I returned to Dhaka, the chaotic city which has a very special place in my heart, to attend a Bengali wedding and spend time with family and friends. One day I visited Shishu Tori; the Street Girls Rehabilitation Centre and the School Under the Sky in Kamlapur Railway Station. It brought back great memories from five years ago. I also saw a couple of the street children from that time, how they had grown up. Really nice to see them! The whole week in Dhaka gave me lovely, warm and fantastic experiences. Just spending time with amazing human beings. I miss it all.
On the 23rd of last month I, Debashish and Ashu visited Ahsan Manzil (The Pink Palace) down by Sadarghat. Ashu’s mother’s family is related with the person who let build this palace in 1872. We got a tour of the palace by Ashu’s uncle. I had a nice time visiting it. From there we visited Ashu’s grandfather and grandmother in their home. It was also great to be there, their whole family is very kind and friendly. I really like them. From there I, Debashish and Ashu went to Banga Bazar as I wanted to buy some pants, I bought three pants and one jacket. It was fun to see that pants that are produced here in Bangladesh for H&M in my home country are sold for wholesale price here for 6-8 USD.
Since last time I wrote I have worked together with my colleagues to finish the annual report and it’s now finished and it came out real nice. I have also been part of distributing sweaters and sheets (donated by IKEA) to street girls in Mirpur, as well as working with other assignments.
I left my apartment on the last day of February. That day there were lots of people who had come to say good bye to me; Ashu and his family with cousins, the building manager, workers in the building, uncles, colleagues, relatives etc. of my friends. I received lots of gifs, letters and honest true words about me. I’m very happy that I can make so many people feel happy with themselves just by being myself, many of them said that they have never met someone like me before. In the evening Mabiya and Sagur helped me with all my things and we took a taxi to Nilufar’s home, so I’m now staying in her house until I leave Bangladesh.
5 months in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Last year I decided to go to Bangladesh to try to improve the daily life situations of street children. I knew very little about this country. Yes, I knew it’s one of the poorest countries in the world, but that was pretty much it. Now I know a lot more. Now it has become a second home for me. Ever since I came here people around me have been enormously warm, friendly and caring for me. I always try to go to a place with an open mind and a wide perspective, it doesn’t only give me and has given me a different experience, I can naturally give back to people and the society where I am. It’s impossible to sum up my time here in Dhaka, words can’t describe how much I have enjoyed my life here and I’m truly grateful for everything in my life and I now know that for every new human being I meet in this world he and she is a part of my constant process of valuing my life. I say good-bye for now to Dhaka and in a few days I will continue to a new city in a new country and it feels amazing knowing that my inside will continue to travel from big to bigger.
This is my life…Thank you…
On the 10th of February we had a staff meeting in the office and we discussed our recent picnic in Gazipur. In the meeting one of the teachers, Popy, told that the street boy Shoeib had said to her; “Erik is an angel”. It made me very happy to hear that he had said it.
Valentine’s Day. In the afternoon, after work, I went with Nilufar and Kanta to Nilufar’s brothers’ office. They own a big cinema (with 1200+ seats) in the same street as our office. We met with her brothers and then Nilufar, I and Kanta watched a horror movie in the cinema. As it was in the afternoon there were very few people in the cinema. After the movie had finished I spoke to one of Nilufar’s brothers for quite a long, we had a great talk. He also gave us a tour of the cinema, it was very nice to see. In the evening when I got home I directly went out to a Chinese restaurant together with Ashu and his family. I had a great time and the food was very good.
I have downloaded an emulator so that I can play Neo Geo games, this is a game console that I really wanted to get when I was young, but I never got it, I donâ€™t know why. I have been playing two games;”Samurai Shodown II” and “Metal Slug 2”.
Earlier this week, on Monday, I left our office in the afternoon with Kanta to go to the Kamlapur Railway Station. I supervised the classes for a short while and then we got invited to see several of the street children”s homes. Some are living with no roofs, some are having plastic over their head etc. Most of the students are living along the rail line and in the slums nearby the railway station. It was a great pleasure to meet parents and relatives of some our street children and see how they are living. One thing that amazes me is the happiness among many of the people living in the slums, even if they are facing miserable living conditions they are still smiling and happy. When my colleague and I left the slums both our street children and their family members were calling “come back and visit us again”. I really had a nice time visiting the homes.
