Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Stories in a Taxi

Driving in Dhaka can be a nightmare, traffic jams, beggars and the incessant honking make moving about the city a chore. But tonight I had one of the more interesting rides since arriving in Bangladesh. "Kon desh theke eshechen?" (Where country are you from?), what an innocent question, but tonight I was feeling talkative and so I piped up from the back seat, "he's from Holland, and I am from Canada". And so began one of the most in-depth, informative conversations I have had here.

In Bangladesh, no question is off-limits. They ask me everything under the blue sky and so why should I not be able to do the same? The information I discovered may seem inconsequential, but it opened my eyes to the learning that can happen in the simplest of situations. With my limited Bengali what kinds of things did I learn about life in Dhaka and driving a taxi? Alot. The following is a summary of my lessons learned in a taxi.

Driving a taxi in Dhaka was once a respected profession, one which was known to bring in a decent wage and provide for the family, but things were changing. Changing for the better, and for the worse. Taxi drivers no longer had to worry about politicians and police corruption robbing them of their incomes, now they must fear the inflation. Prices are rising and the income of the taxi driver is not, squeezing the drivers out of their livelihoods. Obtaining a driver's license in Bangladesh is not for the poor in society with a hefty price tag of 5000 Taka to obtain the license. (For perspective, I will pay 6000 Taka for room and board for 4 months). Owning a taxi in Dhaka is not a money winning proposition, in fact drivers choose not to own vehicles because then they would be required to pay for repairs and vehicle licensing. The dream of a driver in Dhaka is to find a way to emigrate and drive in another country, a goal shared by most Bangladeshis I talk to. Although it is not seen as a good job to have anymore, driving a taxi still provides for the family and is a steady income in a land where unemployment is extremely high and the employment market is saturated. The life of the taxi driver is a thankful life, but not necessarily a desirable life.

I hope this gives a little insight into the life of another strata of Bangladeshi society, as it definitely has for me.


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