So I’m back from my Bangladeshi adventures - and happy to be back with my kids and the care of family and friends.
Its amazing how many people have commiserated with me, not just about getting sick, but about getting sick in Bangladesh. ”Not a country to get sick in” they say as if I’d been lying in some muddy ditch waiting for a quack doctor to come and mutter some mumbo jumbo at me while slicing my abscess open with a rusty penknife.
Despite the constant drip of news stories about Asian Tigers, its still hard sitting here in complacent Europe to break that stereotype of the “poverty and misery” of the developing world.
There’s always a look of surprise, quickly covered up, when I tell people that the care I recieved in that Bangladeshi hospital was a whole lot better, prompter and politer, than I’ve receieved in the out patient clinic here since I came back. And yes, I know its got to do with my ability (or rather, my insurance company’s ability) to pay for the best care available in the country; my final bill after a week’s stay in hospital was 15 times the yearly wage of an ordinary Dhaka worker.
But possibly what surprises people the most here is when I say that overall I came away with a very positive experience from my ill fated time in Bangladesh. I’m so impressed by the people I came across there: by the can-do attitudes of people in most professional spheres, by the energy and drive of the relatively young people I had dealings with, from with NGO workers, to journalists, doctors, nurses, community activists, volunteers, fixers and translators.
There’s an energy I felt there that is conspicuous by its absence in this part of the world where to make a vast generalization, there’s simply too much of a sense of entitlement. A trip to South Asia these days does make me realize the reality of the theories one reads everywhere - Asia is where its at in the 21st century, and Europe has to come to terms with a corresponding decline.
Dhaka is an overcrowded city with lousy infrastructure, almost no public services, electricity that seems to be more off than on, and more than its share of deformed and pathetic beggars whose insistent knocks on the car windows make the long waits at traffic lights a prolonged torture.
But there have been changes in the 15 years since I was there last. Most noticeable of them are the armies of women with their ironed saris and handbags on their arms setting off every morning to the garment factories for work. Exploited and underpaid they are, but its a first step of an irreversible trend of unlocking women from their homes and letting them taste the exhileration of their own paychecks.
What I witnessed there was that hunger to improve, to learn, to better oneself that is simply not as palpable in this part of the world as it is in Asia.
The middle class is on the up bringing with it all the ills of increased consumption - bad news for global warming, but not so bad for people who have tasted grinding poverty for generations. The question remains though, whether that trickle down wealth will ever reach the bottom 10 % of people who even in comparatively wealthy neighbouring India, suffer as much as any of the worst off in sub Saharan Africa. In India, there is a vast segment of the population who haven’t had so much as a drop from the trickle down, despite the extraordinary wealth of its upper classes. Will the gap continue to grow in these countries, or will the trickle down eventually start to reach those who suffer the most in these countries? It’s one of those questions that make me wish I could live another hundred years to witness for myself.