Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Look, Ma, I Have Friends!

In the US my motto is "arrive on time." In Bangladesh my motto is "arrive alive." Spent a fewhours in traffic today, first on my way to work, and then later back from a book launching event. The morning bit didn't faze me, though, even when my driver tried to sneak into a cantonment for a shortcut and the soldier at the entrance took one look at my clothes and banished us to an ignominious side street.

Here's what traffic is usually like. So I'd be in a little green cage with wheels on, which smooshes itself as close as possible to the vehicle in front of it. Meanwhile, the vehicle or rickshaw behind my CNG would be smooshed against us. And everyone is honking to let all pedestrians know that by God, they will get run over! Seriously, drivers don't slow down for crossing people, but I think there's a Bangladeshi gene that allows people on the street to scamper to safety in just the nick of time. It's all good.

I was gregarious today and cheerfully introduced myself to everyone in the office I hadn't met. Then a tall German came up to me and said she was a new intern and invited me to lunch with "the boys," who turned out to be a New Yorker and a Peruvian. We ate at a little Bengali food place -- yep, even "chicken grilled" is curried -- and afterwards rode in a minivan to get to aforementioned book launching event. It was like a Little United Nations Interns program in there, with Hungary, Brazil, Philippines, and L.A. and Ohio represented. Ohio was Bangladeshi by heredity but didn't speak or read the language, and L.A. was also an immigrant, but fluent in Bangla. Here are a couple of great conversations involving them:
Ohio: I should've just gone in my car.
L.A.: Don't you want to bond? When you sweat together, you bond. Clean friendship isn't true friendship.
Ohio: I don't know where we are. I can't read Bangla. I'll have to call my dad.
L.A.: So, like, can you not do anything yourself?
All: LOL
L.A.: I really didn't know how to phrase that diplomatically.
Me: She meant, "Are you helpless?"
Ohio: No, I have my cousins. But they don't want to hang out with me.
L.A.: Probably because you don't know where you are.

That particular ride through traffic went by fast. You know what didn't go fast? The damn event. It took three hours and was entirely in Bangla. I pretended to be alert by sitting up very straight, propping one leg up on the chair in front of me, and reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on my iPhone. All I can say is, fish porn. It's great that I can skip six pages in one go because all Jules Verne does is list all the types of fish the Nautilus caught.

Anyway, after the event, by social instinct we little interns formed a big circle and discussed how to best get home. Four of us discovered that we lived close by-ish to each other, so we hopped into a CNG -- three in the back, one in front, which is illegal but okay if you're foreign -- and spent almost an hour in traffic. And now here I am, dusty and happy. I really think I'm achieving Zen, especially after reading the Buddha's biography, and especially with my current job, which constantly demands that I adjust my expectations, e.g. "Competence and loyalty will be rewarded," or "It all makes sense, really." Ha! Ha! Ha! No, and no. And the trick is to keep smiling until that smile becomes true for you. End post.