"Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out." Harry S. Truman

Monday, February 28, 2011

Have bicycle, will ride it in the streets of Dhaka

 So, I was a blogger gone mute, these past few months. I'd like to think I'm slowly extricating myself from this dark spell, and one way to do that is to shed my own bit of spotlight over an event I participated in, this past Friday.

Yes, it involved bicycles. And women. And a movement launched by an active and passionate young Bangladeshi woman.

Arohi means "rider" in Bengali, but the Sanskrit root "Aarohana" means ascendance. And the goal of this young initiative is to give women more mobility by encouraging them to use bicycles as their means of transportation.

The objective of this first ride through the Dhanmondi neighborhood was to get a feel about how women on wheels are perceived, in Dhaka.

Dhaka is plagued with one of the worst traffic situations I have ever encountered. Lagos, Nigeria, was pretty bad, too, but Dhaka will really stretch anyone's patience to its extreme limits. Spending fifteen, twenty minutes in a spot, without moving an inch, is routine. And of course, it's not exactly safe. To give you an idea, our car got into an accident, only today. An auto-rickshaw towing another auto-rickshaw, the driver totally heedless of the fact that the machine attached to his was going right and left, bumped into our car, parked on the side of the street, of course tried to continue without stopping, and the second auto caught our fender and tore it from our vehicle. Routine.  

Encouraging people to use bicycles would seem like a great idea, and a good way to reduce the number of cars circulating, but also, maybe, to reduce the number of buses. I will have to write a post about the buses that transport people, in this city. There again, I had never see anything like that. Not in India. Not in Nigeria. Nowhere in my travels. It would also give women more independence. It's certainly an ambitious goal. 

We started the ride in a quiet area,  but the itinerary took us along some busy avenues, and across some chaotic intersections. We had to deal with the traffic, and that included swarms of rickshaws coming at us from every which way. At some stage, I thought I'd lost the group. I was stuck behind several rickshaws, with no way through. Thankfully, one of the riders in our group was wearing a bright red scarf, and I was able to spot it, and follow it from afar - and eventually, to catch up. 

I could give you some funny details about how a fellow rider suddenly caught up with me and said : "it looks like you have a flat tire." And indeed, the rear tire was flat. Thankfully, it was not punctured. Or how I realized, after a few uncomfortable minutes, that I had taken my daughter's bicycle instead of mine (they are the exact same model, but of course my daughter being smaller, the seat was lower). As the organizers had thought of involving a mechanic, the tire and seat situations were promptly resolved. 

We had a car riding along with us, several photographers, and even a young woman in a rickshaw carrying  her two-weeks-old daughter in a baby sling - the little darling slept peacefully through the whole ride, I may add.

Below are some pictures that may give an idea of the kind of bedlam we found ourselves in. Add the noise, the pollution, the frequent stops to allow the whole group to remain together (not an easy feat). This was no peaceful ride in the countryside. But I enjoyed it. And I hope to do it again.


janet brown said...

Brave women, Katia! Good for you that you joined in--more Dhaka stories, please!!

Katia said...

Thank you for the support, always, Janet. I'm not sure Dhaka will ever offer as many stories as India did. I find it very easy to take refuge at home - to hide?- where I don't have to face so many of the frustrations of life, here. But I'll try not to remain silent for so long...