Reflections. 1 April 2020

Bangladesh, Reflections

Quickly writing some thoughts. May revise / review later.

Writing, reflecting, working, in this current time has been rather difficult, for all things considered.  Hearing, reading and seeing the bravery of key workers, doctors, nurses, hospital cleaners, city cleaners, waste pickers, supermarket staff, warehouse staff, delivery people, all across the world.  I’m engrossed in keeping up to date, paranoid almost, about missing the latest updates. It reduces us down to basics. It seems an out of body experience, watching myself, watching my dreams flicker between odd memories, watching the news, watching, watching. My eyes have not been more tired. As am currently, it feels like with the rest of the world, obsessing over COVID19 updates, looking at surreal exponential graphs of death and spread that are reduced to curving lines and , without real awareness of the lives lost and the memories that can no longer made.

I wonder about friends, family and lovers am unable to meet, even across neighbourhoods, or in nearby towns or cities, or distant countries, across continents. Of the thousands of people who have passed away already, alone, or the inability of many to say goodbye properly. Am accustomed to Skype and video chats, and some of have the privilege to have those conversations online, but I also know, they never measure to the real thing. Of being with a loved one and enjoying their company, in a physical space, sharing, being.

I wonder, and am afraid, for those living now in the fear of perpetual potential violence cohabiting abusive people in their home, but now, no ways of escaping or being far away from them. Yes, overwhelmed. I wonder about people who, having left home to live their best queer lives, are perhaps locked in with homophobic family members, unable to breath, in fear of trauma, of triggered actions and detonation of mental health. I read about India’s situation and their negligent approach to shut down, leaving many thousands, if not millions stranded and no way back to villages. Of starvation. A real, wake up call to some of us not exposed to vulnerable communities in the past, but our own communities becoming fragile now.

My twitter feed is filled with both hope and tragedy. Full of wonderful news of community building, sharing, caring and supporting each other – be they queer, homeless, struggling with mental health, livelihood precariousness and beyond. Its also full of numbers, of deaths, of cases, of the exponential rise among countries, China, Italy, USA, UK, France, Iran, it grows, with no clear understanding when this pandemic will end, or whom it will spare.

Here in Bangladesh its near impossible to critique or comment usually, and in a situation where leaving the country is almost impossible for absolutely anybody due to lockdowns globally, being critical of the way government is responding to this situation is also not advised. So, we have limited cases that we know of. and few deaths that have been accounted for relating to COVID19, and we are awaiting more testing capacity in the coming weeks. It’s Overwhelming. Precisely because of the above. How do we shut off from it? we cannot. It is overwhelming. And I can only say, that it is ok to feel that overwhelming burden of responsibility, of helplessness, of anxiety.

I worry over the potential of elderly relatives contracting the virus in the UK, US, and Bangladesh. The threat is both imminent and real. At the same time, I wanted to take an hour to dump my thoughts – archive them. Journaling hasn’t helped as much, perhaps its because it seems futile.  There is despair, I accept it in moments – not in totality.

Yet, they are feeding into something that I cannot understand yet, but can perhaps recognise as being overwhelmed, anxious, scared. When news of Layli’s father contracting Covid-19, then consequently passing earlier in the week came. It hits; a friend’s father passed away from the virus that has plagued the world. I offered the very little and at the same time the most that I could of me, a text message with condolences, and that those of us in an extreme privilege are able to give away, freely, my time and willingness to listen whenever she needs or wants it.  I cannot imagine what she is going through, she has posted some thoughts on her facebook wall.  In the midst of it, her spirit shines through. I am in Dhaka, she is in London. I send what seems a norm to us all, virtual hugs.

‘I was the last family member to see him on the day he died. It was for a mere 15 minutes. How I wish I had been allowed to ruffle the few strands of hair or kiss him on his forehead just to let him know that he was loved. How I wish I had been allowed to clean his yellowing teeth or the dry skin around the corner of his eyes. I couldn’t do any of those things. I am now left with these thoughts and images, and they will never go away. I can only hope that they soften with time.

I went in wearing a mask, gloves and a flimsy apron, PPE that falls far short of WHO standards. I was willing to wear it because I desperately wanted to see my dad. But why should doctors, nurses and other NHS workers put themselves or their loved ones at risk? Their job is to save lives, not to put theirs or their loved ones at stake. This is not a war, a language and tone used by this government to cover up their immorality, irresponsibility and incompetence. This is work and we should demand decent workplace conditions for people to do their job.’ Collected from Layli’s facebook wall post, 30 March 2020.

