Archive for the ‘rare experiences’ Category

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Climate Change and Pandora’s box

November 2, 2010

It was different experience in Colombo this past week, as twenty youth traveled all the way to meet, enthuse, engage and empower each other. We all had gathered because we have one common belief- that we will tackle the impacts of climate change together. The South Asian Youth Climate Action Network (SAYCAN) consisted of youth participants from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Maldives, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka- countries that are most vulnerable to the impacts of Climate Change.

All these youth were different in there own ways with extremely diverse backgrounds. Some studied Environmental Management, some, Economics, some Computer Engineering, some Journalism and Mass Communication and some Literature or Law. They speak different languages, different dialects, in different ways. Some are passionate about science, and others about art.

They have different tastes too, mind you. Some like shopping till they drop, and some like sight seeing. Some are into books and philosophy, some into music and some into photography. They look at life differently and live differently. Some believe in the peace of finding calm and quite within themselves to lead life. some find solace in finding little things in life beautiful and making the best out of it.

They all work on projects and programs, relating to environment and climate change. Their designs are different, so are their models. They have lots of ideas, and energy.

How do you bring them under the same roof, how do you get them to agree on the same goal, vision, and action plan for the South Asian youth?

This was the challenge for SAYCAN- to bring all these youth to explore and agree on common goals and aspirations and make them draw the road map for the network. There is a always a fear for these attempts to turn into talk shops, to deviate into something completely different.

Lets face it. Climate Change movements have been extremely challenging. Following last year’s BIG failure at COP 15, challenges seem to take a greater toll.

Many articles continue to suggest different pictures of this big game- some say it is time to give up, the political order of liberal democracy is just incapable of rising to this challenge. Others, continue to believe that the world’s biggest polluters will not bend and the rest bring in new models to combat climate change. Stephen Hawking being the man of physics, suggests that mankind should colonise distant planets. James Lovelock thinks the remnants of humanity will seek refuge on the tropical shores of the Arctic.

Moving to the scientists, some suggest climate change does not exist to begin with and other scientific data now strongly suggests that physical and biological changes in the planet are increasingly greater than those defined by the modelling in the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. Despite the steadily rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, even countries expressing commitment are having little impact compared to the huge task in hand.

Governments continue to fight, focusing on the monetary values than trying to just solve the issue first. Everything is being calculated. Survival of people is being negotiated. It is all about the money. It is all about mandates. It is all about negotiation.

In the middle of this, you have youth movements striving everyday to fight for this cause. You can tell, that some of these passionate people would one day give up and just walk away, instead of watching the whole climate debate go no where. After all, isn’t that the only way to not hurt?

I myself, could not help, but wonder what it was that had brought some 20 of us together to fight for a cause that is under so much criticism and how we would agree on anything by the end of it all. More often than not, all around us, passion seems to seep away and leave behind just uncertainties and insecurities. This cause has the same potential.

Then, why, despite all questions, have all these youth come together for this conference? Why spend so many hours, all day long brainstorming, planning and designing action plans to tackle climate change in our own little ways? Our governments do not recognize our strength and we are never a part of the policies that run our lives. Then why bother?

Some of these people have stayed up nights to make this possible, run around from one funding organization to the other, in hope of organizing a conference for youth. Some have skipped their biggest events, some have paid out of their own savings, just to be here. together.

It was during the first night at the beach that I stared at the distant endless ocean, waves slapping against the hot sand of the beach, while I felt my feet burrowing into the deeper depths of the cool sand. I wondered, why I was here? Why all these people were here? why so many of these youth were working so hard in their own country for this cause?

I could not help but think of this Greek myth.

Greek myths never failed to fascinate me. Somehow, I seem to have had the greatest fascination of all towards the Greek mythology since God knows when. Staring at the beach, the story of Pandora’s Box came to my mind so many times.

