The Chronicles of Dhaka #3
Bangladesh! A living contradiction; both beautiful and terrible (at times).
One Saturday, a lovely English couple who have lived here for 30 years invited myself and a couple of colleagues onto their boat. Naturally, we went loaded with illicit Bangla-Majestic Ricard.
Having driven through endless industrial, clogged battered bus routes full of clogged battered passengers, we made it past the cement factory down to the quayside and stepped onto their gaily painted boat, adorned with cushions for our trip along the river. We were seen off by a few dozen paparazzi and, as the wafts of sewers abated, we passed trawlers travelling at speedboat speeds, and endless cement works, until the chaos calmed down and the green country that surrounds poor strangulated Dhaka began to take over.
The riverbank was alive with people making their livelihood from the river, people in boats fishing, the occasional red brick factory with workers carrying piles of bricks casually on their heads, and curious riverside dwellings with rush rooves. However, as the Ricard kicked in and all was well with the world, we rounded a bend to discover a small craft containing two young men holding a homemade flag; a stick with a tatty bit of red cloth tied to it. The banks were suddenly busy with onlookers and it soon became clear why; further along, there was another boat with divers on board. A third boy had gone over – and hadn’t survived.
See? That’s the way it is here – in a country covered at times by two-thirds of water, most children can’t swim, so this happens all the time. Drowning in ditches is one of the biggest killers of toddlers. And just to top it off, as we motored on, one of the speeding trawlers shot past us and crashed into another boat at the scene of the accident. Rubbernecking is worldwide.
We finished the day visiting an amazing Dutch lady who runs a centre for disabled children; spinal injuries are common because of the loads juveniles carry on their heads. They were fabulous, funny kids who trounced us at basketball in their wheelchairs.
My language-learning light-ent show is becoming a drama, so, after one particularly challenging morning, for a couple of hours, I decide to escape to the Westin Hotel – an incongruously grand place, stuffed full of indulgence and western prices. I shuffle into the vast lobby and take myself up to the second floor and have a jolly nice chicken sandwich and a Pepsi. Yes, I was tempted to have a cheeky glass of Chablis, but I knew that I couldn’t stop at one.
So, feeling restored, I pay my bill, and glide across the marble floor to pay a visit to the Ladies. Having successfully completed my mission, I am foxed as to how to flush the thing. Trying to detect a sensor, I open and shut the door, clap my hands – but to no avail. Then I bend down to see a diagram pointing to a button, which I push, only to get soaked by a long and forceful jet of warm water. I return to the office, damp and sticky.
The early morning runs continue – past the kids collecting rubbish in plastic bags on the lake edge and the builders showering under the hose, and the rickshaw boys waiting for their fares who cheekily leap aside as I pass. Sometimes, I take a turn round the park where arrows ensure that everyone walks (no one ever jogs) in the same direction - past signs that say, ‘To lengthen thy life, lessen thy food’. Top advice.
I am so in love with the locals of Dhaka who look out for me; I was escorted across the road by an eight-year-old candy floss seller the other day – which was nice, but then I am officially an OAP, you know. When I staggered in sweating the other morning, one of the gate guards asks me, “You lady? How old you?” I told him, thinking that he’d reel in amazement at my revelation of half a century on this planet. But it came as no surprise. “Yes. Thought so. Old. But you – strong.” Thanks, buddy.
Am recovering from a nasty bout of errant ice cream eating which wiped me out with the same force of Mount Etna - and which only got booted into touch by the antibiotics I found in my BBC First Aid bag – I nearly took an anaphylactic fit tablet by mistake, so it could have been worse ... Indeed, the state of one’s bowels is a regular topic amongst my British/American colleagues, and it strikes me as ironic that for a country that insists that we cover up on the exteriors, I’ve never been quite so familiar with the workings of so many people’s interiors.
In fact, as I was discussing this very thing with my ‘Head of Country’, (how’s that for a title) my attention was taken by a large eagle riding the thermals of pollution outside his seventh-floor window as if it didn’t have a care in the world. You see – more contrasts.
I’m moving into my new apartment tomorrow, which is exciting – well it was until the previous tenant reassured me that the cockroach fumigation people were going in this week to get “things under control.”
The adventure continues.