The following day I also worked in the office and in the afternoon I went with two colleagues to Sadarghat and distributed sweaters and sheets (donated by IKEA) to four street girls. Two of them, Hasina and Laboni, are girls we have interviewed before. The girls were all happy and especially Hasina was showing it, she said to me; “you have beautiful eyes, like a cat”. Then we distributed sweaters and sheets to two other street girls, Lipy and Poly, in another place. Lipy we know from before, but Poly was a new face to us. Both of them are working as prostitutes so they were waiting for customers when we met them. While we were with them the winds started blowing and they were cool, so it felt real good giving them sweaters and sheets.
Two days ago was a national holiday, International Mother Language Day. I had been invited to go on a river cruise with Ashu”s family and their relatives. We left early in the morning to go to the Buriganga river to get on the ferry. It was a whole day’s trip, a total of 14 hours of excursion. On the ferry it was relatives from both Ashu’s mother’s and father’s side, between 250-300 relatives. It was really nice to get out of Dhaka, to feel a different kind of peace, as Dhaka is a very busy and hectic city. On the boat we socialized, ate, laughed, played games, listened to music etc. I spent most of the time with some of Ashu’s cousins, who I have met before. At one point when the ferry was docked to land, then we walked off and Ashu and I met some carriers who were carrying sand and we asked them how much they were making and they told us that they make 300 Bangladeshi Taka (equal to 4.40 USD) in one day, their working day starts at 5 am and finishes at 6 pm. The work is really hard. While we were sailing on the river, the majority of the people onboard the ship threw the trash into the river, this is something I can’t do, it hurts my heart to see and it reminded me on how small the world is to many people. This world is wonderful, but it’s also sad, I can only hope for more soul in the next generation. At the time when we arrived back in Dhaka in the evening there were 15-20 street boys who jumped onto our ferry and started collecting trash, which they later sell and earn some money for. Instead of just throwing all the trash in the river, give it to the street children and improve their daily life a little. I’m not an ace in mathematics, but this is simple maths to me. I and Ashu’s family gave two street boys our plastic bottles and some fruits and snacks, they were very happy.
One day when I had been to the GPO (General Post Office) and was walking alongside the Baitul Mukarram (mosque) gold market a man came up to me and asked; “Pakistani?”. Since I came to Bangladesh I have been asked if I’m “Japanese?” and now “Pakistani?”, I don’t know whether I look more like a Japanese or Pakistani? Hehe. Your choice!
Good news! The IKEA office here in Dhaka has been very generous and donated 500 “sheets” to Shishu Tori. Any donation is very welcome, as these street children are living in a very cold environment with “nothing”. We started distributing the “sheets” to our street children in the Schools Under the Sky in Osmani Uddan, when we arrived we were met by the majority of our street children having various sicknesses. Some with skin deceases, someone with nosebleed, someone with eyes filled with blood etc. Constantly hearing the street children coughing makes me remember their horrific situations in the nighttime. The following day we continued our distribution of “sheets” to our students in Kamlapur Railway Station. While we were giving out the “sheets” we got quite a crowd around us who was interested in what was going on. We talked to the street children about the importance of taking good care of what they have received, as it is a valuable thing for them. The third day we distributed the “sheets” to our students in Kawran Bazar. We will continue to distribute “sheets”…
The day that we had distributed “sheets” (donated by IKEA) in Kamlapur Railway Station, a “madman” followed me, he wanted to interact with me, shake my hand etc. His monologue was something like this; “Country? China? Singapore? Thank you!” and he also gave me a piece of newspaper and said to me “Thank you!” He wanted my attention and also something valuable out of my pockets and bag. It’s no wonder some people become crazy while living in the streets, as it is a world far away from a sound mental environment.
One thing I really laughed about one evening was when my servant Sagur pulled up my t-shirt a little and instantly commented the hair on my stomach; “Africa jungle!” with a bad English. I really laughed my a** off. I wish I could have recorded it. Where is that dictation machine when I need it? Hehe.
