Sunday 7 November 2010

From Dawn till Dusk

Dawn was an epiphany. From the ignorance of darkness came the
noegenesis that only daylight brings. With the gradual opening of the
new day’s iris, forms took shape and colours crept into being. The
first glimpse of a new landscape: Driving along a straight levee
between mirrored fields of water, the red brick surface and the vans
tyres made a staccato rhythm together. A green arch of trees formed a
canopy over our heads and veils of
mist parted as we floated through. The paddy field and ponds reflected
their surroundings their beauty doubled Banana leaf roofed huts sat
secure, crowded by verdant deep green growth. I was passing through a
watery Eden and it was offering me hope because in the predawn
darkness I had been feeling tired and despondent
The previous night had been spent on a launch travelling through the
complex waterways between Dhaka and Barisal. It was a veritable bucket
and rammed to the gunwales with people covering every spare inch of
its surfaces. Most travelled in economy which was basically like two
floors of a car deck on a cross channel ferry. Bare metal was covered
by a piece of cloth that marked your space for the next 12 hours.
Dozens of families spread their sheets as if preparing for a pick nick
got out the necessaries and settled down. It was touching walking
through the decks as around me families carried on their family life
in open view, washing, combing hair and cuddling children
Night night sweet heart.
Above these two decks there were three decks with cupboard sized
cabins, which slept up to four people, and a blaring little television
I was lucky enough to have been booked one of three cabins that had a
shower room and balcony. VIP it was classed as but it was not luxurious
and I opted for the floor rather than the stained mattress. . There
was also the danger of being ejected if someone more VIP than you
turns up.
The launch had left at 8:30 the previous night from old Dhaka. It was
one of many moored to a pontoon in the port. We picked our way over
baskets and luggage all waiting to be loaded. Touts were
shouting, encouraging people onto their vessels. It was like a market,
with food, cloth and people all vying for space. Scents sounds and
sights battled for control of my attention.
Under a full moon we sailed up the river out the back door of
Dhaka. Escaping the confines and depravation of the city silhouettes of
factories and flats slid soundlessly by. Clumps of water lilies can
be heard approaching, alive with the sound of crickets cast away on
leafy rafts they divided like cells as we cut through them.
All on deck were united by a common destination under an all
encompassing sky. We were in the presence of something magnificent
and larger than ourselves. A mutual acknowledgment of profound beauty
in an uncaring world. The combined effect of all the stimuli, the
moon and my excitement was that sleep did not join me for long that
night and and as we docked next morning in Barisal I was far from
rested and I had a 19 hour day ahead of me.

The bloom of the new day had lifted my spirits; it was impossible to
be negative for long when faced with such wonder. We drove through a
deeply rural country; fields of water and every green imaginable lay
either side of the road, rarely a horizon, as jungles of trees and
vines surrounding dwellings obscured any distance. Women's saris
flashed primary colours against the green. Snooker balls on Baize.

