The Power of Perspective

As I progress reading this journey by Mr. Timmerman, one thing I appreciate is his ability to incorporate the perspectives of people he encounters. In Chapter 8 titled “Arifa, The Garment Worker”, he actually begins by describing a special advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon. It is brief, but Timmerman begins the chapter by describing Mr. Moon as bland and serious. Although, these are the characteristics you would use to describe someone writing about labor laws and what is going on in countries like Bangladesh. What I think troubled Timmerman about Mr. Moon was that he had been known for writing many pieces about how the work and labor of garments was actually good for the people of Bangladesh. He even attempted to make it sound beneficial to women and families. With this information, Timmerman created a very distinct image in my mind of this man as he described his posture and even Moon’s office space. I think Timmerman ultimately includes these brief details about Moon because he wants the reader to understand the importance of knowing who is writing about these conditions. He wants consumers and readers to know exactly the type of person who is going into these shops, writing about them, and how their perspective is purely financially based rather than looking out for the well-being of the factory workers.

Attached is an image of Timmerman and some of the garment workers he met on his journey.

Timmerman’s main focus in this chapter was Arifa, a woman worker at the garment factory. Timmerman sets out to follow Arifa from sunup to sundown to determine if her work makes her feel empowered or dehumanized, two totally different extremes. The conditions of Bangladesh are daunting and threaten Timmerman’s task . The author wants to get up and start his observing and questioning at 5am, but the hotel clerk warns him otherwise. He tells him it is very dangerous to be in the streets before 10am because of the threat of hijackers. Timmerman then replies that he just will not bring anything. Extremely frightening to me, the clerk even claimed these hijackers would then just stab someone like Timmerman because they would be angry he did not have anything valuable on him. This scenario ties back to a previous topic I discussed in my first blog. One of the major issues with these sweatshop factories is the areas they are located. We see the author yet again in a situation where their life is threatened and they are not even in the factory yet. This is such a foreshadowing and contribution to the factory conditions. In following Arifa, Timmerman wants to discover if Arifa is able to support her and her family on less than $1 a day. By the looks of her apartment, smell of her building, decay of her belongings, and the fact that she keeps her rice and vegetables underneath one of the family’s two beds, Timmerman is lead to believe it is not. This is just so humbling for me to read because it opens up my eyes to the real conditions some people must face and live with. Arifa is a real women trying to make a living under $1 a day and is living this life. Timmerman even describes how she cooks for no less than 7 people at a time, has an apartment that is full of stench and stains, and still supports a family. She even has a business sense and subleases out an apartment across from her’s to some of her coworkers at the factory. Timmerman continues to describe the life Arifa lives and it just gets worse and worse. Finally after a day of walking the streets and following the everyday life of his new friend, they make it to the Standard Garment factory. Although, Timmerman does not get the tour he desires. Arifa describes to the author that his presence any farther might cause a problem. She goes into detail how the consumer is never supposed to meet the producer and the hardships they face. She does not want to put her job or safety on the line, so she kindly asks Timmerman not to follow her into the factory. This was the end of the journey for Timmerman and Arifa, a rather anticlimactic one. One thing the author clearly taught the reader though was about living conditions of these workers. When you are getting paid less than $1 a day you learn to appreciate little things and stop caring about others. We who live the luxurious life of the western world do not understand this concept. In this chapter though, Timmerman humbles us and sheds light on a whole different, broken world. I appreciate the depth of detail Timmerman goes into because it allows the reader to truly grasp these conditions.

Above is a chart to understand the perspective of people who are working for less than a dollar per day. This is a direct correlation with the working conditions they are experiencing.

The next chapter I will describe to you is titled “Labor Day”. This chapter begins by discussing the author’s visit to Cambodia on Labor Day. Here he goes into similar detail of experiences he has had in Honduras and Bangladesh. Is this tight closed city, Timmerman witnesses more begging than he has ever seen, especially from children. What is interesting about this chapter is it is May 1st when Cambodia “celebrates” Labor Day, but in America it is celebrated in September. This point is important because I think we look at these days from very different perspectives. For the people of Cambodia it is nothing really different from an ordinary day. For Americans, we think back to 1886 when workers protested down the streets of Chicago to provide them with an 8-hour work day. How little did we know that we would soon be worried about more important things like keeping our jobs in our country, not even the duration of the day. I like that the author chose to describe this day following depicting it in another country. It shows how times can change so drastically and how perspectives are completely different from two different worlds.

Above is a link to an article that discusses how the Cambodian workers took a stand on “Labor Day” against their poor working conditions.

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