Spend an hour cruising around the alleys of Uttar Badda in Mitu’s rickshaw, completely lost and surrounded by dug up roads. There is a nice vibe in these little local areas, all of the world is in the dirt alleys that are too narrow for cars – vegetable sellers, chai wallahs, barefoot construction labourers, and a bazillion people asking themselves if a white woman really did just go past on a rickshaw.
A lovely aspect of the Holi festival, is that gender, age, status, caste and nationality do not apply – it’s a free for all. If ever a rickshaw wallah wants to shoot a white lady with a super-soaker filled with dye, today is the day.
On any other day, this would be a grave no-no.
I couldn’t help but scamper into the kitchen, and was delighted to meet the cooks. The men were working barefoot over large pots, balanced over fires.
The ladies were in the back of the kitchen, sitting in a circle, industriously cutting up vegetables. They invited me to sit with them.
They mentioned Hari Krishna quite a bit.
Last month, I was targeted by miscreants with small explosives. The media always refers to such types as miscreants. The word has really caught on. I digress – a miscreant threw a small explosive device at the rickshaw I was travelling in – it exploded underneath me, and really scared me. The rickshaw puller and I were unhurt.
Better luck next time, buddy.
The rickshaw puller was just amazing – We both leap out of the rickshaw.
‘Enough’, he said. ‘It’s enough. Shesh’ (finish).
We have been told to keep a supply of food and water in our flat to see us out for seven days. There is a mass evacuation plan in place, should the need arise. No one really thinks it will come to this, but it is in the back of my mind.
It makes you stop and ask yourself what you really value. – And if I left, would I be able to smuggle Barry The Bathroom Lizard out with me too? We have really bonded.
Bangladesh has had a week of strikes (hartals), blockades, a few bombs and the occasional riot. It’s the anniversary of last year’s elections, and rival political groups have been going head to head. One group refer to 5 January as ‘Victory for Democracy Day’ while the other group insists it is actually ‘Democracy Killing Day’. There have been a few people killed by the police, and lots of busses burnt. I’ve been fortunate to not really be impacted by it directly – working from home most days and avoiding the tricky areas.
Riding on the back of a motorbike with a local through the night – warm wind making my eyes water, quiet darkness out in the open between the villages. This was my favourite thing to do during my last visit to Goa: elated, and excited – not knowing what adventures the night will give.
I feel like myself again. I am happy in this moment.
Instead of hearing the noise of the slums at night, I now lie in my own bed and hear the rickshaw wallahs’ bells as they navigate the broken road in the dark. No street lights, bits of paved road under the dirt, piles of crushed brick for the continual construction, breaks in the sewage covers exposing things I really don’t want to know about. And occasionally, a dusty cat.
The city settles while the residents of the masses of tin shacks crouched around the lake and over the hill are very much awake. While the city is quiet, the noise of the slums is continual – alternating between impassioned speeches or sermons and singing. This is not the best sound quality I have ever heard, but the volume is impressive.
The air is poisonous, the water is poisonous and the fruit and vegetables have been injected with formaldehyde. The mosquitoes that bite during the day can carry dengue fever, and the mosquitoes biting at night can be carrying malaria.
The call to prayer wakes this enormous city of 20 million people up, and then closes the day in the evening. Faith is ingrained into this life, and in some way I find it humbling.
I’m getting used to this: right now I feel like I am between two worlds.
I’m on the home stretch now-
I’m already feeling lighter with fewer possessions.
I have two more sleeps at home, and then I will be creating a new space for myself in a town I have never been to, to do a job that daunts me. This will be great!
The driver abandons his car. I set out towards Kathmandu – I’m very quiet, the crowd lets me pass. The smell of burning tires makes me tense. The smoke is dark grey, and mixed with the dust, makes me cough. As I walk, I see groups of men with sticks pulling people off bicycles and motorbikes, lopping branches off trees to add to the burning tires. I keep walking.
I’ve been walking for a while now. Fifty meters ahead the crowd totally blocks the highway. Lots of sticks, smoke, and yelling.
Here we go.