Tea Sellers’ Bicycles
Socially engaged work of art, 2013
The Laldiar Chor slum is located in the Chittagong's Southern Patenga area, which is built on the banks of the River Karnafhuli. Its inhabitants were ordinary middle class people at first place, but they lost their land due to the Chittagong International Airport and the Bangladesh Military Air Force in the 1990's. Now, most of them live on the fringes of the society without permanent adobe or basic necessities.
I started monitoring two tea sellers, Anowar and Gulap, from Laldiar Chor, and their working day in the Chittagong International Airport. I wanted to take some video clips of them, but a soldier came and pushed them away and asked me to talk to his "Big Boss". It appeared that photographing is prohibited in the airport area. They let me go, but gave pretty hard times to Anowar and Gulap.
Their working day starts at 3 am by fetching clean water, which is not available in Laldiar Chor and has to be carried at distance from the 20 minute walk. Then they carry their three tea flasks by walking to the airport, where is about 40 minute walk to. They work in two shifts: morning and evening, which are defined by the landings and takes off of the airplanes: 4 am - 2 pm and 8 - 11 pm.
I wanted to ease their long and hard journeys to the airport. I suggested a modified bicycle or a back bag, but they rejected the ideas for several reasons. A bicycle would be stolen and they do not have resources to maintain the bicycle. The back bag wouldn't be safe: something might be stolen there without their noticing. They have also to be constantly ready to run away police and soldiers harassing them. They felt that the bikes will only harm their business.
But on the next day after the conversation with Mr. Robii and rethinking the possibilities, Anowar and Gulap changed their mind in the end and wanted to have bicycles, which are designed for their special needs. They considered also changing their working place from the airport to the Naval Street, where army presence is not so strong.
Gulap was already very eager to get his bike. He noted me regularly about a lamp for it. I promised to do my best. Mr. Robii promised to talk with the manager of the airport and negotiate, that Gulap and Anowar can enter to the parking area with their bikes.
Some last finalizations had yet to be done, too, but this time Anowar and Gulap did not let me to touch the bikes at all. They took care of the last things by themselves. That meant they were adopted and accepted bikes totally. It was not any more my project, but their bikes and property.