Waiting for mayhem

July 29, 2007

As I sit here, barricaded in the safe confines of our office, a former Prime Minister awaits justice, facing charges of extortion.  Sheikh Hasina served as the prime minister of Bangladesh from 1996 until 2001.  During her tenure as Prime Minister, Ms Hasina ruled over a country that ranked number one on the list of most corrupt countries in the world.  In case you didn’t fully comprehend that last sentence, Bangladesh has had the honor of playing host to the top spot on Transparency International’s list of most corrupt countries for 5 consecutive years.


I had not been able to fully grasp the magnitude of the Bangladesh corruption subject until Ms Hasina was arrested.  Bangladesh has recently been under the watchful eye of a caretaker government backed by the Bengali military.  One of the important jobs of this government is to try and resolve the issue of corruption.  I personally am not an academic on this issue and therefore am not really sure how successful the caretaker government has been, but I do know that there have been many “very important people” arrested.


Having the opportunity to chat with some of the more affluent members of Bengali society I have heard some interesting instances of extortion.  Take Sheikh Hasina for example, one example of her corruption is that she has allegedly forced a local businessman attempting to develop a new power plant here in Bangladesh (which is a whole other topic to write about) to pay $441,000 in order to receive proper government approval.  For a government to extort this kind of money from a businessman trying to supply additional energy to a country starving for electricity baffles my mind.


Four days have now passed since Ms. Hasina’s arrest and I am personally starting to feel the effects.  Ms. Hasina is unfortunately not the only person in this country to have stolen money.  Apparently, there will soon be a domino effect of arrests including other former prime ministers from opposing parties.  The culmination of these events is forecasted by some of the people whom I have spoken with to result in some form of chaos.  Now I have never been to a third world country, let alone a country with as much political turmoil as this so I can only imagine what sort of chaos will present itself.


I was hoping that with the country on the brink of political revolution, the masses would have a sentiment of fear deterring them from leaving their homes.  This fear would, in a perfect world would result in fewer cars, rickshaws and CNGs on the roads.  Unfortunately for me and my patience, this has yet to occur.  Still every morning I doze off in the back seat of my car while the driver accelerates and brakes propelling me into the head rest of the front passenger seat and then back again.  I hear the incessant sound of bus, car, and CNG horns as they slowly drift into our lane blatantly disregarding the very apparent lines painted on the road.  While sitting in traffic the tapping of begging fingers still rattle my door’s window.  No nothing visually has seemed to change on the outside of my safety zones but what I can’t see may be heard by most on streets as they reverberate the sounds of political revolution and change. 

Some frustration has begun to set in.  New restrictions are slowly being placed on me in hopes that my safety will be ensured.  No longer can I make the walk from the American Club to the Fortuna Office, a walk that equates to about 200 yards.  Even while carrying a tennis racquet as a weapon and walking with another individual equally as equipped as myself, the walk is now deemed unsafe.  Unwilling to give up the oasis of Bangladesh that is the American Club I now have to schedule a car to drop me off and pick me up.


A few nights ago while making a delicious apple pie I needed to buy a stick of butter from the convenience store located 20 yards from the entrance of my house.  Thinking as any American would, I went to grab my video camera hoping to shoot some footage of the streets of Bangladesh but was abruptly stopped and told to trade the escort of my video camera for two people.  As you might imagine I was a bit perplexed with these instructions but naturally complied.  Later, after baking my delicious apple pie which won an enormous amount of praise, I asked about the reason for me being unable to take my video camera outside.  I was then told numerous stories of theft and assault that would intimidate just about anybody.


At Ultimate Frisbee last week at the highly secure US commissary I met a girl Emily who was unable to play due to some severe scars on her arms, legs and feet.  Emily has been in Bangladesh about the same amount of time as I have but has had quite a different experience.  Emily typically uses the rickshaw or CNG as transportation from point A to point B.  One night Emily was riding a rickshaw home carrying her satchel around her body.  As she sat comfortably on the rickshaw a man reached out of his car window grabbing Emily’s bag.  As the car sped away and with the bag’s strap around her body, Emily was ejected from her seat on the rickshaw.  After being dragged along the pavement for some time, the man in the car decided to let the bag go leaving Emily physically and mentally scarred.  She told me that she couldn’t bring herself to leave her house for some time, worrying constantly that her experience could very well happen again.


