A few days ago Atique, Parvil a filmmaker and his assistant and I took a long bus journey down to the Bay of Bengal to hold workshops and discussions in some of the worst affected areas of Climate Change in Bangladesh.
I was intrigued and excited about this trip as it felt imperative to contextualise this project in the actualities of what we all keep talking about, Climate Change
On the way down while standing behind the bus having our 18th chai of the day, a little beggar boy comes over and starts to pull my shirt. I ignore him.
I am with Bangladeshis only and I do not want to be seen as soft and more importantly I have got into the habit of ignoring the many beggars. I am not sure when this occurred. Maybe it was months in India or a tramp in London throwing the apple I offered him out of my hand, which made me stop giving to beggars. Or maybe it was one of the many beggar stories that tend to make you ungraciously clump them altogether. It doesn’t really matter what, I do not see my self as uncharitable, I just know somewhere over the years I have stopped. There just comes a point when we harden I suppose and a limit to what you can give….. or is there?
So when this kid comes over, I ignore him. Atique, however looks at the young boy and ruffles his hair and hands him over 20 dhaka. (20p). He looks up at the rest of our surprised faces and says, ‘Why… 20dhaka is nothing to me, this boy has nothing?
This boy is begging because he is the direct result of climate change. Yes he is poor, and yes begging is as old as the fields. This little Bangladeshi boy and all those that will increasingly follow him did not choose to beg, his family like the other thousands and thousands of climate migrants in this town on the coast, are actually from families of farmers and fishermen, but they do not literally have land anymore to fish or farm, so what can they do..? It appears that options are limited.
When we got to the Bay of Bengal we took a boat to Atiques home island of Kutubdia. At the turn of the 20th Centurty this island was 250km in diameter, it is now 38km, with a population of 40’000. They islanders are farmers and fishermen, but the coastal erosion is so server and the cyclones so frequent that 10 families a day are leaving across the waters to the first of the many Climate Migrant refugee camps on borrowed government land on the route to Dhaka.
We did two workshops on the island; One with fishermen and farmers in a meeting house on the north side of the Island and then the other in a village at the local Homeopaths store (of all places!).
Rather than push the ‘Use a UK Vote’ campaign onto the islanders Atique and I decided it was more appropriate to hold discussions first about what they see change on their island in relation to the weather and land. Then we spoke of the UK and other influential countries and whether they had questions they wished to raise to the UK government and issues they wished people outside of Bangladesh to know about.
Almost 100 people crammed into this little bamboo hut and we had a dynamic meeting and similarly in the village too. Here is a couple of the questions raised.
Name: Noorkan, Age; 30, Occupation: Fisherman
‘I go to the deep seas. I am a fisherman. Everyday there are warning of bad weather. This means I can not go out. What will you do. Our weather is changing and it affects my livihood. I now can not fish.’
Name: Riobul, Age: 19, Occupation: Student
‘If someone asks me where I am from, I am not from Bangladesh, I am from the Globe. Same as those people form the Developed countries. I am a human being and I have a voice. Consider me. As the emitters do you consider me as a human being? ‘
It surprised and embarrassed me that very few ‘foreigners’ had held meetings in Kutubdia where their motive was to simply to take down questions. Most seemed genuinely surprised that the UK were in anyway interested in what they had to say, even more so, willing to share their votes with them. I do not know enough to say what sort of international aid and development goes on here, all I can say is that over the next few days many people came to pass on thanks via me to those of you in the UK who want to know about them and what they are experiencing.
Similarly, as when I was in Tuvalu I was reminded that the countries ‘Bangladesh and Tuvalu’ have become common names in the Climate Change jargon and yet little attempt has been made to engage the very people who are suffering and to inform them that on the other side of the world, people in the UK do actually care and are trying actively to change their government policy.
For some of islanders to speak of Climate Change, is not always appropriate. The notion that what is happening to their island is a result of extensive CO2 emissions in developing countries is not an obvious equation. Many see their displacement as an act of God and have not questioned the reason for their change in weather. Others however are well aware that they the rapid change and the increase in natural disasters are because of global warming.
We filmed lots and interviewed many, hopefully in a few days time, post editing this will be available on the website to see.
After a long and very hot day we decided it was a ‘wrap’ and climbed into the battered jeep and Parvil to my total delight brought out his mobile and from out of the little contraption he started to play Fleetwood Mac! So with Stevie Nicks singing her heart out, it felt good to lean my head out the window and watch this world go past. The villages, the small farms, the street shops selling blue plastic chairs, shampoo in individual mini packets cascading out of baskets, packets of biscuits and a pyramids of watermelons. Groups of men dotted along the road, some drinking chai, some walking their goats, some leaning on their rickshaws and then every so often in the empty paddy field a game of cricket would be taking place.
