating games with me.

I had not remembered to ask permission to take photographs when the man was there, so I kept my camera closed. Recording the moment in memory. A group of ladies and their children, enjoying a lazy afternoon, working, weaving, catching up with each other and watching over their kids. An hour later, I decided to make my way back to the house I was staying at, as I waved goodbye, the kids waved back and the ladies smiled.

On the way back, I stopped to admire two kids playing, I took a picture of them, one turned around immediately and said ‘no’. I apologized as I showed them the picture. The other one had been playing on the veranda, she said ‘yes, more picture’, so I took a couple more. Each time I snapped a pic and showed them, they giggled.

And I learnt once again – We are all strangers in a strange land, until we stop, smile and acknowledge each other’s presence. Hospitality is a state of mind, not material status. Trust must be gained and respect offered if we are to coexist in peace and tranquility with each other.

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As I returned back to the home we were staying in, the lady of the house offered us lunch. I am not a big fan of vegetables but that fresh vegetarian meal was so delicious that I took three more helpings. She was obviously pleased that we were enjoying her meal and we lingered afterwards chatting, drinking tea, trading more questions back and forth. Her husband came by and teasingly asked us whether we think that his sweetheart is more beautiful then him, she said something to him in their own language and they lovingly teased each other before he turned around to tell us that he too had been very handsome in his young years. The couple has 3 children, two of whom are studying here in my city, the youngest is living with them in the village. They run the home-stay during tourist season to make extra money while the rest of the year is spent in agriculture, running their little shop and handicraft sale. They have tried to diversify their income base to give their children an easier life then what they had.

People and their resilience continue to surprise me. For them the market is a day’s walk away, for others it can take up to 2 days. The village people rarely get sick, but they think it’s partly because they have no doctor in the village and  the closest health complex would take a day to reach on foot. I think it has more to do with their environment. Ingredients are fresh, they drink water from the mountain springs, the air is clean and they have close to zero carbon emission. It’s one of the purest, cleanest places I have been to in this country. They have an innate sense of belonging in nature, a respect for nature that is missing in most of us city folk. Their bond with each other and their community strong, everyone looking after each other.

And I realized that our dissonance lies in our disconnection – from each other, from nature, from having lost our sense of community or belonging. In the cities, we don’t know our neighbors, we are so busy rushing from one task to another, we rarely stop to check on the people around us. In our greed for more, we hustle and we forget to slow down, to enjoy the moments that make up our day, with the people we share our hours with. Our children no longer has childhood of free play and easy camaraderie with fellow playmates. It’s scheduled and supervised as we control every moment of their lives.

I used to travel and find pieces of my soul in far flung places. This time when I traveled, I learnt to shed the excess baggage of expectations, vanity, ego.

I learnt to ask for help as I gasped my way through mountain trails.

I learnt to pace myself and respect my ability to get things done in my own time.

I learnt the meaning of “wabi-sabi” through witnessing it first hand among the tribe we lived with.

I settled into the art of letting go of expectations of how things should be and instead admire what is.

I learnt that digital detox is not about being off from network but resisting the urge & expectation to be hitched to a digital leash.

A hero & her heroism

 

While most of us, city-people, romanticize rural life. There’s very little that is romantic about it. Life is hard for people who depend on the land to make a living and even more so for the women. While women are discouraged from taking up work outside the home, it becomes a necessity ultimately when the responsibility of bringing up children falls squarely on them in the de-facto absence of husbands. Combined with the hardship of daily life, women ultimately end up working longer hours trying to make ends meet.

Children’s education, a luxury before, is now a necessity. But one that not everyone can afford. Monija, the lady who helps my aunt care for her domestic duty, brought her daughters over yesterday. Turns out that the one I had thought was her younger sister is actually her eldest daughter. Her husband worked in Sylhet for five years and while he sent as much money as he could afford, it became impossible for her take care of her 3 children in the village. She moved them to the city, to my aunt’s place where she has worked before.

It’s a big house with joint family so there’s always the need to have an extra pair of hands around. She found employment, has been given a house to live in and now sends her 3 kids to the Madrasa for education. I asked her why she didn’t send them to the government school, and she said that her husband wants the kids to get religious education. He wouldn’t hear of them going to mainstream school and she is tired of fighting him for every little dream that she has for her children.

