Monday, September 26, 2011

Driving on the wrong side, a radio appearance and one heck of a birthday party

Driving in South Asia is horrendous. It is not just the traffic, it is the rickshaws and the sheer mass of bodies, whether human or fauna, present on the streets. Dhaka, however, lifts the bar of atrocious driving to new unattainable levels and one needs a heck of a lot of nerve and machismo or a driver to survive here. Much to everyone’s dismay, I happily contributed to the mayhem this weekend. On Saturday night, I needed to go play tennis at 9 pm, and the Diplomat (who has by now ventured to drive the car several times) was going to be home watching Son while our fearless driver had the day off. We decided to try me out as a mad Dhaka driver on our way to our weekly Saturday American Club swimming pool bonanza. The Diplomat bravely climbed into the passenger seat and I could hear him take irregular sharp breaths of air while I began to navigate our awesome Toyota Corolla. For those blissfully uninitiated—Dhaka traffic flows on the left, just like in England, which presented me with several problems the moment I got on the street:
1. The shift stick is on the left and I kept banging my right hand on the door handle every time I needed to change the gear
2. The turn signals are on the right ride of the wheel while the windshield wipers are on the left, as a result of which I kept washing the windshield instead of indicating my erratic turns
3. There seemed to be a whole lot more car on my left side than there used to be—to be more precise, the entire passenger side.

So, while I finally got used to using my left hand to shift gears and stopped wiping the windshield madly every minute, it turned out to be much more difficult to judge the distance between the left side of the car and the things outside of it. The Diplomat immediately pointed out to me that I am dangerously close to the curb/rickshaws/several chickens running in front of a mosque/three policemen/tea wallah/2 loitering men/a dirty palm tree, which I indignantly and adamantly denied as nonsense. Few minutes later I (now) admit to hearing something of a slight bump on the back of the car. It turned out to be a rickety rickshaw, which SOMEHOW was way too close to my bumper. After the Diplomat asked me whether I heard that, I testily said no and he prudently decided to keep quiet. Few moments later we were about to turn into the Club’s street when to my horror I realized that while I was anxiously waiting to make a right turn, I was about to lunge smack in the middle of a peacefully parked rickshaw on the side of the road. I stopped within a hair of it and its panicked owner ran for his life to move it. The Diplomat kept on staring in the distance and said nothing, as he was itching to say, “I told you so.” I stopped in front of the Club, the Diplomat exhaled deeply, shifted the gear in Park with his right hand (I am sure by habit of his right-hand driving days) and we all got out and spent 3 happy hours at the pool. As we were packing to go back, I realized that the car keys were missing. Frantically, we accused the poor child of tossing them into the pool and I went in to look for them while the Diplomat decided to go to the car to see if I left them in the door. I honestly professed to not remembering locking the car. For a good reason—turns out, when the Diplomat shifted the gear in Park mechanically, I also forgot that I was the one driving and simply exited the car thus leaving it running and certainly not locking it. Mercifully, one of the guards noticed the lonely running car, turned it off, locked it and kept the keys. They all must think I am barking mad by now.
I am happy to report that later that evening I drove myself to the Club again without any incidents. Even if I was driving 20 miles per hour and with my knuckles white from clutching the wheel in fear. I also almost did not get lost at all.

This week also saw me speak on Radio Today, a rather popular Dhaka radio station, where I was discussing the end of the diversity visa program in Bangladesh and how wonderful it is to study in the U.S. In all honesty, I was so nervous at the beginning that I prattled most of my useful info in the first three minutes with a speed that will make any good speech therapist seriously concerned. The rest was fine--I did not manage to offend anyone or say anything particularly stupid or obtuse. Go me! I love my job!!!
On Thursday night I also celebrated my birthday with a lot of friends at the so-called BAGHA Club. BAGHA club is British but not to be mistaken with the British Club. Rather, it was started as an anti-establishment of sorts and currently offers a lovely outdoors/indoors British pub atmosphere with an excellent jukebox and reasonably priced drinks. True to its ethnic roots, the scotch there is cheaper than the wine. Not that I am protesting, of course. Once we got hold of the jukebox and started blasting Led Zeppeling, Creedence and Elvis into the dark hot Dhaka night and mixing it with copious amounts of scotch, the party really started going. We got home around 2 am. Again.


  1. Awesome driving story! Just wait to you get it down and then struggle to adjust back again once in the States on R&R!

  2. i refuse to drive in america only for the same reason. congrats for the talk show in dhaka radio, this must be the first in the family!