Yesterday we took our street children to the Bhawal National Park in Gazipur, outside of Dhaka, to have a picnic together. The bus started from Osmani Uddan in the morning, then we picked up the students from Kawran Bazar along the way. On our way to the national park I was sitting on the upper floor of the double-decker bus. The street children were cheering, singing, laughing and joking. When we arrived in the park the street children were served breakfast. After finishing the breakfast I went with the teachers and students from Kamlapur Railway Station and Kawran Bazar to the Shishu Park. On the way to the park, which was 10-15 min walk from where we had our breakfast, I had 3-4 street children holding my hands. There was a fee to enter the park, but it was only 2 Taka, so I paid for all the street children. Inside the park all street children were really enjoying themselves and it was great to see them happy. Practically almost all of them were shouting; “Erik bhiya!” (bhiya means “brother”) as they all wanted to be photographed while they were playing. After some time in the park, we returned to our picnic spot as the TV channel ATN Bangla had arrived and was going to film our street children. I’m very happy that they came and shot from our picnic. After playing games, then the street children were served lunch and after the lunch we gathered ourselves and returned back towards Dhaka. On the way back on the bus it was great to see how happy the street children were, they were singing, laughing, joking and cheering the whole way back home. I had a couple of boys in my lap, both sitting on my lap and sleeping in my lap. Two brothers from Kamlapur Railway Station invited me to their “home”, I will definitely visit where they live. One of the brothers, Shoeib, kept saying he wants a copy of a photo I took of him. Rajeeb was telling me “I want to stay in your home tonight, just for one night”. These two brothers are very cute. This day I gave a lot out of myself and I made the street children happy. Shoeib who doesn’t know much English said to me; “I’m fine. Thank you!”, it was his way of saying I made him happy and it made me very happy to hear it. These are simple things to me, but at the same time this is what life is about. Happiness. When I got home last night I was exhausted.
I’m not part of this world, this world is part of my world…
At work the first week after returning to Dhaka: We held a monthly staff meeting. I worked both in the office and in the field. One of the days I went with Forhad to the School Under the Sky in Osmani Uddan and supervised, the following day I sat down in Asha’s class together with the street children and participated in the English and numerals teaching. It was a great time in the class, we all laughed and joked a lot. During the class one of the street boys, Zaky, asked for permission to leave the class a little earlier as he wanted to help his father who has TB (Tuberculosis). Zaky is helping his father to pull his father’s food wagon. At the end of the class we played games. One of the street kids couldn’t hold it back and he peed in his pants, I felt sorry for him as several of the others were laughing at him.
The next day I and Forhad went to Kamlapur Railway Station and supervised the School Under the Sky, I also corrected some of the street children’s answers in their notebooks.
Since I have returned to my apartment building I have been invited to Ashu’s family home almost everyday to have dinner and during off days also to have lunch, they are enormously kind and caring. I spend a lot of time with their family.
I have also witnessed the Mourning of Muharram, which is an important time for Shi’a Muslims when they mourn Imam Husayn ibn Ali (a grandson of Prophet Muhammad) and a Shi’a Imam. During this time many male participants beat themselves on the breast as a display of their devotion to Imam Husayn and to remember his suffering. I didn’t see it with my own eyes, but here in Bangladesh as well as in other Shi’a societies around the world some men actually wound themselves by using knives or razors swung upon chains on their backs and knives or swords on their heads.
This past week I have been working mainly in the office with different assignments and I have been to a meeting with another non-governmental organization.
Today has been the coldest day since I arrived in Bangladesh on the 1st of October 2007, I have been shivering, I don’t know the exact temperature, but it has felt like a cool and rainy October day in Sweden.
…Breathe with me.
The last day at work (19th Dec) before the Eid and Christmas holidays I worked in the office and in the afternoon, around 3:30 pm, I, Kanta and Nioty went to Kamlapur Railway Station and distributed t-shirts to 30 street children in the School Under the Sky who are regularly attending the class. It was a successful distribution.
The following day Kanta came to my apartment around lunchtime and gave me Eid cards and gifts as well, she had written some really nice words and brought very nice gifts for me. In the evening I walked downstairs to the garage in our building to have a look at all the cows and goats the people had bought for the Eid festivities.
The Eid Day was on the 21st of Dec, and it marked the beginning of Eid-ul-Azha, one of the biggest Muslim holidays in the year. In the morning I went with Ashu to witness qurbani (a ritual sacrifice of a livestock animal) in his uncle’s house, but we watched other people sacrificing cows as well. Last year I celebrated Eid-ul-Azha with my friends in Ghana, but it still felt different being apart of it here in Bangladesh. I got a bigger experience this year. After the qurbani I then went back to Karim Tower and was picked up by Repon (Kanta’s friend) and taken to Kanta’s house. I spent 7-8 hours in Kanta’s house celebrating the Eid Day; eating all different kinds of food dishes and socializing with her family members. Kanta’s niece Zerka, 12 years old, wanted to give me an Eid gift and decorate my hands with mehndi. Mehndi is a temporary form of skin decoration. It took her around two hours to finish it. Then in the evening around 7:30 pm I went to Nilufar’s family members in Dhanmondi and celebrated Eid Day there for several hours. I came home after midnight. Eid Day was a really great day for me.
