Monday, June 10, 2013

Monday, June 10th (My First Weekend)

Wow, so it’s been a few days and this ended up being such a LONG post! Woops. But I just got home from work after a pretty eventful weekend. Tomorrow is a scheduled Hartal (a strike), so I will stay at home and work. I guess it is very unusual that there weren’t any last week; they are pretty common and sometimes there are a couple in a week. It’s really bad timing, since Kishan and Prabhat just left this morning until Thursday, so I will have to entertain myself at home tomorrow.

So, this weekend I was on my own quite a bit, because Kishan and Prabhat were at the office and kept thinking they were leaving to go into the field but then just ended up preparing to go. Like I said, weekends here are Friday and Saturday, so those are the days we get off. Friday morning Kishan and Prabhat left, and I just hung out all morning. It was actually really nice and relaxing—made myself an egg sandwich and watched Damages (great show). I decided I needed to get myself out and oriented around our neighborhood and over this whole uncomfortable walking around alone thing, so I mapped out a walk in my guidebook and went on a walk in the afternoon. It was actually really nice to see the neighborhood and get more comfortable getting around on my own. There are a lot of corner shops nearby, which was a good discovery, even though there is quite a big market just down the street in the other direction. But corner shops can be easier to navigate and manage—they just have the basics of snacks and drinks.

After my walk, I headed home and Kishan and Prabhat actually came home after I thought they had gone to the field, so we were able to grab dinner. We went to a Thai place nearby. It was good and we stayed late just hanging out and talking and drinking tea. I forgot to put bug spray on though….ugh. I didn’t get too many bites, but they’re literally the size of silver dollars—the biggest I’ve EVER seen. And I got one on the middle of my forehead (who gets bitten there??).

On our way home, we stopped at the market to get some fruit and snacks. We were in the middle of buying fruit from a stand when a huge BOOM when off. Everyone in the market ducked. That was the scary part. I thought it sounded like a firework had gone off in the street! And at first, sort of thought that’s what it was and thought we’d see one. But then with everyone ducking, it was pretty scary. It didn’t help that a guy started running towards the market after (even though it was totally unrelated). All three of us were a little nervous. Everyone was saying it was a blown tire or something, but it certainly didn’t sound like that—maybe it was. In any case, nobody seemed too concerned after but we hurried home anyway.

We watched TV when we got home—we actually get a HUGE array of channels in like 7 different languages. But the few English speaking ones broadcast old shows from home, which is nice. There are a LOT of religious channels; one just shows live footage of Mecca 24/7 with Muslims walking around it in circles praying and prayers being read in the background.

Saturday morning, Prabhat and Kishan didn’t have to leave until 2pm, so we hung out in the morning and had egg sandwiches and mango. The mango, which is just coming into season, is DELICIOUS. The best fruit I’ve maybe ever had. It is so so much better than mango at home and apparently they will get even better as they become more in season. Kishan and I went and explored Gulshan 2 after breakfast. We live in Banani and right next to us is Gulshan 1 and Gulshan 2—all three are probably the nicest parts of Dhaka. Gulshan 2 was very urban (I took pics so I will post them) and crazy and hectic and loud. It was fun to walk around. They have a TON of big markets and then also modern, nice stores, as well. We wandered down some residential streets, and those were REALLY nice. I am glad we live in Banani, though, because it is calmer and so much easier to get around. If I had to go to the market there, it would be SO overwhelming. One stand was a pet stand and had a little cage of kittens. I was SO tempted to get one, but the logistics didn’t seem to make much sense. Once we got home, though, Prabhat was all for it. So, we will see. Between needing a vet and a home after we leave, it’s sort of doubtful. I’m not even a cat person but these kittens were SO cute! And just stuffed in a little cage…

After walking around, the boys left and I met up with Martin. It was already getting late in the day, so we decided to just try and go to a couple places in the city. It’s hard to get around with the crazy traffic here, and the city is quite spread out. We set out for Dhaka University. It should’ve raised a red flag when Martin pointed out the square next to it that a lot of the rallies had been a few weeks ago; but I figured we wouldn’t be going if they were still going on. The auto ride was LONG and our driver was CRAZY. I had to just close my eyes a few times and hope for the best. A bus almost rammed us into a median. I am completely terrified when I’m in these things….we avoided traffic more than if we had gone during the week, but we still hit some. Passing through other parts of the city was eye opening and definitely made me appreciate the area we live in. It is SO crowded everyone else—you can’t even imagine how busy--so much more so than here (which is still very, very populated and busy) and all the buildings are grimy and packed tightly together.

When we got to the university we got out, and we heard shouting on a loudspeaker across the street. But we first went into the university building we were closest to and it opened into a courtyard in the middle that was really nice. I thought I get attention walking around here??? It was like people had never seen foreigners! Every single eye was on us (Martin is a classic-looking Swede with pale skin, blonde hair and blue eyes). It was pretty unsettling but still neat to explore around a little.

