So I’m jumping on the blog-bandwagon. I figured that for the next year while I’m out of the country in Bangladesh, instead of bothering people with a flood of impersonal mass emails, I would post it all in a one of these hip and trendy blog thingies, so that those interested could read about my life as they pleased. I have an affinity towards digression and half of what I write will probably be more like journal entries for myself to reread one day than anything else... but enjoy...

Monday, October 03, 2005

First Impressions

I got off the plane and a guy met me with a sign with my name on it before customs... which seemed a little weird. He had on an official badge and said, hey give me your passport, you can cut the line, and i'll meet you at the baggage claim... a little apprehensive to give away my passport to anyone, let alone a stranger, but it was legit... we not only cut all the lines, we cut the diplomatic line. The guy from the embassy knew the passport agent guy, so i just went right through, and then the embassy guy waited on line for me...

It was interesting, somewhat cool, but also a little silly to be treated as a diplomat. My main contact here, Shaheen Khan, at the American Center had gotten me a room at the Paradise Hotel. It’s the place where the State Department and US Embassy folk stay. Intially I felt a little bit uncomfortable about staying at a place called Paradise Hotel upon arrival in one of the poorest countries in the world… just seems a bit hypocritical. It turns out be nice and probably a paradise compared to most places, but basically a regular hotel… internet, restaurant downstairs, hot/cold shower, AC in the room… it’s definitely nice and more than I need, but it’s not as though I’m guilt-stricken by staying here.

Paradise Garden Hotel, Barhidara, Dhaka, Bangladesh

View from Paradise Garden Hotel Roof

Kind of laid low that first day. Got a call from Shaheen bright and early Thursday morning. There was an embassy car waiting for me at 10am. Headed to the American Center, a separate building and different part of town than the actual US Embassy. Met with the famous Shaheen. Had some paperwork and basic orientation. Things were a bit crazy at the place because they were filming the Bangla version of Sesame Street and there were little kids swarming the place… cute.

Met a guy named Mika who is on an English teaching program. Picked his brain about how to find an apartment, how much to negotiate for rickshaws, is it safe to be out at night, is there any sort of social life, basic intro stuff… good guy.

Walked over to the HEED Language Center… had my first glimpse of the craziness of the streets… it’s really a sensory overload. Just so many sounds and colors and smells and people… there had just been a huge down pour and now it was sunny and sticky again. I felt so alive.

Kamal Atturtuk, main road in Banani

Gulshan-2 Circle

Of course I’m in the ritzier part of town. The hotel is in Baridhara, the real exclusive part of town with the embassies. The American center is in Banani, and between the two areas is Gulshan (there's Gulshan-1 and 2). These are the more touristy, safer places… you see some nice cars, people on cell phones, well dressed business people and professionals. There is of course the other extreme even in these parts town… but I’m sure it’s nothing compared to life in the rest of the city… but honestly I’d expected even these posh parts of town to be less developed than they are.

The HEED Language Center is great little guesthouse and language school. I think I’ll move in on Saturday or Sunday. Susan, the lady running the show said I could stay for a week or two. It will give me time to look for an apartment. I might start Bangla classes on Monday morning, 8am. Not sure though. It seems a bit like rushing into it, but if I don’t start now, I won’t be able to take the cheaper group lessons for another month, and instead I’d have to pay for individual lessons, which are much more expensive… we’ll see.

Trekked back to my hotel with another dude I met at HEED, Jim. He’s taking intense language courses for a few months, then is going to be working in a hospital down south, I think helping with interpretation or training or something.

His philosophy on giving to the beggars, is usually not to give money. It is rumored that women are kidnapped from the villages and forced to beg for money on behalf of others. Jim did see a woman right in the hectic Gulshan 2 circle with her child, so he walked her to a store and bought her some baby food that she’d requested.


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