Another lively day in Dhaka. Owen and I took the city by force, going by CNG to New Market -- a huge indoor/outdoor street market. For those who have been to the PNW, it is like a third-world version of Pikes Place Market. It was raining, so we wandered around for a while and then got down to "business". I was looking for scarves for people (and me), and a man with surprisingly good English took us through the labyrinth of sharees, tupperware, twine, utility buckets, men's clothing, and every other good imaginable, to his scarf shop. The prices he started quoting were 2 -5 times the amount my Bangladeshi friend said was reasonable, and he was really pushy so we decided to leave. The man followed us out and around the market until Owen started to get irritated and another local helped us get rid of our tag-along. Then he pointed us in the direction of a bunch of other scarf shops. These ones, however, were in the sweltering basement where there was no air flow, just mazes of tiny shops selling buttons and lace and sharees and scarves. It was the hottest, most stuffy, confined space I have been in my life, and sweat was pouring from my face and beading up on my arms while I looked. But it did have beautiful things! I got a bunch of scarves for 250 taka ($3.25) each, which is not bad even though I failed at bartering. ;)
Then we took a CNG to Sadarghat, the boat terminal on the Buriganga River. I had read about this place on Lonely Planet and heard you could rent little boats to take you out on the river. The CNG dropped us off in a busy market near the river, and with a lot of gesturing and pointing and our English and his Bangla we figured we must be close. We wandered around lost for a while until we found a break in the line of vendors that led down to the wharf. There we quickly drew a crowd of men, all curious about what we were up to and wanting to help. Somehow -- I really don't know how, considering I doubt any of them spoke a word of English -- we got a local to take us out on his boat for 200 taka. I am really learning how to communicate with nonverbals here. Such a good skill! Then we stepped onto his curved little boat with a thin orange and white woven mat on the bottom. Like true Bangladeshi natives, we slipped off our flip flops and sat cross legged on the mat. A little boy from the dock jumped on as well, to ride along as co-captain (the man's son?), and we pushed off -- to the cheers and amusement of our friendly crowd.
It was GREAT fun to see the river and the city from the water, with the boats looking just how I picture Bible times. We got a lot of attention from the water as well: people would pass by with looks of bewilderment on their faces, or paddle closer to see us better. The man and the boy really wanted me to take pictures of them and of all their friends on the river, and they alternated between energetically posing themselves and pointing to other things or people I should take pictures of. Cameras are a big novelty here, and the Bangladeshi people really love having their picture taken. It is considered an honor. This is kind of strange for me to get used to, but it is fun for a photographer. It gives me a chance to document this country and this people on a more real level, seeing the faces of those who live here.
Towards the middle of the trip, the little boy rubbed his stomach and asked for food, and even though Owen and I both don't believe handouts do people any good, we gave him some money when we left. It is hard to see that sort of thing, in contrast to the bounty we have here and the absurd excess we have at home. Seeing the skin & bones bicycle rickshaw drivers continues to pain me as well -- they toil so hard, pulling sometimes the weight of three people in their rickshaw carts, in the heat of the day. They burn so many calories they clearly don't have enough food to stay nourished. I see them, their shirts engulfing their thin frames, backs soaked with sweat, and wonder how they are living. Surviving. But I know going around giving them money or paying 5x the typical rickshaw price isn't going to help. It's changes to the system, ones that will empower them to find employment with greater earning potential, ones that will give them sufficient support -- this would be the goal. But maybe it's like my friend Lynette says: You can't try to fix the world or you will get so overwhelmed; you just have to try to make one person's day a little better. A little more bearable. Work on one problem at a time, and focus on the people in it. And let God do the rest.
Me and the little boy. In the back to the right are two ferries, which are known for actually being super dangerous. They are always packed with way too many people to be safe, and just in the last month or two one of them sank and most of the people couldn't get out because they were packed in too tight.
After the boat ride we walked along the road that runs parallel to the river, which was filled with fruit vendors, barber stalls, clothes shops, street vendors, and all manner of things being carted up and down by rickshaw, bicycle cart, and truck. We walked down the road until we were outside the gate of the Pink Palace, Ahsan Manjil, a palace that was built by the city's wealthiest zamindar (landowner) in 1872. It was damaged by tornado soon after and was just restored in the 1980s to be a museum. We didn't go in, just admired its pink turrets and open lawns from the outer gate.
I was totally in my element on the walk back, taking pictures of the colorful raucous that surrounded us. Then locals decided they wanted to have their photos taken, and I have some amazing shots of the human experience -- unadulterated love between friends, man to man; the hard and worn eyes of someone who's had to work for everything; the easy wave and self-assured smile of someone loving life as it is.
We caused another crowd as we tried to get a CNG back to the Grand Prince Hotel, and as we were surrounded by another 15 or 20 people, I had multiple ask me for a handshake and a few ask for pictures with me. Owen said it was like I was a queen. I think if I ever wanted to know what it's like being a celebrity, I just needed to come here. But it's really not fair -- why me? Why does my culture gets this attention? Why are blue eyes and white skin so revered? Yes, its in part because they are foreign to the people here, but skin tones and eyes and accents that are just as foreign but less "white" aren't so special. Owen is Chinese with very light skin and he wasn't getting any special attention. It is clear that the best gifts my parents gave me, by the world's standards, were my native language and skin color. And that's just not fair.
Father, You have blessed me beyond measure. Help me to appreciate it, and watch over our boat driver and that little boy a little extra tonight.
I'm a twenty-something from the Pacific NW making home in new places as I follow where God leads.
My intent is to show Christ's love to the world and use business to solve some of the social problems we face: hunger, illiteracy, healthcare, economic hardship. For now, I'm in a stage of learning. A little adventuring, a few books, some good friends, and a whole lot of prayer and life runs on.