Monday, July 26, 2010

My First Day in Dhaka: Lost and Sweaty

I walked around Central Dhaka this morning, completely lost for the most part. The language barrier is made all the more difficult in that I can’t even read the street signs. The streets here are a mix of city and squalor. The poverty is very visible, and does make me feel somewhat out of place. Not to mention I was the only white person (or non-Bangladeshi person of any race) out on the street. It was clear that people were surprised to see me, though no crowd gathering just yet. One person did come up and talk to me, and was quite nice. He looked like a university student. I asked him his advice on where to cross the street. He replied, “This is Bangladesh, you just run!” Indeed, he was right. And you better run fast, too.

The poverty is a bit difficult to deal with – though, not necessarily from a sensory perspective. The smell walking past a local garbage dump was like nothing I’ve smelled before. Yet, at least it fits in with the environment. When I noticed what was clearly human excrement on the side of the walkway, I was way less shocked or disgusted then when I saw the same thing on the streets on NYC. What’s difficult is seeing people with so little, when you have so much. One of the things that fazed me was a small child beggar that came up to me and motioned that he was hungry. However, I did not have any money notes small enough that it would be appropriate to give him. I felt bad about this, especially since he stood there, next to me, softly tugging on my sleeve for the whole time I stood waiting to cross the street (about two minutes). It’s tough knowing that I have so much and he has so little, and that a miniscule contribution from me could make a huge difference to him. I need to get lots of small change. I want to help. I’m thinking perhaps I should reserve 100tk to give away each day. Though, I’m conflicted. On the one hand, they are so poor, and begging is part of their culture. On the other hand, giving reinforces the behavior (and apparently the begging societies that have been created to take advantage of such children).

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