I’ve had more soup here in Bangladesh than in the whole last year. And it’s a constant 34C (93F). I also have a better home situation here in Dhaka than Brooklyn (and I loved Bushwick).
I left Thailand (read my other blog for stories) and went back to KL, Malaysia for my final flight. In the last week, I spent 30.5 hours in the air on five planes and the biggest feat was that my big backpack wasn’t lost!
Flying on Air Asia to Dhaka, Asia’s best low cost airline (my flight was $58!), I was one of two white people and one of maybe eight women, and one in 180. This explains why everyone kept asking me if I was on the right plane: “Dhaka? No, Dhaka? Yeah? Oh!” It was certainly a ride: bags flying overhead, people switching seats like mad to sit next to wives or friends, little children running up and down the aisle, lots of yelling. Of course, Allah was playing a joke on me because the man next to me had a breathing problem, and if anyone knows me is that I am strongly impatient with random idiosyncrasies like loud breathing and chewing. I laughed to myself and said, “Get over it.” I napped most of the way. As we landed, sitting in the aisle I looked over the seat in front of me. 180 black-haired heads scrambling this way and that to look at their homeland. I thought to myself that many of them might not have taken planes often and maybe this was their first time seeing their home from the sky. For me, I have never seen Bangladesh, only from the sky on Google Satellite.
After the mad dash off the plane, I walk to immigration to find a kind man with my name on a sign. While I love seeing a familiar face off of a plane, Sajil’s tranquil face amongst the shouting was more than welcoming. He is from the Embassy and there to help me go through immigration. As I filled out my immigration form, he waited on the ‘Foreign Passports of Diplomat’s’ Line. He also answered the questions for me to the Bangla guard. I followed him outside a special exit to a private parking lot where we get into the Embassy’s hired van (sorry, Mommy, there were no flags on the front). It was especially crowded at the airport because the Ex-India Prime Minister was visiting.
And then, I saw the traffic of Dhaka. We must have traveled 10km in and hour and a half. Sajil was sweet as we compared Kolkata to Dhaka. They are similar, just Dhaka more extreme and intense in each way: traffic, noise, poverty, Bangla signs. I was wearing my green salwar kameez, traditional South Asia attire, and was comfortable in the air conditioned car sheltered from 30C. Once Sajil was dropped off at his office, the driver told me of his family as we tutted along the crowded streets, rickshaws and motorbikes zooming past our SUV in open spaces between cars. Reminder, Bangladesh drives on the left side of the road (as did the last three countries I was in: Japan, Malaysia, Thailand), and for a split second I jumped thinking we were turning into oncoming traffic. He told me the names of the area, the places to shop, descriptions of the foreign signs. Then we turned down off the paved road. It was getting dark, so all the food stands on the street were lit by candle light, highlighting the prominent Bangladeshi cheekbones.
After some turn around, we found my building: Mohnir Private Limited. There is a nine-foot blue iron gate we drove through. Assuming I am the white girl the family said is living here, the guards let me in and took me up the glass elevator to the 4th floor (technically 5th). Left off the elevator, there are three doors to apartments. One door was open and there stood my new family: Dipali, Barun, their 13 year old daughter, and Dulal. Dipali is Sunita’s aunt/Munju’s sister and Dulal is Munju’s brother/Sunita's Uncle. Needless to say, there is a language barrier so there are those peculiar silences that crop up once pleasantries are finished; a frequent event in Kolkata as well so I’m pro. Smiling at each other, they talk about what to do with me in Bangla (I can’t wait for my classes!).
They show me my room (Sunita’s room) and confirm that I will live here in Banani, 10 minute rickshaw ride from my language school, then move with them near the University once my research begins in September. Though they normally eat dinner around 10, they knew I was hungry. We head outside, walking in twilight in search for a taxi. We hope into a taxi and sift through the traffic to a, oddly enough, Chinese restaurant. I fell asleep squeezed in the back seat with Dipali and her daughter, happy that I have this little family to take care of me, and that the noise and heat of the city hasn’t effected nap time.
We eat dinner, which I am now eating fish and chicken to make meals easier (Bangladesh isn’t a big vegetarian nation like India). Praise Allah the restaurant was air conditioned because I was given soup. Cup goruum (very hot!). With Dhallywood music in the background, I try to share stories of funny incidents in India (i.e. the first time I wore a sari) as Barun gives a little history of Bangladesh (“5000 years ago, there are only farmers and fisherman – no one else!”). The most beautiful gesture was Barun and Dipali saying that when I am here, I am their child too. I smiled and told their daughter that means we are sisters! Quiet most the night, she opened her mouth into a smile and giggled. I am ready to explore my own, but to have this instant comfort and familiarity is not only appreciated, but already loved.
Promising my mother I’d call her, we head to Dipali’s home to use her phone. They showed me my room once September comes: I am so spoiled here. It’s a beautiful traditional home: open spaces, cool marble floors and best of all – no shower bucket! Sorry Mum Mum, but that was difficult. After letting my mother know I’m safe and content, we take the family private station wagon (I can’t escape it!) back to my place.
And the load shedding starts. ‘Load shedding’ is when there is too much electricity pumped into the system that it must shut down to catch itself up (I think, I don’t know if I explained it well…) So there are no lights in my place, therefore no fan except for one emergency light and one fan in the living room. I take out my torch after my family leaves and go to shower (also no bucket!) then the lights come on. The reason I was so happy was because no one has stayed here in months, I was told to look out for mice and roaches… If you know me at all, you know that it took the last bit of jet lagged energy to not jump on a chair at the thought.
I bathed off the salt from the full day of traveling and acquainting myself with the new suffocating city. As I laid in my new bed, fan fluttering overhead, I fell asleep so fast that I didn’t have the time to reflect on my gratitude of these circumstances.
This following week is dedicated to more apprising of the city: registering my language school, getting a cell phone and internet card, debriefing with the US Embassy, learning the directions to where I live (it’s, um, a bit roundabout) and practicing my Bengali (which is coming back quite nicely) by purchasing 23 rolls of toilet paper.
Coming soon: more updates and tune in again for a Cribs video of my flat!