The next day we held more workshops on ‘Use a UK Vote’.
Firstly with some of the activists and NGO workers who are working directly with people in the coastal area. Their work covers a variety of social problems, such as domestic violence and education, however most of it is Climate Change related; rehabilitation, awareness, adaption. It is these guys that are at the very core of the work here and trying to raise international awareness.
They were unsurprisingly a little more suspicious of the scheme. One man asked me as others had done, whether I thought the UK politicians were going to care about this campaign and bother to answer these questions. After gulping, I enthusiastically replied that if my friends had anything to do with this, then yes; they would make sure the Politicians care and see that these questions were answered. (Fingers crossed) I then went on to explain that GYV was by no means suggesting that voting in other peoples elections was a way of solving our global problems, but instead it is an attempt, a beginning of a new way of thinking about a just democracy when it comes to dealing with Global problems and a means of involving people globally by listening to their opinion so much so that they are prepared to share their vote. It is a great act of global solidarity.
These guys are more aware than anyone of the break down of communication and the lack of attention they for their cause. Did anyone know that during Copenhagen thousands and thousands of people took to the streets in Dhaka, to demonstrate on Climate Change? I certainly did not. Form my experience at Copenhagen most of the media was focused on Europeans being put in ‘detention cages’. Shame, there was so little on the activism of the very people Climate Change affects.
Though these activists have every reason to be suspicious of the infancy and thus strength of this campaign, they understood it perfectly, thought it a little hilarious and have pledged to move it forward in the coastal region.
We then went to the Kutubdia slums on the Cox Bazzar. This is the first of many Climate Mirgrant impermanent camps that the migrants arrive at.
This meeting was quite incredible; it was attended in an open gathering spot by at least 200 people. School children, fishermen, Elders, Council leaders, Richshaw drivers, and Women. Again Atique and I spoke, and Atique translated what I said.
Lots of people spoke and the response and questions were very moving. Up until this point most people who posed questions had been men, I then asked the crowed if any women wished to speak. After silence. One women stood up with her baby wrapped around her and with tears coming down her cheeks and said;
‘I am not crying for my self, I am crying on behalf of my village. I lost my family members and my home to the last Cyclone. I live here and work here now. But my government want to move us on. How are we meant to live when we face being moved on and on. We have no land. How will you influence our government to stop us moving. We have moved many times now, due to Global warming. ‘
She was given quite rightly a large applause. I do not think any of us were expecting this.
The situation here is real. This camp is under threat from the government due to coastal development. The term refugees is not sufficient for these people. A refugee has land they have come from and may at a time of peace return too. These people’s land does not exist anymore.
A huge amount to things to think about.
That evening I decided to go for a walk. The others were not keen for me to walk alone, but I insisted I would be fine and needed to be alone. As I walked down the little streets, I realised I had not wandered aimlessly anywhere, and I felt for the first time since I have been in Bangladesh like a traveller, I felt myself.
I drank chai, ate watermelon and had little conversations with people and enjoyed the gentle rhythm of a street preparing for the evening. I wandered on to a large piece of waste land upon which several sports were being played. To my delight a game of cricket was being played so I went and sat under the shade of a Mango tree and watched. I felt happy watching this little game of cricket, with the pile of bricks as the stump and the continuous movement of people joining in or just sitting down on the pitch unbothered by the running batsmen and drinking Sprite. Every thing was going a smoothly until the young boy in the Zidane t-shirt hit the ball so hard it went into the rubbish heap running along side the field. The game came to a halt as almost all the players had to trample over and help the fielder search for the ‘lost’ ball amongst all the rubbish. Meanwhile our little Zidane was kart wheeling his runs and doing a lap of honour!
Cricket…. I am familiar with this gentle sport, I grew up playing cricket on our front lawn at home with my dad and my wonderful Godfather Henry and all us children. Our game was just as haphazard and ‘make do’ as the one this evening.
Tomorrow in a church in south London, the most important people to me will gather for my dear Godfathers funeral and my dad will read a speech about his best friends life and in it he will talk of the many, many times that they played and watched cricket together.
It always surprises me how we use this land in so many similar ways. Just because we are far away, life continues in its countless ways.
I hope I will always remember this game of cricket on the coast of Bangladesh, for many reasons.