According to Greek myth, Pandora was the first woman on earth created by the Greek Gods. She was stunning and she was created by Zeus to take revenge on mankind. It is said that the Gods would give her gifts. Each one of them. Which is why her name meant ‘the bearer of gifts’. Pandora was given a beautiful box by the Gods and asked never to open it. Pandora, however, could not resist herself and had finally opened the box, which let out all the misdeeds, diseases, hatred, greed, jealousy, pain and sufferings in the world.

Pandora shocked and guilty, had closed the box as soon as possible to ensure nothing else came out of that box to destroy the world. Zeus wanted Pandora to open this box, so she could bring sufferings into this world. It is said that this story explains the world we live in today- the world where we are consumed by jealousy, anger, selfishness, hatred, greed and many more.

However, the myth also suggests, the box was closed and there was still something left there, and that was Hope.

Greek myths never explained further as to why hope was left in the box- if hope should be taken in absolute sense or narrow sense. There have been millions of interpretations of this myth since then. Archaic and classic Greek literature went further to explain the concept of hope. One thing that came out of the mythographers was that hope was not gone. Hope was inside that box, intact, to ensure that mankind has the ability to live through all the odds that life has stored for us.

True or not, personally, I have believed this version of the story- that hope is intact and will keep us going come what may. I would have died, had I not seen a glimpse of hope in my life. In the worst times of my life, hope pulled me through. Every morning that I wake up, I wake up with hope, as though it is a part of me, a part of who I am and the sheer reason for my survival.

And I realised, it is hope, too, that brought all these South Asian Youth Together, to ‘enthuse, engage and empower’ in the middle of all the stories of Climate Change and failure.

For us youth, science or economics is not the basis for negotiation of our survival. True, there may be big failures, and true, there may not be any end to this long debate and our efforts may never be recognized. True, negotiations may never come to an agreement.

But, it is hope that keeps us going. Everywhere. Everyday. And we continue to work, together, in our little ways with that one thing that keeps us together- and that is hope. for better days to come.

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**happy thoughts**

April 4, 2008

I have found you again, as though you were never gone. When all of my dreams seemed to shatter, all hopes lost, you brought back that magic. Yet again, you reached out, and held my hands to lead me to that precious world of our own- our little world. our home.

It’s magic what we have- you and I. They say life is not counted by the number of breathes we take, rather the number of times your breathe is taken away. But, every second I have spent with you has taken my breathe away. Everytime, you look into my eyes, I feel the sparks.

It’s magic. a magic that you and I have- the way our hands fit perfectly into each other, the way we cuddle against each other, the way we find happiness in each others arms, the way life is worth living because of each others presence and the love knows no bounds.

As the sun sets, as you hold me in your arms, as though you would never let go, and the way I hold on to you, as though there is no end to this precious moment, I pray silently under my breathe- that our precious love lives through it all. that our home within our heart is as warm as this moment.

I close my eyes, as you kiss away my tears of joy. I have found you again. as though you were never gone. I hold on to you and feel the sparks, the lightening, the music, the endless tunes that play through the nights we play- in each others dreams..

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March 20, 2008
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within darker boundaries

March 13, 2008

As I walked through a narrow alley of one of the shady areas in Dhaka, I could hear the vague sounds of children singing aloud- Amra Korbo Joy ekdin (We shall win oneday). 

As the man, directed my colleague and I into the interiors of the locality, that bears very little sign of people or shops, I felt the anticipation grow deeper within me.

I knew this might as well be one of the most powerful stories I have ever done in my career, but more than anything else, I knew this would be an experience very few people get to have.

So, we turned to a new road, that led to a less shady and broader view. My colleague, who is very new in this profession and at our news paper office, was unusually quite, and kept staring at me. 

I figured it was a new and daunting experience for her aswell and decided to let her see it for herself.

 We finally reached the centre, which is about a few houses away from this small brothel based in this locality. The sound of children singing and dancing to the tune of harmonica became only more clear. We were asked to leave our shoes outside and step in the almost dilapidated houselike centre.

The moment we walked in, children of age two to ten, stopped and stared at us in awe- as though we come from an alien world, as though they had never seen people like us. The truth is they haven’t seen a world beyond this tiny house and this locality, until late at night.