The following two days during the Eid I spent most of my time with Ashu and his family and I also relaxed and rested, I just enjoyed being off from work.
On Christmas Eve I received a very warm and special Christmas celebration in Ashu’s home. His mother had baked me a beautiful cake, I also received a very nice Christmas card together with gorgeous orchids and roses. It was a very special moment for me. The way I’m being welcomed in to people’s lives, it’s not only that I receive lifetime friendships, but it’s also gives me feelings that I can’t describe.
Today I have been working as Shishu Tori has had visitors. We went to all the three Schools Under the Sky and the street children received food after their classes. They were very happy when they had received it.
I want to wish you all a Happy New Year, a 2008 which will make you feel the way you want to feel…
On December 4th the Shishu Tori office had visitors from the streets, we had eight street children in our office that had come to paint and make handicrafts, which we displayed and sold in a stall at an exhibition in the International School of Dhaka (ISD) on Friday the 7th of Dec. The street children were enjoying their time in the office and I was creating jokes and played with them. It was a real nice day.
A few days later, on the 7th of December at 7:30 in the morning I, Kanta and Nilufar had breakfast in Nilufar’s house and approximately one hour later we left for the exhibition in ISD (International School of Dhaka). This day Shishu Tori displayed its work and also sold items made by the street children; cards, dolls, paintings etc. We also displayed all my 23 pieces of framed photos that I have donated. Several interested people came up to us and discussed our work and we also sold several items. When the clock was after 5 pm (one hour after closing time), then we packed all our things and left the exhibition. Even national TV came and shot our stall, which they broadcasted the following day. It was a successful day, but I was very tired that day as I didn’t sleep one minute the night before.
Last week I worked in the Shishu Tori office with a budget and other assignments. We also held a monthly staff meeting last Tuesday.
I received some mail last week and this week as well from both family and relatives, I really enjoy receiving mail, it feels more special holding something in your hand while reading somebody’s handwriting.
On Thursday the 13th of Dec, Saint Lucy’s Day, I was invited to a Lucia reception by the Swedish ambassador. I brought Nilufar with me and we went to the reception for a little more than two hours. They had decorated the garden with lights real nicely and it gave the whole place a real cozy atmosphere. We were given both typical Swedish Christmas food and Bangladeshi snacks. There was also a Lucia procession with the children singing Christmas carols. Afterwards we mingled and met with several interesting people from both organizations and companies. I really enjoyed my time that evening.
The following day I was invited to a lunch in a house belonging to Kanta’s relatives in an area called Mohammadpur. We got there and I started talking to some of her relatives immediately, it was a house with a very warm spirit. We had a big and great lunch, laughed and talked for hours. We stayed there for six hours, then Kanta and I continued to a Milad (anniversary of death) at Nilufar’s house.
This past Saturday I did a surprise visit in Kawran Bazar to check how the class at School Under the Sky was going. I also met with Debashish there, we then walked to Bashundara City and I did some shopping. It’s a very big shopping mall, the largest one in South Asia. The mall has 8 floors and space for 2500 retail stores. We left after a couple of hours of shopping, just before 7 pm, and I went home to my place. Later in the evening and at midnight I went up on the terrace to put up Bangladeshi flags with children from the building, as it was Victory Day on the 16th of Dec.
That same day, the 16th of Dec was Amirsohel’s (Ashu) birthday. We (I and Alexzandra) gave him five computer games, as he loves to play games. My mother had sent him some nice books. I had a great time with his family, friends and relatives. We were served wonderful food the whole day. I spent seven hours in Ashu’s home. When I got home that evening I was really tired after being to several invitations for the past four days.
A small notice; during the month of December this Diary has had approximately 110-115 unique visitors every day.
Where there is a will there is a way…and the way is leading us to…
Last week, on Wednesday afternoon we (I, Forhad, Kanta, Milon and Nioty) were working in Ramna Park interviewing street girls. Before we started interviewing there was quite a crowd (maybe around 35-45 people) standing around us, just staring, not doing anything, I’m used to it by now but I got very annoyed and said loudly; “this park is very big, you don’t have to stand right here”. I know I’m an attraction, because “bideshis” (foreigners) are quite rare in Dhaka, but still once in awhile I get annoyed with the just-standing-and-staring-part. We interviewed six street girls that day; Rashida, Shanta, Sultana, Kobita, Shati and Asma. Some of them are really serious cases, Sultana was talking about how she has been sexually abused several times; when she was 8, 9, 11 and 13 years old. Probably the saddest story was from Shati who answered our question “what is your biggest problem?”, then she told us ; “In my first marriage I had a baby, when the baby was one month old, then my mother-in-law and brother-in-law killed it. In my second marriage I had a new baby, but I was not able to take care of my baby and sold it for money for someone to take care of it, but at the moment I don’t know how the baby is doing and where it is”. Her stories were really sad to hear.
