Dhaka Impressions

Trip Start Sep 18, 2010
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39
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Trip End Jul 27, 2011


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Flag of Bangladesh  , Dhaka,
Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lonely Planet just elected Bangladesh the #1 best value destination for 2011. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/bangladesh/travel-tips-and-articles/76216
Dhaka, I learned is the 3rd most populated city after Bejing and Bombay. Several people, including some very well traveled and ones that are from there, warned me of it being the biggest shithole or hell on earth, to quote just two of them.

If you are squirmish about seeing poverty, misery, dirt, people begging, staring at you, heavy pollution amongst other culture shock moments, it is not a country you want to consider visiting. However, if you are interested in seeing a different world, vibrant life, people making do with what little they have and in the simplest cases being happier than anyone you know. If you are fascinated by insane disparity of class, the feeling of being the alien yourself, warm welcomes and people that barely know you, feeding you royally while you wonder if they themselves starve, you will love your time here.

During the week we spent there, I feel somewhat like watching a movie with life happening outside the car and us watching from a distance. We are not allowed to go anywhere by ourselves. We can not walk even it is faster than sitting in the car in thick traffic. There is always a male by our side for the few steps that we do walk, even if it is just a 12 year old boy. From the car we see lots of invalids, deformed, burned or otherwise disabled at every red light and traffic jam, begging faces pressed against the windows. Hawkers will sell you things you might need or never thought you did while stuck in traffic. Popcorn, roses, towels, tupperware, sun glasses, books are just a few of the wares I recall being on offer. Why not? You might need that tupper dish to carry the left overs from the dinner you are going to. The roses as a host gift maybe? I was very entertained by all the things being offered.

'Auntie Yasmin' was worried what we might do in Dhaka for a whole week. She quickly realizes that we are not into fancy buidlings, pretty sights and the usual touristy stuff. Because of that, there is so much to do and see that there just isn't enough time. Anything we mention or even whisper as an interest, Yasmin is on it to organize it for us. Amongst the things we see is a Sari weaving facility, a refugee slum, another slum (called Korail I think), handicraft markets and strolls on the streets and train tracks like the not-so-well-off locals. The latter of course, I am only allowed to do accompanied by Obeid, my 12-year old body guard.

I am having a hard time grasping the need for constant presence of a local male. All that we've seen of the country so far just doesn't feel so dangerous. Yes, there ar many poor and begging people. But can my gut feel be this wrong? At my suggesting that we could take a taxi from a pre-wedding party, I am scalded that the question alone would be utterly inappropriate. As a guest, our hosts are responsible for us and our safety and taking a public taxi versus our hosts' or someone else's private driver would put us at risk of being kidnapped or the like. Ignorant me?

While I don't feel the supposed threat, what I do clearly see, feel and hear is that we are in a Muslim majority country. The gender separation at some of the wedding events, no alcohol anywhere, our hosts' stories of tenants asked to leave or marry, because having their girl friends over is not Islamic and ladies not shaking men's hands even when they are successful business women are some examples. As much as I loved visiting this and all other Islamic countries I had chance to, they are completely on the other end of the spectrum of my own values and beliefs. I prefer to remain a visitor, respect, enjoy and appreciate the culture and beauty of it very much. But I would not be able to live in it.

In the end, I leave knowing that I must visit Bangladesh again one day. I am not the least bit bothered by all its craziness, poverty and filth. Quite the opposite, I think it would not be as beautiful and authentic without its people. And maybe selfishly, I feel that there is something I can do and this is a place I can make a difference, small as it may be. But maybe next time I will go see some more of the tourist destinations. Sunderban area is one everyone raves about. I will want to see it.

Allow me to close with a reminder that very little can go very far. I fixed my sandals for 20 cents, $1 can buy a large meal for a whole family that otherwise won't eat. $100 could help build washroom facilities where there are none. Any cent can make a difference, so my hope is you could spare a buck or two. All money donated to this blog, I will pass on to a Dhaka slum: http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/henniterness/1/1294437840/tpod.html
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