The Chronicles of Dhaka # 4
Hello from BD!
Now, the other day, Mr. A, my lovely driver (yes yes, I know, how bourgeoise, but I challenge you to drive in Dhaka) insists I join him, his wife and son in their home, a sparse two-roomed apartment they share with another family. Generously refusing anything themselves, they and their flatmates gather round to watch me eat rice, chicken and hilsa fish. As I smile my appreciation, the electricity goes off (government “load-shedding”) and their electric fan stops, so Mrs A starts wafting me with a bamboo one as if I am an Aztec King. Having wrestled it off her and insisted I’d eaten enough, everyone dives in on the grub.
Next, is a trip to ‘Wonderland’ – a sort of 1970s Margate funfair. I avoid the rides, the rusty cogs and frayed electrical wiring tell their own story. However, in amongst several hundred people raving to a Bangla Elvis in 38 degrees heat, the main attraction of the day is ... moi! Princess Diana eat your heart out. I am now in quite a few family photo albums.
So, on to the TV show. A couple of nights ago, we did a casting session for presenters in what I thought was a derelict building. It turned out to be a production house. For those of you who are used to Soho editing facilities, with aquariums built into reception desks, leather sofas, and Cambridge post-graduate runners at your beck and call for ciabatta, champagne and charlie, then this place wasn’t quite like that. Let’s just say that the toilet looked like something from Trainspotting and when, predictably, the electricity failed, a wire was dropped ten storeys out of the window and a little lad instructed to run across the shrub outside to connect it up to a generator, several hundred metres away. The other end of the wiring in our ‘studio’ was two pieces of raw wire – but at least one was coloured black and the other red, so you didn’t electrocute yourself or anything.
This place was also next door to a building with several floors missing. The reason being, it was built without the required permission (a governmental backhander), so several of the upper floors were knocked down again - with people still in them. Apparently, this is not a unique occurrence.
Having moved into a new apartment, I’ve got a new running route. This is a less ‘pretty’ run than the one I had in the compounds of the embassies et al. By ‘less pretty’, I mean the lake this end is more smelly, and there’s a lot more people carrying rusty six-foot scythes on their shoulders. Also, if I get out any later than 7.30 a.m., crossing the bridge is like running down Oxford Street during rush hour – running down Oxford Street naked, given the number of astonished glances chucked my way.
However, that was before I found Happy Alley – one day, to avoid the Sweeney Todd Rush Hour vibe, I dived down an alley that ran parallel to the lake to discover a community of corrugated roofed shacks linked together by a maze of pathways. Each tiny dwelling, made of wood, breezeblock and shredded plastic, was battened to its neighbour, the land demarcated with string washing lines pegged neatly with bright clothing. The man washing under a pump waved hello, as did the drivers at the tea stall by the rickshaw garage. Children, who were minding the family kids (goats) as they breakfasted on the omnipresent trash, giggled as I panted by, and I nearly got embroiled in a cricket match in which a stick was cannily being used as the bat, and rolled up newspaper for the ball. Now, every time I canter through, I have a barefoot posse of kids (children) in my wake, who stay with me until we get the bridge where, with a wave, I go on to my home and they go back to theirs.
Also, I have pets in my new apartment. Several hundred, often waiting to greet me when I open any drawer. Not only are they very sociable but they are hardy because they survived
The Cockroachbusters – Who Ya Gonna Call? Team. Also, Lizzie isn’t doing her job. Lizzie is my pet lizard - who turns out to be a gecko - she really could eat quite a few more you-know-whos, if she wanted.
In fact, I have to share this. The other evening, I was very much looking forward to the delicious casserole left for me by my maid, (yes yes, I know, how very bourgeoise, but in my defence, as I've told you before, she’s the boss in this relationship) and so I whacked it in the microwave to heat it up. As it pinged, I eagerly took out the dish, and was about to dig in, when I glanced something ... or someone ... still inside, sat bold as day on the glass turntable … yes, you’ve guessed it, it was one of my robust houseguests, who can also survive being microwaved.
Woefully, the only hole that casserole went in, was the bin.
Having spent the weekend writing scripts, it’s back to the office tomorrow, (Sunday) where hopefully the air con won’t break again, because last time, two engineers arrived; an older bloke and a teenager - the latter one's role being to be dangled by a rope held by his boss out of the window to fix the unit.
It’s okay, we’re only seven floors up.
The thing is, Dhaka survives despite the power cuts and the open sewers and the traffic and the wiring and the need for dangerous sports - its tenacity is staggering ... I just hope I can keep up.