Friday, September 22, 2006

Crankin It Up a Notch

this was a light traffic moment of the day

streets of dhaka

Saturday, June 24, 2006
crankin it up a notch

One of these days I will put some photos up on the blog and my space spot, but for now the words are coming first. We got internet in the house, which was how I got the first blog entries up, and then it mysteriously disappeared for the past three days. Friday and Saturday is the weekend here, as Friday is the day for going to the mosque and participating in prayers and the weekly sermon (Jummah). We had a fat chance of someone coming a fixing the server on this day, but as they have been indulging us foreigners to the maximum amount, not one but three tech guys came out this Saturday morning. It took them all of two minutes to discover that one of the students had unknowingly unplugged the modem adapter from the wall socket and that was the source of the trouble. It takes a professional, well actually three, to figure that out. They laughed at us and left. Then we all began to arm wrestle for who would use the computer first.

Though I am the largest person here I waited until the evening time to write, as I am completely and utterly exhausted from adventures of yesterday. On our last school outing on Thursday, I asked our head teacher how to get into Old Dhaka, the oldest and most congested part of the city. Her entire demeanor changed, the blood ran from her face, and her eyes bulged out, You cant go there! she exclaimed. Thinking that she was just reacting I asked her again if it was alright if I went and she agreed I spoke enough Bangla to get there and back. She said if any other students wanted to go they could only go with me and that they were under my charge. I thought to myself, really how bad could it be?

Arent those famous last words? Yes, the answer is yes. It took a long time to find a taxi that day, as most everyone was at the mosque. After half and hour of looking we got a taxi that is not much more than a tin-can on wheels that runs on compressed natural gas. That is a really good thing in helping to reduce the incredibly awful pollution of Dhaka. Compressed natural gas is just about the only natural resource of Bangladesh. It took us one and a half hours to find a small street we were looking for inside of the hectic and crowded markets of Old Dhaka. The street is called Shakari Bajar, the one Hindu community area of all of Dhaka. And it was just one tiny street. In this market, especially, are artisans of musical instruments and conch bangals (bracelets) worn by married women of Bengali Hindu and Buddhist communities. I can never find these big enough for my giant arms, so I was primarily on a mission to find conch bangals (Shakari---for which the market road is named).

For the sake of my three American friends in my care for the outing, all our driving around to find the market was eye-opening. We passed through many markets selling all kind of wares. Very often times, one street will have many small stores selling the same items. In that way, its not like the States with the thought of business competition. It is rather consumer sensitive: one-stop shopping. We passed the plastic and bucket street, the bamboo matting street, the vegetable street, the fruit street, the cheap western clothes street, the slaughter a bunch of chickens street, and the real capper: the goat-meat street. One of the ladies in the car exclaimed, Look at the goat meat hanging up! Look at those cute live goat tied up in the storefront! Oh my God look at those goat heads!! Why are there goat heads???

It was then that I understood that just with the taxi ride alone, my friends had reached their limits. They dutifully kept it together as we journeyed in the market and found the small doorways, congested atmospheres, and raw sewage floating along the edges of the tiny roads was walked down all enchanting.

We had completed our tour of Shakari Bajar and then faced the task of getting out of the market. A task that was. If you read any travel books on Dhaka they all describe Old Dhaka to be like the crowded and congested streets of Varanasi, India. Having been to Old Dhaka now I can say that it is that and then some. Old Dhaka is most likely the craziest place I have ever been to. It took of one and a half hours to get out of the maze of circular and diagonal streets, the entire time trying to find a big street that taxis would drive down in order to get back to our posh part of the city. Heat and dehydration was setting in on everyone and I was getting a little tensed about the status of our group. We needed to eat four hours prior to this point, and I could see the strain on my friends faces.

By this time, crowds of people are amassing around us, lots of locals are whipping out their cell phone cameras and taking pictures of us, and the girls are starting to freak out a little. I grabbed hands and went over to a seller of green coconuts, and refreshed myself with some fresh coconut water. They giggled at the sight of my satisfaction, and began to count the number of onlookers gawking at our site. Just a mere fifty.

When we had all finished my yummy coconut, I announced to the large group of Bangalis that we needed a taxi, preferably an air-conditioned taxi, to head back to our part of town. Within minutes an ac taxi was procured and our new friends in the crowd had organized the fare price of us. All fifty saw us of waving and cheering.

It wasnt until we got to a Chinese restaurant that the totality of the experience began to set in. I was just so happy we made it there and back with all four limbs in tact, it took me a while to ponder that really the market was only twenty-five percent open that day. That meant twenty-five percent of the people, twenty-five percent of the cars and buses and rickshaws, and twenty-five percent of the shops open. I decided then and there that maybe that would be my one trip into Old Dhaka and that I cant even imagine what it is like in full-tilt-boogie mode.

So the moral of the story is that the teachers face got so panicked for a reason, that she was completely and utterly right about Old Dhaka being utter madness and too much for foreigners to take on their own, and thank God I could speak a word or two of Bangla. At the end of it all, and after many thank yous from the three American girls I dragged along to Old Dhaka, I turned and thanked them for giving me something to put on this blogmore soon--à

Four Winds



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