After living in Dhaka for a year and a half, I can finally look past the pollution and poverty to the more romantic aspects of the city. Riding my bike from Upper School to the First School for a staff meeting after school today, I was struck by the unique South Asian feel of the city.
Keeping well out of the way of dilapidated local buses barrelling past, I cycled past towering building blocks, all so similar in blunt design, yet individual in their intricate metalwork on their gates and barred windows.
Coming down Gulshan Avenue I passed the crowded market, filled with stalls of fruit and spices. The hundreds of oranges stacked in pristine pyramids caught my eye and my mouth watered.
A boy chased me, waving bunches of fresh roses the colors of the sunset.
"Madam, madam! Only a hundred taka!" He called as he ran after me.
At the traffic light I halted with the other cars, buses, rickshaws, and CNGs, not because we actually ever pay obey the red light, but because a uniformed guard was directing traffic. A legless beggar dragged himself over.
"Baksheesh," he intoned over and over, proffering his wrinkled hand.
The traffic cop waved his baton imperiously and I continued on my journey, passing men with lungis wrapped around their bony waists balancing baskets on their heads and children playing in the streets. I passed a few women, most fully covered in elaborately patterned and sequined shalwar kameezes, but a few neatly wrapped up in burqhas. Their dark eyes followed me as pedalled past, and I wondered what they were thinking.
Dhaka does offer an Asian mystique, although it is polluted by western influences and Bollywood. So far the city I've found most like in Asia is Siliguri, in North India. It is ironic that I'm beginning to love this impoverished city now that I am preparing to leave for Africa.