Monday, October 19

My First Rickshaw Accident

In the oldest part of Dhaka, aptly named, Old Dhaka – a friend and I went to do some shopping. Taking a CNG from Banani to Old Dhaka, we wandered around aimlessly until we realized we were not near Hindu Street, the main (and best) shopping street in Old Dhaka. It was my friend Sara’s One Year Anniversary of arriving in Bangladesh on the Fulbright, so her Bangla is impeccable. However, as always, none of the dozens of Bengalis following us understands our accent nor can I understand how a sentence is slurred together into one word.

Finally, one rickshaw driver knows the street – which shouldn’t be surprising because it’s the only street to buy all things Hindu. Then we climb onto what we don’t know to be the Rickshaw of Death.

Driving down new streets in Dhaka is bumpy, so driving down old streets is a whole other game. Dhaka makes a joke out of the video driving games in sports arcades. We keep yelling (yes, yelling) at our driver, “Bhai, ashte!” (Brother, slow!) But he is dodging around and through throngs of people, small streets busy with carts full of animal skins and boys playing futbol. At one point, on fairly wide part of the road, two men were walking hand-in-hand from our right side (reminder, South Asia drives on the left side of the road). Our rickshaw-wallah keeps ringing the bell, warning them of our path. To avoid them, he starts to steer around them—to the right. But, they saw us approaching and stopped walking. So, in this misunderstanding: we kept turning right, they stopped walking to our right…

We smashed in one man with the front wheel and kept rolling until we pushed him up onto the wall and into the sewer. As we are colliding into him, Sara clutches my left knee then jumps to the left off the rickshaw. Being on the right side of the seat, I can’t jump out because I’ll hit the wall, so I grip onto the back of the seat and hang on. We plow into the wall—and the man—and ram to a complete stop. I jump out to see that the back wheels of the rickshaw are in the air.

Within 4.7 seconds, 39 Bangladeshis rush to gawk at the scene. Sara grabs my arm and we exchange glances with eyes widened. We have been told that it is not safe to stay near an accident. It is common for people to attack the driver who caused an accident, in essence to punish him. But no real damage was done to anyone except shock. People start to argue but we get onto the rickshaw and drive off. Our wallah apparently didn’t learn his lesson because he kept pedaling and swerving.

We survived, thank Allah. The rest of the day was spent buying cool Hindu pictures and finding cheesey Bangla movie posters. I found one of the singer I danced in the video with, and we found the movie that Sara starred in called "Chaichi Tomar Bondhuta." I bought the movie—it’s a classic, I'll tell 'ya! Some shop owners recognized her and asked her to autograph their hands. Her one-year survival of Bangladesh, gaining the ability to converse in Bangla, have unique experiences (i.e. starring in a movie) and survive the bureaucracy and accomplish her goals gave me hope to do the same. With several promising meetings this week, I hope my field work will begin soon!

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