Archive for December, 2017

Below is a snippet of background information on the current refugee crisis in Bangladesh and violation of human rights in Myanmar that I wrote for a food crawl fundraiser in November.

Since the current refugee crisis in Bangladesh reached its main point of escalation on August 25, 2017, around 800,000 Rohingyas have fled Myanmar, escaping what the UN labeled “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” After years of being trapped in a stateless district and denied basic human rights, the government carried out a scorched earth campaign, pushing the mostly Muslim minorities across the border as they were brutally murdered and entire villages burned.  Amnesty International has pointed to accusations that the military of Myanmar even planted landmines along the path of exodus from the country.  The Rohingya continue to flee violence by crossing into Bangladesh daily, entering a nation which lacks the infrastructure or capacity to properly care for all the unique needs the situation demands.

While not exactly impartial, I believe it to be a fair assessment of the current situation and one the helps explain the need for immediate action.  When Beijing restaurants were sent this piece, they said they could not print or distribute it or there would be problems for them and problems for me. I had an inkling this might be an issue as I had read articles critical of China for failing to condemn this as a genocide because of commercial interests in Myanmar.  The PRC has an important oil pipeline that runs through their neighboring country and in building new infrastructure for their modern day Silk Road (called the One Belt, One Road Initiative), they don’t want to initiate bad relations.  The bigger problem stems from their seat on the UN Security Council where they have veto power over any condemnation or subsequent action plan.  I hate when the world gets sucked up and spun around in politics while people are suffering.

What further pains me is that this ethnic cleansing is being carried out by a Buddhist majority against a Muslim minority.  Using a perverted interpretation of Buddhist doctrine, they’re justifying and encouraging action against Rohingya by saying they are vermin, cockroaches, lower than the value of life and in need of extermination.  It’s a repeat of the same tactics that people have used throughout all of time to carry out such large-scale atrocities.  Think of Nazi Germany.  Think of Rwanda.  The rhetoric is always the same. I guess it just shocked me to hear this was the stance of Buddhists who I automatically equated with peace and pacifist ways in my head.  In an escalated great irony that no audience would believe was real if this were a Hollywood production, the (essentially) Prime Minister of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.  And now she rules over the outbreak of violence, unable to curb the unspeakable horrors carried out by a ruthless military.

I have the means and desire to help a huge catastrophe in a really small way.  I have no special skills like medical or engineering which are always in high demand in such a crisis, but I can come with some money in my pocket to help provide food, water, and shelter.  I wish I had a better plan, but for now, it is just show up in Cox’s Bazar which is the main concentration of refugees in the country and figure it out from there.  For the months of planning this, everyone I have connected with online and on the ground has advocated for just that, much to the chagrin of my Type A hyper-organized personality.

I’m sure it will be chaotic and frustrating, but no more so than waiting on the political powers that be to sort out long term relief and recovery while trying to stop the violence on the Myanmar side with the speed of molasses in January.  In the time leading up to my flight, I have been reading weekly reports from UNICEF and WHO (click on those links and read the reports, there is so much information). More orphans are coming into Bangladesh.  The funding gap for food is increasing.  Diseases like diphtheria are spreading at alarming rates.  All of this suffering from people who did nothing wrong and fled their homes because that was the only way to avoid death.  The Rohingya were already one of the most marginalized people in the world, denied citizenship, freedom of movement, or even education before the outbreak of violence.  I couldn’t see pictures like the ones below and carry on like everything in the world was happy and fine.


A Rohingya refugee child washes utensils in the in the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh Source: Reuters

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The Dirt on Dhaka


The Pink Palace in Dhaka: Once a playboy’s mansion for parties and amorous activities, now a crumbling museum-ish structure. 

If there was ever a time I was convinced of the evolutionary advantage of nose hair, it was today.  I looked at the blackened Kleenex at the end of the day and gave thanks to the deep forest growing in my nostrils for stopping some of airborne toxins from ending up in my lungs.  Sitting in traffic, and even walking through traffic, the day became mostly a parkour and Frogger display of skill with breathing equivalent to sucking on a tailpipe.  The think haze in the sky was like Beijing on its worst of days and the instant scratchy discomfort in the back of my throat was a clear indication that the city has problems.

I arrived in Dhaka little before midnight after two flights and three movies that I almost stayed awake throughout.  A man from my pre-booked hostel showed up to pick me up, much to my surprise, without a vehicle, so we walked around the airport haggling with tuk-tuks.  Racing down the jam-packed roads with horns incessantly blaring and all sizes of vehicle clamoring for position in their individual interpretations of what driving lanes are, I wondered how people could say India is worse.  I could stick my fingers out chain link side doors and touch three other vehicles at any given point.

Amazingly arriving at the hostel across from a field of garbage after only scraping three other vehicles and stopping hard enough to slam my face into the passenger/driver cage once, I climbed the stairs past stray cats, purified a liter of water, crawled under my mosquito net and was lulled to sleep by the sounds of barking dogs, police whistles, and planes overhead.  The morning crows of roosters added to the mix to rouse me several hours later to face the first dilemma of the trip: My accommodations for the next three weeks just got cancelled.

I’m not saying it was the best plan to begin with, but I had secured a free stay with a random guy I met on facebook through a small volunteering group.  After weeks of banking on that, he sent me a message out of the blue saying his landlord would not allow him to have someone stay there.  Just as quickly (and sketchily) as he offered his space in an unfurnished apartment with no hot water, it was taken away.  I spent the first four hours of my morning sending out a slew of new messages, posting in different groups, and linking up with handfuls of new contacts through WhatsApp.  Luckily, a new sketchy man agreed to pick me up from the airport and let me stay with him.  After volunteering in Lebanon where the volunteer coordinator sent me the name of the intersection in Beirut to catch a van headed towards Damascus, but telling me to make sure I got out halfway so I didn’t enter Syria, I feel okay where I’m at now.

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