Writing again…

April 10, 2004

Finally I get some time to write again. I’m sorry that I wasn’t in touch for so long. A lot happened in the meantime. On March, 19th, our article about the fire in the slum was published along with the pictures in the Independent Weekend magazine. Moreover we opened an exhibition on the topic which will be shown in the Goethe-Institute in Dhaka until 13th of April. We invited some of the victims to tell about their situation themselves. It was beautiful experience fort these people were accepted completely normal which is not usual in Bangladesh with its strong, feudalistic structures. Normally people of lower social levels are treated as second-class-people, they are, despite hopeful legal situation, more or less without rights. The German ambassador was at the inauguration, too, and assured a donation of 8,000 € for the victims’ relief.

We also want to start raising fund in Germany. We planned to do that long since but faced some problems. On the one hand, we’re not allowed to collect donations without being a registered organization or else we can be prosecuted for fraud. On the other hand we would have had problems to assure that the relief reaches the people in need since we’re not familiar with the local power structures of Karail. Fortunately we met some people from a German NGO called NETZ who work exclusively in Bangladesh and support programs of local NGOs. NETZ provides the name and the bank account to collect the money. With the Bangladeshi NGO CUP (Coalition for the Urban Poor) we’ll grant relief to those who need it. CUP has been working in Dhaka slums for a long time and is perfectly familiar with their structures.

But also some other things happened. We visited a school for slum children ran by a partner NGO of NETZ called Bastob. It was fantastic. The children’s eyes beamed with joy, and you could easily tell that they saw their chance in the school to break out of the circle of misery. The whole appearance of the school was cozy and homey. I instantly felt secure and well. However we just spent a little time there to meet the director and the staff. We’re planning to go there regularly now to photograph.

The last three days we joined Anwar Hossain and Humajun Ahmed on a movie shooting. Anwar is a well known French-Bangladeshi photographer and cinematographer, Humajun a writer and director. The shooting took place in a small village just out of Dhaka. The movie is about the Bangladeshi independence war of 1971. A group of people from all social and religious backgrounds flees the Pakistani army in a boat. The plot deals with the relationship between the otherwise completely different people in the extreme situation war.

Humajun (left) and Anwar during a break.

During the shoot we were on two different boats. One held the equipment, crew, catering and us, the other one was the movie set. On the first evening, a terrible storm came up. Within twenty minutes, a bright, sunny afternoon turned into a pitch black inferno. The shooting was disrupted immediately and the equipment packed as fast as possible under the circumstances, then the set boat was tied to the catering boat and we turned into the wind. After a few minutes the roof of the bridge was torn off, with a mate still sitting on it. Miraculously, he could prevent the worst and save himself and the roof, which seemed impossible to me; the tin roof was some four square meters and stood upright in the storm. Shortly afterward, the towrope snapped and the set boat, with its engine not working and hence unable to maneuver, helplessly drifted down the river, along with some of the actors, the director and the equipment. We couldn’t do anything and had to go on against the storm. Later we found out that they were saved by another boat which pulled them ashore.

The quiet after the storm.

After we were all reunited safely, we drove to Humajun’s estate where we were accommodated. You should’ve seen this: A gigantic premise, which I tried to walk once but gave up because it took too much time. There was a gorgeous villa on it, not very big but really beautiful and elegant. Out front was a kidney-shaped pool with a sitting bay for nightly cocktail parties. And all of this in the middle of the jungle. The next days were more quiet, the weather was merciful and during the shooting breaks we laid down in shady shady banana groves and snoozed.

Starting on the 19th we’ll join some of the NETZ programs dealing on human rights for hardcore poor and women. This will probably be a very different extreme. The projects are held in the Netrokona district in the very north and another one in Jamalpur close to the western border to India. They’re mainly about educating rural people in their legal rights and helping them demanding those very rights since lot of people in the rural area don’t know any of them. Another approach of the projects is raising the rural communities’ awareness for gender issues. The NGOs proceed playfully by drama: After a drama group has been set up they begin to arrange plays dealing on discrimination and harassment of women. Those plays are staged for the whole community and then interrupted on crucial parts to discuss solutions. Theater is a very important media in Bangladesh since it is a very traditional form of common entertainment. I can’t tell you more about it right now since I haven’t been there yet. Bit it will sure be interesting.

At the moment I have bricklayers in my room who close the hole for the AC. There are openings in the outer walls of each apartment here and when you move in you bring your AC and fill the hole with it. Until then it’s just covered with card board. Since we don’t have any AC, my cameras and negatives got a nice shower on the first monsoon day. Thank God I realized it in time to prevent serious damage… Otherwise our apartment is a real dream. A super-nice landlord who sent down some breakfast and lunch the first day, three beautiful rooms with two balconies, a huge living room and a kitchen. Meanwhile we managed to buy a gas stove and some ceiling fans and now it’s really comfortable though still a bit empty. We’re about to buy some plants to get a lively touch in the flat.

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