Some lovely decaying buildings from the late 19th century Panam City, Sonargaon, Bangladesh–just outside Dhaka (post several-hours crossing 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.
Have you missed me? Did you forget I existed? It’s been six-long months since my last blog. Six painfully slow months.
The French, the French, it nearly killed me. I gave up NPR for the French. I gave up holidays and snow days and weekends for months and months. I gave up writing. I gave up wine. I even attempted unsuccessfully to give up coffee (my French teacher thought I talked too fast and blamed caffeine).
I had to learn grammar. And it hurt.
The French themselves would strike in protest. Perhaps even kidnap their boss to negotiate better work conditions (bossnappings: real and kind of legal in France. I kid you not.).
And the end? Did it end? Not the rambling French dreams. Not the heart palpitations. Not yet.
I thought I might go out like a bad French movie with no conclusion, no answers. Just dark.
But it turns out my arcane knowledge of French workers’ rights and hours spent memorizing idiomatic expressions (none of which I ever used) carried the day. Somewhat. I finally passed my French oral exam on Monday (3rd time was the charm; 2nd time was tears, despair and anger), which means, according to the US government, I now officially speak French.
There’s a minor little reading exam I still have to pass but mostly I’m done. Almost done. Certainly I’m done with French classes. I am back at work and preparing for departure at the end of March.
But there was one very high note during the past six months. I finally have an agent: Bob Mecoy with Creative Book Service. He’s representing my second mystery set in Miami. It took ten years to get an agent. I am sure there was some pain involved, but thankfully my memories have since faded to rose. That was September.
And one particularly low note. In October, my cat decided to attack the neighbor’s cat. I intervened. In return, my little monster punctured my hand and shredded my leg. And since his teeth are sharp and dirty and hit a bone, it took four days in the hospital, two surgeries, and a PICC line shoved in my vein to deliver 21 days of twice-daily-intravenous antibiotics express to my heart. There was some pain.
December, January, and February: I studied and tested and studied and tested and studied and tested again. Eighty percent pain. And now I’m done.
Almost. And one day, many years from now, while rambling in grammatically deficient, poorly accented French over a bottle of wine in Southern France, or more likely Senegal, the painful memories will be gone, and only the pleasure of speaking a foreign language will remain.