25 September 2007

Week 3: No Rowing in Bangladesh or How I Learned to Ride the Bus

3rd-1st in Dhaka 9/19

Today I had quite an experience trying to get down to BUET to meet my professor. I took a rickshaw down to North Avenue, the easiest part of the trip it turned out. Hailing CNGs the entire trip was difficult, as most were full, and I was competing with many others for a ride. The first CNG broke down right after I got in. So I got out, not knowing what else to do. The second didn’t understand where I wanted to go and got someone to translate since he didn’t understand my Bengali. I told him I wanted to go to BUET, and we seemed to agree on 70Tk, even through he wanted 100Tk. Well we didn’t go more than 100 feet before he pulled over, and called over another guy. Well this interpreter told me the driver wanted 100Tk, and I told him that the driver had said 70Tk was fine. He asked where I was going, and I said BUET. Telling the driver this, the driver seemed shocked, and refused to go there. He had thought I wanted to go to the Sheraton Hotel, since the Bangla word for 70 sounded similar. So he wouldn’t drive me to the university (perhaps because getting there is a pain). I had to get out.

I start walking with the interpreter to the closest major road to pick up another CNG. He’s looking for one as well. He ends up getting a rickshaw though, and while I’m still looking for a CNG, he asks me to hop in with him. Already realizing I’m going to be late to my meeting, I say sure, at least I’ll be making progress as he’s going in the right direction (though not all the way.)

The guy gets off in Mohatkali, and I as well. I offer him money, but he won’t accept. I go out to the main road to get a CNG. The ones I ask to go to BUET, won’t, very likely because of the tough traffic on the way there. Finally, as I’ve now walked a mile, and to the next major intersection, I find a CNG who’ll take me for 200Tk. That’s ridiculous. I say 100Tk, now resorting to the price the 2nd CNG driver offered. The guy says no. I walk away. He drives up, and says 150Tk. Deciding it’d be nice to be only a half hour late to my meeting, I accept. In the scheme of things, its not much, just I’m way overpaying.

I arrive at my professors finally. Climb the six floors to his office. We chat for a half hour. It was good to finally meet the man I’ve been talking to for a year through email, who played a large part in getting me the scholarship. We talked about the Jatrabari flyover, my research road. Apparently, its construction might be delayed, or never happen. It’s very likely I’ll have to change my research focus. That’s okay with me. He has a lot of interests that mesh with mine. For example, he did his PhD work on the flow pattens of different size vehicles in traffic, e.g. rickshaws

We talked about the other research he has with his other students. My academic history and future. Baseball and cricket. He lived in Japan for his PhD, so he fell in love with baseball. We chatted about his family, my family, where he lives, where I intend to live. I asked about the possibility of a desk, and he said he’ll see what he can do. We planned to meet in a month, and he’ll know more about Jatrabari by then. Either way, I can always change.

I then headed out from there to Dr. Haque’s office in Mohatkali. This time I got a CNG for 100Tk. Still expensive, but I wanted to be there and not wait for a magical CNG that’s cheaper that’ll never come.

Dr. Haque and I met for a short time. Talked about his GIS project. Showed me what he’s done. We looked at the city map for a bit. Talked about his students and class. We then went to his house to grab another GPS unit so I can do some data collecting myself. Shall be very fun to use on my trips with Shakil.

3rd-2nd in Dhaka 9/20

Dr. Hummer had asked me more about what’s causing the traffic so I responded with: Why the traffic is bad, I cannot tell, might take all year to answer that. The infrastructure is in horrible shape. For example, take a 4 lane undivided road. Many times, three of the lanes have huge holes or parked vehicles, so the entire road is reduced to one lane for both directions. And this type of issue might happen several times in a mile-long stretch. No one, rickshaws or cars wants to drive over such big potholes, and they all try cramming through the same bits of space. Short term solutions have included restricting rickshaws to side roads. A trip through town on a rickshaw used to be possible, but no longer is, as main arteries are for motorized vehicles only. This means that rickshaws become restricted to the small bits of area bounded on all sides by arteries (they cannot use nor cross.) So it reduces traffic on the main roads, a good deal, since rickshaws slow moving in the outside lane was a huge problem for turning and merging. However, you reduce the most popular mode of travel to small areas.

