Saturday, March 9, 2019

Dhaka Street Life

I live in Banani district in Dhaka, which is near Gulshan and Gulshan - 2. These are the districts that house all of the International Embassy's and the areas are considered the best in Dhaka. These districts are nice enough and have everything a person needs but as a general observation, these are the "worst best areas of a city" I have ever experienced. They are not dangerous areas, well accept for the traffic and that terrorist attack thing in July 2016The Holey Artisan Bakery is a 15 minute walk from my apartment. I shop, drink coffee and walk in the area all the time so I naturally stopped in for a coffee. The location has changed to the second floor of a building next door and the green apple/orange juice and key lime pie were excellent.

Now I bet you are thinking "what is wrong with you"? First, we don't have that much time. Second, it happened 2 years ago and finally, support is everything. In 2008 terrorists attacked various locations in and around Mumbai. The first place shot up was the very popular Leopold Cafe in Colaba district. A very touristy and trendy part of Mumbai. Did I stop there for drinks when I visited Mumbai in 2017, yes sir I did. Here is a link to that visit. If we are going to live by the words  "Stay Strong" which are tossed out on freely tossed out on social media after every terrorist attack, be it Manchester, Madrid, Paris, Mumbai or Germany then we need to live by those words, don't we?

I do not believe it is a perverse attraction to the macabre that empowers me to visit such places. I do believe it important to recognize the reality of the world we live in today and yesterday. It is no different then visiting the tragic and historical sites of the world. Unfortunately, these attacks are in the modern era and fresh in our memory, where as The Killing Fields of Cambodia, Nanjing in China, Hiroshima in Japan and even Chernobyl and clouded by history. What is the timeline for acceptance?

Let's get back to the madness that is Dhaka. Aside from the traffic, which is so ludicrous I will never stop talking about it, there are the worst trains you have ever seen. I waiting by a crossing to watch what I hoped would be the masses in their commutes, but it was not to be. There were a few people sitting on the outside roof of the cars but nothing to be excited about. Men play cricket in every open field and I find my self hanging around watching. I think I am hoping they invite me to join. One day I will just ask to give it go just for the laugh.

I have seen sporadic bits of extreme poverty in and around any set of train tracks and along side streets as I head to work on the bus. It is crazy to think that in the most impoverished nation in Asia I am surrounded by the general poorness of the country. It is dank yet functional. It is when you leave Banani or Gulshan that the fringe of this town is exposed. It is everything that you can imagine it to be and worse. I may take some photos in the future but for now that is the reality of the people, they are not there for my entertainment. The small rivers and ponds that dot the city are open sewer really. Falling in could only lead to any myriad of diseases. There is no raw sewage smell so to speak, it is the color of the water that causes you to gasp. A grayish black if that is possible.

Not all is lost though. There is a bit of  of a green space located in Gulshan,  oddly named Gulshan Park. It is enclosed and walled with security guards manning the entrances. This is a bit of an elitist park that's for sure. Considering what surrounds it, this park is eerily quiet, and the 1 km walk around the pond is really nice. The pond itself is as Bangla as you would expect, green and brown with a hint of scum on the edges. None the less, a 5km walk is a great way wind down after dealing with children all day. It is nice to just sit, listen to music and zone out for a while.

Signage around the park notifies the patrons, no spitting, no drugs or booze, to loud talking, pick up your garbage and don't pick the fruit or flowers. I like that these are maintained by a series of overhead cameras but naturally the cynic in me needs to wonder why people need to be told any of  these...then I left the park and the reasons why came flooding back to me.

On this day the park was being fished, basically fished out. A large group of men stretched a net across the lake and were walking it, basically trolling the lake picking up everything in its way. My western mentally kicked in and at first I was put off. Sure, let's drain the lake of all it's living creatures. What harm could that do. The more I watched the more I was getting frustrated. It took a short conversation with a local who was also watching the scene to sort my arrogance self out. "We drain the fish from the pond every 4 months otherwise they would all die". He pointed to an area of the pond that was not fished, which would allow more room for those surviving the purge to survive.  It was when I went over to chat with the fishermen that I realized these were all bottom feeding carp, and they were massive.

The conditions for carps reproduction were perfect from what Google told me. A healthy female can produce 1.5 million eggs and these fish can grow to 60 kgs. Oddly enough, this pond has actually become a natural fish farm for the few locals who win the rights to access and sell the ugly looking suckers. Cultural clash averted. New lesson from traveling embraced.

Everyday out on the street there is a mad carnival and the people of Dhaka do not even realize they are the stars of show. At any one time it can be a comedy, drama, horror or romance. There is action, adventure, tenderness, beauty, brutality and reality. There are cars, buses, rickshaws. CNG's (compressed natural gas), motos, bikes, pedestrians and yes the odd cow. It probably walked over from India. I can not image what it is going to be like during the monsoon season.

Bangladesh has it's charms, believe it or not. The people are exceptional and some of the kindest I have ever encountered. Dhaka was a major stop on the ancient Silk Road and was one of the richest cities in the world during those times. There is history and culture here to be discovered. It is also the ability to hang around, live, work and thrive in such a bizarre part of the world that is a personal draw. Bangladesh is still very new to me. Let's talk in a couple of months.

My initial contract runs from March 1st to the end of June. I have an option for a one year contract starting in September. I want to experience Bangladesh and travel to Cox Bazaar, Chittagong and Bandabar while I am here. There are some hikes in the north that are possible if you have local guides. No problems at all for me. I will be happy to be a country that very few tourists come to and trek in areas that even fewer travelers ever see. If successful within the 4 months I am here I will be happy with the experience. Four months in Dhaka and Bangladesh might be enough. If not I will hand around until September...but then again things might fall into place.

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