Sunday, November 19, 2006

Fulbright Blog
Date: November 19, 2006
Place: Dhaka

Friday night Fatima (my boua) took me to her house before taking me to see a tailor who is a friend of hers. She only lives a few blocks away from me in one of the make-shift shanty towns in my neighborhood. I was really shocked to see how she lives. It is one thing to read about the housing situation, it is quite another thing to see it for yourself - particularly if the person who is living there is a friend.

Her house was just one small room, about 8' x 10'. The bed also served as the couch. I am not sure where her son sleeps, as I only saw one bed... Three of the walls were made of brick, one wall and her ceiling were of corrogated metal. She had one light, a fan, and a TV plus a rack for clothes and a small shelf unit that she kept cooking utensils, etc. on. She didn't have a door, just a curtain to cover the opening. Her floor was made of old found boards. There was no bathroom or kitchen. Apparently there is a communal bathhouse at one end of the "hallway". (I say "hallway" because the houses were arranged so close together that there was maybe a three foot distance between peoples' front doors.) There was no shower in the bathroom, just a latrine and a water spigot. She cooks on an open fire in front of her door.

When I arrived, I met her husband (a rickshaw driver), her brother-in-law and his wife. Her son was at her mother's house. She asked me what I wanted to eat/drink. (The verb kha- in Bangla means eat, drink, and smoke...) It is customary to accept food when visiting someone, so I asked for the simplest thing that I could think of which was water. Then after she asked her husband to go buy water, I felt terrible, because I remembered that drinking water is not readily available in Bangladesh! Even tap water needs to be boiled and filtered (and while she could boil the water, she had nothing to filter it.) She also offered me some tea which I accepted.

I was really glad that I got to see where her family lives, because it reminded me of the reason that I am here - to help families like Fatima's move into clean, safe, decent, affordable housing.

After the visit I decided to buy her husband a rickshaw. I was thinking of buying one anyway, because rickshaws are my favorite way to travel and the places that I usually go are not so far away that I could not take one. If I have my rickshaw with a driver, it saves me time and is more convenient. I would also feel more comfortable traveling at night with someone I trust. Buying my own rickshaw ensures that I have a nice, new, safe, large one (some of them are quite small for large Americans!) They aren't that expensive for me (about $80 - $150) , but for him, it would mean a significant increase in income, as he currently has to pay 1,000 taka a month, or 30-50% of his monthly income, to rent a rickshaw.

Fatima is going to talk to her husband tonight about the arrangement. I will keep you posted on how it develops...

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