The weather really cooled down last week, and so did the pool! I am still swimming every morning and a last week it was the first time I think I’ve ever been cold since being here (apart from in freezing A/C!). It was breezy and spitting rain and the pool water has dropped from 32 to 28/29 (nightmare I know!). That particular morning I was feeling awful so was freezing in the pool! Now though, 29 is the best temperature to swim and so much more refreshing – 32 really was a little too warm to be! Running was much easier and I had some good runs. The weather is hot again now, and it has rained so much this week! It’s meant to be the end of the monsoon! It rains so hard here that we have had to give my housemate a lift over the road – literally! Else she would have been wading through knee deep road water. Rickshaws are a handy thing to have around here if you don’t have a car.
This week has also reminded me that the world is really really a very small place. Everyone is connected! I met someone this week who knew people I went to school with, and another friend I have met here through my old school friend who also went to the same school as the first person! There have been connections all over the place during the weekend – where I learnt the expat world is so much smaller than I thought. I’ve met people from Basel, Brighton, people who went to university with my friends.. everything. Even a consultant who recently joined us knows one of my family members. It’s cliche.. but small world.
This week has been a whirlwind of activity trying to finish everything I want to achieve with the charity. After I commented on a post from someone on the Dhaka expat group asking if there was anywhere they could donate clothes, that there was a great charity that could really use any donations and that I could pick donations up, I was hit with a scurry of messages with people wanting to donate things. I brought them to the charity when I went last to pick up some products for viewing. The kids now have some new clothes and craft items and the women some new clothes. Everyone was really happy and a little thing like that can really brighten up their day. It just shows, the means is there – even here – all it takes is someone to ask. During out stay my little friend put some henna on my couchsurfer’s foot which he was very excited about, showing everyone he could afterwards.
We had a couchsurfer this week for 4 days from Japan. As the only actual tourist I, or anyone else, had met visiting Bangladesh, he was very enthusiastic about all the experiences he had during his stay. A memorable moment of him was his face after trying a jello-shot for the first time (jelly+vodka) – a mixture of delight and surprise followed by some amazement noises. The perhaps slightly more cultural experiences we shared with him he thoroughly enjoyed too. He was keen to do everything we were doing over the weekend and left with a smile on his face. He made us a wonderful Japanese dinner the night before he left, my favourite being a rice and green tea dish. I’m sorry to say I can’t remember the names of any thing but they were all like nothing I had tried before and really delicious. I’m now keen on more guests (!!) and wholeheartedly endorse couchsurfing and the entire idea behind it – to meet people from different cultures.
This weekend was probably one of the best weekends I have had in Bangladesh. One part of the weekend was certainly my favourite moment here so far. On the first day of the weekend, after visiting the charity, we headed to an area called Dhanmondi with my housemates. Most expats live in the north part of Dhaka in 4 areas in which there are a lot of embassies and international companies. Dhanmondi however, further south, also has a lot of expat residents and it’s seen as a much more happening and exciting place. We had lunch at a very popular bangladeshi restaurant (in which we saw 3 different groups of people from the party the previous night shuffling in for some well needed food), and then went to the lake. We rented some paddle boats for half an hour and I suddenly felt very relaxed, sun on my face, feet up, floating in the middle of a lake surrounded by trees and vegetation, and many people strolling or sitting. As my housemate who hadn’t get been to Dhanmondi exclaimed, the place was very different to the rest of Asia – and for me, very different to the rest of Dhaka – a calm oasis in the middle of a bustling city. The sun made it all the more pleasant.
While I was on the boat, for the first time I felt that I am going to miss Bangladesh. Of course here are people I have met and things I have become used to that I will miss, but I realised that I was going to miss living here in general. The day continued and we took a stroll along the water. We were really struck by the area which is very different from where we live. People everywhere sitting, relaxing by the water in the sun, smiling, chatting and laughing. We stopped and had a go with a gun trying to pop balloons mounted on a board for 20 taka. The ingenuity of the people here to earn a living is really very impressive. I’ve seen everything from someone selling uses of a weighing scales to peppers cut into the shape of flowers on a stick. It’s inspiring.