As they stared at me and examined my bangles, with their big brown eyes, and tiny little hands, I wondered how they can be differentiated with any other child, how they can be denied of education and the minimum basic right of being able to live like any other child- a fearless, carefree life?

But, they are different. constantly singled out- they do not have a father’s name- a tag that is a prerequisite for a respectful living in our country and the rest of the world.

According to norms, their mothers are not mothers, or women, or human, rather they are ‘whores’ – commodities that are social outcastes.

The centre where we were seated has been set up by one such ‘whore’- a woman named Hazera, who wants to build a world for these fatherless children.

In a few minutes, we were asked to go to her office. She sat before a computer, trying to type something.

I must admit, I was shocked beyond my imagination! not only because she was using a computer but also by her appearance. She was a beautiful woman, wrapped in a blue saree. What awed me the most were her eyes- big, black, doe-shaped eyes- that more than anything else spoke of so much experience and inexplicable sadness.

As she smiled at me and asked us to sit, I wondered, if that was her fake smile. I wondered what she was thinking, knowing that I am here for a story on sex worker’s and their movement. I wondered if she would actually tell me about her life, about her dreams- does she have one? why did she ever come into this dark world? I wondered to myself.

So, I started my job, took out my note book and got ready to jot down stuff, right when she stopped me and smiled excitedly- and told me I should take her visiting card- and read out her title- vice president, Child Care Centre. This, she tells me her biggest achievement- the only thing she has recieved some form of respect.

She spent a few more minutes giving us her newly printed brochures and posters that they made on the occassion of ‘Sex Worker’s rights week’.

As we chatted about these children and how difficult it is for her to get these children admitted to schools, I shifted to a different question, ‘tell me about you, your life?’

She looked straight into my eyes, now her voice sounded deeper, huskier and less lively. ‘I am a sex worker, termed by people as a ‘prostitute’. What’s with my life- I grew up on the streets, was raped at 8, forced into a brothel, locked up and forced to “entertain” clients, spent months crying and denying to be one of “those” women and in the process became one.’

I was shocked, not by the story of her life, but rather, by the blank expression in her eyes, by the stern voice in which she spoke, as though it did not matter even if she was raped, hurt, beaten or treated the way she is. I realised she had the power to just utter absolute truths, absolute realities- without shedding a single drop of tear.

‘At the brothel, you have to be ready by early morning before dawn and stand at the door, so that men can come and take their pick. And when they pick you, they are your commodity for that time. Sometime, you would have to entertain three men a day, sometimes ten and sometimes none. But, I felt suffocated at the brothel- I had no freedom,’ she told me.

‘the masters took away the money we earnt and moreover, there is no break- nothing. Even when my tummy hurts, even when I have my periods, or have fever or anything, there no option. the rules are rules- and the first rule is no emotion because after all you are not a woman, you are not a human’.’

As I stared at her silently, trying to absorb each of the powerful words she told me, she looked at me and smiled softly, and I saw a woman lurking from behind that mask of rough exterior.

‘So, I ran away from that brothel after years of torture and suffocation- and became a floating sex worker- and I found freedom.’

‘Freedom ?’ I ask her.

‘Yes. freedom,’ she said laughing. ‘ freedom to run away and say no when you don’t want to entertain anyone. the freedom not to have a man sleep over you, as you lay awake all night wanting to be alone, wanting to be away from this world, just for a night. The brothel had walls that I could never get out of, but as a free sex worker, I chose not to have sex for a day!’

‘don’t ask me anymore about my clients! stop already now. I know you think I bad anyway and I will be one- all my life. so why ask?’

When I ask her if she would get out of this trade, if she had a chance, she laughs aloud and tells me, there is no way out. i have a chance now, I run an organization and do so much for sex worker’s rights, but is there a way out for me? Will the society, which has pushed me into this fate, take me back? will anyone marry me? will my child have a name? will my country grant me my due recognition?’

