Am I green enough?

THERE are those whose entire list of loved ones lives somewhere else. What are they to do? I have decided to try to do everything George Monbiot says.

By Tahmima Anam (Life)

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Published: Sun 27 Apr 2008, 8:53 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 4:12 PM

Perhaps it is because Bangladesh is going to be one of the first countries to be affected by climate change, or because I find myself pumping my fist and saying “Yes!” every time I read one of his articles. The other day he advised us all to eat less meat, and I found myself writing “tilapia” on my shopping list. I have changed all of my lightbulbs and I now recycle religiously; my friends have threatened to teach me to ride a bicycle.

My eating life revolves around a veg box that appears by magic on the doorstep every Tuesday with notes on how best to prepare purple-sprouting broccoli. But there is one thing I cannot do, and this makes me incredibly sad, because I understand — and fully endorse — all the reasons for its importance. Yet it is something I don’t believe I can ever change: flying.

My parents first left Bangladesh for Paris in 1977, when my father accepted a job with the UN. A year later, our suitcases crammed with gifts (blenders, aspirin, hairdryers, chocolate), we flew home on an Aeroflot flight via Moscow. Twenty-seven hours later, waiting at Dhaka airport was our entire extended family, crowding the arrivals lounge and pressing their faces against the glass partition.

Monbiot says that “love miles” represent the distance between us and the people we love. In his book he talks about people who have friends across the seas, perhaps a sister or an aunt who has decided to leave Britain for warmer climes, and the moral dilemma of boarding a plane to visit them. But there are those of us whose entire list of loved ones lives somewhere else. What are we to do?

The gifts have changed — you can get aspirin anywhere now — and the flights are shorter, but I still look forward to my trips to Bangladesh with childish excitement: the thrill of the wheels hitting the tarmac, my father waving hello from the arrivals gate, the humid, banana-tinged smell of Dhaka that makes its way on to the plane even before the doors have opened. There is no other way to live apart, no other way to make it OK that our lives happen in each other’s absence, than to allow ourselves the promise of regular visits.

And it is not only the wealthy who travel now. Salman Rushdie has called ours the ‘age of migration’, and this is true for the poorest countries as well as the richest. There are more Bangladeshis living outside of Bangladesh than ever before; they work as labourers in Dubai and Malaysia; they are domestic servants in Spain, fruit vendors in New York, trinket-sellers in Rome. These men — they are mostly men — send an enormous portion of their income to their relatives in Bangladesh; at the moment, the Bangladesh economy receives $2bn a year from this so-called ‘manpower industry’, eclipsing all other sources of revenue. Bonging for their loved ones, and usually, as soon as they are able, they will fly home. Going home is the whole point of leaving in the first place.

The economic and environmental crises that grip Bangladesh today are driving people to seek their fortunes on distant shores; what a cruel irony it is, then, that their flying back will mean the destruction of this very home, and the worsening of the problems that led them to leave in the first place.

Guardian News Service

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