Sunday, August 17, 2003

Leaving Dhaka

This will have to be a short one – Henry and I leave for the airport in a few hours and I’ve just now managed to get the packing under control. I did want to jot some things down here from the last few days before the long journey back to the other side of the world, though. The concern is less that I will forget the people, or that I will unlearn what I have become over this incredibly intense ten days (and has it really been that short a time?) – rather, I worry that I will lose the trees for the forest. If the truth really is in the details then there is no truth to be had in blogging, or indeed in any but the most tedious minutia, but if this trip is to be even slightly understood, it is important, I think, that we catch what we can where we can, and hope against hope that it will somehow be enough.

Two days ago, then, was the dawn-to-dusk hartal, perhaps the most orderly of opposition tactics, a day when a riot is called and no one comes, though the streets are empty of cars and stores stay open behind almost-closed gates with their window lights dim. Breakfast late ran into a short planning session for our last workshop day, followed by time enough for walking in the late morning through the silent suburban streets sans camera to marvel at the stillness.

George showed at 1:00 as promised with Tahira, his Bangla-American ladyfriend, and a triad of rickshaws The rusty ride felt precarious at first, but seemed safe enough without the motorized competition which usually smashes around the roads here. Azra and I, paired snugly between a solo Henry and our fearless almost-local leaders, acclimatized quickly, learning to lean into the rickety floor as we sped across the crumbled streets; Henry, a bicyclist at heart, even tried a tourist trick, taking a marvelous go at driving the thing while the driver grinned and laughed in his fare’s usual seat.

We soon arrived at the American club, the first and last Bagladeshi sign of what by now is surely a universal American paranoia: where George’s Canadian Club had a simple gate and sign-in entry, Tahira’s membership got us through the metal detector into a tiny entry room, where bags were searched, licenses checked, and nametags given. From there the world opened into a space quite large and typically ostentatious, where outdoor barbers, bars and creamie corners flanked basketball courts and playspaces. Tahira showed us the fully Western multimedia room, quite possibly the only one in the entire country, before sitting us down poolside at the cabana for buffalo wings, onion rings, potato skins, and other bar food typical of, say, my local pub at home. Had an Anchor Steam and then a new-try extra-light brown microbrew from Colorado called Flat Tire, and thought it a nice taste of home.

Back at the hotel, emboldened by the absence of violence or even crowds, Azra and I went off to support the economy some more in a rickshaw of our own, this time halfway across the Gulshan area. As before, shopping finds will remain unblogged until gifts back home are given. Hint for the traveler, though: rickshaws may have foldable headcovers much like a convertible top, but if you want your pants legs to stay dry, it’s better to do what the locals seemed to already know and carry a plastic sheet for the legs when the monsoon downpours begin.

Back for showers and fancy dress – in my case, a short punjabi over from-home trousers, notable primarily because formal occasions tend to bring out the western clothes for the locals but the long cottons for the foreigner as a default – and off to Topkapi, a local Thai/Indian restaurant, where the Aga Khan teachers and schoolboard had prepared a nice old-fashioned going-away party complete with endless photography and mad-dash-for-free-food buffet. Afterwards, Suni brought me home with her for a crown-fitting in her parent’s home-slash-surgery, because the crown had already arrived and, as Sumi said, better to put it in now in case problems come up tomorrow than wait and find out that something went wrong with no time to fix it. It was a late one, mostly because the crown, as crowns seem wont to be, was just off enough to warrant a tiny bit of other-tooth drilling to compensate, but things feel wonderful now, so hoorah for Sumi and Asif, the best dentists in the East!

And then to this morning, our last unless tomorrow’s mad dash to the airport under a still-rising sun warrants mention afterwards: the workshop conclusion, mostly evaluation forms and closing discussion and a ceremony of certificate-giving presided over by George and his VP Fatima, though Azra and I snuck away with Sumi during tea for a madcap rickshaw dash for cheese (sorry, dad, too soggy to get home) and some of those little dots that Hindi women wear between the eyes and forehead. From 1:00 – 2:00 saw the other two schools (primary and junior high) just down the street once the locals had cleared off amidst much handshaking and photography, where Henry and I, complete with silly western looks and, in Henry’s case, a lower-class-style skirt-like leg-covering he’d bought days earlier but not figured out how to tie until that morning, entertained kids by making fun of ourselves as we interrupted classroom after classroom. Lots of blurry pictures to follow – seems my camera doesn’t like the heat and humidity that much. Lunch at the hotel; chat with Azra and a short excursion for some last-minute mutual gifts before she got into the hotel car and left me behind.

And thus the end begins. Going out to the Canadian Club for a few whiskeys and a business-chat with George over a fairly even-match pool game was a wonderful opportunity, but in many ways it, too, marked the end of something only just begin: we mostly talked shop, thinking about the workshop and it’s follow-up potential, and although it was nice to have some time just he and I, with no teachers to look forward to on the morrow the exhaustion and post-trip drain has begun to kick in. A last supper with the rest of the international hotel crowd, with added tables as the group arrived unplanned, was a nice and quiet denoument, but knowing that Azra’s already left makes this place already a little emptier, and I think it’s time to go home, so it’s back to packing for me.

Fair warning, by the way: timing’s tight when I return, and I may not have time to blog before re-plane-ing less than ten hours after I arrive in Boston tomorrow, this time for that family Alaskan cruise by way of Vancouver. My hope is to stay in touch with the universe and, as happened here, it might turn out that access is a non-issue…but it might not. If I’m unbloggable there, hope your week-or-so goes well; I’ll be back on August 28th just in time for the first day of school. Hope you're getting more sleep than I am out there...

Oh, yeah -- and since it's Monday already here:

Monday Mosh

Song: Reasons Why -- Nickel Creek. Also the rest of the "sad" mp3 playlist I keep on my laptop: some Dar, a bit of John Cale's version of "haleluiah," etc.

Things Stepped on/Bumped into: Nothing, really. But my heart feels broken, I think.

Reason stopped: Packing with three hours to go before we leave for the airport.

posted by boyhowdy | 4:27 PM |

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