Nothing

Haunched over the garbage heap ravaged by crows, a naked wraith of a man. Look around, no Jesus, no Allah, just the circling raptor passing a jaundiced eye.

On my last day in Bangladesh, on the hour ride through the traffic, people and detritus of Chittagong, on an appropriately rain drenched day, I saw him. There was a man, not a shred of clothing, washed at the moment by a heavy steady shower, bent down beside a pile of garbage taller than he. A crow sat atop the assortment of trash so useless after the multitude of pickings garbage gets on the way to the street that only the one crow and the destitute man showed any interest.

I tried to imagine how that man was as human as I. He had had a mother and father, who may even have had hopes and dreams for him. Perhaps he once had had a lungi and some taka, had taken tea on the street corner with friends. He may have once been a laborer, or a rickshaw driver. Even in Bangladesh you cannot grow to be a man without the minimum of support and nurturing. In Bangladesh, that would include, most likely, some basic Islam. It would have to included at least a lot of rice along the way.

Yet here he was with nobody caring enough to lend a lungi or another plate of rice. He scraped at the side of the pile of garbage searching for a bit of something-something that still could pass for food. Anything else, anything to be bartered or transformed into a few taka, had been retrieved somewhere between the households and this tall mound at the end of the street. What hadn’t the dogs and birds gotten already?

This image has resonated in my mind now for the near year since we silently drove past it. It reminded me of how helpless we all are without each other, and how we are just naked animals without society. And how much society can utterly fail.The exquisite vulnerability of us all without each other.

I long for and mourn for Bangladesh.

 

10 thoughts on “Nothing

  1. This is a strong image and is clearly defined in my mind. I hope this man is okay, still managing to survive and that someone loves him. But for the roll of the dice it could be me.

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    1. Yes, I hope he is. It is surprising when you see someone so utterly alienated, even in Bangladesh, where large families struggle to hold each other up. But as people head into the cities and leave their villages, this does happen. It often happens with children, as well. I sometimes saw naked children on the streets, alone and looking totally at a loss. And but for the roll of the dice, yes, it could be me, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautifully told story, yet words escape me in response to this picture of human suffering and the failure of communities to care. We take better care of our garbage than we do of each other.

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    1. I think this does represent a failure. I suspect he would have been cared for by the community and family in his home village, but the poor who come to work in the cities lose those bonds, and the cities can be vicious and violent. Thanks for reading this. It was important for me to express the story,

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      1. Thank you for asking. I’m still reading books that I felt were important before I begin editing. I finished enough of Galeano’s trilogy, “Memory of Fire,” to feel I’ve learned what I need, and one of the three by Mehl-Madrona about medicine and the healing power of stories. I’m finding them helpful so far – exposing me to different ideas and in Galeano’s case, an effective way to share a cacophony of multicultural perspectives about history.

        My goal is to begin the editing process at the same time I’m able to plant gardens – Memorial Day here. (We’re expecting freezing temperatures for the next 2 nights, and possibly snow.) So, I’ll be editing and typing with dirt-ingrained hands. Somehow it feels like the right balance. :-)

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  3. Galeano sounds like someone I would like to read.

    Working on writing while tending the garden sounds like a superb balance. It is what I did at times (spring and summer times) while in graduate school. Earth and roots go together, as as I have no roots at the moment, I have no earth to toil in. I miss it.

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