Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rickshaw Adventure

The picture to the left is directly across from my balcony. It is a mosque under construction. The park is the only one our director has found in the whole city (he's lived here for 7 years). You can sort of tell how thick the haze is from the photo too.

We had breakfast at the house before class today, which consisted of fried eggs, toast, bananas, tea, and Nescafe (instant coffee). This, they said, will be the same every day. It was good, and I am totally cool with having it regularly.

Class began at 9:30, and most of us were pretty groggy from a rough night and the set in of jet-lag. We introduced ourselves one by one to the teachers, then they did the same. We then spent an hour learning the vocabulary necessary to use a rickshaw:

Aye rickshaw walla! (The equivalent of haling a cab, with a hand signal)
Baridhara jabo. (I want to go to Baridhara).
Koto neben? (How much are you asking?)
Tika che (Ok.)
Na (No.)
- I should mention that nothing has a fixed price, and everything is up for negotiation. This made the whole rickshaw thing kind of futile, since we don’t know the numbers, we didn’t know how much they were asking for, and couldn’t bargain with them.

Dani jan (Go right.)
Bami jan (Go left.)
Shota jan (Go straight.)
Tamo (Stop.)

After parroting this exact dialogue back to the teachers over and over again, we went outside to hail rickshaws. They are EVERYWHERE, so actually hailing them was not a problem. As I mentioned, however, since we didn’t know the words to bargain with them, our teachers had to intervene, explain that we are learning Bangla, and get them to commit to five taka. Our teachers got on with us, and off we went.

Riding a rickshaw is pretty scary. They dart in and out of traffic (there are no lines on the roads in Bangladesh, which means it’s pretty much a free-for-all, as long as you generally stay to the left), and you find yourself inches from, if not touching, other cars and buses. Additionally, because there are so many rickshaws, their wheels got stuck together a few times, and they yell at and purposefully bump into each other with relative frequency.

We went to a tea shop and had tea with our teachers and talked about how to dress properly, then went back to our classrooms. We were dismissed for lunch, and being that I was so overwhelmed, I just came back to the flat and began to write for awhile. I’m not sure if I’m putting too much pressure on myself or not enough, but either way, I still feel like there are far too many words being thrown around for me to absorb at this point.

After lunch, we went to the American Embassy to get a security briefing and register our location. After waiting outside of the security gate for nearly an hour, we were finally told that the regional security officer, who was supposed to brief us, was actually out sick, and that no one else was available to help us. It was really a pitiful experience, considering that we are here on a sponsorship from the State Dept. It seemed as though it were just too much of a bother to actually meet with/say hello to us, and we were turned back to our bus without any further explanation.

Free to explore, Kira again offered to take us around, and we were very appreciative. She took us to a sort of upscale department store called Aaroong, which is run by an NGO, and boasts that they pay a fare wage to those who supply their goods. It was a pretty nice store, but that upscale department store snobbiness was apparent even in the workers here, which I found to be quite ironic. I bought another orna, also $2.70, so that I’m not wearing the same one every day.

We were about ready to leave the store, when the monsoon started. Picture that you are standing beneath a giant tarp filled with water, and that someone runs along beneath the tarp slitting it with a knife. That’s what a monsoon is like. It literally poured quantities of rain like you have never seen for well over an hour. When it started to let up (i.e. be just like a normal heavy rainstorm) we ventured back out and hailed down a couple of auto rickshaws to take us home. I was so tired that I started nodding off despite my awareness that my left leg risked being smushed in traffic.

Back at the apartment again, I wrote for about an hour and studied a little before dinner. We waded through ankle deep water on the way there, and that was after it had gone down quite a bit after the rains. My feet are already in a state of disrepair, and I don’t even want to think about what they’ll be like in a couple of months. You can’t really get the dirt off your feet, and because your feet are always wet, they rub against your sandals and you get all sorts of blisters. It’s pretty gross really. And yes, for those of you who are wondering there is sewage in all that standing water. Not only do the men relieve themselves on the side of the road, but when it rains, the sewage drains overflow into the street. On the plus side, I’m building up my immunity like you wouldn’t believe!

After dinner I studied briefly, then went to bed – ready this time with my inflatable neck pillow.

For the record, that huge landslide that killed about a hundred people happened south and east of here. The teachers tell us that this is the worst monsoon on record so far, with more rain and more deaths than ever previously recorded. I appreciate the concerns of everyone who is now thinking I am extra crazy, but so far so good!


Sara said...

I think it sounds amazing! Well, minus the dirty water and the roaches.

My parents say hello. My dad being very fatherly said, not to drink the H2O. :)

Keep up the good work!

tstover said...

Yuck! I was thinking of you when Jason sent all of us the link about the monsoon in Bang having killed a record # of people. I hate that you are wading thru the...(don't go there). On a lighter note, glad to hear that you are adjusting. You can make the best of any situation, that's one of the marvelous things about you! Food sounds yummy. I'd love to have someone do my laundry--don't get spoiled, I doubt Lindsey will keep up that tradition. 8~) Keep sharing your adventure, it all sounds like so much fun!!!