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Bangladesh: Tea, traffic, rickshaws and rush hour

Editor’s note: Dave White, a Banks resident and a sergeant with the Hillsboro Police Department, traveled to Bangladesh Nov. 6 to teach community policing and modern policing techniques to law enforcement personnel there. The Hillsboro Tribune is running excerpts and photos from White’s Facebook page, “Suspenders in Bangladesh: The Adventures of a Redneck Abroad.”

Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTOS - A friend had requested some coins from Bangladesh. I had not seen any until I saw a guy drop some in this kids basket outside New Market. I bought the eight taka (4 coins total) for a 100-taka note. He did not have change, either. He is selling cigarettes. The background looks nice because we are outside Dhaka University, writes Hillsboro Police Sgt. Dave White.

Representing the Hillsboro Police Department in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Banks resident Dave White’s mission was to transform Bangladeshi police policies from the ancient to the contemporary.

Some of their methods, he said, “were from the 1940s.”

While teaching at the police department in the capital city, White has learned cultural nuances that have surprised him — what he calls “cultural diversity on steroids.” In this week’s installment, he talks about tailored suits, rickshaw rides, wage oppression, the police pecking order and more.

White flew from Portland to Tokyo Nov. 6 and arrived in Dhaka Nov. 8. Here are small excerpts from his long, fascinating Facebook posts, which include many more photos and even videos.

Visit the page at facebook.com/SuspendersInBangladesh.

Nov. 17 These two rickshaws collided in the streets of Bangladesh right in front of White and his companions one day last week.

[At the police department here] there are four different ranks. The highest you can come in as is assistant sub-inspector or ASP. The lowest is a constable.

You could be very good at your job, work for 20 or more years, and some kid with zero experience can come in and be your boss. It is an interesting system (yes, I am being polite). There is an arrogance with the youngest bosses. Coming from the U.S. standard (get hired, do a good job, get promoted, do a good job, get promoted, etc.) it would be a difficult pill to swallow. It has a very military feel to it. It’s like the second lieutenant, who does not know his head from a hole in the ground, telling the E-7 what time it is. One ASP got hired in 2012, spent a year in training, and has a whopping year of experience under his belt. This might not be a problem if the ASP doesn’t feel entitled, but if they do, watch out. Very different here. A part of their system I don’t care for.

After class, Timbers and Joe stopped by. I told them we needed to go to a roadside tea stand so I could experience that part of their culture. They agreed. After weaving, on foot, through traffic for a while they decided we should go to a different area. We got a ride on a rickshaw. Most of the people here are thin and small. The guys who are in the best shape are the rickshaw drivers. Pedaling everywhere with one to seven people in the back is work. The driver got us where we needed to go for 40 taka — less than a dollar. We got the tea. It was good but next time I will go without the condensed milk — kind of gave it that about-to-go-bad flavor.

[Then] we walked around looking for a lungi shop. A lungi is a type of cover worn by the rickshaw drivers and farmers here. It is just a piece of cloth, but the manner in which it is tied keeps it on your body. In America, we would think of a lungi as an ankle-high skirt. We did not locate a shop. I will get one and learn how to tie it before I leave.

We came back via rickshaw as well. Timbers and Joe negotiated the fare with the driver. They picked a kid who I thought was 14 or 15 to haul my oversized backside back to the hotel. As we started he told us there might be three bridges we had to cross where we would have to get out so he could get the rickshaw up them. Polite way of calling me fat. I watched this boy work his tail off for 40 taka, or a little over 50 cents. I was wracked with guilt. Less pizza back home and this dynamo could have done all three bridges. Turns out there was only one where we had to jump out. He was the little engine that could.

I told Timbers and Joe that I was paying for the ride. Timbers said we were farther away than we thought we had been and he felt bad for negotiating a low price. Not to worry. I was going to pay off my guilt. When we arrived at the hotel I gave the boy a 500 taka note. Twelve times more than he had agreed on. He told me he did not have change. I told him none was necessary, he had earned it. The smile that broke out across his sweat-soaked face was worth a lot more than 500 taka. Timbers saw the same thing and liked the smile, too. He said the boy had made an evening’s worth of work, or maybe more, in the one ride. He guessed the boy would go home or hang out with friends the rest of the night. I hope so.

When we all went to New Market I had bought a Punjabi. Doc called it a dress but it is worn a lot here, more than the lungi, in Dhaka. I wore the Punjabi to class today. Most of the students were impressed. One of the students said all I needed was a prayer hat and I would be a Muslim. I think he was looking for a different reaction, but I thanked him for his kind words. It’s easy to forget that ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and their ilk are not moderates. The folks here are. I feel safe in a city of over 15 million people (and growing every minute) who are 90 percent Muslim. I walked along, sometimes separated from Timbers and Joe, and I did not feel uneasy.