When I got home that day, Amirsohel and their servant came with some evening food for me; sandwiches, malta (similar to orange) and bananas. Their whole family is always caring about me. I like them a lot.
Last week I also received an invitation from the Swedish Embassy to its Lucia reception, which is going to be held on the 13th of Dec. I don’t know yet if I can attend, but it was nice to receive an invitation.
On Thursday, last week, I donated some money to Shishu Tori, so that we could buy sweaters for 200 street children. The rest of the money I donated will be used for other projects, e.g. the “Schools Under the Sky”. One sweater is approximately 0.5 USD, which is very small money, but which will help the street children a little now when it’s winter time (it’s getting cooler and cooler in the night time) and also they have suffered during the time of the cyclone, like many others in Bangladesh.
The same day in the evening I had several children and people knocking on my door, wanting to meet with “the foreigner”. One small boy (4-5 years old) first came and had a peep at me, then he went out and he came back and an older girl told me; he doesn’t know your name, but he wanted to meet “how are you?” (he thinks I’m “how are you?” hehe, too cute). One of the girls said to me; “I thought that tall people from England are rude” then I replied “I’m from Sweden and I’m nice…” she replied me; “Nooo, you are very nice…”
On Saturday (last week) I went to Sadarghat with Kanta to meet up with Milon and Nioty as we were going to buy 200 sweaters for the street children, which I had donated money for. After we had selected and bought the sweaters, we then all four of us went to the Shishu Tori office in Motijheel to work there the whole day. I and Forhad worked with a project proposal, while the others were sorting the sweaters. That day I left the office after 6 pm.
The following day (Sunday) I worked a couple of hours in the office with a brochure about the street girls rehabilitation center project. I, together with Forhad, practically worked with it the whole time I was in the office. In the afternoon I, Kanta, Milon and Nilufar went to distribute 45 sweaters in Kamlapur Railway Station and 30 sweaters in Osmani Uddan Park. It was nice to give the street children the sweaters, they were very grateful when they received them. The next day (26 Nov) we were in the office until around 4 pm and went to Kawran Bazar where we distributed sweaters to 35 street children, it was a very good and successful distribution.
We have finished with the brochure about Shishu Tori’s planned project; Street Girls Rehabilitation Center at Kamlapur Railway Station. Please download the brochure and spread it to everyone you know. Download here
The following days in the office I worked mostly in the office with different assignments. The past week I worked six days and after my working week was finished, then I was very tired and somewhat exhausted, so during my two days off (Friday and yesterday) I mainly relaxed and rested in my apartment, as it was very well needed.
Today it’s been back to work. I have been working in the office the whole day, mainly working on the computer.
Now I have been living and working in Bangladesh for 2 months, when I look back at the two months I realize I have experienced a lot and gained a lot of new knowledge. It’s less than a month left of 2007, a year which has been filled with indescribably great experiences from Ghana, Sierra Leone, Denmark, Sweden, Greece and Bangladesh. I don’t know where I will be in one year’s time from now, but I know thing; the world is endless with new experiences…
Save the cocoa, one day I will come and drink it…
On Saturday (3 November) it was a day off from work; Debashish came to me around 3 pm and we went out with a rickshaw to visit Hindu temples. We first went to a place called Ramakrishna Mission, I really like their temple and it’s beautiful. From there we continued to another Hindu place called the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), where the idea was just to have a look, but then I was invited by a man and we started a big discussion about happiness, pleasure, desire etc. I was given lots of questions and I enjoyed it because it challenged my own mind, then another guy my age came and the three of us discussed really deep about the inner life of the soul in every human being. I told them my perspective on how very different I see our societies in the world, and how I think that describing happiness is a vast difference within different people’s souls. I do believe everyone is looking for some sort of happiness in life, but I said that it’s very difficult to really find out in every human being what truly makes a person happy. After our discussion I bought the book “Bhagavad Gita As It Is”, which will be interesting to read. I was also given a tour of the temple area and I experienced when they were worshiping. Debashish and I were given some food by a Hare Krishna and after we had eaten then we returned home to my apartment. It was a nice and special day…
The following day (4 November) it was back to work, in the office I kept on filing interviews with street girls and reviewing the project proposal. In the afternoon I left together with Kanta and Forhad in Nilufar’s car to Kawran Bazar, where we came late because of lots of traffic and also it started to rain. Forhad and I together with Sheoly interviewed five street girls from the School Under the Sky. Some of the girls where not as open as I thought they would be and it felt like they were a little afraid of telling us the truth, but they answered all questions and one or two answers were with the restriction that she didn’t want to say who was disturbing or abusing her as she thought she would be in even more trouble. The girls were between 9-11 years old and several of them have quite recently come to Dhaka. They told similar stories to the young girls in Kamlapur Railway Station, but in some of the girls I could really feel how they were crying within themselves…
