Monday, July 27, 2009

Just Going to Get a Book

I’m not going to sugarcoat it – Bangladesh isn’t the most culturally-rich country in the world. It doesn’t have things on par with the Great Wall, Eiffel Tower, or Teotihuacan. The Lonely Planet book was really reaching for highlights – ranked as the number 1 highlight is “Rickshaws”. Number 6, however, is “The People”. There couldn’t be a truer statement. Adventures here in Bangladesh, especially if you look really foreign (skin/hair color), stem from the people. The other day was a pretty good example.

I’ve been really sick lately, and in addtion to the food I thought I might be sick because I was always engrossed in poverty – even my leisure book is about poverty. So began the quest to find a “beach novel” (If you know me, you know I never read this kind of crap).

Addresses here are harder to find than a liberal in Alabama, and this one was compounded by the fact that the bookstore had moved. Once dropped off in the general area, I was immediately approached by an English-speaking Bangladeshi and two small street children. The kids, who were very dirty and wearing hair that looked like it had endured several birthdays since its last washing, said some mumbled English and then I heard “Ronnie”. Apparently they were friends of his. After this they pointed to their bare feet. I painfully told them that I couldn’t help them out, but one followed me, named Taki. I eventually bought some candy that Taki was selling, which made him happy.

Now it was just me and the random guy, who I later found out was named Raheen, looking for the bookstore. He appointed himself my official guide and kept talking about a museum he wanted me to go to while we searched. We went on several rickshaws, getting lost and re-lost. One particular rickshaw wallah had an impact on me. His name was Abul and he had been a rickshaw wallah for 40 years. At 69 years old, he was extremely tan and missing about half his teeth, the rest of which were brown and yellow. You could see his skinny frame through his sweat-soaked white shirt. He had a wife and two kids, and they were living on the 200 Takas (about $3) he earned a day, after the rental cost of the rickshaw. It seemed like there had to be another income source, but regardless, after 40 years he was still at it and in good spirits.

With Abul’s help we finally found the bookstore, which had a pretty scanty collection. I randomly grabbed a book called “Rubyfruit Jungle”, which turns out is a famous coming-of-age lesbian novel. Should be interesting. With Raheen still following me like I was Allah himself, we headed outside. Since he’d been helpful with translating and really wanted to earn my money, I decided to let him take me to the museum. Halfway into the rickshaw ride and heading into a poorer part of town, I realized that’s not where we were going.

After bumbling down crowded alleys with rocky roads, we finally arrive at Raheen’s brother’s house. At this one-room cell of a house, I met Raheen’s sister and her daughter, as well as a next door neighbor named Rhonie. Rhonie had become a widow when her husband had heart problems five years ago. After the company for which she was working left the country five months ago, she became jobless. Apparently now she was living off the generosity of her neighbors. Before leaving, I saw her “house” which was even more modest than the one we had been in. It wasn’t all sad though – we did get to enjoy some RC Cola, talk about them coming with me to visit the beaches in southern Bangladesh, and sweat in the dark when the power went out. I said goodbye to the family (picture is included) and headed home on rickshaw driven by Raheen’s brother, before being hassled by Raheen for money. And all that resulting from just going to get a book.

1 comment:

  1. I order my books from Amazon - seems a bit easier!