Monday, January 16, 2012

Born in Blood?

   We listened to a speaker at Scholastica, the Bangladeshi and US students in a conference room. By that time, we had become completely comfortable with one another, and the separateness that was evident the previous week had disappeared. We knew more than just each other's names now, we knew about their ambitions and fears. We sat in solidarity.
   The speaker quoted an article, saying that Bangladesh was a country, "born in blood, and death in water." The students took this to heart, and we saw it on their faces when it was said. The pain of the Language Movement, the Liberation War against Pakistan, and the impending issue of drastic climate changes.  My host sister used the same phrase, several times since then. She believes in it.
   It is true, that the founding of Bangladesh was a bloody one. The Language Movement began when the Bangladeshi people (not yet owners of their own nation) began to feel tension between their Pakistani neighbors. Their was discrimination, and even penalization, against those who spoke Bangla. After decades of supression and occasional riots, the people of Bangla became involved in a war that would lead to the deaths and systematic murder of thousands of Bangla intellectuals.  With support from India, the Bangladeshi people declared Bangladesh as their own, and Bangla became the national language.
   The country had it's 40th anniversary just last year. It is a very young country, facing the economic and governmental issues of any typical developing country.  Corruption, inflation, overpopulation, etc. But in a huge addition to that, Bangladesh is facing the most evident and severe effects of climate change: sea levels are rising, which leads to more flooding of the flat, delta land. The ponds and natural sources of drinking water are now infiltrated by salinity (saltiness) from the sea water, and so coastal people are driven to extremes, walking for days to neighboring villages who often monopolize the drinking water supply. In other areas, water sanitation is another major issue, even without the salinity, as lack of awareness/education leads people to literally poison themselves. In their last resort, they leave their farms which once let them lead rich, contented lives, for Dhaka, which is so incredibly overpopulated as is, these climate refugees are subject to  any form of poverty in the city streets and slums.
    With that said, scientists predict that the country that fought to preserve it's heritage, with a strong sense of loyalty to it's origins, will become submerged. 2/3 of the entire country was underwater in 2004, after a cruel monsoon season left many tens of thousands homeless.  Sumaita says the title "born in blood, and death in water" with a sense of acceptance.

   When I heard that, I instantly wished to protect the ears of these Bangladeshi kid scholars, some as young as 13. But the thing that separates people like Sumaita from people like me, is her ability to see the problem and not cower from it and marvel at it's massiveness. In my interview with her about the importance of world history, she talked about how women were suppressed and continue to struggle in the authoritative positions. She continued to talk about solutions that she could do to help slow the submergence, and how empowering women would help with the problem of overpopulation, which is itself a direct contributor to the Greenhouse Gases emitted by any country.  The actual statistic regarding the maternal mortality ratio is, "reduced from 440 deaths per 100,000 child births in 1997 to 320 per 100,000 live births in 2001." (BBC) Although that may seem a little rough, keep in mind that the numbers in 2001 are about half of what they were back in the 1950s. That statistic is actually rather incredible, as the number of children per average household has also decreased by almost 50%. Education of women, specifically, has helped dramatically with the issues of a booming population and lack of space, as well as the submergence of Bangladesh in water.
    Sumaita seemed to have hope. If she can see the end result, and start to map out a direction to adaptation, then I think anyone can...


~Photos courtesy of the lovely Sumaita.


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