The answer is no. and that is a reality these women live with everyday. ‘No woman wants to entertain so many man. no woman wants to be a commodity- but we have accepted it as a way of life and we will continue to demand for our rights.’

It’s ironical, how they keep asking for rights every year. how they keep struggling for recognitions. but wasn’t right something no one can take away from you? Isn’t all the things they keep seeking, taken forgranted by others- citizenship and basic rights?

She tells me how they could not issue for ID cards- for citizenship and voting rights this year- ‘because we dnt have a permanent address, because we dnt have a father or husband’s name. was it not the duty of the state to ensure that we, some 100,000 women get that right. Are we not the citizen of our own country.’

I sat there before this woman with doe shaped eyes and beautiful smile and scars that will remain forever, and found myself pondering the meaning of rights and how easily rights can be snatched away.

She abruptly ends her conversation and talks about her work with children and how brilliant they are. She takes us to the centre where some of the floating sex workers live- a home about three blocks away and that has been funded by an organisation a few years back.

As we walk inside the dark room, with a tiny little dim lights, I see these women- the young and old, the rough looking ones and the ones that still seem to be lost, still trying to accept the brutality of life.

 Towhida, who was sitting on a table with her legs wrapped around carelessly, was chewing a gum, seems to be disturbed by my arrival.

‘What do you want? You want to make a shitty film or write crap about us?’

Our friend, who works with this funding oranization and works with HIV related projects with these women, explain to her that we are doing a “positive” story and that he gurantees we will not use her details in any offensive ways.

She comes towards me and stares at me for a while, and asks me the most random question ever! ‘How come you have such a beautiful skin?’

I can’t help but smile and thank her. She tells me she is a mother- she was a mother even when she was not a sex worker. ‘My husband left me and my 12 month daughter, I had no money, no where to go. So I worked at shops cooking for little money, with which I could feed my duaghter. And then, one day, I was working in the kitchen of the shop cooking rice, when the master’s son, grabbed me from behind and took me behind the storage. I was so scared, I could not talk. he raped me and handed me a fifty taka note in my hands and walked away. That night as I ran back, in fear and pain, I decided not to go back. But I had no money, so my neighbour’s husband, an old man said he can get me a job and asked me to leave my baby with my mother and go with him.

 I trusted him and went with him to this building. I was confused- I saw these women, and rows of room and the atmosphere scared me so much. 

The woman, in charge of that “office” asked me to go to a room and freshen up and get some sleep. Late night, I woke up to a loud knock on the door and I opened it to see a drunk man, behind whom stood that woman who told him I am his treat for that night. I screamed and cried, and begged him not to touch me, but he hit me and dragged me to bed.. I cried all night and my screams never reached out of that building. and I spent days, and months crying and pleading to spared but there was no way out.

I would be locked in a room and often, I would lay unconcious after each of those men walked out with pleasure. They told me they had sent money to my baby, but I just needed to see her once.

After months, I finally managed to run away and go home and my mother told me, there was no coming back for me. I had already lost my honor, I needed to stay away and just send money so that my daughter can grow up properly. ‘

Towhida’s daughter is now ten and has no idea what her mother goes through each day. She knows her mom is always busy, an office that needs her always- often at a nightshifts. She tells me if her daughter ever got to know about her, like others, she would hate her. ‘But atleast, I did not leave my daughter to die like her father did. At least she would know that her mother tried.. till the very end. atleast, she would know, how much I endured just to make sure she is fine.’ 

I talked to some more women- about their pain and their struggle. About standing on their own feet, about finding freedom within the boundries of this dark world, about finding joys in little things, about sitting back and knowing there is no way out and moreover about their fight, for decades, to get a recognition for a trade that is made by the people in this very society, that has denied them and snatched away their human rights.

So, I walked away, with a notebook full of stories, with a ton of things write about. and the writing will be great, I hope and it will be printed on the cover. and forgotten a week or even a day later.. but what will remain with me is perhaps those moments when I saw strength, like never before and so much more…