Thursday, May 10, 2007

Narrow Houses and Kind Strangers
May 1, 2007

Today is yet another Bangladeshi holiday. This time I think it is a Hindu holiday… My friend Natasha, her son Annan, and I went to Old Dhaka together. Initially we wanted to see Lalbag (the Red Fort) but it was closed today because of the holiday. Instead, we went back to Shakari Bazar to see the narrow houses there. My second trip to Old Dhaka was much more pleasant than my first trip. I wasn’t harassed and I did not receive more than the normal amount of attention.

Natasha, her four year-old son (she couldn’t find a babysitter), and I took a rickshaw down through the narrow roads to the heart of Old Dhaka. There we got out and Natasha asked some of the people if we could go up and see their houses. As we were asking, a student walked by and said that he would be happy to show us some homes in the area. His name was Nitonondo (which means eternal happiness) and he studies English Literature and Dhaka University (the Bangladeshi equivalent of Harvard.) He is also a Hari Krishna Hindu (most of the residents of Old Dhaka are Hindu) and he took us to several Hari Krishna homes.

We were particularly interested in the houses because they are extremely narrow (only 4-10 feet) but very deep (100 to 150 feet). Plus they go up several stories (5-7). I met Natasha at the architecture conference at BUET several weeks ago (she is a Bangladeshi architect and now architecture professor) and she was telling me about these houses. Apparently, most of the families who live in them are very rich, but they still prefer to live in these small, congested homes because their families have lived there for over 200 years. In the homes, the owner and his/her family will usually live on the top floor and rent out the rest of the house to other tenants. Each family gets one small room and they share a bathroom and kitchen. Because the home is so narrow, all of the apartments are built railroad style, so the family in the back has to go through two or three other families’ homes to get to their house.

The people who lived in these homes were so generous! Not only were they willing to let us come look inside their houses uninvited, but they offered us sweets and drinks wherever we went. Nitonondo and one of his friends invited us back for a big feast on May 5th. Natasha and I are going to try to go.

Old Dhaka Street Scene
The streets in this part of town are very narrow. So are the houses!

House in Old Dhaka
This was the washing area of one of the houses we visited.

Inside of an Old Dhaka House
This is the inside of one of the houses we visited. The width of this room is the width of the entire house. One family lives in this room. The woman in the center is my friend Natasha.

Hari Krishna House
This is the second floor of the Hari Krishna house. I liked the house the best because there was a corridor next to the small rooms so each one had light and air and nobody had to walk through anybody else's house to get home. The floors were also brightly painted.

This was the shared kitchen in one of the houses that we visited.


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