I was born in a country called Bangladesh – a country half a world away. I live today in the United States. I have never felt as disconnected from the land of my birth as I do today.
It is a cold sunny afternoon in the suburbs of Washington DC. The daily din of commerce is all around me, yet my mind is elsewhere. Yesterday it rained steadily all day here as I followed the news on the Internet. Half a world away, on the other side of our planet, my people were dying.
Tropical Cyclone Sidr struck the coastline of Bangladesh Thursday night Bangladesh time while it drizzled in Washington. The full force of the Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph struck a country which is mostly at or slightly above sea level. The storm made landfall at high tide with a massive storm surge coming ashore to the east of the eye. The latest reports indicate at least 1,100 people have lost their lives. That number is sure to rise in the coming hours, days and weeks as communications are restored to the affected areas and as rescuers reach the most devastated regions. All communications to the southwestern coast of Bangladesh are down. Power is down in most of the country, including the capital city of Dhaka, which is in the interior. My attempts at reaching my relatives by phone in both the capital city and the port city of Chittagong failed last night, perhaps due to downed utility lines or due to the volume of calls from outside the country flooding the international circuits.
I mostly blog about politics and foreign policy. We in the blogs often debate important issues of domestic and foreign policy. I often write about the dream of democracy in Bangladesh. But what I write about and what we in the blogs debate is fundamentally about the people. Last night in Bangladesh countless people – men, women, children, real families who laughed and cried, who shared happy and sad times – perished. We have not yet counted all who have died and we may never be able to count the families that have been taken by the sea. We will never know all of their names. Soon, as the death toll climbs, we will only remember them as part of a larger number – one part in a thousand or maybe tens of thousands. But we will know this. We will know that yesterday they were among the living, and today they are no more.
It is difficult sitting here in Washington to fathom what has happened on the other side of the planet. However, Bengalis are my people and I feel an unexplainable bond toward their human condition. Yesterday I was referred by an online friend to this post on the Daily Kos about the then aproaching Sidr. It was a post that was on the Recommended List at Daily Kos. The day before there was another post on Daily Kos about Sidr. The posts and the comments give me hope that there are those on this planet who genuinely care for others, even those that live in distant lands and seem so different. It gives me hope.
Earlier this year I wrote about the overwhelming American response to the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh. That response saved over 200,000 lives. It gives me hope.
Today I cannot write much about the facts and figures of the devastation that Sidr has wreaked on the people and the land of Bangladesh. In the coming days there will be many reports, each likely to be more horrific than the other. Today I write about losing a portion of humanity to the random brutality of nature. The relief work will soon begin and many survivors will have to be rescued and rehabilitated in the coming days. My thoughts today are with those who perished and with those who survived. Bangladesh to its people is known as Sonar Bangla, or, Golden Bengal. Many times before Bengalis have had to rebuild their Golden Bengal from the ravages of man and nature. That work again begins today.
[Note: Donations for cyclone relief can be made online at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies]