Thursday, August 13, 2009

walking distance

In our family, we have a concept of walking distance. It's usually the point where the noise from the backseat of the car would get to be too much for the driver and I'd say, ok kids, we're within walking distance now. Usually we would indeed be 2-3 blocks from home at that point; however, I have been known to say this at about Eau Claire when returning from Chicago (about 100 miles from home).

The concept is getting a workout here. Matan's school is acutally walking distance -- about a 45 minute walk, but could be done. My school is about twice as far. Lately I've been walking a lot. Sometimes it's easier than dealing with a rickshaw driver and a bumpy ride. Sometimes it looks faster to walk. Even though I was warned about the traffic congestion, it's not like anything I've ever seen or imagined.

Yesterday, for example, Matan and I went by rickshaw to his school since I had a meeting at the embassy and it was the same direction. We made great time -- less than 20 minutes. We know now to get off and walk through a gate when we enter the school's neighborhood and change to a different rickshaw. Apparently it's territorial.

Then I walked to the embassy. I was walking against traffic since the waves of people were heading downtown. This main road would usually be 2-3 lanes on each side, but multiple lanes form with rickshaws and CNGs (motorized rickshaws), cars and bikes. Didn't see many busses on this road. (btw, got to the embassy too early and they said to come back in a half hour. didn't mention that I was at the wrong gate and would have to hike about 3 blocks around the compound when it was the right time. AND I had been warned not to be late or they wouldn't let me in to the briefing). So I walked back down that road and figured I'd see 15 minutes worth in each direction. Found a new atm to add to my collection. (I'm still not used to needing cash for everything).

Back to the embassy and almost late. Last one into the meeting. It was for new embassy staff and fulbrighters. So they describe all of the levels of danger and how they provide security for their staff (alarms in the homes, two-way radio, 12 hours of guard, etc) and then they would say, oh, but not for you fulbrighters. You just need to use common sense. Lock your doors. Then on to transportation - for the embassy folks, no public transportation. Ok, you fulbrighters will have to use public transportation. Use common sense, etc. Fortunately we fulbrighters left together and sort of decompressed. My friend from the orientation had his aunt's car and driver so he offered me a ride to my next destination -- the college where I'll be teaching.

What a drive! It was a pleasure to be inside air-conditioning and to see the route a little less in my face. It probably took 30 minutes to go 4 miles. I got to the school and someone was sent down to find me (I stand out in a crowd, to put it mildly) and we went in to the university. Elevators have long lines. But there was an office and a computer waiting for me! I'll talk more about this later. Great news: they will send a car to pick me up and return me on the days I teach!

Return trip home: I decided to try a CNG. That thing zoomed along without me feeling a burden in the rickshaw. Less open to the sun and to the folks in the rickshaws along the way.

Waiting for Matan to get home, it got later and later. We're still not up to speed on the cellphones (no voice mail?) and need to text rather than having a missed call. He tried to tell me that volleyball practice would be 4:30 to 6:30 pm. When we did talk, I asked him to get to the shopping mall before dark and I'd meet him there to eat and walk home together. I got there and waited and waited on the steps. Did see at least 3 other foreign women in rickshaws going into our neighborhood. What a surprise!

So, logistics are the biggest concern for me right now. Our apartment being out of the school district bus route is an issue that I'll have to solve. Maybe we will have the complex's driver take him and pick him up, especially in the dark. Do I even know when it gets dark in Bangladesh? Today it's 7:30pm, but I don't know about next month or 3 months from now. So much to learn.


  1. Kris, I've always known how brave and adventurous you are and this experience really shows it. Eventually you and Matan will conquer all. I only wish the U.S./embassy provided the support that Fulbright scholars need!

  2. Kris... I can't wait to hear about the computer in your office! -Mike

  3. What about biking? Is that possible/advisable for foreigners? -Ianqui

  4. I suspect the cyclist is in the most vulnerable position of all. There seems to be an accepted approach that means no stopping if at all possible. Maybe it has to do with the momentum on the rickshaws. They go within 1/4 inch of hitting someone before swerving, all with horns blaring.

    On the sidewalks, the pedestrians seem relatively safe.

    Lanes are also very fluid and I've even seen people going down the lane in the wrong direction if the right one was jammed.