First Month in Dhaka
My first impression of Dhaka was haze and a slightly metallic taste. But it wasn’t nearly as hot as I’d expected given the temperatures were often above 100 °F. It’s now plenty hot, thanks to the rising humidity, but still not Suriname hot, and the rains have arrived to clean the air. My neighborhood is green and fairly quiet (only the call to prayer and ding of passing rickshaw bells) and my apartment way more spacious than I need. I suppose I’ll have to fill it with something—cats, antiques, parties or babies seem popular choices in expat quarters.
The poverty is certainly present. I don’t know if it’s the worst I’ve seen, there is plenty in the Americas too, but it does seem on a larger scale when mixed with the pollution. And it’s definitely not hidden away—just a few blocks from my apartment women and children climb through mounds of trash dumped along the wide avenue to pull-out the useful and valuable. I’ll freely admit I don’t know how to navigate it yet. Not sure I ever will.
Mostly I’ve focused on simpler questions first:
- How to find food (success).
- How to clean fruits and vegetables for parasites and formalin (work in progress).
- How to use the layers of plugs, transformers, and adapters necessary to safely charge my electronics (beyond my ken).
- How to retrain my brain not to automatically dunk my toothbrush under the faucet (success).
- How to hire a cleaning woman (success–SO wonderful).
- How to get out of Dhaka and explore the country (success–Cox’s Bazar down, Sundarbans coming soon).
My first week, I mostly walked or took rickshaws, which was working fine, although I did have a near miss with a double-decker bus while searching the wrong direction in traffic (still working on retraining my brain for left-hand traffic). My second week, the car I thought I was buying several months down the road unexpectedly became mine.
I was not ready.
Not only for driving on the opposite side of the road, but for the rickshaws and pedestrians and buses and cars and dogs and mopeds and bicycles and CNGs* coming at me from every direction. I practiced several Friday mornings when much of Dhaka goes to mosque, but even the minor traffic was stressful, as opposed to normal traffic, which is straight up terrifying (more so for the pedestrians, of course, as they seem the least important obstacle on the road).
Then I heard a few stories of the street judicial process following accidents (pedestrians thankfully do become a concern once hit), and, well, it didn’t take much imagination to think a driver might be useful. So now I have a driver too and it is good.
That said, on Monday I saw a driver (who may have caused a fender-bender) getting knocked about by an angry crowd before running off and leaving his female employer alone in the car blocking traffic. My driver is older and calm, and not at all aggressive in traffic, but will he stick around should the crowds come for us? Probably not, and I wouldn’t blame him, so we’re going to focus on not hitting anyone, or any little thing.
This weekend I am sorting out how to get healthy—maybe by starting a vegetable garden on the roof. I’ve been sick a lot—three times in one month. Possibly the water, the food, new bugs, the heat, the stress of the move, all the above? Word is it takes up to a year to adjust, for the “sicknesses” to go away, so…any day now.