Thing is the quality of education in Madrasa is far below par. Yes they will probably learn to read and write but the emphasis will always be on learning to read Arabic so they can read the Quran or perhaps just memorize it. However, for many others like her, this madrasa education is already a step up than what she had not been able to get and moreover, this is all that she can afford. She hopes that her 14-year-old daughter will do well in her Secondary School exam and if that’s the case, she hopes to be able to continue her education further to Higher Secondary level.

While I marveled at the thick bamboo clumps and the tall maize plants, I saw beauty while she saw danger. She doesn’t want to live in the village with her daughters. She fears that places like these are for girls to be taken away to and once they have been deflowered, whether forcibly through rape or willingly because they imagine themselves to be in love, no other man/boys in the village will want to marry them.

The collectivism of the rural life will not protect her daughters and it won’t let them or anyone else forget either. Since her daughter is now as tall as her, for villagers, she’s old enough to get married. Forget about the fact that neither the girl nor her parents wants her married off. If something happens, then the burden of it will rest squarely on the shoulders of the family and worst case scenario, they might even face ostracism from the community.

In places that has only a handful of people living in it, hardly a couple of hundred, everyone knows everyone’s business. Yet to not be allowed to interact, buy, sell or trade with these people can be a serious disadvantage. So she has chosen the path of individualism, living in the city, hoping to be able to give her daughters some education and delay marriage for as long as possible.

The lack of mobility is a serious drawback for the women of the village. While I am lucky enough to ‘whoosh in and out’ in a car, that is a luxury most people don’t even dream about. The highest aspiration in a lot of cases seems to be able to afford at least one bicycle – in fact that is quite frequently part of dowry demands. For women, whom no one would dream of giving a bicycle to, mobility frequently means the ability to walk for miles to get to the nearest town or even the village bazaar. The difficulty of making a trip to the doctor in illness under such circumstances is not something that I have enough imagination for.

When I think of heroes, these days, I always end up thinking of women like Monija. Women who somehow find the courage to continue in the face of insurmountable odds. Women who somehow still have dreams for their children even when they are struggling to put 3 square nutritious meal on their plates. Women who go from one day to the next without knowing what awaits them around the corner. Women who dedicate their life and all of their effort into raising a brood of children, hoping that they’ll be able to give them at least a little bit more of an edge in the race of life.

Anyone who can face so much and still persist in living & dreaming deserves to be capped as heroes.

Life is like that

Earlier this year a great video came out titled “Beautiful Bangladesh Land of Stories”.

What’s so great about it? It’s a snapshot of the best bits of Bangladesh, from rolling hills, serpentine rivers, marshes, mangrove forests to vast plains of green paddy field. It didn’t just showcase the land, it showcased the people, the culture, the traditional Baul singers, the madness of old Dhaka, the tea gardens, the tribal dances & celebrations, the somber 21st February to ecstatic 14th April Bangla new year celebrations.

The guy in the video is married to one of my colleague and the question she had to fend the most was “Where’s the million of people who always gather to gawk at you”?

It was asked in a half-joking, half teasing way. As a nation, we are very hospitable people and while we forgive our guests for their many guffaws, we also tend to be intensively curious about the people who visit us. Even though it’s a muslim majority country, I have had people who has lived here at least for 6 months, tell me that we are more secular and chilled out, then they had been led to expect.

Life is like that.

The movie version of your life, the story of yourself that plays in your head, the voices that govern your consciousness and guides your decision… are those of your own choosing?

Are you directing your own life?

Do you choose to see the good in you and others?

Or do you gravitate to the negative – holding on to slights, anger and hurt?

What are you shooting? What are you choosing to focus on?

If you could make a movie on your life – what would it be like? would you show the broken dreams, misplaced trusts, the hurts? or would choose to focus on the good things, the highlights if you please, like this video?

So that brings me to my next question – are your opinions your own or someone else’s?

Are you living an examined life? or just cruising through on auto-pilot?

If today was the last day of your life – what would you do different?

Paradox of religion and celebration

This is NOT a rant, rather an observation if you will.

Today is the 3rd day of Eid and for the past 3 days we have had this bunch of hooligans boys in my neighbourhood playing loud music on the street. Now this would not be irritating if it were not for the fact that they play it all hours, extremely loud, its last years hottest club mix (the street don’t look like no club to me) and the sound is transmitted over mike’s and loudspeakers that cannot handle the base of the music. So what we have had to contend with is JLO & Lungi Dance music, cracking at cranked up volumes. Enough to give anyone a headache, don’t you think?

