Bicycle powered rickshaws are a common form of transportation in Bangladesh. But during my recent visit to the country, I wasn’t sure I wanted to ride in one. You see, the traffic can best be described as a chaotic free-for-all, with everyone jockeying for position on the road. The larger vehicles usually win. Which does not bode well for the rickshaw.
I broke the ice by climbing into one for just a photo. Then a couple of days later, I took my first ride. Three grown women piled onto a seat that would have been crowded with two small children. Thankfully we only had to travel a few blocks while I hung half off the seat and clung on for dear life. But that was nothing compared to my next experience.
A couple of days later, six of us divided up into three rickshaws. We only had one interpreter, so she gave directions to all three drivers and emphasized they all had to stay together.
My rickshaw buddy – who just happened to also be named Kathy – is an experienced traveler. And I am so glad. A few blocks into the trip, she grabs my arm and says, “I don’t want you to panic, but we’ve lost the others. We are on our own.”
Great. The rickshaw with our interpreter had turned off and our driver did not follow. We were separated from our interpreter. We could not speak Bangla. And we were going the wrong direction. Seemed like a pretty good time to panic to me.
Kathy pounded our driver’s back with her index finger several times. When he looked back, she gestured largely and asked harshly, “Where are our friends?” He may not have understood the words, but I’m sure he understood the tone.
When he kept pedaling – in the wrong direction – Kathy pounded again and pointed to the curb. “Stop!” He seemed to get that one. He pulled over and stopped.
Kathy turned to me and said, “Don’t get off this rickshaw.” She didn’t need to worry. I had no intention of going anywhere.
About a minute later the third rickshaw from our party came within view, pulled up beside us, and stopped. One of the women was a short-term volunteer working with our translator host. She had a local cell and immediately called the translator who gave our drivers the directions to our destination. For a second time.
Minutes later we pulled up outside the building where the translator was waiting for us. As we climbed off the vehicles, she began to tell the drivers exactly what she thought. As it turns out, they had conspired on the separation. We aren’t exactly sure of their motives. It could have been as simple as a larger fare or something more, uh, dangerous.
But God protected us. We once again experienced the power of prayer. And I learned when to stay on the rickshaw and when to run and not look back.