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.
I have downloaded a SNES emulator and some games for my MacBook, it’s nice to play once in a while and it brings back fun memories from my childhood. I have been playing “Aladdin”, “Tom & Jerry” etc.
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…
I’m back in Dhaka and I started working again on the 10th of January. I have slowly gone back to the daily routines in Bangladesh after the magical journey together with Alexzandra in Kolkata.
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…