Maybe I am cranky, I have been running a fever for nearly 6 days now BUT that’s not the reason for this post.

Here’s the Paradox – Eid is a religious festival. You are supposed to be celebrating the end of Ramadan, the month of patient fasting and all the lessons of empathy and sympathy, which we are supposed to have relearn over the past 30 days. It’s a time for family and friends. I wonder where Lungi Dance and JLO featuring Pitbull on “Dance again” features in that occasion.

I am all for partying, but this … 24/7. giving everyone else in the locality headaches, where’s the empathy and sympathy, or any tameez for that sense … in there? For a country that is conspicuously moving away from being Secular, how is this Islamic? What does that word even mean anymore?

I used to love Ramadan, the chance to practice patience, empathy with those less fortunate, to place yourself in another person’s shoes. But the truth is I don’t like this month anymore. Every single day I have witnessed at least 1 act of violence, a non-sensical reaction, which is then attributed to the fact that the person is fasting and has therefore less patience. Don’t fast then. People work less because they are fasting. They are late to work, because they are fasting. They leave early, because they are fasting. People scream and shout abuse in the roads at the CNG’s and the buses because they are fasting and are at a hurry to get home. Don’t fast.

If fasting makes you behave like this, don’t fast. You are not learning anything. You are not practicing patience. You are using it like a crutch, an excuse to act out the anger and apathy that you carry around otherwise.

The biggest paradox perhaps is the way religion and its various facets have been commercialized. In a country where half the people live under or near the poverty line, we have shops that are open until 3 am to facilitate shopping. At cut throat prices, I wonder who buys the glittering things that are displayed on shop windows. I wonder how many people instead concern themselves with making sure that they have calculated their zakat correctly and given it to someone who needs it.

Celebration is all very good but at the end of the day, why can’t we just say that we are doing what we are doing, because we like to have a good time. That would certainly be a good enough reason to celebrate our family and friends, every single day of the year, instead of just a couple of times. It would also be a good reason to practice the art of giving – gifts, zakat, sadka – throughout the year. We have been gifted with life. Life is a gift. And it is worth celebrating every moment that we breathe.

Attitude and Entitlement

I try to help people network, to find opportunities, for business, for jobs. I actually enjoy doing it but at times when I politely decline, or advice a job seeker to rethink their approach to the search, some simply respond back with a renewed appeal to help them make more money, to save them from the misery of their current jobs/bosses/companies. In short, to use my network to land them a better-paying job anywhere. The tone of the appeals remind me of the fairy tale myth of a knight in shining armour riding in to rescue the damsel in distress.

When I advice these people to get more experience or trainings or education, it’s not taken well. They don’t want advice, suggestion or help. You land them a job that pays better, has lax/better working conditions and they will be happy. Everything else, simply falls on deaf ears.

Now, riddle me this – “What do these people tell themselves that they are entitled to?”

Take this one particular guy for example. He has been working in the same company for the past 16 years, doing the exact same thing. He’s a graduate, who latched on to his first job and remained there. He fed himself the lies and fears that everyone (yes that includes me) feels. He’s poor, not very well-connected, not smart enough, good-looking enough, intellectual enough, the wrong gender (and you can add many more…) so he can’t get a better job. Forget the fact that for 16 freaking years, he did not even attempt to do something more in his own work! No growth, vertical or horizontal. No network or support within the company either because he doesn’t get along with any of his colleagues or he feels isolated, threatened and lashes back at real or imaginary slights. Not once does he stop to question that if he has a problem with EVERY single person around him, then the root of the problem might be himself.

What makes people with attitude like this think that the company is going to owe him a living for the rest of his life? that he has any right to complain about how much he gets paid? Or that even after his job becomes defunct, the company will continue to employ him in a function no longer needed? How?

The mental record that this guy (and I am sure million others) is playing to himself/herself over and over again is that of being a victim of circumstances. To these people destiny is determined by events and instances totally out of their control. 

