Still Trying to Figure This Place Out

Two weeks into my two-year tour. The work is familiar enough. The basics of Consular work don’t change much from country to country. And the Locally-Engaged staff are helping me get up to speed on the local peculiarities. I interviewed visa applicants the other day, and it wasn’t difficult at all. Other than the fact that I don’t speak Bangla, and many Bangladeshi people don’t speak any English. The local staff helped me out with translating.

Life in Dhaka is both similar and different from other countries that I’ve lived in. It’s a big city with a lot of people who make a lot of noise and a lot of trash. But Dhaka has some additional complexity. Because of security concerns, our movement is restricted. We can’t walk on the street after dark, for example. I wasn’t planning to buy a car, for a couple of reasons. I managed my first two tours without having a car. More seriously, they drive on the wrong left side of the street here. I wasn’t sure that my brain could make that transition. But we can’t take taxis or other public transportation. My transportation options are limited here in Dhaka. So I will probably have to bite the bullet and buy a car.

I was right that we aren’t allowed to ride in these taxis. They are essentially cages, which makes them hard to escape from in case someone tries to kidnap up. I’m both relieved and disappointed at the same time.

I spent my weekends walking around the city to get a feel for the society. I live in the “diplomatic enclave,” where there are a lot of rich people. Nevertheless, we get a full cross-section of society here. There are a lot of people with money here sure, but grinding poverty is never more than a block away.

Breakfast in an upscale eatery in town. Yes, that’s an avocado smoothie!! 🙂

A LE staff member told me that this area is where the 1% live. And yet:

An empty lot between some upscale stores.

Big piles of garbage on the banks of the lake. Sad and yucky.

I’m enjoying the local color. Just like everywhere else in the world, people here are just living their lives. They say that outside the city, people are quite surprised to see a foreigner, and they stare a lot. In this neighborhood, Though, foreign faces are more common, and I rarely rate a second glance here.

Just another citizen going about her business.

Workers preparing to continue work on renovating a building (I think).

He offered to sell me a pack of smokes when I walked past his little stand.

Except this guy. I think he knew that I was surreptitiously photographing him, and he snarled something at me that sounded less than friendly:

I think I will call him “Snarly Charlie.”

Oh, well, can’t win them all. Most other people have either ignore me, or smile at me. Maybe he was just having a bad day.

Birthday with Celebration Cakes

Yesterday was the birthday of one of the locally-engaged staff in the section. We had a small celebration. “Happy Birthday” was sung in English, not Bangla, to my disappointment, but the birthday treats were very nice.

Of course, we had a cake:

But we also had some savory local snacks. One is like a samosa, and the other was a meat-filled pastry. Very yummy.

I was too busy eating to get a good photo…

The treats came from a friend of the Embassy staff, a housewife started selling her homemade snacks, and it grew into a business (“Shumi’s Hot Cake”) with several branches around the city.

A house hold name in Celebration Cakes

I told the LES that I was interested in trying the local foods. They took me at my word, encouraging me to try the treats, and explaining what was in them. I’ve said it before, interacting with LES might be the best part of this job. They are very sweet and welcoming.

One of them also told me that Dhaka is known as a “ten pound post.” Standing on the bathroom scale this morning, I realized that she was right. The food is really good in Bangladesh, so I will have to hit the gym a LOT if I want to maintain my waistline here…

A Whole New Engrish Country!

I’ve arrived in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Someone described the country as “wild.” That’s a pretty accurate word. The people are great, the traffic is unbelievable, the city is a mixture of rich colors, dirt, sounds and smells (some not too good), smiles, and energy.

And bad English everywhere. As a former English teacher and lifelong language learner, I love to see the earnest attempts by people around the world at using the mess that is the English language.

Here’s a little taste. Much, much more to come over the next two years!

Identifry yourself!