The next day (5 November) it was same routines as it has been many other days; I worked with filing the interviews from yesterday and continued reviewing the project proposal, it takes a long time to go through the text, because it needs to really good. Around 3 pm I, Forhad and Kanta left for Kawran Bazar where Forhad and I interviewed four street girls; Aziron, Aki, Tumpa and Raki. Two of the girls had stories that were really sad to hear. Tumpa told us; “One time a man came to me and told me that my father was waiting for me outside of the building where I was, I got very emotional when I heard it, so I went outside of the building, but when I came out my father was not there, the man lied to me, and when the man and I was outside, then he sexually abused me”. Another story, told by Raki; “Once a drug addict convinced me to go to the cinema, and I went with him to the cinema. After the cinema he sexually abused me, I disagreed with his offer, but he pressured me and I was given a sleeping pill”. Seeing especially Raki, made me understand how mentally destroyed she was, she felt extremely torn up inside and hearing about that both her parents are dead and she is completely by herself, made it even worse and we understood how seriously needy she is.
The following day, Tuesday, was similar to many other days. I filed the interviews from the previous day from Kawran Bazar. I also brought a CD with Shishu Tori pictures I have taken, so I started putting one picture of every street girl together with their respective interview. In the afternoon I and Kanta went to Osmani Uddan Park. I waited a little there until Forhad came and then we interviewed four street girls; Rohima, Romi, Kajaly and Moyna. Some of the girls were real emotional when they told us about their lives.
7 November was a national holiday. Mabiya and Sagur came and washed some clothes this morning and also swept the floors. Around 2:30 pm Amirsohel came to say hi, and I told him I was on my way out to go to Sheraton for Thai massage. He wanted to come along so we went to the Sheraton hotel together in a CNG. The hotel seemed nice and we walked around for a while, as we arrived before my scheduled time for massage. I then had one hour of Thai massage, it was nice and relaxing, Amirsohel mostly walked around the hotel and took pictures. When I was done with the massage, then we bought some movies in one of the stores in the hotel. The quality is fine, the movies are from Pakistan. We got home and watched a movie called “Monster House”; it was an animated movie.
After one day’s holiday it was back to work. I got to the office on Thursday last week and Forhad and my stuff had been moved to another room, so now we have a new office room Forhad and I (it’s not nearly as nice as the old room). Today we had a monthly staff meeting, where we discussed different matters happening in the field. I also told the staffs how warmly I have been welcomed and how grateful I am for it. The meeting went one for 1-2 hours. Otherwise this day I couldn’t do much in the office, because the monitor to the computer was out of function. In the afternoon I and Forhad went to Osmani Uddan Park to interview more street girls, we interviewed five girls; Ety, Aklima, Kulsom, Moyna and Paki. There was especially one girl, Moyna, who felt very deprived, her answers were sad to hear. When we asked her what she wants to become in the future, she said; “there is no hope”.
On Friday (9 Nov) afternoon I went by rickshaw to Riffle Square in Dhanmondi together with Amirsohel, his father Esrar and two friends of Amirsohel. When we got there we played bowling and other games for more than an hour. Afterwards I did some grocery shopping in a supermarket called Agora, it was in the Riffle Square building. The Agora was a really nice supermarket, clean and fresh, I will definitely return there to buy groceries. Through lots of traffic jams we slowly returned back on two rickshaws to our apartment building. I was sort of in a rush, so when I got back I packed my stuff, had a shower, got dressed to go to Baridhara (upscale residential area in Dhaka) as I was invited to Nilufar’s dinner in her house. I went by taxi and arrived at her house before 8 pm. The people came one after another, it was approximately 20 people all together, about 5-6 people in my own age. I first discussed for 1-2 hours with a man who had been working for World Food Programme, he was very nice and we had a really great discussion about Bangladesh and other topics as well. After the dinner I talked with the people my own age, Nilufar’s daughter Mehreen, her husband Raquef and other friends of theirs. I had a great time that evening, it was nice to get away from my own area and have a change of environment. The people my own age were up for a few more hours after everyone had gone, discussing young people in the world today…
The following day, I was relaxing in Nilufar’s villa, while she and her daughter Mehreen were out shopping. I watched two movies while they were gone; “Knocked Up” and “The Last King Of Scotland”. The first one was a comedy movie, it was nice to see a simple movie and just laugh. The other one was a really good movie, I know that most of you who read this have probably already seen it and might say; “Per, you are very up to date”, but the thing is that I don’t watch movies much anymore. In the evening I had dinner and before I went to bed I watched another movie, the whole day was really nice…relaxation.