 One guy wrote me a message, in really bad english (that’s my pet peeve), about how he needs to find a better paying job because he needs to support his family. Really? Like seriously? Show me one person who doesn’t have obligations. Show me one person who doesn’t have a present or future family to support. Show me one person who doesn’t have problems in this world, whether that’s money or family or physical or mental or something else. Do they really sit around thinking that they are going to get a job, keep a job and get paid more every year … just because they need it? Who doesn’t want or need more than what they have right now?

Sadly though this quote by Thomas Jefferson is the most apt in this situation. You can spend  months and years trying to help someone but until they are willing to help themselves …… nothing changes.

In Bangladesh, a country of close to 160 million people, if you can read and write you are part of the 53% of the population who can do so and half the competition is already eliminated there.  If you have access to internet, you are part of the 3.7 to 6 % of the population who do so, putting you literally at the top percentile of the population. If you have a job, you should be grateful that you are not part of the 5% of the population who cannot find employment.

So let’s look at it in another way: In a country of 160 million people, you are in the top 53% because you are literate, top 6% because you have access to internet. To top it of, in these times of global recession, despite all the political turmoil, you are employed in an economy that experienced 6% GDP growth and 3% employment growth. Do you need more?

Do these people realize that a growing economy creates jobs that has never existed before? That our education prepared us for jobs that were probably defunct in the 4-6 years that it took us to graduate? Theories and concepts go through constant evolution, unless we keep up, we become dinosaur in the job market?  To grow horizontally or vertically in our function or job is our own responsibility?

NO ONE owes anyone anything. If our parents afforded us an education, they have already done more than enough. They do not owe it to us, to use their relatives, networks, connections, savings to plead or pay for us to secure a job. That is our responsibility.

If a company employs us, they do not owe it to us to see to our professional growth. We have to do it ourself and if we can’t grow within the company then it is our responsibility to grow outside of it.

Change your sense of entitlement. Change that mental record that says, I am owed this or that. Change the mental record that you are victim of circumstances, birth, limitations etc. We determine our own attitude.

 

No one grows alone. Everyone needs help. We all need bosses we can learn from; mentors to guide us in our journeys; books to expand our mind; ideas and debates that rock the believes we hold and helps us shape new ones. The more your sense of entitlement is pointed inward to yourself, the more you expect of yourself, the more time you invest in yourself, the better the result.

Until you know where you want to go, how can others show you how to get there?

“The Day after Everyday” & violence against women

I followed the link shared by one of my ex-colleagues and ended up watching this brilliant short film: The Day after Everyday.

It’s brilliant because it has correctly shown what a woman’s day is like, at home and outside. At the very beginning of the film, we have a man telling the woman to hurry up and make his tea, while he is sitting in another room lecturing her in a loud voice about how women should be seen, not heard and she should not be protesting against eve-teasing because it will only make it worse. He did not think that it was his responsibility to accompany her for her safety or to support her ambition in her own career. No, his solution, to hide his own  impotence, was to instead advise her to stay home, within the four walls. Instead of strengthening her voice, he was trying to silence hers. And at the very end, after all is said and done, he tells her that she’s done good and that he had been thinking of doing the same the previous day.  “Thinking”… he was in the crowd but he hadn’t done anything and while Men may ‘think’ that he was being supportive and that was enough, it is NOT.

I get advise like that … A LOT. Advise from well-meaning men who tell me to tone down, to not protest, to not speak my mind. Men who tell me that it is for my own good that they feel compelled to give these advice. Men whose impotence prevents them confronting the perpetrators of their own gender. The one who is violated is wronged, but the mass who stand around and say nothing are equally guilty. If we don’t speak up now, then when? If we don’t ensure the safety of our women folk now, then who will? What kind of world do we want to leave for our mother’s, our sisters, our daughters?

In a country where half of the population still lives in or under the poverty line, we have whole generations of men who are madrassa educated because it is cheaper and far more easily accessible. Instead of giving them an education that will allow these men to be absorbed in the mainstream of the job market, they are provided with sub-par archaic education with an emphasis on memorizing the holy book in a language they do not understand and translations and explanations which instead of promoting morality, rights and respect, promotes the subjugation and exploitation of women. The recent spate of misogynist comments of Allama Shafi, the spiritual leader of Hefajat-e-Islam, has brought these home for many of us. In case you were hibernating and missed it, below is the link to his infamous speeches:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yd8vpB3wVpg

http://www.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/allama-shafi-has-wasted-his-breath/

http://www.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/ominous-misogyny-the-pakistan-experience/

Violence against women is a world-wide phenomenon, it is not limited to madrasa educated men in countries like Bangladesh or Pakistan. Many Asian’s hold the perception that it doesn’t happen in the western world or the developed world. The statistics prove otherwise. Women are soft targets, the gender whose rights can be violated without any fear of persecution. Politicians seems to forget that half of any constituency is women. Half of the this world’s population is women. Yet men like these are many… men who use religion, cultural practices, their mis-guided sense of entitlement and their own impotence to violate the rights of the other half.