I have come to realize that my sugar coated experience in Bangladesh is quite far from the true pulse of the Bengali culture.  Being a white man in Bangladesh maybe isn’t so grand. Maybe my white skin is seen as a bull’s eye to most Bengali people seeking out their prey.  I would like to think that I am invincible and that nothing could ever happen to me but of course I know a sentiment such as this is an obvious fallacy.  I am now trying to find the balance between thoughts of invincibility and the reality of the situation here in Bangladesh.  Yes, I am often frustrated with the restrictions I have here, having to always be driven everywhere regardless of how far or close it may be and having to be home at a decent hour, but I know that at any moment this country could erupt.  I would like to remain ignorant to this possibility and live a more liberal lifestyle here but I am also aware of the dangers of any type of ignorance.  For now I can only obey the rules of the house and hope for a swift shift of political power here in Bangladesh so that I might have to opportunity to one day experience the true colors of the Bengali culture.


Service with a Smile

July 29, 2007

It’s not always easy to find clothes that fit exactly how I wish.  Sometimes the tail of a shirt is a bit too long to wear not tucked in, the 30 inch length of my pants is a half inch too short or even the neck of a t-shirt is not tight enough around my neck when I put it on.  That elusive, perfect fitting article of clothing only comes around once in a blue moon and when I find it I cherish it.  Like Jerry Seinfeld with his “golden boy” t-shirt, I always make sure to wear my favorite articles of clothing first after they emerge in a fresh batch of clean clothes.


Since arriving to Bangladesh, I have had the opportunity to see an aspect of life that isn’t so readily visible in the US.  South Asia offers a glimpse into what I perceive to be the American past.  There are more people walking on the streets than riding in vehicles, garbage is strewn across sidewalks and roads inhibiting any attempt at sanitation, bicycles and rickshaws flood the streets representing the most popular modes of transportation and a vast majority of employed Bengalis are working in blue collar factory jobs.   

When I walk through Dhaka’s factories my mind recalls images from my middle school, social studies textbooks portraying the working conditions in US textile factories during the mid to late 1800’s.  My most vivid recollection is of a photo from the textbook depicting the hundreds of workers earning 50 cents an hour on the factory floor while the boss stood atop his stoop on the second floor of the factory peering out over his employees.  Now I am in no way alluding to the fact that working conditions here in Bangladesh are even remotely close to the horrid conditions present in the US at the time but I do imagine that the mayhem and magnitude of the people working on each factory floor is quite comparable.


As a very fortunate foreigner in Bangladesh I have been able to receive the VIP treatment at each factory I have visited.  While pacing the aisles in between each row of workers I can feel their intense stares.  Never having experienced this sort of feeling, I can only imagine it to be like that of a celebrity, except for the fact that no one knows my name, no one wants my autograph, and unfortunately I don’t have any really attractive woman chasing after me.  Well I guess now after I think about it, maybe it’s not much like a celebrity but maybe like that of a new inmate entering prison.  Everyone stares, griping about the new guy wondering who he is, where he came from, and what crime he committed.  Yeah that probably depicts the situation quite a bit more realistically.


There are however many benefits of knowing the owners of each factory that I visit.   By far, the greatest benefit is the “Bengali garments treatment”.  Now allow me to elaborate…  The “Bengali garments treatment” is world renowned and begins with the meticulous measuring of my dimensions by the tailor of the factory.  While being measured I choose from the various material and color samples available for production.  After my measurements are made I am presented with numerous garment styles and select from the ones that fit my taste.  The final touch and probably the most fun is the ability to choose the number garments that I would like to have created for myself.  After the order is made, my custom stitched garments arrive at my doorstep washed, pressed and ready to be worn within 2 days.