During our stroll we came across a large group of teenage boys, one sitting with a guitar and casually strumming it. My housemate wanted to hear him play so we approached to their delight – they immediately all scrambled up and gave us a bench to sit on. For the next half an hour we were serenaded by the most enthusiastic, soulful and happy group of boys I’ve ever seen. They sang songs in a mixture of bengali, hindi and english, and sang their hearts out. There was no embarrassment that you would come across in western groups of teenage boys. They all clearly loved to sing and wanted us to hear. Hear them we did, as well as everyone else in the park. Two or three songs in and we had gathered a huge crowd of people – I’m not sure whether they were watching the music or us! It was hard to tell, but probably a mixture of both – Why are the bideshi girls listening to boys sing and play the guitar?. After a few more songs, one of the boy beckoned a little kid selling flowers over and whispered into his ear. He then proceeded to hand us a beautiful and unusual yellow flower each. It was that moment that I really felt sad about leaving this beautiful country. On the outside it may look run down and dirty, but the people are what makes the country and the people are beautiful.
I could have stayed and listened all day to the boys – mostly to watch their eyes close and really feel the things they were singing. But we made a move after a couple rounds of shall we stay for just one more song whispered between us. Our couchsurfer wanted a picture with them which got everyone involved and although they came out blurry and bright, it is the perfect souvenir of the memory. A complete scurry of every boy wanting to get in a picture with us, ridiculously proud and touched that we had listened to them sing. I wished there was a way to tell them I was so grateful to them, and honoured to have listened. They waved us off, after a few pictures taken from their camera phones and we talked about it for the rest of the night.
A friend organized a pot luck on Thursday night which was lovely. As we were in a rush we had asked our maid to make chola (chickpea salad with onions and coriander) and some deep fried iftar food like battered eggplant, samosa and a potato and onion dough ball. The pot luck broke up and everyone headed to a roof top party – something that is getting more and more common now that the monsoon season is ending. The party was a lot of fun and well attended. I am always surprised that no one complains at the noise as they are always very loud. My only guess is that they feel they can’t complain about a bideshi party, as it seems we have slightly different rules here. Bideshis seem to have the freedom to do what they want to a certain extent, and are treated accordingly.
A further instance of this was hash this week. It was a really good hash which led into the new Future Park – a ginormous shopping mall with an amusement park outside that looks totally out of place and has been standing nearly finished and empty for the past 6 years. Even though still being built inside, a friend of a friend (it’s all about connections!) was the boss and we ended our hash running from the bottom to the top and all around this huge 8 story shopping mall. It was the most bizarre thing running through an empty shopping mall of empty shops (apart from one selling donuts – literally one – to who?!). We finished on the roof, with a beautiful view over Dhaka. It was one of my favourite hashes. Next hash is my last hash, I am very sorry to say. However it’s quite exciting as I will be one of the hares. This means I set the hash with my other hares, wear red during the hash and am the one that knows the way – I make sure everyone is together and no one gets lost on the way, and point out checkpoints etc if they are missed. I’m looking forward to it a lot!
Work this week is as manic as everything else. I had an extremely busy day sorting out contracts for consultants which is very very complicated and long winded. Amongst many other tasks, I am preparing my joint presentation on restorative justice. We have done some interviews with people in the team that have a lot of experienced and I have more of a direction of how we are going to do it. I am very nervous to get infront of everyone and speak about something many of them know more about than me but I hope to bring some new ideas to the table and get people thinking really about what the work they are doing is achieving and whether this is their goal. Today we have a day off but I came into work for a meeting with a deputy secretary of the cabinet which was extremely interesting. I am now just using the computers here before going home where we are on day 4 of no internet.
Tonight we are going to our favourite cheap place to eat for the last time and hopefully I will be showing Hope for Life products to the cafe owner. Time is really running out and I now have plans for every single evening of my last eight days in Dhaka.