18 January 2012

On my way

What images come to mind when you hear "Bangladesh"? Anything concrete? A friend from school? Color and movement? Rickshaws? Kissinger's quote calling it a "basketcase"? Just an amorphous sense of poverty, or crowds, or floods?

Some numbers: Bangladesh is the 7th most populous nation in the world, with 154 million people. It has more people than Russia, Japan, Mexico or the Philippines, or more than Germany and the UK combined. These 154 million people live in a country that is slightly smaller than the state of Iowa – imagine, roughly half of the US population in Iowa. The population density is the highest in the world (for a country not a city state like Singapore or Monaco), at nearly 1,000 people/ km2. Eighty percent of national territory is floodplain, nearly all of it less than ten feet above sea level, making it tremendously susceptible to cyclones, storm surges and monsoonal flooding. In 1991 a cyclone hit Bangladesh killing 140,000 people, but that was considered progress as one in 1970, before a warning system or evacuation plans were in place, killed 350,000.

According to a recent article in the NY Times, the poverty rate in Bangladesh has fallen over the last two decades from 59% to 40%. That is a remarkable achievement, but it shows how far Bangladesh has had to go – that 40% in poverty is the equivalent of every person in the UK.

That same article lauds Bangladesh for doing so much – 94% of its children are immunized for DPT (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus); infant mortality has fallen sharply – with half of India’s per capita income. (Bangladesh is twice as poor as India, in case you missed that.)

That is a statistical snapshot of where I’m going for a month. This is not moving to Japan, not even – by a LONG shot – working in Thailand.

It’s a new feeling, being challenged by travel, or more accurately, by a destination. We, or at least “I”, get cavalier about travel and about the size of a shrinking world. I’ve never crossed the Equator or been to Africa or seen anything between, well, Singapore and Venice before this trip (Marco? Polo?), and the places to which I’ve travelled in Europe and Asia are places that are similar in terms of level of development. I have lazily extrapolated the tiny corners I've seen to the map writ large, even though I know better, and I'd forgotten that I can still be genuinely surprised or challenged. I’m nearly always charmed and delighted, but rarely challenged, not in the way that I expect to be over the next month. I've only come to recognize this by stretching for this. That's a lesson I hope I remember, and I'm sure it won't be the only one I get from the next month.

It’s still a big world, and it’s still not flat, despite what Friedman may say. I’m excited and looking forward to making a contribution in some (very) small way, and to facing the challenge of Bangladesh. And challenges give the opportunity for growth.

Two more flights.

1 comment:

hina333 said...

Keep your eyes open Love, Jen