 I have already spent one month in Bangladesh and have been fortunate enough to have received 5 pairs of pants and 10 pairs of shirts while tomorrow I will be fitted for my custom dress shirts.  Now one might think that all of this gratuity would be so graciously received by any individual but for me this situation has created quite the dilemma in my life.  No longer is “golden boy” the only article of clothing that yearns to be worn first out of the new batch of clean clothes.  There are now 15 articles and counting of custom fit clothing in my arsenal all hoping to be my premiere selection. 

Being an American in Bangladesh

July 29, 2007

Nineteen days have passed since I stepped off my Air Emirate flight onto the foreign soil of Bangladesh.  I must admit that the past two and a half weeks have felt more like two and a half months.  When experiencing something completely different than what one is used to, one’s senses are much more alert.  I have spent hours at a time entranced with the cultural differences occurring around me every day.  From watching the chicken salesman walk down the road with multiple deceased chickens in his hands bellowing Gregorian chants to witnessing the construction workers carrying bricks supported by the strength of their necks up 7 flights of stairs, my mind has been in overdrive.  I do find pleasure however in being able to observe the nuances of Bengali culture while sitting down in my office or in my car but at some point my body needs to exert itself. 

My country America has its pros and cons like anything in life but when I heard that the US embassy supported a club solely for the enjoyment of Americans in Bangladesh my ears instantly perked up.  After some investigation I found that this wonderful institution known as the American Club (AC) contained a gym, tennis courts, a pool, squash courts, a restaurant and most important a bar open until 3 am every night.  I assumed that such an oasis would be out of my price range, however much to my satisfaction I found that the total cost to use the facilities was only $40 per month (Ok I did have to pay $150 deposit but when I hand over my membership card before my departure, my money is instantly reimbursed).  Finally I thought, my body will be able to exert itself in a way other than walking to and from a car.


A ten foot high by two foot thick concrete wall surrounds the 10 acre plot of land known as the American Club.   Guards, armed with antiquated WWII rifles pace the exterior of the grounds preventing any hooligans from attempting to invade this sacred space.  Equipped with only one entrance and exit, the AC greets its guests with a metal detector and sentry verifying US passports and club memberships.

The entrance to the club opens to a brick path leading to its various amenities.  A basketball court hugs the path to one side while a well manicured lawn and garden guide the path to two tennis courts enclosed by a chain linked fence extending 12 feet into the air.  Overlooking the tennis courts is a 3 story club house which accommodates an outside bar, gym facilities, restaurant and a rooftop terrace.  Continuing down the path a 25 meter pool is encompassed by lounge chairs poised for the day’s potential occupants while tucked into the back corner of the grounds a café armed with waiters serves the various members relaxing in the shade of a large canopy. 

Two days in a row we have had beautiful weather in Dhaka with sun and temperatures approaching 40 degrees.  The intense heat was so apparent that flooded with the sun’s rays, two men fried their egg breakfast on the concrete road.  Coupled with the heat, the day’s 80% humidity bathed me in my own sweat within seconds of leaving my air conditioned haven.  What better day could one ask for than this to have a tennis match at the AC? 

After changing in a locker room about the size of an airplane bathroom, I headed for the vacant, sun baked courts.  Aware of the sun’s intensity, I applied handfuls of sun screen to prevent any burns on my virgin white skin.  My clothing was nothing more than mesh shorts and a cutoff mesh basketball jersey hoping to keep my body temperature somewhat cool.


Upon reaching the courts I was delighted to find an available tennis racquet and tennis balls.  We started the match promptly knowing that we would not be able to stand the heat for very long.  A whiff here, ball in the net there nothing felt as good as playing tennis.  After five minutes of something that resembled a tennis match, a gentlemen working at the club approached the court and started running around picking up all the balls that would either go out or into the net.


At first I thought he was attempting to steal all the balls we had so nonchalantly borrowed and put them away forcing to leave the tennis courts.  But once this man started returning me the tennis balls, I knew that for the first time ever in playing a casual game of tennis, I had a ball boy. 

I will admit that my only tennis experience has on public courts where the player has to retrieve the scattered balls. Bangladesh has proven to me that the average Joe from the US can live a life of luxury even without millions of dollars.  Total cost of having a ball boy… FREE.  I am loving life.


