My First Day in Bangladesh

What can I say about Dhaka that has not already been said.

It is a vortex of colorful movement that brings you into it’s hold, spins you about and throws you back out. I was more adventurous today than I had been in Bangalore (India – where I went about a year ago). The first day here I caught a CNG (or a three-wheeled caged auto-rickshaw) to the market for 250 Taka ($3) for an hour ride.

An auto-rickshaw is a life defying contraption, hurling down the road, fighting against large buses and trucks with no regard to its size or safety. Bangladesh is a poor country and here safety is somewhat redefined in a necessity defined by survival. Construction workers either wear sandals or work in bare feet carrying re-bar sections 20 feet in length. People dodge in an out of traffic which is moving at alarming speeds. And as we weave in and out of passing cars I try to clear from my mind Newton’s third law: for every force there is an equal and opposite reaction.

In the market I haggle and one storekeeper brings out a tray of three cups of tea. I thought of the book with the same title that Mari and I listened to on our road trip this summer. Drink they say. I am content and smile not knowing if we change the subject and start talking about family. In the end I will pay three times the price for a cheaply made backpack but come to realize that’s OK. In the moment I feel taken advantage of but the truth is probably the reverse. I also buy a calculator because I need some way of communicating about prices. For the rest of the day I type out numbers on the calculator and hold it up to make an offer.

Next I head to Ahsan Manzil, a palace museum, and then Shankhari Bazar, a narrow street of Hindu artisans and craftsmen. This is old Dhaka and the streets are narrow, bordered by three story stone buildings and packed with the colorful bicycle rickshaws. I ride two rickshaws in old Dhaka and also set out on foot.

I made friends. I talked with **Rashidi** who pointed me to a great lunch place and then we started talking about traveling, the city and work. I spoke with **Nasir** who earned a masters in literature about corruption in the government. What I found is that everywhere I go I am surrounded by people eager to talk. Whenever I do stop I draw a crowd. In Shsan Manzil, someone asked me my name and 8 people drew in close to hear me speak. None, including the one who asked, knew any more English. Many do know English and it is through them I learn about what it means to live here. People want to know what I do, how long I am here and where I am from. And of course they ask, “What do you think of our Country Bangladesh?”




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