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The Other Side Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Salwa, Saudi Arabia Jan 20, 2006
Child & Youth Rights , Poverty   Short Stories
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Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, is an extremely densely populated city. Despite this well-known fact, many people are entering Dhaka from cities all over the country in search of a better life. Many of these people are illiterate men and women, with little or no savings, who come from small villages and immediately get lost in the crowded, dangerous city. It is tremendously difficult to find work, and it is these people who live in the unhygienic, terrible slum areas of the city. The following is a work of fiction based on facts. Through it, I have tried to portray, however inadequately, what it is like being poor, uneducated and helpless in a large, populated city, where you can go to nobody for any assistance.

“Oh, damn,” I muttered, as the mud seeped into my favorite pair of sandals. I had hitched up my pants, but my footwear bore no mercy from the dirty, bacteria-infested water that soaks the alleys where the slums of Dhaka are located. Since it rains at least once every week, no matter what season, and there is no proper drainage system in these bosti areas (i.e. slum areas), the water perpetually remains.

This was the bosti behind our house and I was here to do a geography assignment. I had to interview some of the people living here and already, barely inside the bosti, things were proving difficult indeed. There was a large cluster of houses, or rather, tumbling shacks, placed haphazardly all over the tiny area this slum covered. They were made of cheap tin, by the looks of it, with corrugated iron roofs full of small holes. I shuddered at the thought of how these people survive the heavy rains of Bangladesh in these ruins.

I entered the first house I came upon, wanting to quickly collect my information and leave the depressing, dirty environment of the bosti. Luckily, I struck gold and found a girl about my age, sitting on a straw mat on the floor, tending to an older, sickly-looking woman. Her first reaction was that of shock but then a shadow passed over her face and she glared at me. I backed away slightly at the hostility.

“Ki chan apni? Basha bhara to diye dichi,” she barked at me. She was asking me what I was doing there and added that she had already paid the house rent. Despite my nervousness, and slight fear of the girl, I couldn’t help but wonder how this, literally, piece of crap that they were living in could cost anything. I timidly told her that I was not there to collect the rent. At that, her expression softened considerably and I courageously ventured forth and explained that I wanted to know more about her life. At that she laughed sardonically, saying, “What are you going to do once you find out? You rich people never do anything to help us anyway!”

I knew that she was not accusing me as an individual, but rather, the selfish upper class society of the country; yet, I felt myself reddening in guilt. I realized that I had not really ever done anything for these people. In fact, I hadn’t even given them much thought!

Coming out of my stupor, I cleared my throat, took out my notebook and I asked her to tell me about herself and her experiences of living in a bosti. She started off quietly, probably so as not to disturb the sleeping woman.

My name is Moina and I am around 16 years old. I was born here in Dhaka, in another slum. Things were fine while I was a kid. My dad did odd jobs, which brought quite a regular income to the household, considering how much work this city needs. And my brother, who was two years older than me, worked in a garment’s factory. The work was tough, he left early and came home late and received only one meal; and although the pay was minimal, at least it was guaranteed – something very few of the slum dwellers can even dream of.

My mother worked as a maid at two houses nearby and was home only for lunch and for the night. Her work was often back-breaking and in spite of all the effort she put into it, her employers continually abused her. And me, I would just stay at home playing with the other kids in the bosti, waiting for my parents and brother to return.

Those, apa [sister], were the good old days.

She sighed and stopped talking, looking out into the distance, her eyes glazed, reminiscing. My curiosity was piqued and I asked softly, “Then what happened, Moina?”

She came to and continued.

Then, one day about two or three years ago, my brother fell sick with high fever. My parents thought it would recede with some rest. But they were wrong. One week. Two weeks. Three weeks. The factory sent someone to say he was sacked for not reporting to work. Then, a month went by. By then, my brother could hardly talk and he vomited out whatever we fed him.

I couldn’t stop myself from blurting out, “But why didn’t you guys take him to a doctor?!” She laughed mournfully.

Apa, we didn’t have all that money. But we still tried. My mother spoke to the people of the house she worked in and they told her to go to a certain doctor, who didn’t ask for too much money. We rushed my brother to the place. The doctor acted very strange and in a matter of 5 minutes, he said he knew what was wrong with my brother and wrote him a long prescription. It cost us 500 Taka to buy the medicine. We had to borrow from a neighbor.

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