From Bill in Dhaka

From a friend living and working in Bangladesh:

The second of the two major religious holidays, Eid-ul Azha, is two days away. I can hear a goat bleating in my neighbor’s yard. Our street is in the middle of a cattle (Brahmin bulls, goats, and a few sheep) bazaar set up for the occasion. We have a bird’s eye view of the scene from our fourth floor balcony: neighbors haggling with a herdsmen in headscarves; men pushing carts loaded with snacks; a balding beggar, barefoot and dressed like St. John the Baptist, bearing a large shimmering metal bowl; a man shouldering a hoe with shallow basket looped around its neck; pairs of men carrying buckets of water suspended from a bamboo pole; a fairly steady stream of jangling pedicycle rickshaws, etc.

It isn’t always this picturesque, but, in general, the streets are a feast for the senses. Dickens would have had a field day, what with the squalid tea stands; dingy curbside eateries; sidewalk displays of garments, toys, colored cloth, and household articles; shoe repair stands, brightly daubed rickshaws and trucks, colorful flowing saris.

There is never a dull moment here. Appliances or utilities suddenly won’t work. People misunderstand what you say–or misunderstand each other and argue about it. During the worst of the hot and humid summer weather the electricity can go off almost as often as every other hour in the day time in some districts of the city, including the one where BACHA is located. Last spring the border patrolmen staged a mutiny and it looked like a civil war might develop; it was quelled, though, and the country appears to be stable.

With a population of more than 150 million people in an area the size of Wisconsin, Bangladesh is very crowded and it can be difficult to find a quiet spot. Traffic is steadily growing more congested. Air pollution is not as serious in Dhaka as in Beijing because of the heavy use of natural gas for fuel. There is a lot of poverty, with many people coming into the city and crowding the job market and systems of exploitation entrenched.

The people are very hospitable, fond of poetry (and other art forms), quite emotional, prone to jealousy and gossip, and, on the surface at least, respectful of foreigners. I was probably a guest at someone’s home or wedding reception more times in my first three months in the country than in three years in Korea.

The food is similar to Indian food with rice as the chief dish. It is spicey, but can be served without the hot peppers if you request it. We love the chicken kebabs, rice with a certain sauce, and flavored bread at a local restaurant. The national fish, which we have eaten as dinner guests, is very flavorful. I like the sweetened yogurt There seem to be quite a few ethnic restaurants around and at the “megashops” (small supermarkets) most all of the imported food items you would want.

I find Bangladesh full of challenges and interest. I am happy here because I feel I am living my dream: a life of adventure and of service to those in need.


About smkelly8

writer, teacher, movie lover, traveler, reader
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