I hope to share my journey here in Bangladesh in a way that allows you to experience the country as I do. Though, because of my food allergies, it may not be the most exciting information on the cuisine, I hope to share all the other aspects of my journey in a way that is real and tangible.
After approximately 32 hours of traveling, my plane touched down in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. A local police officer pointed me to the employee/diplomat lane, and I quickly processed through customs, then proceeded to wait at the baggage carousel. After about 30 minutes of watching the carousel endlessly rotate, it came to an abrupt halt. I realized: my bags were not coming. I located the lost luggage desk, off in the far corner of the baggage area, filed my claim, and then rushed off to find my driver who was patiently waiting for me to emerge from the terminal area.
Stepping outside the heat and humidity felt as intense as I expected, and hit me like a ton of bricks (the weather here is generally mid-90’s and 75% humidity). We walked quickly to the car, and I prepared myself for the next adventure: Dhaka’s notoriously crazy and congested traffic. Initially, the traffic didn't seem too terrible, but as we continued, it became more and more congested. While I'm sure at times the traffic here is an irritating mess, it is also fascinating to watch drivers navigate ever so narrowly around other vehicles, knowing the precise amount of room with which they are working. The road is shared with many tuk-tuks and rickshaws, providing more of a hazard in the streets. The buildings here are tall, many have walls and gates surrounding them, and the side streets are barely wide enough to fit two vehicles, creating many tight, blind corners. Drivers create a symphony of horns throughout the city, sounding their horns to make other drivers aware of their presence as they approach turns, corners, switch lanes, and close in on other vehicles.
In approximately thirty minutes, we arrived at my Airbnb, where I was greeted with a smile and shown to my room. My room here is in a shared flat, though I'm lucky enough to have a balcony to myself. The hosts are a sweet couple who regularly rent out a few of the rooms.
Since my bags (containing my food) didn't make it, I needed to find my way to the market. Thankfully one of the other boarders here, a Dutch Ph.D. student conducting research here in Bangladesh, offered to take me to a market down the road. We walked to the market where I was able to find a few groceries that would hold me over for a few days. Instead of walking back to the flat, we decided to take a rickshaw home (sorry for the lack of pictures, I was holding onto my groceries with one hand and onto the rickshaw with the other). My flatmates and I decided to go to another market a couple of days later hoping to find a larger selection of allergy-friendly food. After a successful search at the market, we went to a local coffee spot and visited for a few hours.
It is currently Ramadan, so most of my coworkers are fasting throughout the day. At the end of the day, after sunset, they partake in Iftar to break the fast and then have Suhoor, a large meal before sunrise before the day of fasting begins. Ramadan is a special time of year for them, much like our Christmas celebration; therefore, many of the Iftar dinners are with friends, family, and coworkers. Last night the entire office went to an Iftar buffet that offered all kinds of Arabian foods to sample; I had a great time sampling the various dishes and getting to know my coworkers.
I cannot stress how welcoming everyone here has been.
One thing to note is that there is security in many places around here. A few years ago there was a terrorist attack on a bakery where many Westerners were known to frequent, so many sites (including grocery stores and restaurants) now have metal detectors and armed guards. I had not anticipated walking through metal detectors and having my purse x-rayed when going to eat or to get groceries, but I appreciate the effort for more security in the area. The locals I have spoken to are amiable and welcoming, assuring me this is a safe area. Locals are disheartened to think that people don't feel safe in their city.
Friday morning I received a call from the airport telling me that one of my bags had arrived, but that their office closed in an hour and a half. I quickly queued an Uber and waited. As is typical here, the driver called to clarify my location. Only, I don't speak Bangla, and he didn't speak English, and though I had been working on my numbers (for this very reason), it was still not clear. Eventually, the driver found me, and we were off to fight through the traffic.
I attempted explaining to my driver that I needed to go to get my luggage and that I wasn't trying to fly anywhere. However, this too became lost in translation. We arrived at the airport, and I asked a local police officer for directions to the correct room, but he said we were in the wrong area of the airport. Thankfully, the officer provided my driver with instructions on where to take me, and we navigated back around the airport and to the correct terminal. Again, I asked for directions to the room. These directions first took me to a gate where the guard needed to check my passport and papers, then through the airport arrival area through a back hallway and to a room. While there, I received a phone call from the baggage guy (he was worried I wasn't going to make it as it was now 1:20) who told me where I needed to go from there. Next, I went along yet another winding hallway where I found my elevator, then around another back hallway (for multiple reasons I got lost twice during this process), eventually finding my way to a small room with my bag, just in the nick of time. Success!
A couple of days later, I received a call regarding my second bag's arrival. Again, I made a quick trip to the airport in an attempt to arrive before they closed. This time, however, I was an expert navigator! Now that I knew my way around the back halls of the airport, the twists and turns were no match for me. I felt very accomplished that I remembered how to reach the office without assistance or getting lost.
The work week here is Sunday through Thursday. Since I arrived in Dhaka on Thursday, my first day of work was Sunday. My office is about a three-minute walk from my flat. On my walk, I usually pass a few street dogs who are lounging around in the sun or begging for food; the other day I spotted a cat in the windowsill napping. Seeing all of these animals makes me miss my three dogs, and I have to remind myself not to feed them all (they seem to be eating well enough). Walking around Dhaka requires close attention to what is going on with the traffic. While most of the time I can stay on the sidewalk, crossing roads and rounding corners requires listening closely for horns and watching for oncoming cars, tuk-tuks, and rickshaws. Vehicles here don’t stop for pedestrians trying to cross the road, it is expected that the pedestrian will be aware and move; It’s a little bit like that old video game Frogger. Never a dull moment.
I spent my first week of work reading and learning about the laws of Bangladesh, how the Bangladeshi legal system works, reading about the Rohingya people (many of whom are people we work with on our project), and formulating our plan for the next few months. Bangladesh has strong laws established to help protect women, children, and trafficking victims. Our project here with Winrock International focuses on four prongs: Protection, Prevention, Prosecution, and Partnerships. My position as a prosecution intern focuses on the prosecution prong of our project, and the goal of this prong is to work cooperatively with the police, prosecutors, and judges to improve the prosecution process and increase the accessibility of resources to victims.
My work over the next couple of months should take me to sites around Bangladesh where I will have the chance to speak with victims of trafficking, police who have investigated trafficking cases, and prosecutors who have worked on these cases. I'm anxious to see what I glean from this experience. While I may be limited in what I can share with you all on here, I hope to share my experiences and the places I'm able to visit along the way.