Hello dear readership! Thank you kindly for endeavouring to read my first set of reflections on life in Dhaka.
My first post is all about the stresses of sharing my Dhaka experience, and how I might try to mitigate the things that make me uncomfortable. I have always fancied myself a bit of a storyteller, but this facet of my personality has been challenged by a sort of existential ‘storyteller’s crisis’ that I have encountered while going about assembling this first blog.
‘Storyteller’s crisis’ sounds horribly pretentious, and I apologize for that, but it really gets to the heart of the conundrum I have faced in my first twenty three days in Dhaka. The ‘crisis’ manifests itself in endless questions and self-critiques, largely focused on the absurdity of me, a Canadian newcomer to the city, writing anything worth reading about Dhaka – a vibrant and massively diverse city that is so much more than the little things I observe about it.
How can I write about this city, or its people, without doing it immense injustices? I know so little. My personal methods of understanding, and my ways of explaining, are totally inappropriate to Dhaka’s context. I have no background for what I encounter in Dhaka. When I see something, I see the surface of what is going on; the event-moment only, and none of the mechanisms that created that event. Simply put, my brain has little of the contextual tools necessary for understanding the things it receives through the eye sockets.
So how do I communicate my experiences to friends and loved ones back home? If I write a paragraph on pollution in my blog, do I write two more on the beautiful artwork that graces the countless rickshaws that roam Dhaka’s streets? If I write one on begging, do I write two more on the wondrous shared laughter and joy that occurs when shopkeepers encounter me trying hard to speak Bangla to them? Even if I were to balance negative and positive stories, the same problem would persist, and it is embedded in the very nature of the story itself. Stories are, of course, subjective and one-dimensional by nature, and this is true even when they attempt to incorporate other voices and perspectives. Selection of quotes, for instance, seemingly gives the writer the ability to make others say what they are needed to say.
I am making this rant as a sort of preamble for the stories I plan to tell in subsequent blogs. It’s a disclaimer – if you will – declaring the contents of this blog to be far from a comprehensive account of the stories included in it. Dhaka is a city full of unique and rich perspectives – somewhere upwards of 20 million of them – and there is a sort of tongue-tiedness that results from experiencing this grand diversity on a daily basis, and then contemplating writing a reflection of these experiences.
And here lies the dilemma I have so precociously dubbed the “storyteller’s crisis.” I am so excited to share in this blog about my experiences working with the amazing team at the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), but I am respectful of the fact that my stories of them cannot do them, or their work, full justice. Likewise, Dhaka city, and the people I encounter within it, cannot be limited to the keyboard at my fingertips. All of which leads me to ask readers – please, take my words here with several massive grains of salt.
I think the reason this blog became so much about a ‘crisis’ of description is because I am still learning the details of my life here. Everything is still so gestational, and my brain is rushing to keep up with every new development. For these reasons, I worry when I have to share my experiences, because I fear I will miss an important detail and misrepresent a scenario or person. However, maybe by sticking to the basics – and continually referring to those massive grains of salt – I can share a little bit of the very important work that I am so fortunate to be a part of.
RMMRU, as I mentioned before, is up to some really cool things. One focus of their research is the investigation of the relationship between climate change and internal migration within Bangladesh. I have been asked to edit some of these works, and thus have gotten a chance to read the migrant surveys that the organization carries out as one of its primary research methods. The importance of organizations like RMMRU is reinforced for me whenever I read of homes and livelihoods being washed away by typhoons and floods, a bleak reality for many Bangladeshis. On the other hand, the various adaptation practices utilized by these affected peoples highlights their phenomenal agency and endurance in the face of staggering challenges.
Whenever I start wondering about what I am doing in Dhaka, a place so beyond my understanding that I stressfully blog about my inability to describe it, I remind myself that any assistances or partnership that I can provide to RMMRU is, I believe, time and energy very well spent. They are storytellers that matter here – their research tells the stories that will hopefully shift policy – and so my job is to be the best-supporting and most-eager-to-learn intern that I can manage to be. Focusing on that simple fact is currently my most potent antidote for the storyteller’s crises that I have come across.
Until next time,