Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Great Time to Arrive ... Or Not

I finally arrived in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, after a LONG journey from home. In Bangladesh time I got up at 4:00pm Thursday and arrived Saturday morning at 8:30am. I'm exactly 12 hours different from home so my brain is definitely 180 degrees out of whack and my butt has been reformed into the shape of an over-used airline seat.

As I sat in the airport in Dubai waiting for my flight to Dhaka I quickly concluded that a lot of men from Bangladesh work in Dubai. It was a Friday night/early Saturday morning flight and most of the people waiting at the gate had at least one huge duty free bag, and many had two – this on top of their regular carry-on. I made sure to get on the plane as soon as I could to make sure I had a place for my backpack. I then sat back and watched how the other passengers and the flight attendants crammed everything somewhere. At times it resembled a commercial on American TV where a flight attendant repeatedly slams the overhead locker door to squeeze everything in.

Clearing immigration was a slow process that speeded up a little when the 8 policemen clearing Bangladeshi's back into their country began helping the 2 policemen taking care of all of the visitors. I don't have any problem with a little national favoritism but this may have been a bit too one-sided. I'm sure that never happens in the USA … grins!! After clearing immigration I went to claim my checked bag at carousel #2 as instructed only to find they were also putting some of our bags on #3 as well. After a lengthy wait and no sign of my bag I took a walk around and found it laying on the ground at the end of carousel #3 where it had obviously tumbled off but no one had bothered to lift it back on! Oh well, at least it was there.

Sajit, my lead in Bangladesh, met me at the airport with a driver and took me to the hotel. I had met Sajit previously on some training I took in Malaysia so we had quite a bit to catch up on. He is an Indian gentleman who is employed by the American Red Cross as a delegate to the International Federation of the Red Cross to head up the Cyclone Preparedness Project in Bangladesh. Got that!!

The reason for my title is that I had been reading about the horrendous traffic jams they have in Dhaka. My trip to the hotel and then a subsequent trip to Sajit's for lunch were easy – no holdups anywhere to be seen. Then I talked to the driver who explained that 1) it was Saturday and 2) this was the end of a major holiday and that many people were still away. “Wait for tomorrow” I heard more than once. A trip that took 5 minutes today will easily take 45 minutes tomorrow. Their work week here is Sunday through Thursday, Friday being a holy day for muslims is the first day of their weekend. I'll have to remember this in two weeks when I need to get back to the airport on Sunday and the trip that took 30 minutes this morning will probably take 2 hours. I think I think I've been spoiled ... :-)

My first impression of Dhaka is of a hustling, bustling city that obviously needs repair. Like many cities in poorer parts of the world almost everything is covered in a layer of dust and many of the buildings could use some exterior repair. Traffic seems to be chaotic but it works … at least on weekends. Rickshaws, both pedal powered and engine powered are everywhere. I'm sure I'll see many, many more tomorrow. Whenever you get stopped in traffic there's almost always at least one person either begging for money or trying to sell you something. You have to learn to turn the proverbial 'blind eye' or you'll be beseiged. The few people I've met so far are friendly as can be and I'm told this holds true for the entire country. The food, albeit based on a small sample, is delicious. In fact I had my second best ever airline meal this morning flying from Dubai which was a heavily seasoned vegetarian meal … I almost asked for seconds – and it was a coach-class meal as well. In case you're wondering my best ever airline meal was a dinner of chicken kababs as an appetizer followed by chicken tikka masala served on an Air Malaysia flight many moons ago in my former life. Business Class definitely offered some perks.

I'm staying for one night at the Washington Hotel, how fitting. It's an older hotel but seems to be well kept and has good wifi in the rooms … what more could you ask for. It's located in the diplomatic area of Dhaka called Gulshan and I'm told is a safe area to walk around.

Tomorrow I start my field trip. I'll be based in Barisal for 10 days or so to conduct radio assessments in that zone. We'll have 5 other teams doing the same in the other five zones. Much more to report on life in the Bangladeshi countryside later. And I'll try to include some photos ...

For now it's time to go to bed and try to convince my brain it's 10:00pm at night and not 10:00am in the morning. Maybe I can find an American football game on TV – Ann's convinced that can send me to sleep quicker than anything even though I claim I never nap.

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