Then on the Sunday (11 Nov); in the morning I took a shower, had my breakfast and then I left Nilufar’s house together with Nilufar and her driver, to go to the office. The drive from Baridhara to Motijheel took more than an hour, because the traffic in Dhaka is a lot of times crazy busy. We got to the office and I started working on previous interviews, the monitor in the office had to be fixed before we could use again. In the afternoon I filed a few interviews with street girls onto the pc. I left the office together with Kanta around 5 pm and went home.
On Monday (last week), in the afternoon, I went with 4-5 of the Shishu Tori staffs to Sadarghat by the Buriganga river to interview street girls. We interviewed 10 street girls; Lamia, Jorinatta, Ango, Minara, Lipy, Laboni, Shilpy, Allo, Nasima, Hasina. I really enjoyed coming to Sadarghat again, I was there shortly in the beginning of October. Sadarghat is a place by the river where boat are coming and going, it’s a big boat terminal. Every new place we come and interview is giving us some new information, which is very valuable. While we were interviewing one girl after another, some of the street girls who were about to be interviewed were sitting close by us. At one time one of the other street girls was enormously hungry, so she was eating the rubber from some sandals. Desperation. During another interview Forhad asked the street girl; “what do you want to become in the future?”. Then she said; “I want to be like Erik”. When I heard it, I just put things in life in perspective, I felt proud inside. We had a really successful time interviewing street girls in Sadarghat…
On Thursday last week I was really sad, and at that time Fatima (Shishu Tori staff and former street girl) came with a friendship bracelet to me. It was a really nice gift, I could really feel how she wanted to make me feel good again.
The same day it was really cold, rainy and windy. It started getting really windy in the evening and as there was a cyclone down by the Bay of Bengal we here in Dhaka could really feel how it was attacking Bangladesh. In the night it was extremely windy and the electricity went off and kept on being off. For several days no electricity throughout Bangladesh was a big problem, telephone lines were off (impossible to call), water shortage etc. Several districts have been completely wiped out,
I have spent most of these days with my friends in apartment 8C, Esrar and his family. I went with them to Agora (a nice supermarket) on Friday and I have been socializing with them, talking, laughing, eating and so on for two days.
This past Sunday I also went to Bashundura City with Debashish, it’s a huge shopping mall complex with 9 floors of hundreds and hundreds of different shops. We more or less walked around, so that I could have a peak at the different floors. I will probably come back there we I need to do some shopping.
Two days ago we interviewed street girls in the Mirpur area, next to a graveyard. It was very interesting to interview there, one of the girls told us a really sad story; “during the last Eid (festival) I was together with my two friends near a lake, and at that time there came three guys who raped the other two girls and afterwards one of the girls was hung”. This happened last month and it was a really sad story, but these kinds of things are something that occurs here in Dhaka. Another story we were told by another street girl was how a man who was around 60 years old had sexually abused her, and she herself is little more than 10 years old.
Yesterday afternoon we interviewed street girls in Ziauddan, a very nice park. It was also a new experience meeting with the girls there. One of the street girls, Sarmin (9 years old), was very fond of me, before our interview she kissed my hand. Then after the interview she wanted to sit close to me and take pictures with me, and after that she jumped up and kissed me on my cheek. We then continued to interview other street girls, and Sarmin came back and kissed me again on my cheek and on my forehead, she also tried to go for my lips, but then I pulled back. She was jumping around like an energy ball. Then a while later she came again and kissed me on my cheek, and then another of the street girls came and kissed me on my cheek. It was a street girls-kissing-Erik-party!
I have had big problems trying to upload pictures, so the quality in some of the pictures might not be as good as it is supposed to be. I hope you will appreciate the photos anyway. There are big problems with the Internet connections since the attack of cyclone. The power supply is very unstable.
