I have been in Dhaka over two weeks now and have noticed a few things which I will share with you:
Hard-working People The Bangladeshi are an industrious lot, they work so damn hard, it’s evident everywhere. Even in this semi heatwave we are experiencing right now (Lord knows what they call a full-on heatwave if a semi is 40 degrees with up to 70% humidity, and not much of a let up at nighttime!)
- Across the street a new 12-story apartment building is going up and there are oodles of manual laborers toiling in the hot hot sun, day in day out, moving bricks from A to B, one brick at a time.
- The team of men dressed in lungis who are digging a mysterious hole in the middle of the street in the midday sun while I pass by, sweltering in a CNG where I am at least protected from the searing sun.
- The entrepreneurial pavement hawkers selling anything from freshly squeezed cane and fruit juices, to chapati with channa masala for breakfast, to a myriad of tea shops selling all sorts of street foods, to the lady selling what seems to be her excess produce of onions. And this week, for some reason there seems to be an influx of young men selling sports socks. Fell off the back of a truck or something?
- I see Parvin, the housekeeper who, anytime I am there when she comes, gets stuck into scrubbing an already clean apartment with great gusto. There is not much for her to do (how messy can one get?!) but I am afraid to suggest she only come once every two weeks. The first week she came five times, I have reduced her down to three times a week and could sense her disappointment. I can’t bring myself to reduce it any further. She is abhorred that I shop and cook for myself, I am not giving that up very easily! I still pay her the full whack (a pittance really) and my sense is she feels she is not earning it. If she only knew how happy I am not to have to clean the bathroom!
Safer than I was lead to believe As you know, I had such dire warnings of how unsafe Dhaka was that I was a bit paranoid. I have ceased to be paranoid (by day anyway). I’ve trailed off on rickshaws in the locality and CNGs further afield on up to 1.5 hour journeys, on my own, not speaking the language and never once feeling threatened. The usual haggling before getting in so that the price is not outrageous, but that is par for the course. There was one CNG that I backed out of, my gut just told me it was the right thing to do. So that is the good thing – my gut is back and working well. I feel I can trust it now.
Dinner Parties I was invited to Manzoor & Shireen’s apartment for a dinner party. Come at 8pm they said. I live two floors above them so did not have long to walk. Earlier I had picked up a lovely flower arrangement with beautiful local flowers so I was at least not going empty handed. I arrived at 8pm, one of the first to arrive. Slowly all the others started to arrive and by 9.30pm, there were 20+ people at the party. Dinner was served at about 10pm, a feast of rice, chapatis, assorted veggies, deepfried eggplant, beef curry and hilsa in a tamarind curry (hilsa is a favourite fish here in Bangladesh). For dessert we had payesh which is a dessert rice with condensed milk, molasses and grated coconut served with fresh fruit – really delicious. As soon as the food was eaten, people left to my mind rather abruptly, but this is the norm apparently. In Bangladesh, the chatting is done before the eating, and once you are finished eating, you can leave, even if others are still eating. The format is a little different to what I am used to, we usually don’t eat so late and the meal is enjoyed and languished on, rather than an eat & run approach. And there is chatting throughout! When in Rome ….. BTW, there was very interesting bunch of people at the dinner party.
- Shireen herself had just arrived back from Chittagong after delivering Train the Trainer education for teachers, to teach English in a more interactive way – it made me think of Bowen’s very own Matt Maxwell and his methodology of teaching a second language through drama, I shared AIM‘s website with Shireen.
- Many from the NGO world (mostly western) including researchers, program managers, policy makers etc, including a few from microfinance – it was interesting to hear their take on the impact microfinance has and whether it has met it’s goals 40 odd years after the concept was born.
- A renowned Bangladeshi artist Jamal Ahmed who works in acrylics and does some lovely Dhaka scenes. He and his wife are off to the US but on their return, they promised to have me over to see his studio – look forward to that.
- A clothes designer and a farmer – two Bangladeshi ladies breaking the mold by leading the way in their progressive approaches to what they do.
And many more that I just could not spend the time to chat to. Everyone left so fast after dinner!
Grocery shopping Now that I live in Gulshan (the ex-pat ghetto), grocery shopping is like going grocery shopping back in Canada. The stores are air-conditioned, have every conceivable treat an ex-pat would hanker for and are set out with aisles etc, like as if I was back in Canada. The prices are Canadian equivalent too! And to be honest the fruit & veggie selection is not great. So I was delighted to find a market relatively closeby (a rickshaw ride away in this heat) with stalls and stalls of fresh fruit and veg, as well as barrels of rice, chickpeas, lentils etc etc as well as spices galore – brilliant! And the prices are much cheaper too 🙂
Child Beggars These kids are everywhere, it breaks my heart. They plague anyonefor a few taka who remotely looks monied. They are good-natured enough given their circumstances, many are dressed in rags, are injured in some way and definitely look malnourished. Two days ago, I bought a bunch of chapatis and channa masala at a roadside food stall and set it out on a nearby table. I motioned to the stall owner it was food for the kids. He let out a holler and within seconds, there were at least 10 kids inhaling the food. I slipped away quietly, careful not to attract attention as I do not want to be mobbed by these kids every time I walk by. I find myself casing out other stalls in different locations where I could do the same. I really need to check to see if this is the right thing to do. I read these kids are usually recruited by gangs, disfigured in some way to tug at the emotional heart strings (it works) and have targets per day on how much to ‘earn’ and give up to the leaders. If any of you readers have some insights, let me know. I want to do the right thing.
Spectacular Storms are a godsend This semi-heat-wave has made things hot and sticky, but boy do I love love love when a massive storm hits! The sky turns a yellowy-green, the colours are just stunning. The cracks of thunder are nothing like I have heard before and the lightening is literally striking. Then it deluges … really really deluges. And West Coasters (of Canada) think it rains there, it’s a drizzle in comparison. It goes on for about 30 mins, suddenly stops and all is clear and bright. And for a brief period there is a reprieve from the humidity … until all is back to normal and we are at our usual 60-70%.