July 29, 2007

The word sabotage is defined as the destruction of property or obstruction of normal operations, as by civilians or enemy agents.  Businesses spend billions a year for security measures ranging from technologically advanced biometrics to your average security guard in order to protect sacred intellectual and material property.  In Bangladesh everyone seemingly takes extra precaution when protecting themselves.  Every car is locked while being driven as well as while parked.  House gates are padlocked at all hours of the day only to be opened by the house security.  In the house, room doors are locked to prevent curious servants from being too nosy.  Since the moment I rolled out of bed today, I have found that none of these safeguards in place were preventing sabotage from occurring to me or goSwoop.


8:00 am – My watch alarm rings incessantly depriving me from my lucid dream.  I don’t need to be awake until 9:30 am.  I love 10:00 am departures.


8:02 am – With one eye cracked I reset my alarm to 9:15 am.  My head hits the pillow and I am again asleep. 

9:27 am – My brain resumes conscious functions and breaks REM cycle. Eyes crack open, watch reads 9:27.  I barrel roll out of bed and head to the shower.


9:30 am –  I am happy to be the first person to use the shower for the day, otherwise I would be standing ankle deep in water that somehow doesn’t manage to find it’s way down the drain at a normal rate.  We like to refer to the bathroom as “The Swamp”


9:31 am – “Must go go…” into the ice cold water of the shower.  Someone has broken the hot water heater in my bathroom.  This is my 15th straight day of cold showers; sabotage?  Possibly.


9:40 am – I finish brushing my teeth using the bottled, boiled water and head for the bureau to find some clothes.


9:45 am – I go tell Jake that it is time to wake up and that we are going to have to leave in 15 minutes to head to the office. 

9:45 am – Jake tells me I am lying and that it is not 9:45.


9:45 am – I don’t like the fact that I am being referred to as a liar, I convincingly tell him that I am not wrong and that it is in fact 9:45.


9:46 am – Jake looks at his phone and proves to me that he is in fact right and that it is only 8:40am.  He turns over and goes back to sleep


8:40 am – I am not happy being proven wrong.  I realize in my sleepy stupor I reset the time and not the alarm on my watch, I sabotaged myself.


8:41 am – With an extra hour of time I decide to read a bit until 9:45.


9:30 am – Thomas Friedman and the flat world are putting me to sleep so I decide to walk downstairs early for breakfast.


9:32 am – I find that I am the only one besides the servants awake.  They shuffle me over with hand signals to the table.  I decide to eat by myself.


9:33 am – My last meal, dinner, was only 9 hours earlier around midnight.  I find the same food plus ruti (bread similar to a tortilla) on the table.  I smile and indulge.


10:00 am – Everyone is finally awake and ready to go.  We head downstairs to the car


10:11 am – Fayaz, Miller, Jake and I start off to the office.  I am sitting in the back seat behind the driver.  I attempt to put on my seatbelt for the perilous journey to work only to find that there is no buckle for the belt. 

10:11 am – Miller enlightens me that my seat is the only one in the car that doesn’t have a functioning seatbelt.  Fayaz is driving, chances of arriving to the office safely, 70%.  I like my odds.


10:12 am – The air-conditioning is not cooling me down fast enough in the 40°c (104°F) temperatures of Dhaka.


10:12 am – I push the button to roll down my window hoping for a breeze.  The window doesn’t budge.


10:12 am – Miller informs me that not only does my seatbelt not function but that my window doesn’t work either.  Note to self: do not sit in this seat again.


10:46 am – After several close calls on the roads we arrive at the office.  I can’t figure out if my stomach is churning from the car ride or the left overs.


11:07 am – I am finally situated in the office ready to work.  Jake turns on the office air-conditioning and we both agree to order some coffee and tea to start off the day.


11:08 am – I call downstairs to FFC (Fortuna Fried Chicken), “Good morning Mr. Mittah, ekta coffee din, abong ekta cha din, don nobahd.” (one coffee please and one tea please, thank you.)


11:15 am – Jake comments that the office is not cooling down as his shirt is changes from a royal blue to a navy blue.


