Dhaka and back again

Trip Start Sep 05, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Bangladesh  ,
Thursday, February 28, 2008

In a column today in Bangladesh's flagship newspaper the Daily Star, a report polled readers worldwide soliciting the answer to the question, "what do you think of when you hear the word Bangladesh?" The top five answers were:
1. Natural Disaster
2. Poverty
3. Political instability
4. Corruption
5. Grameen/ Prof Yunus

It is important to remember that, like many of the countries I have been through at this point, things are not black and white, and almost never as they seem to be at first. Our trip to Dhaka on the steamer a few days ago was again, no exception. Upon arrival in Massua, which itself is no more than a loading dock for metal traders and shopkeepers, we waited for 2 hours in the early morning for the lasy arrival of the local ticket issuing authority. He was quick to inform us that tickets would not be possible on first or second class "no ticket, boat full" These situations require confident persistence. We repeatedly bugged the ticket man at ten minute intervals or so until he started double fisting cell phones and making calls. After forty minutes of this we were happily informed that a first class cabiin was in fact a possibility. More cell phone usage, and we were again saddened when we were told that, no, no cabin possible, come back tomorrow. Along with persistence, it is often a good idea to see things through in person, and deal with the actual person in charge, face to face and on the spot. I decided it would be best to wait fort the boat, board the boat and speak with the captain if necessary to sus out the real situation. After a long discussion and several rounds of negotiations, the first engineer and captain agreed to give up their cabins for a healthy fee. Dhaka, here we come.

I was in fact looking forward to getting away from Rayenda for a couple of days. I still have not yet figured out if any of the Bangladeshis ever sleep in Rayenda. At all hours of the night, and most hours of the day, there are council community gatherings, mosque calls to prayer and mosque gatherings, and they all explore the capabilities of megaphones to the fullest. I still have to chuckle every day as the mosque in front of our house does not have the luxury of a megaphone, the man in charge simply stands on the roof and calls out at the top of his lungs.

The food at the Hansd On house has in fact been wonderful thanks to our cook Lovely. However it has been traditional for Hands on to provide oatmeal for those volunteers who in this case do not want to eat spicy chickpea every day for breakfast. Of course, oats and many other things like electricity are not available reliably in Rayenda and as a result it is left to whomever may be in Dhaka as we near critical lows to bring back the coveted western breakfast fare. I had been told that the diplomatic zone was the only place to find such a strange and foreign product as oats, so the "supermarkets" there is where I began. Apparently, Dhaka is not only currently in the throws of a power shortage, a potable water shortage and a rice shortage, but it is also at a critical stage in its supply of oats. In the fourth market I visited, I happened upon a supply of my sought after oats, and reporting back to base to ask how much to buy, I was told to buy as much as I could buy. They had tins of half kilo each of oats, so I figured 20 would do for a while. The ensuing scene was eye candy for Bangladehis. I left the shop victorious in my quest of massive amounts of oats, and in typical Bangladehsi style, I hoisted the box of 10 kilos of oats above my head ready for transport back to my hotel. The sight of a foreigner carrying a huge and heavy box over his head excited many locals and was an immediate target for the same three questions I am always asked, "what is your country?, what is your religion? and what is your business in bangladesh?" My reply to the third question often draws a much needed blank stare, as Bangladeshis cannot fathom how I can possibly be working for free in a part of their own country they have never heard of. This blank stare is the freedom to continue about my way without further distractions. I crossed major roadways and dodged rickshaws in back alleys until my arms grew tired and I had to enlist the help of a cycle rickshaw.

Back to Rayenda now for me. Kristina has made the much needed decision to return to the USA to begin the rest of her life. Her decision to go and my decision to stay has nothing to do with the state of our relationship, rather it is a decision we have both had to make regarding our current state of mind in our respective lives.
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Ashik on

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