Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Unicorn on the River

So despite the fact that the great Dhaka metropolitan area has the rough equivalent population of Scandinavia, the vast majority of the Bangladeshi population live in small villages across the vast delta of the Ganges.  (This is the largest delta in the world- trust me, I have gotten it wrong in Trivia Pursuit before.)

It seemed only fair that I should get a rural river experience to compliment the city tour.  Fortunately the friend of a friend who, along with his family, was kind enough to adopt me during my stay in Dhaka, was game to take the unicorn out and show her the river.  We drove about two hours outside the city, or about one hour outside the endless urban sprawl.   (Though once you do finally get past the sprawl, it becomes 100 percent rice paddy rather quick.)  We drove to a town (whose name I forget but won’t be able to pronounce in a million years anyway) and rented a speed boat to take us across the river to a more rural area.  (The starting point already seemed pretty rural to me but what do unicorns know?)

On the way across we stopped on an uninhabited island roughly the size of the neighborhood I grew up in.  It seemed a little odd that in a country where people literally live in baskets in the market that there would be such a big island with nothing on it but a handful of cows and some scrub vegetation.  The answer was that up until the most recent monsoon, the island didn’t exist.  The seasonal rains have a way of reclaiming and redistributing land as the Fates see fit.  (There is actually apparently a law on the books that if your land is washed away by the river, you will be able to reclaim it in roughly 15 years when it finishes materializing on the opposite bank.) 

The river trip itself was interesting as well – even beyond the fact that I just like going fast in motorboats.  All sorts of shit was going on on the river.  (That statement can be taken literally as well I am afraid.)  People fishing, people bathing, people fetching water, little rusting boats going one way, big rusting boats going the other way…  I tried to take some pictures but focus is a little difficult when you are slamming across the various wakes of the aforementioned watercraft.  I am posting the best of the blur.

On the other side of the river, we took a pleasant little rickshaw ride through the corrugated tin houses, the irrigated rice paddies, the NGO schools, the narrow canals…  All in all a quite enjoyable day.  The villagers were a-buzz about the white Muslim lady touring around town with her Bangladeshi husband (a little head scarf goes a long way apparently). Which came in quite handy when my “husband” fainted rather dramatically from dehydration at what turned out to be the conclusion of our outing.  Everyone was very concerned about my potential impending widowhood as they directed me to a place where I could get juice to raise blood sugar and a rickshaw to take us back to the boat.  One green coconut and a mango juice box later, we were back in business.  Crisis averted, phony marriage and day trip saved. 

Then it was back on the boat and back in the car and back to the city and back to work.  Things have been a little nutty at work this week as I am heading (finally) back to DC soon, but I did find time to learn how to fit three full sized adults in a rickshaw, where to buy cheap local pearls, and the ABCs of South Asia vegetarian street food.  All valuable skills I assure you.

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