11:18 am – My coffee has not arrived within the usual amount of time.  I decide to practice patience and try to focus on something else.


11:20 am – My focus shifts to the heat of the office.  My shirt is now a dark grey, I ask “Is the air conditioning on?”


11:22 am – In his now navy colored shirt Jake exclaims yes that the air-conditioning is on but broken.  His face exudes frustration.  The world is against us.


11:25 am – Still no coffee, I am beginning to wonder if I said something wrong on the phone.  I continue to practice patience.  I head into the computer lab and talk with the goSwoop team of programmers about the day’s agenda.


11:45 am – Beginning to experience caffeine withdrawal.  I can’t focus… starting to lose patience. 

11:46 am – Using my excel spreadsheet of Bangla words I figure out how to ask “Where is my coffee?”


11:47 am – My interrogation begins.  No one can offer me concrete answers; I make empty threats about pay cuts for everyone at FFC.  Thoughts of sabotage fill my head yet again.


11:53 am – My coffee and Jake’s tea finally arrive.  Elated by the sight of this enticing elixir my anger subsides.  I declare, “Everyone gets a raise.” No one in the office understands me.


11:55 am – After 30 minutes of investigation Jake figures out that by turning the fan level on the air-conditioning to medium that the room will in fact cool down.  I am thrilled.


12:02 pm – I look for my phone to make a call to Fayaz on the other side of the office but the phone is no where to be found.  I am dumbfounded.


12:03 pm – I stop to think of the last time I saw the phone.  I talk out the end of my day and remember that I placed the phone on top of my bag which was not moved until I left the previous night around 10pm.


12:05 pm – I convince myself that I couldn’t have misplaced the phone and that maybe someone in the office has it held hostage, I begin to examine potential culprits from my office chair.  Miller decides to call the phone in hopes that we might hear it.


12:11 pm – After several calls and the absence of any ringing we determine that the phone is not being held hostage in the office.  Miller now accuses me that I have lost it; my mood again returns to that of caffeine withdrawal.


12:20 pm – Jake, Miller and Fayaz leave for the Gazipur Factory to check on some things.  I stay behind to manage the troops.


12:21 pm – Realizing that I am going to be stranded at the office all day I use my superior persuasion skills to convince Jake to let me borrow his phone.  He concedes so long as I set up plans for the evening with some Bengali woman we had met.  Naturally, I agree.


1:03 pm – Everyone finally leaves.  My stomach is growling.  I decide to order a combo five from downstairs.


1:10 pm – My food arrives in record time. My day is starting to turn around. 

1:11 pm – I dig in with my plastic fork (I am not allowed to use metal silverware because it is washed with hepatitis infested water).  The fork snaps apart near the head.  My day has not turned around.


1:12 pm – After testing several grips I find that the index finger and thumb clamp works the best.  One man is now staring at me in awe of my consumption ingenuity.


1:15 pm –  With rice cluttered around my plate, I manage to scoop up the last of my meal.  The entire office is now watching me; peering over their cubicles I sense that they are having a good laugh.  I feel embarrassed.


1:50 pm – I attempt to accomplish some serious work.  I load Adobe Premiere video editing software onto my workstation in order to edit interviews for the website.


1:52 pm – Adobe upload… 35% complete


1:54 pm – Adobe upload… 77% complete


1:55 pm – My computer screen goes blank.  Rolling blackouts?  Adobe upload percentage complete, 85%.  I now have to start over.


2:30 pm – Adobe is finally uploaded, time for video capture.


2:37 pm – Adobe warning appears, insufficient memory to capture video.  Time wasted: 47 minutes.

Recent thoughts on Bangladesh

July 29, 2007

Driving through flooded streets, maneuvering around rickshaws, using bottled water to brush my teeth, excessive heat and humidity, lack of social life and no alcohol is all second nature to me now as a two week resident of Dhaka.  Yes, it seems as though recalling all of my perceived negative traits of Bangladesh that this country would not be worth while for the reader to visit.  I believe, on the contrary the positive attributes of this country far outweigh the negatives and one should not exclude Dhaka from their list of places to visit.  Granted some of the variables of my experience are enhancing my perception of this country such as living with an affluent family, and having several Bengali friends here in Dhaka, but nevertheless any westerner worried about coming to southern Asia should not fear.