The improvement that has taken place did not happen overnight or on its own. It happened because MANY stood up and said that enough is enough. This is not acceptable. We will not tolerate this anymore.

As women, I admit it is scary to stand up against people in your own family or those who trample over our rights outside. But if we don’t stand up for ourselves, we will not gain a single inch of space or right to be ourselves. “Darr ke age jeet hai” … stand up and use your voice, stand up and fight for your right. As a woman, I beg other women, please do not hold back others when they stand up for their right to education, to living without violence, to their right to respect and dignity. If you cannot join the fight, then at least step out-of-the-way of the others who are fighting for themselves. And to the well-meaning men who were and are ‘thinking’ about this… the time to act is NOW.

Soul food

Ever more people today have the means to live,
but no meaning to live for.
~Viktor E. Frankl~

A few years ago, on the eve of my 30th birthday, I realized that this was a milestone that I had not expected to reach. I honestly did not in my wildest dreams even think that I was going to live to be 30. Am I ill? nope. Do I have a life threatening condition? nope. What I had was a life that I didn’t particularly like living. What came after that was a realization that my life is not going to change unless I change.

The life I had was two separate entities, one that I lived inside my head and the other that I lived externally. I controlled the external one because the internal entity was running amok in me. I was so focused on all the problems of everyone else and firefighting simply because I was afraid to stop and solve the real fire that was going on inside.

The hardest and the best thing in life has been to be brutally honest with myself. Takes time, practice (A LOT of it) and an infinite amount of patience. Once I got to that point, where I can look at myself, at the thoughts running in my head, the actions manifesting in my life and no longer felt the need to hide from any of it … that’s when I truly came into being. My anger at my own perceived helplessness diminished and instead I found my true voice, me.

I started making conscious choices, I questioned myself constantly and I questioned the long-held believes of everyone else around me. Who was I? and what do people expect from me? Why? Do they have my own best interest in their heart? or are they manifesting their fears? trying to control things in ways that are not good for me. These were some of the questions that I asked myself (I highly recommend others to do the same).

All these questioning, some of which was VERY interesting, led me to make choices that make ME interesting. I don’t have all the answers, sometimes all I get are very intriguing questions but life is not about answers or control, it’s about living free. I lived and I grew as a person, just not the kind that everyone expected.

I gave myself a gift when I turned 30. I sponsored a child’s education with Jaago (http://jaago.com.bd/), I discovered the joy in giving unselfishly without any hope of return and I was hooked. My pledged to myself this year to sponsor more children with another organization – Streetwise (http://www.streetwise.com.bd/). I am hooked on the joy of giving, of changing lives, one person at a time.

This year the interns at my office asked me what I would like as a birthday gift, I requested that they sponsor a child with Jaago. So instead of a material gift (valued temporarily), a gift that will change a life (value infinite) and the girls did just that. Judith and Anne surprised me with a decked up office when I got there in the morning but they had me crying when I unwrapped my gift. I was so happy that I couldn’t stop bawling my eyes out 🙂

This is what I walked into on my birthday morning 🙂

The mastermind behind all these 🙂

My girl .. our intern … a beautiful person inside and out 🙂

The gift that had me bawling my eyes out and will keep on giving 🙂

  

I posted this on my FB page for the blog on a status update, but I think it holds relevance here too.

My fear for most of you is that you will never be rich enough to realize that wealth doesn’t hold what you are seeking.
~Matt Chandler, The Village Church, Flower Mound, TX~

More people than ever before spend their lives earning money in order to do the things they want to, sometime in the future. Only to realize that time has passed, they haven’t done anything much other than accrue bank loans and mortgages on things that don’t really bring them any pleasure. In an all connected world, more people feel lonely and disengaged from those around them. If we stop and ask ourselves why… maybe … just maybe, we’ll change our lives and put more value on the things that really mean something to us before it is too late, before we have lost them, before our time has passed and we no longer have the energy to enjoy them.

