Friday, July 17, 2009

In Search of Beer and a Handyman

It was Saturday, so I didn’t have work, and Shiplu, a Bangladeshi who I met through (check it out), invited me back over to his house again today after we had gotten tea together just a couple days earlier. I got up to his apartment after an hour commute through traffic jams, and thought we were going to be heading to Old Dhaka, which I wanted to see. We ended up sitting around for a while, and he said I could get online. I told him thanks, but I could do that other times, and that I wanted to do something – see the city or something like that. Rather than visit Old Dhaka, he suggested, “We will take rickshaw ride for an hour” to show me around “and then we will take beer and sing songs and laugh.”

So after sitting around a bit longer we went out and got in a rickshaw. We were in it maybe 15 minutes when he called it to stop. Apparently we were going on a search for beer in a city where it is illegal for Bangladeshis. 98% of the population is Muslim, so they can’t drink – kind of weird/depressing having no bars in the city, save a few hotels. So we got in a CNG, traveled about 30-40 minutes to this random building on the side of the road, walked down this dirt road to this rustic gate that had small seeing-door that was opened by someone inside after Shiplu gave a few knocks. As it was Saturday, they weren’t open. After vehement arguing by Shiplu that I was an American, had my passport, and wanted beer, he finally gave up. Then we walked about five minutes to this other building where he debated with himself over buying more expensive beers.

I told him that I really wasn’t that thirsty and that I was just tired and needed to do laundry because I didn’t have anything to wear to work tomorrow. The message didn’t get through. We then crossed the road, where he tried for another 5-10 minutes to find a rickshaw. “Why are we taking a rickshaw?” I wondered – clearly his apartment (where my belongings were) was too far for a rickshaw. Well, we took the rickshaw about 10-15 minutes and got off, walking a good bit until we found this fence bordering the road which we had to climb through. Then we get in and I’m told to take a seat in this room that was basically an empty office with just a desk, two chairs, and a creaking fan. After some negotiating, a rough looking guy brought out ice cubes and two warm Foster’s. As I try to avoid ice cubs, I reluctantly started to sip the warm Foster’s for which I wasn’t even thirsty in the first place. Shiplu wasn’t drinking – both were for me. I urged him to help me, and we both sat in silence drinking our warm Foster’s. After that he purchased some whiskey, which he asked me to hide in my pocket (did I mention this is ridiculous?) until we got back to his place.

Shiplu sent me home via the SUV of his friend, who decided for some reason (language barrier) that we’d gone far enough, so he pulled over. I needed a shirt for tomorrow so I found it convenient to haggle for a second-hand shirt while I was there, finding my way home afterward in a CNG (baby taxi).

At home I had an equally entertaining time overpaying the local workforce. I tried to work the washing machine, but seeing the pressure was very low, I thought something was wrong with the hose (there wasn’t). So I started twisting and pulling until I pulled the whole stupid thing apart, only to have an unstoppable deluge of water result. I went downstairs, sopping wet, and made some hand motions to the apartment caretaker guy to come help me. Through a lot of pointing and broken Bengali/English, I showed him the problem. He called up his friend (relative/local plumber???) who came right over. He looked at the problem, and was about to give up if it weren’t for the caretaker guy. Thirty minutes and two Pepsi’s later he had it figured out. I gave the plumber guy 600 Taka and the caretaker 220 Taka total (for the record $1=69 Taka).

Apparently it was a bit too much. When I went into the market to get dinner that night, the handyman, whose name is Shamin, came up to me smiling and called my phone number to make sure I had his number programmed in. Later that night I get a text message reading:

“How r u? Have u any problem? Example-ac, elect, sanatary, et. u can call me.”

Two days later he called me to check to see if I had any problems, and then a day after that called me again. Wow, I’m an idiot. It was a rare flaw in what has otherwise been a good resume of haggling with and paying locals thus far.

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