Its been a while since I last wrote. Been busy planning what is the next segment of my climate change photography project. I’ve decided to go to Bangladesh. It’s a developing country with a lot to lose when it comes to climate change. My assignment wish list reads like a tragic account of climate change impacts: flooding and sea level rise, ground water salinity, industrial pollution, biodiversity loss, failing infrastructure, food security, population density, poverty, disaster response, health, globalisation.
It’s an important side of the story to tell. And I look forward to taking you along for the ride!
Day 1-2: Dhaka
Wandered through the Karwan bazar fish market early this morning. A thriving mass of people bartering and moving all manner of (mostly) river fish from all varieties of vehicles constantly coming and going on the broken and busy adjoining road. Rickshaw pullers nudging their way through this chaotic scene of covered stalls, bamboo framing supporting wooden benches. Above this organized chaos sleeping platforms covered by tin roofs suggest quiet and intimate family moments outside of trading hours. Men and boys balancing fish laden baskets and tubs upon their heads. Ice wallah’s carving chunks of ice off of large blocks. Tiny children squatting on the filthy ground gathering small morsels of tiny fish; whitebait and sprats having fallen from the benches, happy to bring back a small handful of protein to the family dwelling back at the slum across the railway tracks a short distance away.
Gathered alongside the railway tracks women squatting around wood fueled fires eking out a living selling rice cakes, egg and pastry dishes. Occasionally the threat of a moving train and carriages dispersing huddled groups around them, once the train had moved off into the distance clusters of people casually reunited, seemingly without a second thought to the big lumbering beast of moments past which could very well have taken them all out.
Inviting ourselves into the slum we found a group of women and children gathered around a freshwater tap filling vessels and washing clothing. While trying to get an angle on a photograph I inadvertently stepped, sinking thigh deep into an open sewer. Oh crap. I heard myself yelp like a kicked dog. I grabbed hold of a bamboo strut which fortuitously was overhead within reach. The experience was only momentary and I managed to keep my cameras and upper half clean and dry and my trousers on. The kindly women at the tap proceeded to wash away most of the filth, while bemused but well-meaning onlookers slowly grew in numbers.
After showering back at our lodging we headed out again for Hazaribagh, Dhaka’s tannery area. Less notorious than the garment industry, but no less grim, workers and environment here are degraded to sustain a billion dollar industry. All the country’s raw leather flows through this point. Nearly all of the country’s 206 tanneries are concentrated in this one area. It’s a filthy, squalid neighbourhood with open drains, toxic, grey and black and vivid colours of red and blue flowing out to the Buriganga then into the delta, then eventually out to sea. The air oozing a foul smell reminiscent of offal mixed with any number of chemicals; you could almost cut the air with a knife. Strong and agile men heaving carts heaped with hides, others carrying 40kg sacks of chemicals on their heads, boys as young as twelve hovering over large vats rancid, evil coloured and smell alike.
A tannery worker who befriended us was happy to present boys to the camera asking us if we were from UNESCO, as he openly talked to us about the utter lack of any sort of basic safety equipment. Many workers suffer skin allergies, painful chest infections and asthma. Life expectancy for some he said is a sobering 45-50 years of age.
Earlier that afternoon on the way to the tannery I photographed a flooded intersection. Bicycles, rickshaws, CNG’s (tuk-tuks) buses, trucks, cars and pedestrians jockeying for position, negotiating their way through and around knee deep water in torrential rain.
I’m thinking this is great; it’s my first day shooting here in Bangladesh. I’m here for all these reasons, and more. I’ve already been presented with so much of what makes this small overcrowded country one of the foremost candidates for an eventful and truly epic mother of a climate change story.