Fight #4…saw it at Gulshan 2 the other night. Some guy trying to hit another guy with a pole.

At the same intersection that night, I heard the car next to me talking about me. I knew when they said “shada” or “white” in Bengali. So I said back to them in Bengali: “You said white, I heard you!”

5 Favorite Parts of Iftar as compiled by a friend and myself:
1. When amongst many people, it gets silent after the azan is heard from the mosque for a couple of minutes as every breaks the fast, when right before the room was loud with chatter..
2. The fact that you hear the azan all through out the city in waves. (although this one applies year round)
3. How we put as much food into their mouth as fast as possible.
4. How it’s such an event throughout the city, affecting the traffic around 3pm and office hours.
5. How restaurants have specials just for Iftar, and all give you A LOT of food.

Went to A+W with Megan for iftar. Our goal had been Pizza Hut, but it was packed, sold out, locked down, because of the Iftar special. They weren’t letting new customers in. So A&W, equally packed, but it had room on the kid’s playground floor where others were eating as well. For $4, we got a burger, hot dog, unlimited root beer and fried chicken. Yum!!!! Had tons to eat. Lots of fun. The Pakistan/Bangladesh cricket match was on as well. Shouts could be heard through the whole restaurant anytime Bangladesh made a good play. Also should note that almost everyone their were between the ages of 15-24. (photos of A&W playground iftar below)

3rd-3rd in Dhaka 9/21

Dad mentioned how they drive on the left, so I responded with the following:
They were under British rule until the 50s like India, so they drive on the left...or the right...or the center...depending on the traffic and congestion! But usually they aim for the left. Unless they want to go down the right. Or there's a big pothole in the left, then maybe the center. But the left is where they would like to be, most of the time. The right is always cool too.

Went out and bought 2 CDS (mix and Artcell) and first DVD.

Had dinner with Courtney and Megan. Delicious food. We played games afterwards. Chinese checkers and Parcheesi. It was fun. I won one of the games. And the other was a tight finish.

3rd-4th in Dhaka 9/22

Starting to get nervous about finding housing in Dhanmondi. Want to find someone to live with. Don’t want to be alone and bored. Been checking myspace and other places to find a roommate or a flat to rent.

Also coming to terms with the fact that I’ll be likely traveling alone for Eid break. I really want to go with someone. All Bangladeshis are with their family, and all Americans who’ve been here had plans before I arrived.

Also got asked by the security guard downstairs for money. He said he had an operation for a hernia, and asked for money. He showed me the bill. I’m not sure what to do yet. Nervous for next time I’ll have to see him.
Advice given was to tell him you’re sorry for the situation, but you can’t give the money right now.

Today was a success! I navigated the bus/rickshaw system all the way to BUET to meet Farah’s nephew. I took the double decker Volvo bus to Shabag. The rickshaw to get to the bus stop cost 10Tk. Bus 12Tk. Then rickshaw from Shabag to BUET 12 Tk. I was glad to buy the bus ticket speaking Bengali. He showed me around the campus, the CE bldg, the gym, the dorms, the labs, and the soccer fields. Rasha then brings me to where I can get a bus back home. We figure out which bus I need to take back home. I board it, and get off at the right stop. Total cost for the whole trip 48Tk. And I got to see new parts of the city too. If I’d taken CNGs the whole way, I’d have paid at least 200Tk. It took a bit longer, but very little. Traffic is the same for all modes.

3rd-5th in Dhaka 9/23

Shakil and I took a bus from Baridhara down to Motijheel/Gulistan. Our goal was to stop at Bangabandhu stadium and see the Rowing Federation. We were going to find out if there were any clubs in Dhaka, and where in Bangladesh there was rowing.

On the ride down we talked primarily in Bengali. The office of the federation, after finally finding it, was closed. Some woman told Shakil they’ll reopen at 4. Meanwhile, him and I went to explore. Ultimately, after wandering into Motijheel further, we took a rickshaw to the train station. There we bought tickets to go onto the platform. We walked to the end, watched trains come in, then walked through one which had just arrived. We looked at the different classes of seating. Took pictures. Then we took the skywalk over the train station to see it from above. Lots of people use the skywalk to commute it seems like. You could see the container yards from the train station. (Below, picture of stadium, view down very long train station, myself in 2nd class train car, train station from walkway above.)