Riding a bicycle with a helmet and then nicely putting the bike in the garage. Man.
Between Sunday-Tuesday (28-30 Oct) I worked the whole days in the office with interviewing Shishu Tori staffs together with Forhad and then I filed the interviews onto the computer. I also worked with polishing the project proposal for the street girls project. One of the days I visited the street children in the Osmani Uddan Park shortly. Another day in the late afternoon when I, Forhad and Kanta left the office it took us a long time, roughly one hour, to get transportation home. Practically no CNGs or rickshaws would take us, so we went with a big bus first just for a few minutes and then we got two rickshaws home. Speaking of the big buses, they are extremely dangerous in the traffic. The bus drivers drive fast and in a way that they think they’re kings of the roads. Complete careless driving. It’s been close for me getting hit a lot times, it doesn’t matter if I’m sitting on rickshaw or walking, I have to be on guard the whole time so my arms or legs doesn’t get hit by a bus.
On Wednesday, two days ago, we started with interviewing street girls. We went to Kamlapur Railway Station where Forhad, Popy and I interviewed five street girls; Beuty, Sherin, Shilpy, Mala and Lucky. All of them are in the classes in the School Under the Sky. We are using 15 questions that we are asking the street girls, for us to get a picture of their life situations. It was very interesting to interview the street girls and hear their stories; they are all living under big pressures in life. When we asked one of the girls; “what do you need at the moment?” Then she answered; “I need love and care”. That’s one of the biggest problems for children all over the world; innocent children are brought to this world and then completely abandoned by their parents. It’s pure egoistic behavior from the parents. So when I hear how some street girls here are having abortions, even if it’s illegal, it makes me very happy as these street girls are the really clever and caring persons. They understand very well that they can’t put a child to this earth when they even can’t take care or cater for themselves.
Yesterday I filed the interviews onto the computer in the Shishu Tori office that we conducted the previous day. Once again Forhad and I returned to the Kamlapur Railway Station to continue interviewing street girls. We interviewed six street girls; Mina, Kadija, Shova, Onjona, Hashara and Akter Bakul. Most of these girls were older than the girls the day before, so their life stories were different.
Kadija was telling us about how she used to be a sex worker, with up to ten “customers” daily. When she was 13 years old, she was sexually abused and got pregnant, today she has a 5 years old daughter. She has stopped working as a sex worker and she is not able to earn any income right now, instead she receives some money from a person she refers to as “brother”. She told us that all she wants to have in the future is a “safe place where she can be with her daughter”, she told us “in any room”.
Another street girl we interviewed was Shova, who is 16 years old. She is now working as a prostitute. She told us that she has up to 12 male “customers” a day. She can earn up to 500 Bangladeshi Taka, which is approximately 7 USD for having sex with 12 men in one day. She also told us how a boy is physically abusing her and then she was pointing on a guy on the other side of the railway platform.
Next street girl we interviewed was Onjona, she also used to be a sex worker, but she only worked as a prostitute for a few months. She talked about how inhumane the live is for them in the streets and it’s easy to understand as the railway platforms are filled with street people; drug addicts, alcoholics and policemen who are torturing the street girls. While Forhad and I were interviewing Onjona there was a big fight about 75-100 meters away from us; it was 4-5 girls around 25 years old fighting with each other, pulling each others’ hairs. Around them there maybe 50 people watching the spectacle and then the policeman came trying to break up the fight. All these kinds of things happen the whole time and with all these people around it’s no wonder that Onjona answered to our question; “what do you want be in the future?”…she said straight out; “I want to be in a beautiful place”. It’s almost unimaginable for me to understand how these street girls really are suffering. Onjona also showed me how her arms were filled with scars from beating, a lot of times by her boyfriend.
The last girl we interviewed yesterday was Akter Bakul (16 years old), she was really emotional in the way she was expressing herself. She also talked about how she has been working as a sex worker and how the police disturb and torture her and other street children. At the end of the interview she started crying, looked into my eyes and said to me; “you are our father, we believe in you to help us and take us to a safe place”. What she said once again reminded me of why I have the passion and devotion to meet street children, listen to them and try to do my best to improve their life situations. When I got home last night I was mentally exhausted after work. Being out in the street is not just work, there are people everywhere who want my attention and want to interact with me, I love being in the streets and getting new experiences everyday, but I also get tired.
Time goes by fast, I have now been in Bangladesh for one month. I’m in Bangladesh! Crazy thought.