2001.09.29Sawadee krup! I'm out of Bangkok now and in Cha-am at a great (luxurious!) hotel on the beach with a festival going on and beautiful clear waters just a 2 minute walk from the check-in desk. I can't believe that PC has put us up here, but it is absolutely great! It's been a first-world experience for the last few days. The time in Bangkok was like any big city, and the bus ride here was smooth. The AC worked, the bus was new and even had a toilet, there was no honking, and it was a divided highway the entire 2 hour journey. To cover the same distance in Bangladesh would have taken at least 4 hours along with plenty of swerving and honking.
It's wonderful to be here, but also very very difficult. Coming here makes me realize just how different Bangladesh is from the developed world. In Bangkok, and even here in Cha-am, which admittedly is a bit of a tourist town and I'm getting sick of seeing so many bideshis, there are 7-elevens, mini-marts, and just about anything you could ever want in the world. But I start to realize all of the things I had to adjust to and never really realized it. Other people are going through the same process. We are amazed at how developed this "developing" country is. I have yet to see an open sewer, or dirty streets, or a pothole for that matter. I've seen a few beggars, a few homeless people, but many people here are a bit on the plump side. They remind me more of Americans in that regard than Asians. I'm beginning to equate the physical size of the people in a population with that population's wealth.
The general concensus is that we were all prepared for a shock when we left the states. We knew it would be tough. So we just accepted it when we found we'd have to get our water from tube wells, that everyone would stare at us and stand in a circle around us to stare if we stopped moving, that we would have no privacy, that poverty and ignorance were rampant, that sewers were uncovered and the entire country often looks like a garbage dump, and that there would be an unstoppable wave of corruption that continually washes over Bangladesh. So we didn't really have anything to compare it to. After coming to Thailand and seeing the city that the volunteers here can escape to, after seeing the office and resources they have available, and just the atmosphere and personality of the people, it is no wonder that so many of our group left. It's tough in Bangladesh.
I can't help wonder what happened here that hasn't happened in Bangladesh. They aren't that far away geographically. Although Bangladesh drew a bad hand when it came to geographical features, they are both located by the sea. Bangladesh is smaller and more densly populated, and probably lacks or has used up a lot of it's natural resources. I'm not sure what's available in Thailand. But one thing is certain - the foreigners you see in Thailand are probably tourists; the foreigners you see in Bangladesh are probably NGO workers. Why?
It's a tough call and I'm sure there are multiple reasons. I do wonder if part of it is the mindset of the population. In Buddhist culture, which basically grew out of Hindu traditions, you are rewarded by your good works later in life. Islam also believes in life after death, but tends to be a much more fatalistic culture, declaring that there is nothing to be done except for the will of Allah. The Hindus also have such beliefs, that the misdeeds of their former lives are causing some of the suffering in this life, but I wonder if the Buddhists accepting the fact that life is hard anyway allows them to get past that and try anyway. I really don't know. I've heard there is a lot of corruption here as well, and that there are lots and lots of poor people, I just haven't seen them yet. I really can't put my finger on the difference, but it will hopefully help me in my perspective when I return to site.
It also firms my resolve to go back to Bangladesh. There are 130 million people there (half of the population of the United States) that really need help. They have been left behind and I just don't believe it is right that people should enjoy such a prosperous life when so many of their brothers and sisters are living in such squalor. There is no ethical justification that I can think of to support the idea that I should live in comfort and safety when those around me are in need of the basic essentials of life and in constant physical danger. How can one enjoy their life of comfort with that knowledge on thier minds? I don't know.
So I'm on vacation now. My mind has converted. We're starting our conference tomorrow after I helped raid the PC Thailand library for some resource books. We'll see what we can do to get PC Bangladesh more organized and more effective. I worry that all of us won't go back. Some people are starting to say that they don't want to go back, or that they want to go to America. Some were on the fence to begin with and this interuption in service will provide a great excuse to throw in the towel and just stay in Thailand for a vacation. But that's their choice. I'm going back to my home in Patia, Bangladesh.
The future is always unknown. Might as well try to make the best of it anyway.