There are no dress rehearsals for life, we are given our lot and we must do the best we can with it. There’s plenty of nitpicked quotes we can use, share, read. In times of such abject and disastrous realities, its hard to not be continually overwhelmed. Who next, when will it be over, how does the world look post covid19?

Those of us able, are doing the best possible within the means we have – its been devastating to see and read so much of the damage being done. However, this language that some politicians have adopted, of war, rings hollow. It’s another PR exercise, to build both fear, and to pretend we are all in this together. To pretend that all lives are equal after all. We are being sold a lie, as we have been for decades now, about the wonderful capitalist system, one that has been co-opted and ripped out and replaced with yucky, na, grotesquely immoral and unethical practice, on the premises of economic growth but at the cost of our own communities and nature, and more.

As we have seen, political will and mobilisation, which is aiming to aspire towards egalitarian and socially just society, often means a serious, aggressive battle. This battle, now, seems rather a bleak one in my view. Economic bailouts of large corporations, whilst many thousands lose jobs, homes, and ultimately lives, again brings to mind the pretence of equality. Many others have written great critique of the fallacy of this pretence, and many more, continue to advocate for it.

Yet, this systemic, economic, structural inequality that has plagued much of the world, shows its truth in ways most cannot imagine. The understanding of the concept of home and shelter. Of having a home to be isolated in. That home being big enough so that there is space of separation between people, especially those that may have contracted the virus. Or the insecurity of tenure that, in this current situation will become horrific for many who are unable to afford to pay rent, or to buy food, to survive due to inability to, or no work being available as they are forced to wait, as governments across the world enforce lockdowns.  To suggest to go for walks as exercise, but not having access to any public space to do so. And so it goes. Basic. Human. Rights – it seems an aggressively radical thing to aspire to.

Amidst it all, what is, and has always been true is the spirit of most humans to do good by their neighbours, their communities, to prop and support and share. In Bangladesh, many groups have been established already on facebook, there are youth movements in distribution of soaps and sanitisers, there are thousands of people volunteering to distribute emergency food parcels, basic needs etc. Many thousands more, mobilising to support where they can, with creative solutions, with innovations, with energy and spirit of caring, of listening and socialising via the various apps available to us in the internet age.

This often means very simply; accessible and universal healthcare, free education up to university, affordable and good housing for all, affordable and safe public transport systems, and commitments towards developing eco-systems that do not harm nature ( which can also be translated to going away from fossil fuel consumption and having affordable energy ) and people, those able to, working to their best ability. This is verbatim, its information that is available everywhere – from the Green New Deal, to United Nations SDGs, to various countries that do have genuinely progressive policies, that others can, should and often are not, learning from. Decentralised, local and regional development is so crucial in this, and there is so much amazingly good things happening out there.

Historians, especially those that study across centuries and millenniums, will perhaps say that the change we seek, is going to happen but in natures timescale, not human ones. Rapid development has taken place since WW2. yet, in the meanwhile, people continue to be oppressed, to suffer, to be denied basic human rights, in the name of economic progress and growth. A growth that has inherently harmed much of the planet, and its people in ways we are only beginning to see. Climate scientists are screaming and shouting for decades now, only to be told often, their science is wrong.  Even in this current situation, many climate advocates are writing and asking the simple question; why are we not taking climate change seriously still?

It often seems so simple, yet when I look at the realities – the challenges of being tactical, strategical planning and negotiations that organisations and individuals are doing to push forward progressive agendas. Navigating political arenas, it is so difficult, the positioning of evidence based policy research and strategy papers that perhaps I believe in, often does not get a shoe in. Why do we choose not to invest properly and fully in this? Why is there ideological resistance of this evidence based policy planning still? Why do we want to continue supporting, aiding perpetually unequal systems that harm the most vulnerable in society?

Questions, that have been answered well, and by many. Yet, critique of capitalism, doesn’t mean I want to over throw it. However, Social Justice does need to be at the heart of it.

A few weeks ago, I read and reviewed my youngest sister’s tax dissertation. It was interesting to both read it and perhaps, a key reminder to myself, that mainstream economic thinking for governments has always been about growth, often at any cost. However, Without real, equitable, egalitarian redistribution systems in place, the economic growth simply does not translate to a prosperous and balanced society.