Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Axis of Evil Tigers

I had another good night at the American Club yesterday, and met some more interesting friends of Tania. One of her friends was a documentary film maker who had just come back from the Sundarban region – where the Bengal tiger wildlife preserve is. He had gone down there to speak with the people of an NGO called LEDARS, which specializes in assisting “tiger widows”. Now, I know what you are thinking – they are helping tigers that have lost a mate to human predation – but no. A “tiger widow” is a woman who has lost her husband to a tiger attack. Apparently tiger attacks are a real problem for some of the local populations. More specifically, and somewhat counter intuitively, the victims are mostly fisherman – on boats. These tigers leap and attack fisherman on boats who are fishing too close to the shore in the rivers of the preserve. And I heard figures of as high as 100 people or more get attacked by tigers per year in Bangladesh – that’s almost one tiger attack every three days!

My immediate reaction to this incredible information was excitement; though, I had some immediate remorse for that excitement, as well. I suppose the nature lover in me likes to hear stories of when an animal overcomes man, who has hunted it almost to extinction. It’s just unfortunate that there is a real, and visible human cost to this victory. Moreover, it’s said that once a tiger gets a taste for human meat, it will be a man-eater for life. We are too delicious. However, on the flip side, the film maker also told us about the footage he had seen of when an elderly tiger wandered into a village, because it could no longer catch wild prey, and how the entire village surrounded it and savagely strung it up and beat it to death (the word piƱata was used for description). It seems these people have a somewhat long and mythical relationship with the tigers of the region – like medieval European villagers and dragons - sworn enemies. But these beasts are real.

Another of Tania’s friends told similarly mind-blowing story. Apparently, North Korea owns an international restaurant chain. And even better, there is a location here in Dhaka. Essentially, these restaurants are like typical (South) Korean karaoke bars, but the waitresses – tall, North Korean women in miniskirt uniforms - sing with/for you.  If, like me, you are wondering why such a place exists? Why a state that can’t feed its own people would own and operate an international restaurant chain? The word on the street is that these restaurants serve as money laundering outfits for the North Korean government. Also, the waitresses are forced to remit a certain amount of money back to North Korea each month; and in true North Korean fashion, if they do not, or if they try to flee and seek asylum, their families back in North Korea will be executed.

Now, I am really not fond of the idea of directly supporting the North Korean government, but, needless to say, this is something I have to see for myself. And I would hate to think some poor woman’s family might have been killed because she couldn’t make enough money to send back home during a seasonally slow month. I don’t want that blood on my hands.

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