In a country of about 150 million people and comparable in size to Iowa (look here for a visual comparison Map of Iowa) cities naturally are congested.  Dhaka itself is called home by more than 11 million Bengalis.  Just to put that into some sort of perspective, that would be like taking the population of Chicago and moving them into New York City.  Now on top of that try to employ 150 million people in an economy with a GDP (Gross Domestic Product which reflects the value of all goods and services produced in a given year by a country adjusted for changes in price level and inflation) of about $336.7 billion compared to another country of a slightly smaller size, Japan at $4.2 trillion.


Even though I have yet to walk the streets of Dhaka I have been able to witness aspects of Bengali life through the fingerprint laden glass of my air conditioned vehicle.  During the day, roads and sidewalks are littered with cars, busses, rickshaws, motor scooters, and people.  It is amazing to watch all these parts work in their chaotic harmony.  The traffic lights, lined roads, and pedestrian bridges offer little guidance to the Bengali lifestyle.  People would rather dart across 8 lane highways than use pedestrian overpasses.  All motor vehicles as well as rickshaws blend into a blob of perpetual confusion of stop and go traffic.  

Along the 20 minute roller coaster ride from my house to the office I have seen many walks of life.  Some Bengalis set up make shift tents along the side of the railroad tracks, while others sleep on cluttered side walks.  These tents are constructed of sticks and cloth and are no taller than four feet nor larger than six feet by six feet. 

Many Bengalis choose to use the overcrowded bus system to traverse the city.  These exhausted appearing busses carry as many people as can sit stand or climb on the roof.  Windows are opened as far as possible so that heads can hang out to breathe fresh, 100 degree humid air.  Each bus is designated a driver and a helper.  The occupation of the driver is apparent but the helper may not be so easy.  Each bus helper acts as the money collector as well as traffic director.  In a city where driving is as hectic as Dhaka, a person to stop vehicles is necessary to complete a bus route.


I am fortunate enough to be a part of the air conditioned car genre.  Most people who own cars are also able to afford a chauffer, which makes the headache of having to navigate congested roads slightly more tolerable.  One of our drivers, who I will refer to as Mr. Honks, not only pilots my automobile but manages to beep at a rate of about 1 beep per 5-10 seconds.  Needless to say, I have yet to see him effectively honk once.  I mean, he could at least wait until we saw an attractive looking woman or when a beggar comes to my window to ask for money, but god forbid Mr. Honks helps me in either of those departments.

Driving in Bangladesh

July 29, 2007

The game is never easy to play especially when you get into the more expert levels.  No, this isn’t any video game where the push of a wrong button or the erroneous shift of the joystick only results in a brief sigh, this is reality.  The game that I am referring to is the game of survival while maneuvering a car through the congested streets of Dhaka.


Before I continue on I think I need to explain a brief history of the game and of course the rules.  The game was conceived while visiting a good friend, Carlo Di Bella, in Rome, Italy around the 20th of December 2006.  As we drove through the hectic Italian streets, where there is nearly zero regard for traffic law, Carlo displayed Jedi-like coordination.  His hands and feet moved in perfect rhythm, never missing a cue, like a well practiced orchestra performing one of Beethoven’s symphonies.  If you have ever seen the first Star Wars, picture Carlo as the young Anakin Skywalker (now that I think about it, his height and weight are comparable too) barely able to see over the dashboard, driving his “podracer” to victory with unmatched maneuvering capability. 

Frustrated with the languid and haphazard movement of pedestrians, my friend Jake offered 15 points jokingly to Carlo if he hit the pedestrian walking oh so close to our moving vehicle.  Carlo retorted instantly saying that he in fact would lose points if he hit the pedestrian and that in Rome points are won only when avoiding collisions.  Every time a car is in an accident for example, the driver not only loses points but more realistic, they lose their ability to drive their car which would be in the repair shop (a costly game restart).