As the sun began to cast its golden gaze on us we pulled up to the
Jibon Tari, which was moored by a wide tea brown river. The water
flowed slowly but steadily with the intensity of something nearing
its destiny.
Silent and incessant it is the source and scourge of life in Bangladesh.
Meanwhile on board the floating hospital, miracles were being
For the last ten years surgeons from all over the world have
volunteered their skills to change the fortune of the unfortunate;
giving sight to the blind by cataract removal, remedying cleft
palettes and enabling children with clubfeet to walk. Each operation
costs just £25 and the Jibin Tari moors at different remote locations
for a couple of months offering subsidised and affordable life
changing operations to the rural poor.
On board I met Mr andMrs Evans a surgeon and nurse team from Exeter
who fly out twice a year to perform operations on children with club
feet. He is in his Late sixties and only keeps practicing in the UK so
he can keep his licence to operate in order to travel to Bangladesh
and work. He talked of the wonder of being able to transform people’s
misery into joy and that alone sustained their work. In the ward I
film children who have had the operation their parents tending to them
as they lay with their little legs in plaster. Sitting amongst them
were children with clubfeet, waiting for operations, they are paraded
in front of me, and there is no discretion or fear for upsetting their feelings.
Little feet like twiglets, improbably shaped and distorted, limp
across the floor the rest of their bodies perfect but their point
contact with the earth dooming them to a life of exclusion
The original badly drawn boy shuffles by using his hands to pull
himself along.
I filmed the corrective procedure in the operating theatre a little
foot exposed under the scrutiny of the operating table cut open along
its length bone tendon and flesh an unfathomable puzzle. It reminds me
of a pig’s trotter on a butcher's block. A radio in the background,
Irony fm maybe, playing a woman’s voice singing "you make me feel brand
new". Dr Evans confided in me that he did this work purely for the fact
it gives him incredible satisfaction but his next trip will be his last
, as he is getting too old to practice.
I was taken to meet a child who had been operated on two years
previously. Out amongst the paddy fields and shrimp ponds a little boy
ran down a raised brick path into his mother’s arms. Freedom and joy
lit by sunlight dappled by a cool green canopy of trees The parents
told me of it feeling like a miracle to have their little boy, their
future healed.
Lazarus raised.
Back on board the Jibon Tari (boat of life,) six babies with cleft
palettes are waiting to be seen. Distorted mouths with premature teeth
protruding sideways they look like rejects from a doll factory.
Unable to feed properly they are disturbingly small and
underdeveloped, cleft pallets can be prevented through a balanced
diet during pregnancy. Lack of folic acid in the womb can contribute
to this condition. A twenty-minute operation can put a smile on these
children's faces forever. Impact foundation teaches women how to
grow vegetables throughout the year so as to have a source of this
easily available vitamin.
I was shattered and stunned by what I had experience but still had to
endure a six hour drive to one of Impacts static hospitals160 km away.
The day was eaten up as we hooted and swerved our way through the
astonishingly, consistently bewitching landscape.

Later in the day, the sun gilded all that it reached.
The Midas effect.
Shadows lengthened and the greens darkened and gradually all colours
were banished as darkness reclaimed its dominion.
Ten o clock that night found me in another operating theatre watching Dr
Sheffield remove cataracts from elderly people's eyes. He too volunteers
his time a row of confused but remarkably calm old women sat outside
with green gowns and green eye patches. They looked like a band of
geriatric pirates with their one eye exposed. Shafiul is a hero and
responsible for the removal of16, 000 cataracts over the last ten years
giving the gift of sight back to thief that once had it. He works
quickly and coolly with the patients conscious throughout or rook ten
minute to perform this miracle. Later I see him remove a patch and an
old lady blinks as light passes through her new clear iris.
I have been up for 19 hours seen a day from night through dawn, dusk
and back into night again. The old lady has been granted reprieve from
lifelong night I wonder what tomorrow's dawn will be like for her ?

This Man ?

This Man ?

The woman's face in my camera's viewfinder appears to be made of plastic that has been held too close to a fire. It is scarred, stretched and looks like it was once liquid. Her nostrils are not clear holes, there are pale sinews of skin that are stretched across them, and the bridge is too short for her face. Her lips must surely have once kissed something red hot for they are pure scar tissue, naturally smooth and featureless.
When I zoom in it looks as if her eyelids have been welded together, behind them I can see her eyeballs moving, searching for sight but captive behind fused flesh. Her face does not easily bare scrutiny; it is disturbing.

She was once beautiful and had married a man who promised to look after her, who had taken her from her family to procreate and increase the family's wealth. Whom she had given a daughter and two fine sons. This man who was not content with investing himself in her and their future had sought out prostitutes and other women to absorb his primal urges. She felt she deserved better, more respect, he beat her in return. She was brave and moved back to her family away from him and his brutalities, his wickedness and lies.
One night she was cooking and heard a motorbike arrive outside the family home. Her husband entered the yard with two friends, he walked casually towards her with his hands behind his back, she let him approach, he was still her husband after all. The last thing she ever saw was the man she married throw acid in her face.

