Lesson 9: matha beta hole matha kete phelbo?

One of the difficulties of living in Bangladesh is the game of Bideshi 20 questions. Someone will accost you on the street, and run down the list of questions. They must have all read the same script because they very rarely vary. What is your country? What is your name? How long have you been in Bangladesh? What are you doing? What is your Salary? “What is your Salary?” is one of those questions which is culturally appropriate here.

If you get past those questions though you’ll often get lectured about how Bangladesh is such a poor country and how it has so many problems. The power goes out because they can’t produce enough. They have the twin problems of traffic jams and lots of road fatalities because the roads aren’t big enough and the vehicles aren’t road worthy. Just today I saw a man bloodied and dazed being loaded onto a vangari and taken to the hospital. There’s either flooding or water shortages. It’s often contaminated by arsenic, or bacteria, or pollution. People eat lots of rice, but not enough vegetables so they don’t get good nutrition. Businessmen manipulate food prices. Natural Gas one of the few natural resources of Bangladesh is running out and already there is a shortage in Dhaka which means people end up cooking in the middle of the night. The air is polluted. Dhaka was listed as the second worst city in the world to live according to the Economist. Buildings are falling down because they weren’t built to code. Politicians, public servants and police are corrupt. Facebook got blocked… etc. etc. etc. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, negative and advocate changing everthing.

In the midst of all these problems the challenge is to stay positive and determine what small things that can actually be done. This week I saw the first of a batch of new BRTC buses(the government bus company) that was clean and modern. There are thousands of buses in Dhaka, so It probably won’t last, but it made me smile, and I was reminded how small changes can make a big difference. matha beta hole matha kete phelbo? If you have a headache will you cut off your head?

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