17. Hot in the city!

It’s early May: the summer arrived in earnest in Dhaka from mid-April with temperatures in the low to mid-40s. (Officially reported temperatures – in newspapers or online – always seem lower than those discussed in conversations on the ground.) The weather, a combination of intense heat and high humidity, has settled down over the city like a thick, damp, extra layer. With the slightest exertion, beads of sweat multiply on my forehead. The effects of a cold shower  last only as long as the shower itself. To sleep, I lay as still as the air in my room on my bed and hope that the electricity does not go off – just yet – until I cool down a little under the ceiling fan. Too soon, there’s a blackout and within no time I am twisting and turning uncomfortably on damp sheets. Sometimes, even the monotonous whirring of the fan does little to relieve the discomfort.

The worst thing about the scorching heat though, for me, is having to travel in Dhaka. Getting to and from work becomes a mammoth task and the most awful part of the day by far. The only thing worse than being stuck in a CNG in a crowded, dusty, smog-filled, traffic-choked street is being stuck in the same situation in sweltering, clammy heat. (See post 7.) It is not uncommon to see Bangladeshis using umbrellas as a defence against the sun at this time of year.

Every task becomes more difficult in these hot and humid conditions. The milk goes sour somewhere between the fridge and the table. Unless bread is refrigerated, mould forms immediately. Of course because of the power cuts, which have escalated of late to 1 hour off for every 1 or 2 hours on, the fridge is not that reliable in the first place. The pages in my books droop with the humidity and mould forms on clothes, shoes, paper, suitcases, etc. Storing everything in air-tight plastic containers and bags helps. Washed clothes never dry fully because the air is always damp. Minor skin infections and irritations, such as prickly heat and fungal rashes, are common as is swelling of the feet and ankles. Bedbugs are ubiquitous – they bite but don’t carry disease thankfully. More seriously, it is very easy to become dehydrated quickly. You have to make a conscious effort to drink, drink and drink. Water shortages compound the problems.

There are times when I feel like screaming, when I want to run out of sweltering, smelly, sweaty, noisy Dhaka: if not run away, at least escape temporarily to the countryside. Imagine then Dhaka’s poor, for whom conditions are far worse and immeasurably insufferable. Ill health is inevitable. This is malarial weather; cholera weather. The humid conditions ensure that bacteria thrive and disease is rife. Diarrhoea, one of the biggest killers in Bangladesh, is common. I was reminded of the seriousness of the situation on a recent visit to the travellers’ clinic, located in the ICDDR,B – the International Centre for Diarrhoea Disease Research, Bangladesh. On my way in, there were long queues of people awaiting attention – many looked weak and very ill. Dr. Dawn Rees (originally from the UK) told me that there is currently a diarrhoea epidemic in Dhaka and that the numbers being admitted have reached crisis point: they had to set up the makeshift tents I passed at the entrance to cope with the overflow. These tents were filled with patients lying on mats or stretcher beds – most suffering from the severe, and often fatal, dehydration that accompanies chronic diarrhoea. A sobering scene and a stark reminder of the reality of life in Dhaka for many of my fellow inhabitants.

A small selection of photographs follows. (Unfortunately, since Cooliris was acquired by Yahoo my lovely photo walls no longer work :(. I have replaced them with links to post-specific web-album slideshows until such time as I can find a better solution.)

Click on image below for PHOTO SLIDESHOW related to this post (13 photographs in all). Enjoy!

1. People use umbrellas against heat

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