This morning I missed my alarm, woke up late and had a string of frustrating things happen – ran out of electricity, the tap was playing up and then I ran out of hot water halfway through washing my hair. So by the time I finally tumbled out of the house, soaking wet hair, trying to manage my laptop, gym bag and textbooks, orna falling off and late for work, you could say I was feeling a bit flustered. Of course, being late when you live in Dhanmondi and don’t have a driver means that you either have to walk or cycle because the roads get completely jammed with cars full of parents dropping their kids at school. When taking a rickshaw would normally be an option, on school mornings rickshaw-wallahs just aren’t interested, and it takes double the time because you just sit in traffic jams for 20 minutes at a time without moving. My bike tyre was flat, so I started walking.
Its just coming into Spring here which means it hasn’t rained since perhaps November and so every day the city is covered in this blanket of foul smog, and every single inch of Dhaka is covered in this weird sticky dust that gets into your hair and eyes, your clothing and every corner of your house. Half the employees have a specific role of sprinkling water outside the entrance to shops just to try and keep some of the dust down. So – I, and everything I was carrying, was getting covered in dust. In a city like Dhaka where you can’t look in any direction without seeing 25 people, the concept of personal space is fairly nonexistent. I still haven’t really gotten used to that. People push each other out of the way, bump into each other, lean on each other and so I was feeling ready to hip and shoulder someone just to get some breathing space. And the incessant beeping of every single horn, bell, whistle as well as the yelling of everyone using the road was driving me a little mad.
The lack of rain means that every footpath is Dhanmondi is ripped up while construction takes place – even though barely anything happens during the day, because trucks can only be used in Dhaka city during the night, but it certainly makes walking a bit frustrating. So I opted, like everyone else, with their bags of vegetable purchases, wheelbarrows of goats, dogs on leashes, handfuls of live chickens and ducks and bags of live fish, to walk through the middle of the traffic and my mood was getting worse and worse. Even in the few sections where there were footpaths, they were jammed full of market stalls, handicrafts for sale, the copies of the Quran, beggars, cha-wallahs, fruit stands – its easier to brave the road.
I tried smiling at a few people to lift my mood but no one smiled back – and then some older men, complete with punjabis and prayer hats, made some sleazy comments even when I was wearing their full (ultra-conservative) salwar-kameez and I was about ready to scream. Then another person bumped into me! Arghhhhh… “Aren’t you cold in this weather? Would you like to borrow my scarf?” – a voice came from behind. An older Bangladeshi lady with the warmest smile apologised for bumping me and said she had been walking behind me for some time and was wondering why I didn’t feel the cold – and offered her soft brown kashmiri scarf if I wanted while I was walking.
We walked together for three streets and she told me all about her family living abroad, asked me how long I had been in Bangladesh and where my family was from – and then, when we parted, she said that she hoped she would see me again in the morning, and invited me to her house for dinner.
Life’s funny like that.
I walked into the office with a huge smile on my face and Muursheda said “Why are you smiling so much Sarah – do you like these cold winter mornings?”
I was happy to yes – I really do, they’re just magic.
Do you know what the best thing about Bangladesh is? The Bangladeshis. They never fail to amaze me.
And I can’t wait to get to Laila’s house for dinner