Thursday, August 07, 2008

Getting around

Rickshaws are the best mode of transport in congested Dhaka, that is, if you can stand the guilt of a poor, skinny Bangladeshi boy sweating and pedaling to haul your curry-and-nan-fattened ass through the sweltering heat. Their fee in Taka adds up to about a dime.

I like the rickshaws better than driving in private car, however. They blacken the windows so that people can't see in. But this doesn't fool anyone. At every stop -- and the congestion is such that there are many -- the car is assaulted by little children, hunched back little old women and young men with stumps for arms who peer into the window pleadingly.

I am not yet handling this well. My friend Doug has worked for years in Asia and he tells me, "Your emails remind me of how long it took me to come to terms with the abject poverty you see below your castle...Children are born, raised and die on those sidewalks. And even sidewalk space has value. I once watched for several days a young woman raising her baby in front of a convenience store. She was allowed to sleep there at night in exchange for keeping the area swept. After a while in South Asia, you come to see the inevitability of the poverty. I know that doesn’t seem to make any sense. It even seems cold to me now to write it. But that’s where most folks arrive eventually. It’s a very Hindu outlook. Don’t know how it works in a Muslim country."

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