how many people can you fit on a motorcycle…

well hello again.

my adventures have now landed me in Dhaka for a few days, and I’m waiting to start a meeting with a physician here, to pick his brain a bit about the state of chronic disease prevention, surveillance and treatment in this country.  but enough about work 🙂

On Thursday, 2 students, a staff member, one faculty member, the driver and me set off on our long (soon to be ill-fated) journey from Gaibandha to Dhaka.  Our day began with a routine…this is despite the fact that, the night before, we had been up on the roof with a guitar singing the national anthems for everyone in our group (bangladesh, US, china, India), then american pie, then some pink floyd, then finishing off with a resounding rendition of acoustatic lady gaga – paparazzi…and had gathered an impressive audience in every window around our rooftop.

We headed into the office, did some work for a few hours, had some meetings, and were rushed off to lunch since, heaven forbid you miss any means- the skies will open and the cook will look at you with a fiery glare (not unlike my almost-famous death look)!!  We gathered our things, and since the Bangladeshi-born Belgian faculty member was leaving for the US, there were many goodbyes, extending into the requisite 45 minute farewell that seems to be ubiquitous in south asia.

We got into the car and headed to Rangpur, where we had exactly “30 minutes” to wrap up some meetings and make some important decisions before we would all be squeezed into the car to catch the plane from Rangpur to Dhaka.

The plane was scheduled to depart at 4:35pm.  Somehow, we had gotten it into our heads that the scheduled departure time was 5pm.  Somehow, no one thought to correct us.  Somehow, this was going to be a problem.

The 30 minutes stretched languidly into 75 minutes, and managed to include tea and cake, a tense discussion of cross-cultural issues in communication, a visit to the data management center, and another round of goodbyes.  We got into the car at 4:15pm.  The airport is 45 minutes away.  On the road, our driver donned his Nascar helmet, and swerved around every bus, cow, bicycle rickshaw, truck precariously carrying sugar cane, and motorcycle carrying father, mother (sitting sideways) baby (sitting between mom and dad), older child (standing at the very front, and maybe a dozen or so eggs to sell at market.  I chose to sit backwards and watch the extreme terror on the faces of the two students who would alternately grab hold of each other and whimper in terror at every swerve.  My residency-induced poker face swung into gear.  Fight or flight senses were all ready to go!  I was just waiting for the code bells to go off….  Meanwhile, my adviser was on the phone with the pilot of the aircraft (who was in the process of readying the plane for take off, mind you) to just hold the plane for the VIPs as he struggled into his official-looking navy suit jacket and we prepared to leap out of the car door while the vehicle was still moving.

We made it to the airport at 4:45pm.  Ran through the nearly empty airport (this consisted of running maybe 20 feet)),and (hurrah!) saw the plane on the runway with the stairs still down.  Wait, why isn’t there anyone to give us boarding passes?  Wait, why wont they do the security checks of our luggage?  Wait, why is my adviser storming through security, through the door, onto the runway outside…only to be stopped by two bangladeshi police with very large guns asking him to “please sir” stop walking towards the plane…which had begun to pull up the stairs and start the propellors…

Needless to say, we didn’t get on the plane.  Amusingly, after all that screaming and yelling and saying “we will call your boss tomorrow,” it ended aimiably with my adviser and the head airport guy shaking hands.  They probably made plans for dinner the next time he was in town.  As this was all going on in Bangla, I wouldn’t be surprised.

So we decided to take the car instead.  We went back to the office (where everyone was chuckling just a little bit) to grab some food and movies for the ride, do some last minute errands, say some more goodbyes, and then we were off.

Kind of.

There was this strange beeping sound on the dashboard, and every so often it would go off.  My adviser was telling funny stories, we were still driving at a breakneck pace, and every so often would lean over and say something in a rather low tone to the driver, who responded in an equally low tone.  My dubious receptors went off.  *Alarm alarm!  Mechanical failure of some sort!  I can’t narrow it down more than that!*   Looking through the windshield, hmmm, interesting…kind of looks like our headlights aren’t on.  And the gauges look for the fuel and the temperature and the speedometer look…not functional.  Ok, Meghana, think fast so that you can be appropriately worried.  What happens when things start flickering and there is a weird sound and, omg, now my adviser is driving, and the driver is opening up the fusebox and fixing it WHILE THE CAR IS MOVING.  It didn’t work.  The annoying tinnitus-like sound continued, and then  I gave my best “Let’s not be stupid now, gentlemen” stare into the rearview mirror and watched as the same menagerie of Bangladeshi road traffic whirled by.  We actually made it about 2.5 hours, and then, suddenly, a 5-star hotel with every pharma and tobacco executive in the country appeared, complete with huge lawns, a fountain, olympic sized pool (into which they didn’t feel like putting a pool filter, so, instead, pump out all of the contents and fill it with fresh water every 2 weeks.  yes, I’m serious).

Turns out that the annoying beeping sounds was the battery near total decimation.  At least this wouldn’t end like my own personal experience with a faulty alternator on the highways of Seattle…as I don’t think there is AAA in Bangladesh…

We landed in the hotel and felt like we were on the moon.  People in business suits.  A blond American woman.  A random Samurai sword hanging on the walls of the lobby (still don’t get this).  Then made our way into the dining room and proceeded to have the best dinner I’ve had in quite a while.  (Anyone have the recipe for malai prawns??).  Then after being yelled at by the guy at the reception desk for who knows what, and after sharing the elevator with a Chinese woman in tight, tapered legging jeans and a bright teal fanny pack (this would make me stare in the US…imagine how obvious we were after living in rural Bangladesh for a week) we finally headed to bed.

Dhaka adventures in prohibition-era smuggling of Chivas into a Chinese restaurant to accompany our Szechuan hot pot will have to wait 🙂

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One Response to how many people can you fit on a motorcycle…

  1. The woman. In the teal fanny pack.

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