You know you are entering Bangladesh when upon arriving at the gate for the flight to Dhaka (Bangladesh’s capital) you realise:
- You are the only white person
- You are one of only a handful of women, and the only one not immaculately dressed in spectacularly coloured Sharees or Salwar Kameez (I immediately feel dowdy in my beige pants).
- The only other white person arrives talking NGO (Non Government Organisation) speak indiscreetly on his mobile phone: “Red Cross….bringing order to chaos… we need to…”
- You are required to submit a taxable baggage declaration and will be taxed on the following items (!):
- Plasma 22”-29” 1500 Taka (the Bangladeshi currency equating about 22AUd)
- Deep Freezer 5000 Taka
- Dish Antenna 7000 Taka
- Air Rifle 5000 Taka
- Chandelier 300 Taka per point
- Carpet up to 15sqm 3000 Taka
Fortunately I am carrying none of these items so there is nothing to discuss on arrival at Dhaka!
A good introduction to the complexities of Bangladesh! A place of rich cultural heritage, many historical religious influences and full of resourceful people.
A place shaped by a turbulent history of having suffered under, then fought for its independence from various colonial and political powers. The most infamous being that of The British East India Company who controlled the region of Bengal from around 1765. The Company (an early forerunner of today’s globalized corporations?) exploited the natural resources of the area for markets back in Britain, exporting huge amounts of its famous fine woven cotton, silks and the sought after, fashionable, blue indigo dye. Local farmers were forced like slaves to plant the indigo crops out of season, and instead of food crops. Devastating famines broke out killing an estimated quarter to one third of the population.
Today Fair Trade organisations and NGO supported cooperatives are reviving these traditional forms of resist dyeing, stitching, yarn making and weaving. Providing otherwise village-bound women with the opportunity to earn an income. It is these exquisitely stitched and dyed, hand-made textiles that draw me to Bangladesh.
Perhaps it is fitting that these once tools of oppression are being harnessed to provide economic opportunity for some of the poorest people on the planet.
Indigo plants and dye.