When we headed back out, I followed Martin across the street to see the park everyone seemed congregated in. There was a huge crowd of people apparently just milling around, sort of walking around in a big circle. They all had cards around their necks, but we didn't understand the loudspeaker chanting/singing/speeches or know what they were there for. We walked out of the park and started heading down the street across from where they were congregated (it was a fenced in lawn) At this point I was VERY uncomfortable. It wasn’t clear if the shouting and chanting from the square was angry or not. And there was overflow of people obviously involved walking down the busy sidewalks (they had the tags around their necks). We were getting a lot of attention, and I obviously couldn’t tell if it was just because we were foreigners or because we were there. People were calling out to us.  It didn’t seem smart to be there when so many people were obviously protesting or rallying for something we didn’t understand. Finally, as we were walking, I saw a large number of people leaving the enclosed park across the street and going out into the streets with purpose—holding up flags and chanting. At this point, I told Martin we should really turn around. Who knows what this was about, but I didn’t think it was smart to be anywhere near it in case anything got out of hand. He seemed to think we could leave easily enough if it got out of hand, but as I saw people going into the streets, I knew it was time to leave.

We walked in the other direction from all of the commotion for a while, looking for the National Museum, but we didn’t find it. So we go into an auto and headed to Parliament. At this point I was nauseous from the nerves of dealing with the crowd and also from walking around in the heat for much longer than I was used to. I was happy to be in an auto, though, but the crazy driving didn’t help my stomach. We drove for a very long time again, and then we ended up at a shopping center. Hm. Not where we were trying to go. We tried to explain to some guy on the street where we wanted to go, and we got really lucky that it just happened to be close by. Our auto could’ve easily driven us to the other side of the city.

We got to Parliament (the National Assembly Hall), which is on a big plot of land surrounded by a fence. We were quite far away from it and couldn’t get closer. I took a picture so I will post that. It’s a strange looking building—big and modern. There was a very wide, open sidewalk around the fence, though, and as it became evening it had really cooled off. People were sitting and milling around this area—it must be a place people come to hang out. It was right up against a highway, though, so it was pretty loud.

We decided to sit down but boy was that a mistake. A little girl came up and held up flower necklaces right up against my face, and even as we said no, no, nay we don’t want any, she still kept asking and asking. Then a little boy holding his even younger brother came up asking for money. Soon five other children came up behind us poking us and asking for money. There isn’t that much begging in the Banani area (more in Gulshan 1 and 2 I’ve noticed), but it is hard to know what to do. With the children beggars, many say paying them just perpetuates the problem. And that money goes back to a pimp or their parents who will then send them out again, if it’s a successful way to get money. It’s really hard to know what to do, but with the swarm of poking children we decided to get up and keep walking. A couple of them followed us.

It was starting to get late anyway so we took an auto back. I was pretty exhausted from the long day in the heat and the commotion with the rally. I was happy when the auto took me straight home without any problems. Prabhat and Kishan came home shortly after and brought Pizza Hut pizza. It was different than in the US but still delicious—a good end to a hectic day. We just watched some TV and headed to bed early. They had to be up at 4:30am to FINALLY leave for the field.

Today work was very uneventful. Having looked at a map we bought in Gulshan, I have a very good sense of the roads in this area now, and I walked to work just to see the way. Our day was short, because they announced the strike, and I guess it’s not good to be outside at night before the strike because they sometimes do things the night before. I stopped by the market on the way home and managed to buy a couple things on my own, which I was pretty impressed with. The market is hectic and tightly packed between the stands and people don’t really speak English and prices aren’t fixed (I’m SURE I got ripped off…) but I was happy that I managed to get some food basics.  

The strike tomorrow is by the Jamaat-E-Islami, which is a radical Islamic political party. It is in response to the fact that one of their members just got the death sentence for war crimes he committed in the 70’s. I guess their strikes can get kind of violent, which is why it’s best to stay inside if possible. I think it’s a lot of blocking roads and setting empty vehicles on fire, and then violence can break out when the police show up to try and break it up. I guess we’ll just see what happens, but I feel okay about it, because everyone else seems calm since they are such a regular occurrence.  

Also as a side note, there are little ants in my bed L. I’m not sure how to take care of that, but I guess I’ll start with washing my sheets. It’s pretty creepy and uncomfortable though…

But that’s all for my weekend! I was going to stay with Ariadna while the guys were gone, but I really am settling in to the apartment and the neighborhood. We have a man at the gate who is so nice, and I met my neighbor today (she doesn't speak english but seems very nice!). Also, after seeing the rest of Dhaka, I really have an appreciation for how great this area is! So, I am staying on my own this week.

I can’t believe it’s already been a week; time is flying by. We were talking about places we want to travel (within the country and outside) today, so we are going to try and get going on planning those. I will keep everyone posted on my week! (Alone…meh)

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