We went back to the Rowing Federation afterwards. Simply put, despite all the signs and pictures, there is no more rowing in Bangladesh. They focus now on dragon boat racing. The only boats in the whole country belong to the Navy in Chittagong. Kinda disappointed. Wished I could’ve been involved here. Luckily Shakil was there to do the talking. I never would’ve been able to handle such a complex conversation. ("Rowing" sign, and rugby game outside stadium)

I’m keeping my bus tickets so I can remember which ones went where. So I can do it all again later.

Like any non-US country, the money is very complex. Different sizes/colors. It’s very hard to find small denominations. They’re precious, so I hold onto them when I can because you want plenty when riding rickshaws for less than the 500Tk notes the ATM spits out.

Today I snapped a photo of “a rickshaw being pulled around by another rickshaw”, as sung about in Modest Mouse’s song Steam Engenius.

3rd-6th in Dhaka 9/24

Today after class I went down to Dr. Haque’s office at BRAC. We looked at my GPS unit, the data I collected, and updated the software on the unit he gave me, in hopes of getting better satellite reception from now on. He was real excited to know of all the places I was gallivanting about, since he doesn’t have the time to make it out everywhere. As long as the GPS connects, I’ll be a valuable data collector.

I got to meet his class as well. I introduced myself, and talked about what I was doing here. Took a few photos for him as well.

Overpaid a bit on most rickshaws today. Some guys we’re giving me a tough time about paying more. I gave in some, they do earn it.

Naira’s for iftar. Met her brother’s friends. Talked mostly in Bangla. I caught a lot of words though. I don’t know why. Maybe I’m getting better. But some conversations I can follow a bit. They do infiltrate their speech with a lot of English so that helps.

We then watched India vs. Pakistan cricket match. I was rooting for Pakistan as most people I’ve met here do. My heart was pounding at the end as Pakistan mounted a huge comeback. But, alas, they fell short, losing their last wicket with 4 balls remaining, down by 5. So close!

3rd-7th in Dhaka 9/25

Today Nadia, a teacher in the other class, discussed why so many people here have a hard time understanding my Bengali, and don’t always think I’m speaking it (believing I’m speaking English words they don’t know instead.) One thing we thought of is that perhaps Bengali words sound similar between each other, so a word mispronounced, can quickly change the meaning of a sentence (or make it impossibly confusing.) In English, I told her I found mispronounced words could usually be picked out. But this didn’t seem to sit well with us. Bengali and English both have many words, and thus both should have confusions made between words.
Our second theory seem to be a much better fit. The English speaking world is huge. And those that speak as English as a second or third language perhaps includes the majority of the planet. Thus, an English speaker, encounters very frequently, others who pronounce the same language with a different accent, and/or with broken speech. Thus, one becomes accustomed to hearing English pronounced differently from how oneself speaks it, and is readied for differences. Bangladeshis, on the other hand, are the exact opposite. Only two countries speak Bengali, Bangladesh and eastern India. Although it is in the top 5 of most native speakers in the world due to the density of people in this region, outside of the area, it is not heard. Thus, people in this area are accustomed to only hearing residents of their region speak Bengali. Although dialects exist, a foreign accent on their language is very rarely encountered. Thus, my foreign accent, applied to Bengali, could be very difficult to understand, and thus confusing to many I may encounter.

Went to Nafisa’s aunt’s house for iftar. Met her cousins. Its cool to meet up with her once in awhile. Keep up with what we’ve both been up to as Fulbrights. She’s making a lot of headway on the school she wants to build in Khulna, in southwestern Bangladesh.

One benefit to the difference of time zones and weekends: I have my weekend on Friday and Saturday. College football games happen on Sunday morning for me, so I wake up and see the results. Then NFL happens on Monday and Tuesday morning. So I get to follow that throughout those days. Then, as Tuesday finishes, I only have two days til my weekend, then two weekend days til more football!

1 comment:

Tanisha said...

Interesting blog...reading it since morning..