Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ami Beshi Bangla Buli

To the end of attempting to get a bangladeshi price for a bangladeshi wage, we’ve now had 4 of 14 Bangla classes. As the title suggests, this is somewhat limited as yet (phonetically, this is I speak some Bangla). Each morning we trek across the city to the language centre – why VSO chose the opposite side of such a congested city has not been acceptably justified – for the lesson. The first day it took an hour, an hour back. Then it was an hour and a half and more back, and so on. All the roads in the city seem to lead to the Parliament building, next to which there is a tiny stretch of road that we sit on every day for up to half an hour. Lorries and buses belch out black smoke and our legs get singed by exhaust fumes. None of the drivers know anywhere in their city. We constantly end up directing them.

Today, it took at least 80 minutes to do a 5 kilometre journey. Having managed to flag down a yellow taxi (for four) and barter a price (at least VSO pays for this!) our driver immediately hared off in the wrong direction. Serving into the residential districts of Lalmatia, his Schumacher-style path was stopped by the inevitable traffic jam, and the five minute walk we take from the flat to VSO took us 25 minutes. Already ridiculously late, our driver then careered around a corner with a vigorous beep of this horn, and only just managed to stop his battered car from collision with a 4x4, and also to stall the car. He then was unable to restart the thing, causing drivers to get out and run over to us to shout at him for blocking the way. Bouncing along a further fifty yards, he pulled over and lifted the bonnet. By now hopelessly late and only 150 metres from our flat. He was genuinely shocked that he wasn’t to get his 150 Taka for such a miserable performance as a taxi driver.

We dashed onto the main road to catch up with the major traffic jams, and in desperation got a CNG, three of us in the back and Mikey, a Canadian, sitting in the driver’s cage. We jumped the first light, but caught in traffic, our CNG gave out and stalled. Already we were ten minutes late for the nine am start and still had gone less than 300 metres from the flat. But this driver decided to constantly attempt to start the engine, despite its obvious refusal to budge, and resorted to dragging the whole CNG with all four of us in it at least 40 metres down the road as the traffic crawled along. We offered to push, to get out, to leave and all were steadfastly refused. Then, with a look to us of utter contempt, he got the thing going and chugged along to the lesson.

The lessons themselves are in a room with very temperamental power, and massive temperature swings. Our teacher is a little scatty, answering questions by laughing and ignoring them, and also possesses two of the most stupid babies imaginable. They respond to absolutely nothing – paper planes, faces, sweets – all are received with vacant complicity. Their sole talent seems to be the ability to bash on the door to get into the tiny classroom, and demand a pen to write on the board. Whilst this is indulged, we attempt to conjugate some verbs. The baby follows acquisition of the pen with rubbing off useful vocab or staring blankly at the wall. Finally it demands to be let out, only to repeat the cycle every ten minutes for three hours. At least I am learning some bangla, and whilst I cannot yet say ‘I’m working on a local salary with an NGO so put it on the bloody meter’, I can say things like ‘I understand some bangla’, ‘I go now, goodbye’ and ‘I need some rice’. The helpfulness of the classes is an open question as yet. However, I’ll have to speak it when work starts so I hope to pick more up there.

On the way back we were treated to our first accident, with a large Toyota crumpled by a tiny CNG. It is at least reassuring to see that the CNG is a sturdy vehicle. A crowd was a round the cars but the drivers seemed to have escaped the usual mob justice. There are at least 47 reported accidents a day in the city, with at least 4 or 5 deaths. But unreported accidents must be huge, and we regularly bump into other cars or baby taxis as part of the normal state of driving. Some to the taxis are more scratch and bump than car.
Anyway, whilst it may seem that traffic and travelling is an obsession at the moment, that is because it is. I’ll put some more stories on about other things when happen.

Hope you have all read the latest issue of www.openfutures.org.uk (link to the left).

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