Sunday, June 21, 2009

Background: The situation of the urban poor in Dhaka

While searching the web to learn more about the issue of Urban Poverty I just discovered a comprehensive report about the situation of Slum Dwellers in Dhaka, done by the Worldbank in 2007. Have a look.

Tiny Gardens, Naughty Kids in New Jimkhana

by: Toni Kaatz-Dubberke

In contrast to the small huts tin and bamboo that characterize the main part of New Jimkhana community, the core of the settlement consists of yellow painted brick-made houses (see photo), once constructed by the Bangladesh Railway Company. The inhabitants of these houses also give me a new impression of life in an urban poor community. First of all, tiny little gardens in front of those houses attract my attention during today’s visit.

(Above: the characteristic type of house in the core settlement of New Jimkhana.)

(Above: to be climbed up. A stage prepared to grow water gourd and pumpkin to the roof.)

(Above: small but rich. A tiny garden in front of a house in New Jimkhana.)

To learn more about these green cells and the people who are looking after them I knock on the door of Bashnaruni Dai’s house.
First I learn that when greeting people I should say nomoskar rather than slamalaikum at this residence. Accidently, I already used the Muslim salutation before I realized that I was being welcomed by one of few Hindu families. I did not expect to meet Hindus in this area due to the fact that the majority of people in New Jimkhana are Muslim.Of course their politeness and hospitality is not at all affected by my cultural mishap.
The house is owned by an employee of the Bangladesh Railway Company who lives in Dhaka now. Bashnaruni’s family rents the plot from him, paying 2.000 Taka for the original building. Since they began renting it, the seven member family extended the house on their own, using this space for free. “We have been staying here for about 30 years”, she tells me.

(Above: Bashnaruni Dai together with her younger son Shanto in front of her garden.)

The lovely little garden has been there for the last 20 years. Although her husband owns a small Hindu restaurant it was originally her idea to set up a place to grow something that can be used in her kitchen. In the beginning, they used to grow mainly vegetables, like water gourd (zucchini). Several years ago, however, she learned that the soil is not longer fertile due to pollution by plastic rubbish thoughtlessly thrown away by others. Two years or so ago the family switched over to plants that are easier to please. Today they grow bananas and a “Phulgass” – a tree that provides flowers necessary for Hindu religious purposes. In constant “danger” are the fruits of their borui tree. “Sometimes naughty kids are throwing stones to catch the fruits from the Borui tree.”In contrast, Bashanaruni is pleased with the development of her own kids. Her daughter, Miturani, is the first in this family’s history to attend university. She is doing her Masters on Accounting at the Narayanganj College. The eldest son works as a goldsmith in a nearby shop.

(Above: Mojina and her youngest son Alamun in their backyard garden.)

Only three plots away assalamu alaikum is appropriate and responded with oalaikum assalam. A hearty welcome meets me when Mojina, the head of this Muslim household, opens the door. The inside looks quite comfortable. Around the small inner yard six rooms are arranged. In addition to three bedrooms, they have a toilet, their own tube well and an interesting kitchen: a proper mango tree grows right through the roof of the kitchen! Alamun the youngest son immediately offers sliced pieces of this tasty fruit. They need to pick the fruits quickly at maturity, “Otherwise the neighborhood’s kids are climbing the roof to steal the mangoes”, Mojina says without much anger in her voice. Her husband once wanted to cut the tree to have more space in the kitchen. But not only was the law against this idea (the tree is growing on Railway land, so it is still Railway property), Mojina also insisted that it be left.

(Above: a mangoe tree, growing right through the roof of Mojina's kitchen.)

Her family lives in quite comfortable conditions compared to other New Jimkhana inhabitants. Mojina’s husband worked as a Police Officer (he passed away a couple of years ago), her eldest son joined the Army. Money comes from her brother who owns a small factory for dry food and from another relative who is sending remittances from Saudi Arabia. But her family consists of nine people and the house they rent from a member of the Railway Company costs 4.500 Taka per month. “We are happy with this arrangement and want to stay here. Nobody is bothering us and we have good relations with our neighbors”, Mojina says. One headache is to afford the money for the youngest son’s (Alamun) education. “Inshallah, he is going to finish his A-level soon.” After finishing school he wants to work as a professional driver and settle down.
Her tiny garden is on the back side of the house and looks a bit sparse. “During the dry season we grew vegetables in it”, Alamun explains, “and now we just put new seeds into the earth, such as lychee, green chili and beli flower“. In previous years the garden was more colorful. “We used to grow beautiful flowers but other people stole them together with the pots“. This sounds more like the work of naughty adults, I think.