I thought driving through the streets of Dhaka was an adventure. Boy was I was wrong.
We left Dhaka early Friday morning to catch a short flight south to Chittagong. Initially we were going to take a train, but because of the recent attacks in Bangladesh targeting foreigners and because our team contains a member who is slightly more noticeable than the others, we were recommended against that.
When we landed in Chittagong, we connected with our contact and that’s when the fun began. Instead of getting us an actual car to drive, our contact ordered us two “cage cars” to drive us about an hour and 15 minutes to our destination. He came along with us along with another sister from South Korea who had also just arrived to the airport.
So there we were. Five total passengers (plus two drivers), three heavy bags of luggage (carrying 22 ESV Global Study Bibles to give away), and three carry-on bags divided and stuffed into two “cage cars”, with no seat belts, that are slightly smaller than the Smart Cars driving around the U.S. and assuredly far less secure. Dad, our contact, and I crammed into one car and Ron and the sister from South Korea climbed into the other and off we headed. And, as we climbed in, my conversation with the travel doctor replayed in my head. “To be honest with you, while we can give you vaccinations and medicine for Typhoid and Yellow Fever and Malaria and all that good stuff, the thing that kills most people your age who are in good health while they are overseas is car crashes.”
Thankfully, since it was Friday (the Muslim day of worship) the streets were slightly less crowded than usual. But, that doesn’t mean we had a clear path to our destination. While traffic wasn’t bumper-to-bumper, there were still plenty of pedestrians, bicyclists, cars, vans, buses, and other cage cars in the streets. And, as soon as left the airport the fun began. Our driver began aggressively cutting off and passing by everyone in front of him. When someone wouldn’t move over to make way for him, he honked. If someone cut him off, he honked. If he was passing a bicyclist who didn’t have a mirror, he honked to tell them to stay put. If a pedestrian was crossing the street in front of him, he honked. And if someone from the other side of the road became impatient and decided to come onto our side of the road, making a one-way street a two-way street…boy did he honk!
After we had driven about 10 minutes away from the airport, a completely new element of “fun” was introduced to the equation: potholes. The relatively smooth roads near the airport disappeared and were replaced by roads replete with potholes. Did that stop our driver from aggressively passing people up and cutting them off? Nope. It just meant he was jockeying for an even smaller portion of the road with other drivers who were equally aggressive as him!
By God’s grace, we finally made it to our destination (our physical lives and ESV Global Study Bibles in tact), but when I stepped out of the cage car, I had the worst headache I’ve ever had in recent memory. The slight headache I had had earlier that morning was multiplied tenfold by the bumpy ride, the gritting of my teeth every time our driver almost killed someone, the fumes of our car and vehicles around us, the smells of heaping piles of garbage in the streets wafting through our “cage”, and the general heat and humidity of the day. After a multiple hour nap in an air conditioned room, a bottle of water, and a few Tylenol, the headache disappeared, but I think my heart was still pounding well into the evening.