‘Home’ is a word that is often juxtaposed with the word ‘abroad’: for me (for now) both come together. On May 18th I finally moved into my ‘home abroad’ here in Dhaka – my temporary abode for the next 11 months or so. Usually, after the orientation programme finishes, volunteers are assigned accommodation. For those based in Dhaka, this constitutes a place in a shared flat with other volunteers. In placements outside Dhaka, volunteers usually live alone. All the volunteers I had arrived with moved out of Dhaka to their placements in rural Bangladesh, while I was in hospital (see post 15). Upon discharge from hospital, I spent a further month in the induction flat (due to VSO administrative difficulties), until I was finally allocated a place to live. By this time I was very anxious to unpack and ‘settle in’.
The three-bedroomed flat is on the first floor of a pink building in Block A in Lalmatia (see map below). I am sharing with fellow volunteer Elizabeth from Kenya. Her friend Rorie, a volunteer from the Philippines based downriver in the Barisal region, uses the third room when she is in Dhaka. There is a very obliging and helpful caretaker called Kabir in charge of the building (which is entirely occupied by VSO volunteers). He also acts as a night-watchman and lives in a room on the ground floor.
My bedroom is off the main living/dining area at the front of the house, overlooking the street. There is a small, dark kitchen and an equally dark bathroom off the main room, as well as the other two bedrooms. A door opens onto a narrow balcony at the front of the flat and another to a balcony at the back, where there is a clothes line. While there is no air-conditioning in the building, all rooms, except the bathroom, have electric ceiling fans.
I spent quite a bit of time trying to make my room ‘my own’. The most part of two days were spent cleaning. I procured a small bookstand from the store-room in the VSO office, and picked up bed linen and a few other bits and pieces from local markets. It already had a desk and a set of drawers. Because of the humidity and the ubiquitous layers of Dhakan dust, I am trying to keep as much as I can in air-tight bags. I brought one of the purple mosquito nets from the induction flat and faced the task of repairing tears in the meshing: I felt like a fisherman mending my nets! Once I had unpacked and finished my room ‘makeover’, I began to feel a little more at home.
As in the induction flat (see post 6), we have ants and cockroaches aplenty, and occasionally geckos and spiders depending on the season, but no rat thankfully. So far, there seem to be fewer mosquitoes here. Because my room is at the front of the house, at times, determined by which way the wind is blowing, there can be unpleasant smells from the open sewers running through the streets.
What I love about my room is its window to the sights and sounds of life on the streets below. I can stand there for hours watching: there’s always something happening and always something that surprises me. I miss being woken by the sound of the call to prayer, from the mosque near the induction flat. Because I’m further from mosques here, I am only occasionally woken by a muezzin. There is no shortage of other sounds though: throughout the night there is the sound of screeching cats and whistle blowing, the latter from guards on local night-watch. They blow a whistle when they see someone approaching during late-night or early-morning hours. The whistle puts both the neighbourhood and the late-night walker on notice and both are thus protected. On weekend mornings I wake to the chanting of street vendors selling their wares – everything from live chickens to clanking door locks. Beggars and alms collectors, in groups or individually, call out in song and prayer, inviting donations. Then there is the rickshaw-puller’s ‘Hup!’ ‘Ey je!’ and the less pleasant sounds of incessant throat clearing, and the hawking and spitting that go along with that.
I’m beginning to get to know my immediate neighbourhood – as much as I can with my limited Bangla. I need to practice more. I frequent three small grocery shops, two pharmacies and a laundry/ironing service – all close by and all staffed by very friendly and helpful men – one or two with a great sense of humour. There is only one woman working in any of the businesses in my immediate environs, and this is a small fabric shop next door. However, groups of women can be seen in the early morning sweeping the streets, with brooms made from bunches of twigs tied together.
I’m including a few photographs below of the flat. For more on Dhaka and my neighbourhood of Lalmatia, see posts 6, and 7, amongst others. (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 (24 photographs in all). Enjoy!
Map below shows location of my flat and the VSO Office in Lalmatia, Dhaka