Impressions of Dhaka

I arrived in Dhaka on Monday, about 4 hours later than anticipated due to snow in London. I didn’t know it snowed in London in April very often! But apparently it can happen. And when it does, it seems to mess up Heathrow’s flight schedules, but then what doesn’t!? Other than the delay, the trip was uneventful. Arriving here I was picked up at the airport by the hotel, checked in and had a shower, then went to our project office. And since then, I have returned to the hotel and then back to the office on a daily basis. The project car comes to pick me up in the morning and drop me off in the evening. I feel like I’m living in a bubble! I see Dhaka from out of the car windows. It really is odd. I’m hoping to break out of the bubble and venture into the out of doors sometime soon.

However, from out of my windows, Dhaka seems to be a very interesting place. First of all, it is full of people. Jam packed! The population of the city is about 11 million (yep about 1/3 of the people in our entire country), and when you take into account all the people who commute into the city to work, the number is even bigger. There are people everywhere. And the traffic is insane! I mentioned today to a coworker that it was amazing that anyone gets anywhere in this city! First of all, there are the rickshaws, which drive on the roads as if they were cars, in every lane. Then there are the auto-rickshaws (which have by law all been converted to run off of natural gas recently, decreasing air pollution in the city), which also drive like cars on the roads. Then there are the cars, motorbikes, buses, and generally any other motorized transportation! The buses are packed with people, and so is the train that runs through the city. There are even people sitting on top of the train as it goes by. You can imagine that all these cars, not to mention the industry, lead to some pretty bad air pollution. You can see the smog over the city. And before the auto-rickshaws were converted it used to be worse.

Out of the windows I have also noticed that Bangladesh is a very colourful place. All the women wear the most beautiful saris and other traditional outfits. The rickshaws are all decorated with colour. The food is fantastic, very similar to Indian, and also full of colour (and spice! I think my tolerance for spicy food should increase after this trip). However, it is also a country full of poverty that can be seen at every turn. In Ottawa, there are the panhandlers that hang around stop lights. In Bolivia, there are a few of those as well, generally old ladies or children walking by cars at stoplights. Here, you can’t stop the car without someone tapping on the window asking for change and staring in at you in your air-conditioned comfort. It really is disconcerting. Today, a lady with a baby was tapping on the car window, and the baby was banging on the window too, copying what the mother was doing.

The people seem very polite and generally friendly. I have really only dealt with the people on our project team, who are all being so helpful, and the people at the hotel. I have never been greeted so many times from the front door to my room! The culture is very different. Especially coming from a year in Bolivia. First of all, men don’t hold doors open for women. There is also no beer or wine on the menu in the hotel. In Bolivia there is no place that you can’t buy beer, even random corner stores. The service is excellent. In the restaurant all you have to do is raise your eyes and a waiter comes right over. Today, the waiter even offered me something and I didn’t know what it was so he went into the kitchen and got a flatbread for me to try. In Bolivia, you have to shout across the room to get the waiters attention.

So far I am enjoying my time here, although I really want out of this weird bubble! Being here is actually making me miss Bolivia, because there I knew the systems – I knew how to get around, where to go, and who to ask for one thing or another. Here I know nothing and no one. Such is the life of a consultant on short term missions. The hotel is full of them. There are always several people in the hotel restaurant eating alone and reading a magazine. I am one of those people. I know I will have a few opportunities to see the city, and am looking forward to those times. But mostly I am here to work, and work is what I have been doing pretty much every waking minute since I arrived. I also have to remember that in my first few weeks in Bolivia, it was exactly the same feeling of not knowing anything about the place. It just takes time! Only this time I haven’t got a lot of time. I am now scheduled to fly back to Ottawa on April 24th, after extending my trip for a week due to unforeseen circumstances.

That’s about all for now. Will hopefully take and post some photos soon.

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Posted in Bangladesh | travel | work Submitted by Meg on Wed, 2008-04-09 11:22

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