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
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
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
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
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 ?