We leave for our trip to the Deep South with 38 other Bengalis. We are the only western tourists on this trip – we will fly back because of the great distance and terrible delays that plague the river ways this time of year (usually fog related). Interestingly the airline we fly back on is called United….Airways that is. We are seeking out sightings of the rare Royal Bengal Tiger, one of the last few places in the world that you can see this very much endangered species in the wild. One of our guides returned last week and saw one swimming across the river, a fortunate sighting indeed as visual contact is extremely rare. There are several doctors coming on this trip so we should be in good hands.
The streets are so dirty we find our feet completely black when we return after a day of walking. Yesterday we were stuck in traffic for 5+ hours, almost total gridlock at times for distances that are extremely short. 1 hour to go .5 of a kilometer. In the heat of the late afternoon, we were all stuck in complete gridlock at one of the round abouts which barely function due to the massive number of vehicles. A taxi squirted forward in frustration bumping hard into several of the rickshaw drivers. Together these drivers jumped off their bicycles and ran over and started beating the taxi driver through his open window, throwing fist after fist at the poor guy. We were extremely close as this incident happened right behind us – but there was no where for the taxi driver to go. These common road rage incidents happen extremely quickly.
Last night found a New Zealander, Peruvian and Italian seated in Bangladesh, in the country’s most expensive restaurant eating Korean Kimchi. This restaurant is located in the heart of the embassy district. With sashimi priced to $50/plate, this restaurant is affordable by only the most wealthiest in the country, including a number of various embassy officials. The patrons were all dressed up in their finest, we found ourselves in our dirty digs sipping on rice wine and feasting on an amazing selection of Korean specialties – unbelievable food!
We visited the fake Taj Mahal about 2 hours outside of town; a wealthy Desher has built this based on love, not the love of a person as found with the construction of the original Taj, but with love of the original Taj. As a result this is now becoming a major tourist attraction for Bangli’s from Dhaka, even though at the time of our visit, it was not even yet completed!
Catholicism in the Desh? It’s found in the form of Armenian churches dating from the 16 and 17th centuries. We visited one small church in old town Dhaka (no longer used). Only 8 Armenian families still live in the country, most in the Embassy district.
We also hit the old capital city of Sonargaon as well on the outskirts of town – the highlight here was the wooden hand operated Ferris wheel, with older kids pushing down as hard as they could thus ensuring a bone jarring ride as your wooden chair is flung from the top of the Ferris wheel as you round the uppermost arc on your way down. This was the squeakiest and noisiest Ferris wheel I’ve ever been on!
Everyone deals with pain of seeing the poverty in Dhaka differently. For most people the incessant traffic, among the worst air pollution I’ve every seen in my travels, and the unbelievable poverty leaves one extremely tired.
Our friend in Dhaka is raising money to help the poorest of the poorest kids in the city. We toured the slums this morning, so sad to see. It’s the lowest of the low. Garbage everywhere, metal shacks, dirt roads. Our friend was wearing his suit and tie and kids came running up to see him and hold his hands while they walked with him on the dirt paths. The contrast between his clothes and the locals was great. Some kids had no hope in their eyes and were quite a number were dirty and dressed in very poor clothing. A number were laughing. The ones that are paid to go to school looked better than the other children, in their faces and with their clothing.
Last year our friend had his student’s interview people on the street, beggars, maids, rickshaw drivers, brick breakers – and their poignant responses are quoted on paper under their photos. It is very sad to read some of these, others are more hopeful. Select photos of these people and their comments are listed below. These quotes are from students at the well-respected private International School in Dhaka: www.isdbd.org
You have a visceral reaction to seeing this extreme poverty and it leaves you physically and mentally drained. Our friend is helping with the basics – food, clothing and education.
Quotes from ISD Student Interviews: