It was just a week ago that I was saying goodbye to my friends in Amsterdam and got on a plane to leave for more than seven months.
I was warned that at the stopover in Istanbul I would probably have a few hours delay before continuing to Dhaka, and I was genuinely upset when the flight was not delayed. The one time you want it to happen, so I could meet a friend who was on his way back to the Netherlands but arrived at the time I would leave, there was no delay.
Looking around at the gate I couldn't suppress a smile. All these Bangladeshi... I was about to spent six months among them!
On arrival at the airport the first thing that struck me was the amount of mosquitos. As soon as I found my luggage, I got the mosquito repellent and went looking for Ella. She is the head of the SRHR (Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights) department at the Dutch embassy, and therewith my internship-supervisor. The drive through the city was beautiful. The sun was just coming up and the roads were starting to fill with rickshaw drivers and market people.
We drove to my apartment, which is located in the embassy grounds and very comfortable. That morning I made the mistake of giving in to my tiredness, and although I has set my alarm, I slept until three in the afternoon. The effect being that I was battling against the jetlag for the rest of the week. A week and a half later, I am finally getting used to the Bangladeshi timezone. But then there is also the workweek, which is from Sunday to Thursday, because on Friday everybody goed to the mosque. It confuses me all the time and I will refer to the first day of working as 'Monday', and when I am talking about the weekend I say Saturday and Sunday when that was actually Friday and Saturday. And as it is five hours later here, when I am getting ready for work on Sunday morning, my friends in the Netherlands will just be getting back from a night of partying on Saturday night and my brother in Canada is about to have diner on Saturday evening... So I have decided not to think about that too much and just live in the here and now!
At work people were very welcoming! All doors are open all the time and if I ever need anything, everybody will be there for me. That is a very comforting thought, even though I prefer to just do things on my own and not ask for any help ;)
The SRHR (Sexual, Reproductive Health and Rights - learn this, dear readers, I don't want to write it out every time) department consists of Ella (first secretary) and Mushfiqua (advisor, who I share an office with). The first week was mostly reading, being taught on the governance and health systems of Bangladesh, and going along to meetings and workshops. As it took a while for my account to be activated, I did not have access to email that first week, which was really quiet. But this week I am trying to feel less useless and actually contribute to the department. Will let you guys know how that goes!
And then the city... It is huge. Public transport is not an option, I saw the busses driving around and they are packed to the roof with only men and just a few women in the front. And I cannot figure out some sort of logic in bus numbers or whatsoever, so I just stick to the rickshaws. They are perfect for short rides, around Gulshan (my district) and for going to Banani or Baridhara (neighbouring neighbourhoods). I am confined to these areas, and if you would check google maps for it, you would see that Dhaka has many many more districts... You could try to take a CNG (sort of tuktuk - motor with a cage on the back where you can sit in). But they are told to be very noisy, uncomfortable and at the same leven as the exhaust pipes of all the cars around you. So for now I'll just stick to walking and the occasional rickshaw :)
And walking around offers more than enough. Just the other day I saw some people killing a chicken on the corner of the street... And I have walked to the 'vrijdagmiddagborrel' at the Dutch Club, where I enjoyed an ice-cold Heineken and some 'bitterballen'. Saturday the Australian High Commissioners hosted a fair, with local products, so I bought two bags and a jar of tamarind-jam (which I had the guards open later that day because it was too tightly shut - very convenient to have a couple of men just down the stairs). We then walked to La Femme for a mani-pedi. Yesterday after work I walked with Ella and Mushfiqua to Ella's place where we were invited for diner. The sunset made the Baridhara lake look even prettier, but the smell kind of ruined it...
For groceries I don't have to walk that far, I can just cross the street. Uni-mart has absolutely everything, from Samsung laptops to fresh vegetables and from a coffee bar to a hundred different brands of shower gel. They also sell pretty decent bread and an array of jams and peanut butter. Cheese is available, but costs €5,- for 7 slices. So even though it is excruciatingly difficult, I am staying away from the cheese (and also from the cigarettes, but that is not because of the price but because it was about time for me to quit smoking). Uni-mart is not only fabulous for their huge offerings, but also for the service. Everywhere in the store are people greeting me and offering their help, and at the register my groceries are placed on the counter and put in a bag by someone who will often even carry the groceries out to the street for me. Albert Heijn can learn something from this...
Well, as you can read, I am surviving just fine around here, and I think this is enough for the first impressions, if the blog entry is too long, I no-one will read it completely ;)
I hope you all are doing fantastic wherever you are,
take care, X, Sandra