He went on to explain that pedestrians are a level one participant in the game, the rookie or novice if you will.  They have yet to accumulate points in order to move to the next rank, the bicyclist.  The bicyclist a level 2 participant is able to move faster than the pedestrian but also runs the risk of being hit due to the extensive amount of chances they take.  For example many of the bicyclists, while cars are stopped at traffic lights, ride in between two lanes, waiting for a door to open slightly, propelling them into a fatal aerial vault.  Motor bikes (mopeds and motorcycles) are level three.  Although convenient and fast, Rome’s motorbikes tend to find themselves in fatal accidents every day.  Carlo, a motor vehicle driver, is a level 4 participant.  He has had the luck of accumulating enough points throughout his life to be able to drive a non-dented, accident-free vehicle.  His achievements are great and I am very impressed however the premier driver, what every Roman aspires to be is the ambulance driver.  The ambulance driver, a level 5 participant, not only has to dodge other vehicles, motor bikes, bicyclist, and pedestrians but has to do so with a time restriction that if unmet may end in grave consequence.


Applying this formula to the streets of Dhaka, Jake and I have agreed that the game here is in a whole different league.  Pedestrians are no longer just lethargic and unaware, they Frogger their way across 10 lane highways, two lanes forward, one car length to the left, one lane back before biting the bullet and making a run for the other side of the highway. 

For most westerners, the fact that the steering wheel is on the right hand side of the vehicle offers a whole new challenge.  Rickshaws are peddled by the thousands around flooded streets, biblical rains offer extremely low visibility, the absence of traffic lights and even stop signs make driving a game of instinct and calculated risk.  Dhaka is a game unlike any I have ever experienced.  Its roads are difficult and accidents are plentiful.  Maybe that is why there are a lack of Ambulance drivers.

Food and Water

July 29, 2007

It is never easy waking up in the morning here.  Even after I was finally able to figure out how to set the alarm on my watch I still can’t seem to sunder my eyelids from their blissful bond.  I don’t know whether to associate this complication with jetlag, considering I arrived here 4 days ago or if I am just that lazy and six hours of sleep is not enough for my demanding daily workload of napping while being driven around Dhaka and sitting in an office while being waited on hand and foot (I just ordered a coffee from my desk that should be delivered shortly).  I would like to think that it is due to the latter.


Being in a third world country and a closet hypochondriac (as I have alluded to before) the morning bathroom routine is an adventure of itself.  How would you react if you were informed that the tap water here was unsafe to drink?  Naturally my interpretation was that not one single molecule should enter my body orally.  It is for this reason why I have been practicing holding my breath, you know for when I have to do things such as showering and shaving.  Now you might be asking yourself, well then how do you brush your teeth and what water do you drink?  That answer is quite simple, I have water pre-boiled, bottled and refrigerated by one of the house servants for me.  I know it is a tough life but someone has to live it.


I would have to say that when it comes to food, spice is in fact the spice of life here in Bangladesh.  I have yet to taste another food with the range of flavors that dance around my taste buds as gracefully as the South Asian region’s.  The intimacy with which food is eaten here is far greater than in America.  Ones hands become one with the food, stirring, mixing, and finessing until it has just the right combination of rice, chicken, spice and sauce.  Ingesting the food however is a slightly more complicated process. 

At first I was unaware of the advanced eating technique, lifting my hand high, tilting my head back to a 70 degree angle followed by a quick release of my fingers allowing the food to fall joyfully into my mouth.  I refer to this beginner’s technique as the crane method due to the height in which the arm has to reach before the food is consumed. 

I was quickly informed of the more advanced technique which I like to refer to as the snow plow method.  The fingers first mush the food together so as to ensure that no parcel of rice is left behind.  Next the hand morphs into a bowl cradling the food as the arm moves closer to the mouth.  Just before the fingers touch the lips the hand stops allowing the back of the thumb (plow) to push the food into the mouth.  When done correctly the snow plow method offers me a faster plate to mouth speed ratio while saving my neck from unnecessary abuse.  Naturally I have forced myself to perfect the latter.