Pierre-Marie Buffé, Coach & Operations Development, TDC Dhaka
Diving into a new reality
When I started my journey at LP4Y, I was excited and strongly motivated to go abroad, anywhere, as long as I would face new challenges and discover a new way of living. It was a main driving force for my engagement as a LP4Y Catalyst: taking perspective and learning to change my representations of the world to be able to truly engage in a cooperation mode. As I dedicate myself to work in the international development cooperation sector, I could not imagine myself working on a bureaucratic level without having any idea of the reality of the field work.
From (im)patience to turbulence
After working on my patience and dealing with the uncertainties caused by the global pandemic, my departure to Dhaka was sudden as it came in the rush of the situation we faced. After 7 months of waiting, I packed my bag and said a few goodbye within 48h. In the plane, I dealt with a strange feeling of mixed emotions and yet the uncertainty accompanying me caused by the pandemic and the horrible assassinations that happened in France by the end of 2020. Suspended in the dark night sky, my imagination was playing with my rationality. I saw myself denied entry at the Bangladeshi immigration because of the aggressive protests happening in Dhaka against the French government and expatriate community. I would be German for now, my 7 years spent in Germany would be my greatest alibi. I finally arrived safely and dived directly in the warm and humid atmosphere of Dhaka. A permanent veil of smoke was surrounding the megalopolis due to the pollution. Not very surprising when you look at the numbers: 21 millions people living in the area with a density higher than 45000hab./km2… Quite a change compared to my calm and peaceful Brittany. The first emotions upon my arrival are hardly explainable. It was a load of everything, all my senses being permanently solicited. I was feeling like a sponge, absorbing the ongoing noises of the traffic and the street vendors, inhaling the various smells while keeping my eyes wide open in order to cope within a new world opening to me. While swimming in an ocean of unknown and novelty, I remembered the reactions of my friends and relatives when I told them that I would go to Bangladesh for one year.
Deconstruct and learn from below
My contradictory spirit naturally helped me to relativise the preconceived ideas and opinions that my loved ones told me, without any doubts to help me and show me their love and concern. But everything I have heard did not match at all with my experience until now. The overall negative picture of Bangladesh is probably coming from the past time of the young history of the country. Due to the extraordinary situation, I was alone in Dhaka for a month, waiting for the arrival of my country coordinator and another colleague. As a matter of fact, I never felt lonely one single day. I was incredibly welcomed by the expatriate community as well as the local community where I was living. « Videshi, videshi ! », were saying the children with an astonished look as I would meet them in small streets of my neighbourhood, full of street vendors. I was looking everywhere and I had the feeling that everyone was looking at me with interrogation, sometimes suspicion but mostly with interest and goodwill. Ironically I got asked many times what was my home country. I stayed under German cover as the embassy was repeating us to be very careful in any situation. The following days upon my arrival were full with daily discoveries and encounters. I reconnected with the organisations that already knew LP4Y thanks to the great work made by my former colleagues and I was meeting new contacts. The courtesy and hospitality of the Bangladeshi people I met amazed me. The excluded persons I met that are living in poverty were incredibly generous, curious and welcoming. Nobody told me that important social and human values were so present in poor and excluded areas. Indeed there is a great human richness that is coexisting with a precarious material scarcity.
Living different worlds everyday
I felt mostly grateful to have the opportunity to live in antagonistic situations on a daily basis, what I call « social stretching »: We could visit a slum in the morning, meeting the local community living there, drinking the traditional tea with them and try to learn about their situations. In the evening, we were joining the expatriate community, getting to know them, their jobs, life and concerns. It was first disconcerting to realise that most of the people don't have the possibility to take perspective on their daily life and concerns through the encounter of other people’s realities. Disconnection and disparities are strongly present in my experience of Dhaka. I was tempted to lose nerves in that situation several times but I prefer to see myself as extremely privileged to have the chance to live in these strongly opposite worlds that ignore each other.
Meeting each other, working together and share smiles
After 3 months, I feel already very comfortable here, in the magnificent organised chaos of Dhaka. I almost missed it while being in India a couple of times. I was very happy to welcome my two colleagues Aileen and Léonie and share the very special experience of living in Bangladesh. It is very stimulating to live in a setting where a lot of things are unknown. There are few books, movies and documentaries about Bangladesh, still there are a lot of things to say. For now the words don't come but it will, along with the experiences of living here. People say that they cry two times, when they arrive in Bangladesh and when they leave it. I saw it a couple of days ago when a friend left. Maybe we will all cry as well when we’ll leave. But for now we look to a bright future here in Dhaka. We have already met wonderful young women that are very motivated to change their situations and the way people consider women. We will open a Training & Development Center (TDC) in a few months. Hope and optimism are pushing me and a deep desire to share, live and support the young women of the Bhashantek slums that, only in a few hours, inspired me much respect and consideration. If there is a meaning in life, then it is most probably through the encounter of individuals that despite all the challenges and burdens of life open to you and share their hopes and smiles unconditionally.