Wednesday, June 13, 2007


17 hours on a plane and 24 hours of combined travel time (actual travel + waiting in airports) is not my idea of a good time. I made it to Bangladesh, however, so all is well. When the plane was landing, I eagerly looked out the window, trying to get an aerial view of the city. I had no such luck, though, as the humidity quickly fogged over the windows. Zia International Airport is unlike any American or European airport in that there are no shops or seated waiting areas. Upon disembarking, everyone must get into their appropriate queue – Bangladeshi Passport, Immigration, or Foreign Passport. Our group waited in line and had each of our passports and landing cards processed for a grand total of about an hour. Then we were finally able to go out into the world again.

My immediate thought upon exiting the airport was that I had stepped into a greenhouse. The air was thick and breathing required extra effort. A small bus, owned by the university, was waiting to take us to our housing. As we rode, many of the other students remarked how clean the city was, particularly in relation to Calcutta, where many of them have been before. I should clarify that Dhaka is not clean. It is merely not dry and dusty, as I gather that Calcutta is. Many of the larger buildings look as though they are only half built, or as though they were hit by a hurricane and never repaired. This appears to be true throughout the city. As we moved further into the city, I saw many “stalls” lining the streets. Constructed of bamboo and corrugated tin, all of these three-sided shops tilt awkwardly to one side. Approximately every fifth shop had a display of bananas hanging in the doorway.

We made our way into the Baridhara district, which is where our housing is. Baridhara is in the diplomatic sector, and we were repeatedly assured that it is very safe and far more luxurious than any other place in the country. “To Let” signs boast European style flats. It is my interpretation that European style means tiled floors and bathrooms with showers and toilets. I share a flat with five other girls, and am lucky enough to have my own room. (There are only four students that have to share rooms in the whole program, but I am so thankful that I am not one of them!) We have three bathrooms, but only one working toilet – and the seat of that toilet is broken and held together by clear packaging tape. There are three showers though, and all of them have hot water. (One of the other flats had no hot water the first day, and on the second day had no water at all.) Also, there are cockroaches the size of a big toe in our kitchen, despite the fact that we don’t have any food or even a trash bin. I don’t know what they are eating, but they certainly don’t look malnourished! So yes, the luxury is that we have a toilet and showers! On the plus side, the flat I live in is 3 blocks from the house where our breakfasts and dinners are served (henceforth referred to as “the house” because it is the central meeting place), and 4 blocks from where our classes are held.

We were given a couple of hours to shower and rest, then a lunch of rice, mixed vegetables, and fried fish was provided for us. We have a sort of chef/butler named (or at least pronounced) Milan. I think all of the work is actually done by a woman, as I have seen her in the kitchen, but she doesn’t ever speak, and Milan seems to take it as his sole duty that we are well fed. He (or more likely the mysterious she) also does our laundry for us. It’s sort of a strange feeling to sit at a table and have someone put food in front of you, and to have someone else do your laundry. We are all a little uncomfortable with it, but still very grateful.

After lunch, we went to our first class, where we met our teachers. There are 6 of them altogether, though I can’t even begin to tell them apart yet. After being given the “don’t drink the water” lecture for the 7th time so far, we learned how to introduce ourselves to others and how to ask another person what their name is. We also learned a greeting and a farewell. The greeting translates roughly to “Peace be upon you,” but the farewell is very specific to the Muslim culture, and translates to, “God be with you.” The transliteration for the farewell is “Allah haphej.” You can also say “Khoda haphej,” which is a more general word for “God.”

I’m all about the transliteration. The teachers keep insisting that we just listen and repeat what they say, but the acoustics of the room make it incredibly hard to hear them, and even harder when we all parrot back some garbled interpretation at the same time.

After class, Kira, one of the students from last year, took us out to Golshan Two – another district. Some of the girls bought Salwar Kameez at a fixed-price shop (no one is able to bargain at the marketplace yet). I bought an “orna,” which is basically like a shawl you wear backwards. I’m not too keen on it, as it makes me feel like I’m choking, but it’s a modesty thing, and people tend to look at you like you’re horribly immoral when you don’t wear one (so much so that we were aware of it on the first day). It was 190 taka, which is roughly $2.70.

We met back at the house at 7:30 for dinner (oven baked chicken, spicy potatoes, something like vegetable tempura, and lychee for dessert). After dinner, we waded back to our respective flats and all of us went straight to bed. My bed, in optimistic terms, is like sleeping on the beach – which is to say that it is softer than lying on concrete, but not softer than sand. Additionally, Bangladeshi pillows are the most useless things ever. They are about 9 inches tall, and just as hard as the mattress. The first night, I tried to use them, and found that the only way to do so was to prop my head and shoulders on them (to avoid having my neck at a 90-degree angle) so that my body was in a half sitting position. That didn’t really work, so I tried getting rid of them altogether. Also quite uncomfortable. At 1:45 a.m., I had the brilliant idea of inflating my little neck pillow from the plane. While by no means ideal, I was finally able to sleep!


Your Favorite DISA Employee said...

You housing reminds me of the movie "Entrapment", where Kathrine Zeta Jones and Sean Connery stayed in Malaysia. Their apt. is very similar to yours.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for reminding me to read is the best way to go about it because you are documenting your journey beautifully! I love it.

Take care my friend - we miss you!