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.

Called CNGs because they run on compressed natural gas. In Dhaka they’ve been caged in to prevent robberies, outside of Dhaka they’re open.

*Called CNGs because they run on compressed natural gas. In Dhaka they’ve been caged in to prevent robberies, outside of Dhaka they’re open.

Dhaka School Bus

School Bus Rickshaw, Dhaka

IMG_8841

Street in Cox’s Bazar

Dhaka Traffic

Dhaka Traffic

Rickshaw

Rickshaw & CNG

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13 Comments on “First Month in Dhaka

  1. This post answers all my many questions so thank you for writing it! And the Sundarbans?! I can’t wait to hear all about it! Enjoy, and stop getting sick.

    • I know, I am done with the sick. I feel like I’ve given my time and could use a month or two break. And I had to delay my Sundarbans trip, but I will get there.

      • Edith, it looks a lot like India to me… makes me want to come visit! I am so glad you are blogging again! Can’t wait to hear all about your adventures in Bangladesh.
        All my love,
        Aunt Mary

  2. Edith, this brings back so many memories for me of my high school years in Pakistan! I love your photos.

    It’s not just Dhaka. When I first moved to Seattle, I was constantly sick for about 6 months, and I think taking public transportation had a lot to do with that, but also just adapting to the new climate, crowds of people everywhere, and exposure to new stuff. It takes a while to adapt. I hope you are over the worst of it.

    Having a driver seems like the best idea. I remember what it was like on the roads in Pakistan. Safe travels!

    • Thanks, Jenni and me too on over the worst. But I got a blog out of it, so getting sick has its benefits.

  3. Nice post Edith, glad to hear that you’re settling in.. sorry to hear about getting sick. Hope all is well for you at work too. Things are good here in SL.. hopefully I’ll see you someday soon at RDMA for training:)

    Jeanette

  4. Vinegar to wash vegetables, garlic to fend off parasites, boiling water (a no brainer!) and focus (focus!) when you drive…. just a few things to keep you safe ! Thanks for the blog,alway enjoy “traveling” with you.
    Corine

    • I’ve been working the garlic. No real stomach flu yet, so I’m going to call it a success.

  5. Envious, Envious, Envious! You live a cool life Edith. Thanks for blogging and letting the dreamers like me dream. Keep it coming!

  6. We’re so excited to read about your next adventure! May you get better quick and avoid more plagues in the near future. I must say you made me remember some of our illnesses in Suriname with this one. 🙂 Be safe dear friend!

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