Gaia: The Diary of Climate Change
Episode 9: Les yeux de pauvres
I have seen the gravest of poverty since my birth. So, when I had a chance to turn my body into a weapon to fight the inequality — I took it.
1977 to 1982
The lane on which our house stood in Kadamtala, Bashabo began with a Buddhist Temple and ended with a Temple dedicated to Kali. It was the lowlands of Dhaka. Every monsoon the streets were submerged in water. If we had a proper sewage system, people fed and clothed — making beautiful crafts — we might have celebrated as if it was Venice.
In between the Buddhist Temple and the Kali Temple were many mosques, and dispersed throughout this lane were all kinds of middle to lower class people. I remember Apple, the boy my parents wanted me to marry but who thought he was too good to drink from our glasses and I remember all the children who would come out begging.
One morning my mother and I got on a rickshaw to pick up my brother from the train station. He was returning from military school in Syhlet. Just as my mother got on the rickshaw, a little girl clutched onto my mother’s sari and wouldn’t let go. My mother gave her some coins. The girl would still not let go. My mother finally pushed the girls' hands off. Her pink chiffon sari with a turquoise border was muddy. She lamented the dirt. Maybe I was two years old. I felt the shock of poverty, inequality, and the total lack of care for people. I would see scenes like these over and over again throughout my life and how people were apathetic to the poor. So, if you felt anger in the way I smashed atoms — it was because I wanted to break open that apathy. I wanted you to feel and make a difference.
At our house in Bashabo, we had a courtyard with a coconut tree in the middle. My parents took in a little boy from our village to help around the house. He was a little kid. Maybe we was 11, or even 7. He used to do the groceries for my mother and pocketed some of the change. He would hide the change in a hole in the wall. One day I found that hole and I dug out the money. I thought it was the job of mice. I told my mother. She dug out the coins and notes that Abouila hid. He denied that it was his. His family was so poor. His parents sent him to us so that he can at least have some food. I knew he was saving that money for his family. I wished I hadn’t found that hole. Everything got out of control when my father arrived from the Ministry. As soon as he heard from my mother about the hole in the wall, the change, he immediately started interrogating Abouila with his glassy eyes. The interrogation came with blows. My father could really hit. He beat up Abouila with all his might. It was horrific on that tiny body of Abouila’s.
Last 30 Days
People hate the poor. The hate is embedded not just in the way we treat them but also in the way we design our spaces to segregate, to always remind them of their place. If we design social housing, we are certain to make it unsustainable and ugly and let it be known that it is SOCIAL HOUSING. If we give away food, we make sure it is the worst kind, almost spoiled, and absolutely tasteless junk; just go to any food bank or public school for lunch in America and you will see for yourself.
Why is it hard to imagine equality in a market-based economy? I am not saying that everyone should eat cheese from Cow Girl Creamery in Point Reyes, California. Respect, dignity, shared open spaces that are beautiful and enriching, access to housing, food, and education that is truly good and nurturing — this is indeed not only possible — it strengthens the market, making it more resilient.
The next 30 days
Countries around the world, which do not yet have such programs — especially in the Global South, announce plans for universal medical care, social housing, universal education 0 to 22, universal child-care, and stipends for children and the elderly (who do not have a viable pension).