By Shea Parton
Photos by Atish Saha
Last night, I had a pretty hard time sleeping after I saw a tiny mouse scrambling around the room I'm staying in. Before heading to bed, I actually saw the mouse try to drink out of the bucket I'm using for a shower—and fall right in. I didn't have the heart to pull him out and just went to bed (I'm sorry, I realize this was not my proudest moment as a human). Lying in bed, I kept thinking that the mouse had jumped out and was near my pillow, and at one point, I jumped up because I thought I felt the mouse having a midnight nibble on my ear! I finally fell asleep, but woke up abruptly at 4:30am to the sound of the early morning prayer call from a nearby mosque. Needless to say, between the mouse and the dawn patrol loudspeakers, my slumber was somewhat troubled—but when you're in Bangladesh, you've just got to enjoy the moment. When I woke up in the morning and went to brush my teeth, I was surprised to see the mouse still managing to doggy-paddle in the water bucket. I've got to hand it to the Bangladeshi mice—they are absolute champs.
Ghayasuddin (the General Manager for our co-op partner in Saidpur) and I had a morning conversation over breakfast, which we broadcast live on the @Apolis Instagram. Ghayasuddin shared what Fair Trade certification involves: transparency and accountability, opportunities for disadvantaged workers, gender equality, safe working conditions, and respect for the environment—along with no child labor, forced labor, or discrimination. I then asked Ghayasuddin to clarify the difference between the local minimum wage and the wage received by the mothers who make our market bags.
For a family of three, the monthly minimum wage in the area is 6,000 taka ($90 USD). Ghayasuddin told me that the moms who make the Apolis Market Bag receive pay that is 20% higher than the minimum wage, in addition to benefits and job security. Additionally, the moms have access to the Saidpur co-op's annual profit. Last year, each mother received around 15,000 taka (over $200 USD) as their portion of profit, which they used to pay family hospital bills and rebuild their homes—we'll share more about this in the coming days. The co-op also uses a separate portion of their profits to provide school supplies for children whose parents cannot afford to purchase these items, without which they would not be able to attend school at all. Programs like these are rare in rural communities and Ghayasuddin told us that demand is growing for similar projects. We are honored to be a part of this project and that we get to help the families of Saidpur by supporting the growth of their industry.
After our spontaneous Instagram live conversation, we took a 90-minute road trip to the site of Rana Plaza, an eight-story building which collapsed on April 24, 2013, killing 1,134 garment factory workers. The site stands as a tragic testament to the consequences of manufacturing done in unsafe conditions. Oftentimes, the stories of how products are made overseas can be discouraging—dangerous working conditions, factory disasters, unfair wages, etc. That's another reason we at Apolis feel so humbled and grateful that we get to be part of the story of Saidpur Enterprises, with its safe working conditions and fair wages. It's the kind of partnership Apolis is all about, with our goal of providing consumers with a quality product at a fair price, in a way which also benefits the artisans who make the product. We aren't naive to the fact that it can be a challenge to scale manufacturing and remain profitable, but are committed to doing our best to wisely invest in supply chains and foster long-term relationships for the good of all parties involved.
After seeing Rana Plaza, we stopped for lunch and spent the afternoon in Old Dhaka at Buriganga Riverfront, where I got to enjoy watching the boating life there. In the 90-degree heat, I definitely was starting to stick out as the token sweaty white dude, but I have to admit the shameless shaka always breaks the ice and gets a smile. By the end of the day, I think I was getting carpal tunnel from throwing so many shakas.
We then headed back to the ECOTA Fair Trade Forum, where we are staying while in Dhaka. On the drive home, I dozed off a few times, and missed out seeing the rain pick up. Since the city drains are all clogged with trash, just 30 minutes of rain can cause immediate flooding in the streets. We were stuck behind a two-foot puddle for 10 minutes until our driver figured out a creative way to maneuver over some boards and get to higher ground. I regret to say that I slept through the whole thing, but that evening, I did get to enjoy a dinner with two of the chairmen on Saidpur Enterprises' Board of Trustees.
The women who make the market bag rest all day Friday and part of Saturday, so tomorrow I'm planning to grab some quick surfing at Cox's Bazar—which, at 75 miles, boasts the world's longest uninterrupted beach. I'm excited for what the coming days will bring, and I can only hope that the midnight mouse will make another cameo appearance before the trip is through—perhaps to take a bite out of my ear (he's earned it). So stay tuned as we continue our Bangladesh updates over the coming days, sharing the people, stories, and images behind the market bags. You can catch live broadcasts on the Apolis Instagram, as well as daily updates with photos right here on the Apolis Journal. Below are some images from Day Two, along with some links to my gear for the trip. Thanks for reading!