Sunday, June 10, 2012


This easily could be a snapshot from a soda, phone, or  laundry
detergent commercial. South Asia Marketing 101: anything
televised presents the opportunity, as in typical Bollywood
fashion, to break into song, dance, and elaborate costume.
After making it through a week being the only intern, let alone the only American on my floor, I was beginning to feel a little lonely. When I told my intern coordinator my weekend plans of visiting a few museums, she urgently objected, saying I could not possibly travel that far (6 km) alone. Per her advice, I spent my entire Saturday reading, watching MTV South Asia, and discovering that I did not have access to American TV online. Because Bollywood can only entertain for so long, I grew flustered at my trapped feelings.

I thought of how easily I could have been in New York City this summer, having the time of my life. Instead of sitting alone in my hotel room, I could have hopped on the subway and sat in Central Park, stood in line to get discount Broadway tickets, gone for a run, or hung out with any of my numerous friends on the East Coast this summer. Although I am fully aware of how dirty, loud, smelly, and pushy New York City can be, I suddenly saw the United States as some kind of promised land. I wondered if this was the mindset of many non-Americans, leading to depictions of ostentatious, gluttonous, limitless America.

Having grown up in the United States, I know it has flaws. I also know that not everyone shares my same love of America. But, the United States has a level of freedom that I cannot exercise here. Traveling "far" distances alone as a young blonde woman is not possible in Dhaka. Even the native women frequently travel in groups unless they have a private driver. This week enlightened me to America's allure.

My loneliness soon subsided when 10 other interns arrived this morning and our official orientation commenced. Initially, they all seemed fairly unclear of their internship expectations, making me feel confident in my one-week jump start. The other interns are from Australia, Bangladesh, the U.K., and the U.S. We are all in different stages of our educations: some Masters Students, one Harvard Law bound, some rising juniors in undergraduate studies. Interestingly, we all are (or were) some mix of economics and political science majors.

I enjoyed a hilarious lunch with two Bangladeshi girls and one of the Americans. The Bangladeshi girls briefed us on their general perceptions of Dhaka. I asked the girls about transportation because the options here are very different from options provided in the States. One can take a rickshaw, CNG (a three-wheeled mini-car that runs on compressed natural gas), taxi, or bus. According to my research, the former two options are strongly encouraged for foreigners. When my fellow American reported that her host family dropped her off at a bus stop to get to BRAC this morning, my awestruck mind raced back to my Lonely Planet Guide. Although this book is not fool-proof, it has been my bible for the past week. Its description of bus transit has been my favorite paragraph, by far. I would say that this paragraph describes Dhaka in a nutshell:
"The only real difference between local buses and long-distance buses is how you catch them - in the case of local buses, literally. It can be something of a death-defying process. Firstly, assess whether the bus will get you to your desired destination by screaming the name of the destination to the man hanging out the door. If he responds in the affirmative, run toward him, grab firmly onto a handle, if there is one, or him if there isn't, and jump aboard, remembering to check for oncoming traffic." 
Did they mention that the bus doesn't physically stop at the bus stop? People hoping to become passengers must run alongside the bus while conversing with a man who literally hangs out of the doorway (there is no door). Remarkably, my American comrade made it onto the bus, but had to get off randomly as the bus neither stopped nor announced landmarks over a loud speaker. The Bangladeshi girls giggled and exchanged some Bangla. When four blank American eyes met theirs, they explained that people vomit quite frequently on the buses. Perplexed, I asked them if I understood correctly. The girls said that if you are driving in a car near a bus, you should never unroll your window because people vomit out the windows somewhat regularly, that is, if they are fortunate enough to score a window seat. We all burst out laughing - how ridiculous! Apparently Bangladeshi people are more susceptible to motion sickness. Who knew?

With a group of evidently more daring kids (students? young adults?), I look forward to embarking on some great adventures together.

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