Before I went to Bangladesh in January, I spent hours researching anything I could on Bangladesh and her people. It surprised me to find that there was very little information on this tiny country in Southeast Asia. Now, after the recent collapse of several garment factories, Bangladesh is all over the news and is the placeholder “fixer-upper” of the current media.
A recent article in the New York Times, Bangladesh Pollution, Told in Colors and Smells highlighted the pollution in the waterways near Savar, an industrial suburb outside of Dhaka and the location of the collapsed Rana Plaza. Due to lack of water treatments, the Times said that “Students can see what colors are in fashion by looking at the canal.” The water turns blue, red, green, a whole variety of colors, and the smell is horrible.
I remember the first time I smelled the Buriganga River in Old Dhaka. We took a taxi from Gulshan to visit the Pink Palace. Before I could take in the sight of a bright pink palace, I instead smelled the river. The Buriganga was still a ways off, peeking its way through the trees at the far end of the palace. But the smell was so strong it could be smelled from hundreds of yards away. And it was black. Pitch black, like tar.
I never went to Savar when I was in Bangladesh. I spent most of my time in the city, and in the nicer parts of the city at that. And I hadn’t even heard of Bangladesh before Tara and Daniel moved there three years ago.
But that makes me wonder: How much do we not know? What other countries are facing incredible odds or disasters or terrors and we’re blind to them? Every country sways in and out of the media’s view at some point or another. Give the media a big earthquake or a tsunami and all of a sudden a dozen new non-profits are established to send aid or money, adopt kids from the impoverished countries, or send high school kids on mission trips. And then after a few years, the countries slink back into the unknown.
The media’s portrait of Bangladesh is limited, one sided, and short-lived, similar to all other countries that are developing and experiencing environmental hazards, issues over human rights and are in various states of poverty and decay.
I find it strange that we never look into a country unless some great calamity has hit. I think it’s important to follow through with those, and the media needs to provide information on the countries that are going through incredible odds. But many stories in the media are so one sided. They leave out the parts of a country that are good and beautiful. The parts that, God forbid, we ourselves could learn from.