Nov. 18

Yesterday was normal class stuff. Doc continues to impress me with his skill behind the wheel. I went over to Scott and Ellen’s last night. We picked them up at the embassy but a meeting was running late so Doc and I stood outside and watched a game of cricket. While we were waiting, Doc bought some nuts, then bought me some. They are like Spanish peanuts, roasted in the shell (well, some were roasted and some were burnt, but they were good). I also had some dried nut or bean of some sort. It tasted like soybeans and was very hard and crunchy. I really liked the flavor of those.

It started to become dusk and the cricket players left. I thought it would be a good time to apply some [insect repellent]. I am glad I did because I had a “Twilight” (yes the book … [as] much as it pains me to say, I have read it) moment. I looked up and saw every mosquito in Dhaka circling above my head. I was not wearing a hat, and as I get older my hair provides less and less protection. I kept running my mosquito repellent-soaked hands through my hair. The local folks probably thought I was preening, but I was quite sure that the smell of my blood was going to override the repellent’s effectiveness and the last place I wanted a mosquito itch fest was on the top of my head.

Nov. 19

About 10 days ago I was fitted for some suits. Last night the tailor arrived with the first one and it fit like a glove. I will be wearing the suit (at least the pants) today. They did a great job. I can’t wait for the others. They also made it wide at the bottom of the jacket so my gun won’t stick out like a sore thumb. They knew what they were doing with my suit [but] a few alterations were in order [for Scott’s]. The jacket was too tight and the pants looked like he was ready for monsoon season. I should have grabbed a picture.

Nov. 21

Today I met with the U.S. ambassador [Dan W. Mozena] at his home. He is a character. I met the ambassador with a doctor from Tulane University, a doctor who is teaching here and three Tulane medical students. One is black and I have heard [she] has felt poorly treated here. There is a crack down going on within the African community here as the authorities have been rounding up illegal aliens and deporting them. I felt for her; however, she is tough (an officer in the Navy) and we share something in common ... our last name.

The ambassador was captivating. He spoke with the ease of a public speaker and the honesty of a man with a lifetime of service to his country. He told us stories of his childhood, how a teacher [at] a 12-person school had made all the difference in his life (he said had it not been for Mrs. Albrecht he would still be working on the farm he was born on, manure covering his shoes, in Iowa). He tied the entire visit and discussion together by showing us his most valuable possession, a rock, taken from a bridge on the Silk Road. Mrs. Albrecht had talked about the Silk Road in class and he had dreamed of going there. He did, with his son, and his son’s Scout troop. He was genuine. I think that’s what I like the most about him. Two hours and I was sold (OK, I was sold before that but it was based only on the admiration the Bengali people have for him. I got to see why first-hand). As we were leaving, I said goodbye to the teachers and students, then said, “Goodbye, sister White.” I was immediately met with glares and looks of horror from three of them. Sister White broke into a big smile and said, “Goodbye, brother White.” If you are not a White, you might not understand it — but we did, and that’s what counts.

Ellen and I went pearl shopping, then on to New Market. While Ellen and I were waiting for Joe and Timbers, a woman approached me and asked me where I was from. I told her I was from the U.S.A. She said that she had been watching me — it may sound bad, but everyone watches you. You are a bit out of place. Taller than most here, white, and definitely not from around here ... you get used to it — and thought I was American. She was wondering if I would accept a gift from her, and as she was saying this she extended a book. The Koran, in English. I quickly accepted, gave the proper gesture, and thanked her. With the acceptance of the book she left.

Ellen was floored. I was as well, because the woman was beautiful and she had given me [the] gift of a book, a book that is sacred to her, that I had often thought about reading. Ellen was floored because the woman had talked to me and completely ignored Ellen, which is very unusual in this country. Women do not approach men, and they certainly don’t approach men who are accompanied by a female. Ellen did the cop thing during the exchange, taking in our surroundings, looking for threats (because of how completely out of place this was). I think it’s the coolest thing ever. An Islamic missionary thinks I need saving, too. I must be putting off a vibe. (I was kind of hoping she was going to ask about marriage since you can have four wives here ... Ellen thinks I should stick to that theory, as it would be more understandable and sounds better.) The whole incident made me feel pretty good. Somebody here wants me to be educated about their beliefs.

The encounter with the beautiful missionary should have been scary … Ellen was concerned during the encounter. Oddly, I was not. I had talked to Tanik on Thursday and we talked about folks’ trepidation about coming to Bangladesh. It’s a third world country, the people here are 90 percent Muslim, it takes 20 hours of flying to get here, it’s not Ireland, Italy, France, Great Britain, or other vacation destinations, etc. I told her I viewed coming here a lot like a roller-coaster ride. I am not a big fan of them; however, I will ride them with Joe (White’s teenage son). The wait to get on the ride is the hard part. The fear and anticipation of the ride kills me. Once you sit down, buckle in and the ride starts, you have no option but to finish the ride.

Nov. 23

Tomorrow is the last day of the class and my last night in Dhaka. It will be spent with good friends and incredible people.

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