As human beings, I believe that we have infinite potential for good and greatness in us. But we have to try, we have to constantly strive and we have to be aware of the fact that it is each moment’s conscious and unconscious choices that make up our entire lives. None of us exist alone, we affect others with our thoughts, our actions, our energies. And if we each make the effort to add, to give, just that little bit extra, whether it’s at home or at work or with our friends, together we can make a big difference.

Value of Education

I usually avoid watching the news, it’s mostly depressing and discouraging. Yet, I found myself watching a documentary on the Aljazeera channel today, I didn’t catch the name and I think I caught it half ways. The show was on education in the US and about how the system is failing the black population, particularly the black male population. Kids graduating highschool with barely 8 grade level reading skills. A single mom and her 8-year-old son in 2nd grade who struggles to read the word “find”. A grandmother who has struggled to keep her grandson in school and who now has a very real chance of attending college with scholarships has his dreams hang in the balance when his house is raided and his mother’s drug paraphernalia are attributed to him and he is hauled off to court. Parents caught in the cycle of dropping out of school, making minimum wage, barely keeping their head above the water, trying to do their best by their kids and how the educational system is failing them. Kids in inner cities have the biggest drop out rates, they also have the least access to resources that can help, good teachers and a budget that allows them to impart education equally to each and every student.

The shows presenter is an inner city, black men who grew up in a single parent home. He did his research well and he presented facts and figures that would be alarming everywhere. Yet it is amazing that in a country like the US, the education system is failing those who need it the most. Have they forgotten the value of education? While countries like Korea churn out 20% of their students as engineers or scientists only 6% of the US students make it in these categories. With numbers like that brain drain really is the only way for the US to remain competitive in any technological field. How sad is that? US students are drowning in debts while parents here in the Asian countries go broke to send their children to the US for education. The irony of it is just mind-boggling.

Back home, right here in Bangladesh, I fight for education for the women. The right to higher education for women in my family, in my circle, in the families of the woman who works for me. Like the single parent in the show, my full-time live-in maid finally gets it. When I hammered on the subject of education for her daughters and their children, she finally agreed with me today and said that she’ll tell her daughters to put their children in school. So that they can read and write, know their right and get a better life.

This lady is caught in the vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty and malnutrition. She grew up poor in a family which saw it fit to marry her off at the age of 9 to a man several decades elderly to her with 2 more wives. She believes that she was married off so early and to such a bad match because her parents were too poor to pay a dowry. So she saved money for her daughters dowries and she paid nearly a 100,000 in dowry for her two daughters to be first wives to men who were closer to their age. Her daughters were married at 11 and 13 years old, within a year, they each had a child. The marriage is sealed, she came back to the capital to work as house-maid to pay off their dowry debts.

Now she sees her life being repeated in that of her daughters. Married with children, inconsiderate husbands with no thoughts on providing for them or securing a future, the daughters like her are now working at minimum-wage jobs in factories. Long hours and hard labor that takes a toll in their already malnourished and battered bodies. When I talk about the value and importance of education, she gives me empty looks. When you do not have a roof over your head or food in your belly, sending children to school is not exactly top priority. But I guess from today’s conversation, it seems that she might have finally changed her mind on the value of education. And I hope this next generation will have a better chance at life then she or her daughters did.

 

Dutch Food Security program in Bangladesh

Our Food Security information is updated in the Embassy webpage. So if you are looking for information on what the Dutch do in terms of Development Cooperation in Bangladesh – check us out here:

http://bangladesh.nlembassy.org/services/development-cooperation

 

And if you are looking for what we do in Food Security in particular, check us out here:

http://bangladesh.nlembassy.org/services/development-cooperation/food-security.html

courtyard meeting with beneficiaries

courtyard meeting with beneficiaries

The page has been updated with information on our various projects, which are directly and indirectly, contributing towards Food Security in Bangladesh. It explains why we are doing what we are doing and the results that we hope to achieve with each one of our programs. We actively collaborate with various partners – donors, NGO’s, universities, research institutes and the private sector.

If you are interested in collaborating, knowledge sharing or would like to have more information on a particular project, you can email us at “dha@minbuza.nl” or “arman.khan@minbuza.nl”.

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