Interview 20 January 2016
“It’s the same delight for me to help a beauty queen to have more perfect curves, and then see her being happy, as seeing a small Bangladeshi child finally moving his arm, and then smiling at me” – says Dr. Pataki. He wasn’t tired even at half past eight on a Friday night to hang his white coat on, and tell about the stereotypes circling plastic surgery, his charitable mission, and the so-called gratuity – which is a certain amount of money paid to the doctors by the patients in public health care in Hungary and many more countries.
– When I mentioned the term “plastic surgery mission” to a friend, she clapped her hands with joy and said that how cute of you to give free silicone breasts to Southeast Asian women.
– Almost. We are operating children born with birth defects, victims of accidents, and people with burn injuries for free. These are mainly reconstructive surgeries.
– Why Bangladesh?
– Because it was obvious. I always wanted to establish a mission like this. We knew that the plastic surgery service is scarce there.
In a country which has a smaller habitable area than Hungary, there are 160 million residents. It’s only a few meters above the sea level, thus constantly exposed to natural disasters.
If a hurricane comes, the sea level rises, and the villages will be flooded. If it rains in the Himalayas, the water comes through the river Brahmaputra, and will soak them as well.
Earthquakes are frequent, too, and they are also affected by the tsunami. In our materialistic eyes, Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries on Earth, but I’m sure that one of the happiest and the most cheerful, too.
– But with a population density and living conditions like this, not only Mother Nature can run its course…
– Yes, diseases and industrial accidents run their course as well. The case of Rana Plaza was a terrible example of the latter, where nearly 1,200 people died two years ago. An ill-based, hospital-sized building collapsed with people working inside on a public holiday. I went there later, and there is still a huge pit on its place. Especially young women became victims of the tragedy. They made clothes for starvation wages – clothes that we buy for good money from international brands. Not uncommon for these women to work day and night, even when pregnant, for a salary as low as 20-30 dollars a month.
– It sounds like you haven’t just read it somewhere, but saw with your own eyes.
– We visited these factories with our missionary team two years ago, because we were curious about the working conditions. Many young women brought small children to us with joined fingers (syndactyly), with missing ones (symbrachydactyly), even with underdeveloped forearms (clubhand). At first, we didn’t know what might cause these problems in such unusually high rates, then we realized that all the mothers are working at the same factories. They had to earn money during their pregnancy as well, so slept next to the dangerous fabric and textile paints besides other chemicals. Once they touched them without gloves, the toxic compounds got into their bodies. So when pregnant young mothers took a short break next to the sewing machine, their fetus became damaged.
For real, these are the factories of companies whose products are sold here, in our shopping centers. With the Western consumerist approach, that we buy a new one from everything every week, a special demand comes into life which keeps whole nations in slavery. On the other hand, we can contribute to the reorganization of their society from the distance, since a significant portion of people is unemployed there, so these women have become the main breadwinner in their family. More and more independent of men, facing the possibility to decide whether they want children, and if yes, when do they want it. The husband goes to pick up his wife from work with his small rickshaw. In a Muslim country!
Despite the poverty and disasters, there are so many smiles and so much laughter in Bangladesh that I never saw from sober people in Hungary. While we follow the principle of “bigger, more, faster” in our crazy consumer society, it’s difficult to find pure happiness, Bangladeshis are able to find it in simple life and close family ties.
– But why do we hear the name of the country only in the news about disasters?
– Unfortunately, Hungary has only minimal economic and political relations with Bangladesh.
– Is this a conscious refusal, or…?
– I think it’s unintentional, and the relationship between the two countries should be taken to another level. Bangladesh is developing enormously from year to year due to its current leaders. During our last mission, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina invited us to help with the foundation of a national institution specializing in burn victims. So we’re important to the local health policy decision makers. It’s crucial to bring the latest technology, logistics and dare to help there.
Last time they had actually called us because there were many burn victims in the bombings. So it came out of the blue to go for two weeks from Good Friday. Since there’s no Hungarian Ambassador in Bangladesh – only in New Delhi –, Thomas Prinz German Ambassador came to visit our team, when he heard of us in the local news. He came to the hospital. We introduced him to the patients who were after or before the surgery. His interest came so naturally. A diplomat who has been around a lot, but when asked to stand up and say a few words to the hospital staff, began to sob – literally and inconsolably.
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