We are sat interviewing Noahla in the small yard of her one roomed shack. that she will never see. It is a beautiful setting, goats and chickens roam and the sun plays on the water that the small settlement of mud and thatch huts surrounds. The entire area is protected by trees that offer shade and some respite from the heat. She was given this property by the Survivors of Acid Attack Association so she could a least have some level of independence. She is now able to find her way to her well and draw water she can stagger the four feet across the yard to lay some washing on a roof.

Her daughter is nine now and is preparing food on the clay wood stove, Fire, knives and hot oil three things we would banish from our children's reach. She is confident with them and at the same time keeps a look out for her mother. She is a full time carer and cannot attend school though she wants to.

I will always remember the sight of Noalah's tears forcing their way out of her fused eyelids unable to let light in but willing to let her tears out But they don't flow as single beads down her cheeks but part and form a delta tiny droplets that each make their own way down her ravaged flesh. I am behind the camera not daring to move for fear of my own tears welling out of the eyepiece.
She is telling of how pressure from her psychotic husband's family forced her to sign a piece of paper releasing him from jail, how she needed him to provide for here, of how he and his family had sworn to look after her needs. How he moved in to the house that was hers and immediately took any money that came in the house that was earned by her sons. How he rules the family by fear and how alone she is.
She tells us of how he continued to beat her. She is trapped and unable to escape. A sentence no court on earth would serve.
After the interview we are weak and furious, vengeful yet impotent. In the film or the book we would search the man out and take him out, there is no prison sentence suitable for him.such unimaginable cruelty can not be tolerated. A dog as mad as that needs to be put down.

But we represent civil society, We don't do such things.
Then Michael the VSO volunteer that brought us here tells us the same man is accused of killing his own father. His guilt is not proven and is currently awaiting trial but there is little doubt that he did it. His mother is lurking nearby as she has the adjoining huts she is distressed and eager to tell us of his innocence and that he is a good boy, yet she does nothing to help her daughter in law. The typecast roles of any mother to defend till the end.
I wander off to get some shots of the area, which has a squalid beauty. The trees, ponds, tiny waterways and raised paths give it a charm and lessen the claustrophobic atmosphere of so many humans living so closely together Simple lives in an unchanging world. If left untouched a cul de sac of evolution.
When I return the daughter is clinging to a slightly built unremarkable looking man, He is dressed in Western clothing and has a crisp clean shirt on, it has a pattern of big red hearts on it. He is the husband. I remember looking to see what he had in his hands. I smile at the daughter and am mortified when he uses the excuse to smile back at me. An animal urge wells up inside me, the impulse to confront threat to expurge evil.
I am unsure how to react. Simon the photographer obviously feels the same. We refuse to give him the credit of an interview or photograph him, we will not shake his hand or be introduced, but I must engage his eye. I need to see him. Our eyes meet I stare and search and see no remorse, guilt or regret. Just a pair of vacant eyes that are oblivious of the loathing we feel towards him, devoid of emotion they flit around the group of us seeking some kind of acknowledgement that would feed the hint of pride that I see there.
He is a weak evil being that is the cause of so much misery and pain and I want to accuse him, try him and see him off the face of the earth.
I have to leave I am being paid to cover a story not deliver retribution. But sometimes impartiality is a traitor to the soul.This creature before me doesn't deserve the title of a man or even a human. It deserves no understanding or forgiveness it has ignited a hatred in me I have never felt before. A loathing for all men that resort to violence when wrong that are not strong enough to acknowledge fault or brave enough to change. This aberration before us lives freely outside the codes of humanity and has no concept of human rights and is profoundly wrong.
This man that knows no honour and is not part of mankind.

I feel sick.