My team and I explore the city together and end up in some odd places...
I've mentioned a few times, I'm here for work. So as of last week, two more team members joined me from the United States. I was transferred to a much better hotel and now we are staying there together. Also we are closer to the office, so no more one and a half hour commutes to work (mostly stuck in traffic).
No we are in the 5 star lap of luxury now. And we continue our trend of working long days. But the thing is, bringing me out here, having me meet my team mates who I only saw over sketchy Google Hangout feeds previous to this, it's great. It connects me more deeply to our projects.
Anyway, the last week has gone something like this. I went to the largest mall in Dhaka to buy some affordably priced Bangladeshi scarves and ended up with about 8 of them. All beautiful colors. Pictures of the mall will be included in this post below. The mall was kindof fascinating in its own right. I've also been seeing how the wealthier part of the city live by getting to know a relative of one of the people who runs our company. An incredibly nice person with a beautiful palatial estate who served us a meal all completely sourced from his own organic farm outside of Dhaka. The food, the company and the change from dining alone at the hotel to eating with one another in such a nice house was really enjoyable.
Yesterday, me and a few of my teammates (the US members) went with my boss, who is from Dhaka originally, to sightsee. Since the ruling political party decided to literally SHUT DOWN ALL OF THE ROADS in the city for the ENTIRE weekend so they could have their weird political "convention", we had to cancel our plans to venture out to a rural village where we could fish in a pond and kill the chickens we would later eat (this was an actual plan for our team building excercise). So, instead we had to go "free form". I was weirdly looking forward to the village expedition. It would have put us up close and personal with the rural roots some of our Bangldeshi co-workers grew up with. And understanding someone's context like this is an important thing when building bridges between countries. Oh well.
Well, first, we went shopping at a few great shops (more scarves, a beautiful wall hanging, countless Christmas presents and a book of Bangladeshi recipes). Then we went to a suit shop to get someone fitted for a custom suit. He got to pick out his own fabric, they took endless measurements and we all helped him design the suit of his dreams. It was rather fun and it was only a few hundred dollars. A steal!
We ate traditional food at a local Gulshan restaurant and then we cast about for ideas of what to do. I wanted to see river life and asked for a boat ride. But no, again the streets were closed. My boss did know of a lake where perhaps we could find boats though, and so off we went.
We arrived and walked to the shore only to find instead of boats, there were people standing on burlap bags that were presumably filled with something that made them float, and these people huddled together on this innovative and very makeshift raft as they slowly and painstakingly ferried themselves over the water to a ramshackle collection of huts on the other side. More people awaited the return of this raft to also take them when it presumably made the return trip.
So no boats for us. It was an astonishing moment to behold though.
My boss's wife then suggested this field full of beautiful grass and flowers (we were complaining a lot about not being able to walk around because of their nervous security concerns). So back into the van and the driver began taking us toward the edge of town. We drove for quite sometime until we came to a huge open area where there were no buildings. Just piles and piles of brick and brick fragments and people laboring under the hot sun, barefoot some of them, to build indiscernible buildings or homes or something. It was obvious this was to be an entire neighborhood or office or something....but all we saw were the beginnings of foundations and bricks and dust and smoke and these people toiling. An old man casually strolled past the van with about 15 bricks stacked on his very head.
When I mentioned it, my boss said, "You should see how they load him up with those, they just toss the bricks one by one onto the stack on his head until it looks like that". It weirdly made sense since no one could be tall enough to reach that high to add them.
We drove further and further into this desolate landscape and I actually felt uneasy. This looked like a great place to dispose of a body or get mugged. But when we decided to stop by the tall, feathery grass and get out, it felt good to walk around. Some of the laborers stopped their work and watched us with curiosity. In the distance, a cricket game was being played in the hot dust near some statue of some importance. It all had a post-apocalyptic feel to it. Smoke rose in the horizon from something vague and unidentifiable.
We had fun clambering on top of piles of bright red brick fragments and posing for photos. Out product managers darted into the grass and emerged as if on a strange safari in an imaginary world. The brutal labor the workers were doing compared with our joyous running around and leaping onto these mounds of dirt were such an odd juxtaposition for me. It felt like we were in some dystopian world somehow.
Later, we visited one of Dhaka's few bars, the Blue Moon in Gulshan. I took a few pics of that place too. Even though I wasn't supposed to...
What else? We visited a co-working space (the first and only one of its kind in Bangladesh..run by two women!) and then went to hang with my boss's old friends...two members of a famous Bangladeshi rock and roll group and the two educators who lived with them. What a charming and wonderful gang of friends they were! It was great to meet artists and intellectuals and relax with them and talk music, poetry, travel and the history of Bangladesh as well. That and a few gin and tonics. Fantastic day all around.