Wednesday, October 28, 2009

First Impressions: D haka

We arrived in D haka just under 3 hours ago. It is a feast to the senses, always something interesting, stimulating going on. It even started on the plane – a little boy with some of the biggest buck teeth imaginable in front of us, along with about 8 other (well-behaved) young faces peering over the edge of the seats. Two teenage boys across the aisle – obviously new to flying as one couldn’t figure out his seatbelt for either takeoff or landing. Dressed in what looked like perhaps a factory polo shirt and, in the manner of men in most of the non-Western world, very affectionate toward one another. IC told of a flight on another airline where the “first time fliers” (who generally have hardly even experienced electricity), discovered the flight attendant call button (press a button, a lady appears and brings you anything you want!), and the rest of the flight sounded like the inside of a pinball machine. A magical metal tube hurtling through the sky, and we all get our own personal genie who comes with the press of a button, but we’re not limited to three wishes (just the beverages in stock on board).

Landing, then immigration. A smarmy-looking man directs us to the counter where we will need to pay for our “upon arrival” visas, but apparently there’s a racket even in this (B-desh regularly ranks as one of the most corrupt nations in the world). “Here, you sit in my office” (a textiles office the size of my closet at home, furnished with a teeny couch and a desk, conveniently right next to the bank where we paid for the visa). He hustles off to get our passports stamped by immigration while we huddle around the office door (3 of us, plus a Spaniard who has been pinpointed as a sucker, also, but at least we had been forwarned that we look like targets). Smarmy man shuttles back and forth with new “customers;” our passports are nowhere to be seen, but apparently this is normal. Finally he appears with stamped passports, hands them to us with great ceremony. Do we owe him a tip? He seems to think he needs to be paid for services rendered, but Ayub has told us never to tip anyone. Sorry, buddy, but we could have done the same thing for ourselves in the same amount of time. Somehow I doubt it’s really a textiles office.

Outside of customs, three very friendly faces greet us. A s h a: an M B B woman who works with the P C B: a delightful smile, warm manner and obvious proficiency in what she does. IC traveled with her doing cyclone relief last summer but can’t shake her hand; it isn’t appropriate in this culture. I only remembered this later because at the time thought it a little odd that the other men didn’t greet me. The other two in our welcoming group are a young man (H B B) and Jeh en gir, a media producer and M B B. I am struck profoundly by their warm smiles, I can’t quite wrap my head around how genuinely pleased they seem to be to host us (even after waiting 3 hours for our delayed flight); I am even more excited to be here.

The streets. Honking, bumpers inches from other bumpers, I could reach out and touch the bus next to me, easily. You read about and see traffic like this in movies, but it’s hard to describe how stimulating it is, how fascinating it is as a social microcosm. It’s very organic, each person seems to know his or her place (or know where that place *should be,* based on the honking), but to a Westerner, it feels like a giant game of chicken. Everybody won tonight on our road, but judging by some very dented-up taxis (every car has dents), everybody also loses pretty regularly. The driving style seemed vaguely familiar until I realized where I’ve seen it before: New York City. Not incidentally, I’m sure the Big Apple has its share of B-deshi taxi drivers (or something similar).

I wished we hadn’t arrived in the dark because my shutter finger was itching like crazy, but I’m also not sure that any picture or video can do the scene justice. You just have to drink in the delicious cacophony of humanity that comprises the scene on the road from the airport to the hotel.

1 comment:

Addie said...

Well put - I love the picture your words paint. Can't wait to hear more and read above for the pictures. I'm envious of your time and hope you and HH really really really get to enjoy each other on such a wild trip in such a different locale. What fun!