Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Little Bit of Peace

Something I have found so interesting on this trip so far is the way in which I have been experiencing this brand new place.  As I've sort of suggested before, Dhaka is a crazy, crazy place.  It is one of the most densely populated cities in the world with over 20 million people living within its boundaries.  It is loud (horns honking ALL the time), some of the streets are dirty, traffic has no real rhyme or reason (and that is putting it very mildly), and there are just literally people everywhere.  (I will spare you pictures for my mother's sake...)  But - and I'm serious when I say this - even though it seems like the cultural differences are shoved in my face every second that I am outside of the apartment, it is rare that I have the "holy sh*t, I'm on the other side of the world" feeling.  Once we step out the front door, we are participants in the craziness and we immediately go about the business of getting from point A to point B as efficiently as possible.  There have been other moments, though, in which I totally and completely understand that I am in a very different part of the world. 

One of those moments happens several times a day - call to prayer.  Almost 90% of the people in Bangladesh are Muslim and 5 times a day, at prescribed times, the call to prayer is sung into a loud speaker at every mosque in the country.  The song is beautiful and, honestly, a bit unnerving (although, not really in a bad way).  It is a reminder to me that I am somewhere I've never been before, experiencing a brand new culture.  Another moment came last night, while Roslyn and I and our new friend Jon, who is another student researcher at ICDDR,B, were out on the river.

Jon, Roslyn, and I at the sari factory, with two of the sari weavers
If Dhaka is the equivalent of someone making you walk the plank into the middle of the ocean, the river cruise we took last night was laying on a sunny, sandy beach, letting waves of calm wash over you.  That sounds a little dramatic, doesn't it?  I don't say any of this to mean that I don't like it here, just to mean that in the day-to-day craziness, it's easy to focus so much on managing life and miss the culture that's going on all around.  Being on the boat, on the river, forced us to relax and allowed us to take in everything around us.

The cruise took us to the north of Dhaka, with smaller villages on either side.  We made a stop at a famous Bangladeshi sari factory (if you can call it a factory, I suppose...  all of the saris are weaved by hand and it can take up to 6 months to make one, depending on how intricate it is).  It was an amazing sight to see.  I actually bought a really beautiful blue sari, which I will be sure to post pictures of when I finally wear it.
Roslyn and I enjoying the sunset.

After that stop, we rode north for a couple of hours, enjoying the sunset, watching people cross the river in smaller rowboats, watching fishermen at their nets, and admiring the peace and quiet of it all.  When we got to the turn around point, the captaion put down the anchor and started a fire in the grill to barbeque some chicken for dinner.

It was a wonderful experience, and it made me feel even more excited to finish up here in Dhaka and get to Matlab, the village where we will do our research.  For now, though, it was so nice to escape the city for a night and see a different side of Bangladesh.

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