BUILDING A NEW WORLD
It’ s dusk. Thick clouds of smoke hang in the horizon above tall and slender chimneys. The smoke that comes out is dense, strong, black. Seems like they’re ready to shoot a cannonball. Then you get closer and closer till you begin to see them through the red dust. If it weren’t for the aircraft contrails painted in the sky, the electrical cables that run along the bamboo poles and the echoes of the call to the morning prayer, you could have the feeling of living in the past. It’s like a scene from a long-gone age. Men and women, among the debris, walking in single file up and down steps as if climbing a pyramid.
Toiling under the baking hot tropical sun, these lost souls are carrying out back-breaking and exhausting labor in the most perilous conditions through days that pass equal to one another. They walk barefoot in between the infernal heat that radiates the furnace, balancing huge stacks of bricks on top of their heads for 18 to 22 hours a day.
There’s no time to eat or to bathe. They spend months without even see the color of their skin. Because workers are paid according to the number of bricks they produce, the job attracts whole families, from the grandfather to the few years old grandson. They receive plastic coins for every load of carried bricks; at the end of they’ll be exchanged for real money. A pair of extra hands, even when they belong to children, are always useful to churn out millions of bricks to fuel a construction boom that shows no signs of abating.
The ecologically-fragile Bangladesh, with 150 million people, equal to the 50% of the United State’s population but crammed into an area as big as Cuba, is constantly suffering from natural calamities. Each season cyclones, floods and creeping sea-level rise drive thousands of Bangladeshis from their villages. People from all over relocate here to work at one of the thousands brick factories, feeding their kilns and producing around 12 million bricks a year.
This rural migration accounted for 60% population growth throughout the 1960s and 1970s. While this growth has slowed since that time, Dhaka continues to show steady growth, with estimates placing the 2020 population at almost 21 million, while 2030 may see as many as 28 million residents as the U.N. is predicting.
Rahima, 19 year old, poses for a picture holding hands with her young child, together with brother and husband at the site of her work in Baliarpur, in the outskirts of Dhaka. They moved here from their village in 2010 in search of work opportunities and a better standards of living, joining the nearly half-million migrants pouring into the capital every year. They could no longer support themselves with farming and they came attracted by lies and false promises.
“We want a decent home, the wedding I couldn’t have before, buy a TV, a goat and be able to give an education to our daughter”.
Urban legends talk about making fortune in the big metropolis, but once arrived people got trapped in this ‘modern-day slavery’. Condemned to a lifetime of hardship to pay back debts to the same people who anticipated them a loan at usurious rates to reach their dream, none of them can escape. It’s a trap that locked them into a repayment cycle which can effectuate indentured servitude, aggravated by an horrific abuse of minimum wage rates and health and safety regulations.
Despite the smoky clouds and this hell perspective it’s still a source of inspiration to see their strength and resilience. Empowered by the desire of a more decent life, they show an extraordinary example of redemption’s humans rights.
Dhaka, the fastest growing mega-city in the world, the future is here and it smells like coal. Rahima’s family is just a drop of the river that is covering and rebuilding the new Bangladesh.