A Smorgasbord

In light of me finally putting up those river-cruise pictures, I though it would be a good idea to relate my second encounter with the mighty Bariganga. This time our plan was to go to Old Dhaka on the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday and rent a little boat that would ferry us around a bit to see more of the harbor. Due to it being a holiday, the roads were thankfully relatively empty and we had little trouble getting there. Once there, we met up with our friends and, after arguing over what in retrospective was 30 cents in the name of fairness to us, we got a boat for the six of us. The whole issue of paying adequate fares is one I’m still struggling with and will return to later.

Anyways, we were led to where all of the big ferries were anchored. Slightly surprised that we were being led onto a very large boat instead of one like the on one we had gotten for our last cruise, we nevertheless acquiesced. That feeling of security soon evaporated quickly however as we were led through the ferry and took a sharp left where the ferry ended and our real vessel was anchored. Now I have no problems with wooden rowing boats, but the thought of fitting 6 of us plus the guide and the boatsman into a vessel barely 10 ft long was mildly distressing. Added to that was the fact that the loading procedure included somehow carefully jumping down 5 feet from the ferry into our “cruiseship”. The boat wobbled precariously with every new passenger and in the end, with all 8 of us in the boat, we had barely half of a foot of clearance over the waterline. This “unique” perspective offered us the chance to acutely observe the state of the water in harbors around the world. I think everyone would agree that you wouldn’t exactly want to swim in any harbor’s waters but being literally face-to-face with the trash, refuse and just general sewage that collects in harbors was something else. Accordingly, the smell was sickening, and we set off from the ferry both queasy in our stomachs as well as our minds. The general sense of unease continued as our goal of shipping along lazily on the river depended on us crossing the river to get to the other side. I say “depended” because it involved a fully-loaded, unstable 10ft boat to slowly creep its way across a very busy river, filled with everything from motorboats to full-fledged tankers. However, we were successfully maneuvered across and then proceeded to float alongside the bank of the river, looking back on Old Dhaka and observing the happenings on either side of the river. This is where we were finally able to shake off our general sense of shock and, frankly, disgust at our situation and actually enjoy ourselves. Though it was an overcast day, Old Dhaka, with its run-down colonial and modern buildings, provided an interesting backdrop to our trip. On our right was a shipbuilding yard where we observed the various stages of ship-building/breaking seeing it was often unclear which process was happening.

Part of our journey included a stop at a jeans-dyeing workshop for us to look at, as well as to, as the guide said with no hint of humor in his face, “empty the boat of water”. Surrendering our last illusions about our boat-trip we got off and had the jeans-dyeing process explained to us and did some more looking around the other side of the river. Having emptied the boat of water, the boatsman invited us back on and we proceeded to again cross the river, but this time with less feelings of mortal danger. The journey back to our starting point was relatively uneventful and the bank of the river provided relatively few sights. One important one, however, was an immense vegetable market right on the piers jutting out from the river’s edge. The splendid colors of the produce provided for a great visual but once again our olfactory senses were subjected to the smell of rotting produce floating underneath the piers. This would all have been less memorable had not been the appearance of a tiny boat carrying 6 foreigners attracted the attention of a couple of kids who followed us along the pier and who, to our horror, proceeded to jump off the pier into the sewage below and swim after us without any hesitation. Seeing how widely our perception of this river and its state differed from the one held by the kids illustrated yet again just how far removed our lives are from each other.

Of course, being the entrepreneuring amateur photographer that I am, I forgot to check whether my batteries were empty or not and thus ended up carrying around my useless camera through all of this. I apologize.

And now for something completely different:

I usually play volleyball on Saturdays and Tuesdays, seeing that even the field of development consulting does not involve rigorous exercise. I had heard about a group of expat runners who ran on Saturdays around and just outside of Dhaka. I figured I would join last Saturday. The venue this time would be just outside of Dhaka but luckily I knew a guy from the German club with whom I could drive there. As we approached our destination, I noted that our starting point looked oddly familiar.

First something about the group. I learned that they were called the Hash runners. No, not for their ravenous consumption of hashish, but for the fact that this run would be a game that the English call the Hare and the Hashers, in which the goal is to follow the Hares. there’s two groups, one for the runners and one for the walkers, who get a shorter distance. The course of the run is pre-laid by some of the runners, with paper confetti marking the right way. However, what makes this run special is the fact that the lovely masters of the course lay plenty of false trails, which is why the entire running core is often stretched over many hundreds of yards, going down different trails in a desperate attempt to find the right trail. Thus, the countryside is over-run by a group of 40 sweaty white people shouting “on-on” or “false trail” at the top of their lungs at their seemingly imaginary friends. This leaves the locals we encountered visibly and deservedly so, confused. Oh, did I mention that alcohol is consumed at all rest-stops throughout the run? Yeah, why am I not surprised that this whole thing is a British idea?

The Hasher running groups basically exist in every place where there’s crazy British expats to be found. Actually, saying “crazy British” seems to be redundant here. In terms of the location, that feeling of familiarity soon led me to the realization that we were in the region North of Dhaka that I had encountered in one of my first factory-visits. Thus, our cours(es) led us through those same ricefields that I described a few weeks ago. We passed through forests, invaded little hamlets, at one point were pursued by a cow and passed Hindu-architecture.

It’s these random and, by all accounts, crazy incidents that make life here so very interesting and fascinating. Once again, no pictures as I was mostly focused on not twisting my ankle again on the treacherous terrain. The trails we used could sometimes barely be identified as such and thus I spent most of the time trying to make as little contact with the ground as possible. Luckily my friend was part of the walkers group and took some pics so I will post those at some point.

Real quick, two observations about living here day-by-day. Power-outages happen with astounding regularity now, as the Dhaka power-grid cannot satisfy the demand of 13 million people. The increasing heat is driving up demand for ACs which just suck the power-grid dry.There are now on average, I would say, 3-4 power outages a day, each lasting for anywhere between half an hour and two hours. Luckily, my apartment building and my office building have back-up generators so the actual routine is not disturbed. But in the slums for example, just as we left the NGO a few weeks ago, the power went out and the entire city-block was plunged into darkness. Luckily the moon was shining and our car was close-by. Nevertheless, it is much harder to take energy for granted here.

On a slightly humorous note, walking around my part of town, Baridhara or where I work in Gulshan, every other rickshaw driver that drives up to me and asks me to drive with him, knows where I live, no matter if I’ve ridden with the guy before or not. “Hey, boss, Baridhara, yes I know.” I guess my indulgent overpaying and predictable movements around the city have made me a good target for them. It’s kind of creepy but then again, I don’t have to worry about whether my driver knows where to go.

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