I can’t say that I hate Bangladesh, but it’s not winning many bonus points this week. Dhaka is loud, polluted and stinks. The pollution is so bad the air smells acrid, and my throat itches all the time. By the end of the day, my eyes are dry and scratchy. There’s so much dirt and dust kicked up that my sinuses swell and my lymph nodes kick into overdrive, causing my ears to pound and my jaw to hurt. Garbage is ubiquitous, and even if I can’t see it, I can smell the sickly sweet overripe juiciness of it floating in unexpected places. Sometimes its so overpowering, I have to cover my mouth and my nose.
My hotel, although in a “nice” area of town, seems also to be in the direct flight path of every aircraft in the subcontinent, which roars past morning, noon and evening (luckily, I don’t hear them so much at night). I’ve never slept on a harder mattress for more than one night, my feet are always dirty and, as far as I can tell, I am the only person staying here. The all male staff are also, a little too attentive. Plus, I am stuck eating room-service every night (it’s either that or sit by myself in the empty restaurant below, with all the waitstaff watching me).
Sigh. I am trying to keep things in perspective. I just came from a five-star hotel in Colombo, where I’d already spent five weeks of my life. I had a certain level of autonomy – I already had the grocery store scoped out, made a few friends, access to a spa and been able to maintain my healthy with Mr. Gin and Mr. Tonic. Plus, I wasn’t the only foreigner. I was just one of a zillion hotel guests able to come and go as I pleased, with relative anonymity. It was easy to arrive there, do what I needed to do, and have a little fun.
Here, I’m at ground zero all over again. There’s no grocery store. Project staff tell me that there are no restaurants near by (and as far as I can tell, they’re right). I don’t know anyone. There’s a “spa” next door, but it’s quite scary. The first night here, I ventured out by myself, but was hassled so much I just couldn’t take it. What little sights I did see (the National Parliament, the War Memorial) took a long time to get to through awful traffic and weren’t all that exciting to see.
So, for the past five days, I’ve basically been doing the same thing: walking to work, working, eating, walking home from work, talking a walk around the park, working, watching TV, ordering room service, working and sleeping.
So yes, Bangladesh is sucking a little bit. Luckily, I’m not here forever - and tomorrow, I’m heading up-country. Months of travelling in cushy places have sheltered me, but I know I’ll get back in the swing of things. This is culture shock. The project staff are wonderful and I know there is some charm to be had around here….somewhere.