I’ve been in Bangladesh for more than a week now and somehow I can’t find the words to tell my story so far. To begin with Bangladesh make me think of several different countries : Laos for the poor state of the roads, Vietnam for the constant annoying use of horns to communicate in the traffic, Myanmar for the men in “skirt” and finally India (although I haven’t been there yet) for the amount of people and the chaos everywhere. But at the same time Bangladesh is just Bangladesh. Full of colors, trash, contradictions and most of all its fantastic people so welcoming and generous I have not words to describe.
During my trip I have been blessed with the friendship of many beautiful people but Bengals are another story. Without them I could have not survived Bangladesh. This place is a mess (I hope this will not offend anyone). There are no rules and the few that have been enforced are constantly broken. In the words of one of my local friends “we like to break rules”. And it’s clear everywhere you look. But then the generosity of people is something I have never seen in my entire life. Bangladesh is a very poor country. It’s story is a sad one and this relatively newborn country has been catapulted in the 21st century without any parachute. People are noble but have no money. Everyone dreams of travelling away from here. Everyone dreams of going abroad. Foreigners here are a miracle and I felt like a start here with the pros and cons that this carries with it. People stare at me and I mean STARE. Sometimes I feel like an alien, been scrutinized to check if I behave somehow differently. I also kinda learn how to eat with my hands (the custom here) to feel less alien. But still people stop me in the street to ask where I’m from and why I’m here as if they couldn’t even consider the idea of someone wanting to visit their country just for the sake of it. They ask you very personal questions (how much do you earn?), they’re extremely curious towards all that is “out there”.
But the didn’t let me pay for anything. They turn their place upside down to make me feel at home. I cannot even buy a bottle of water because “I’m their guest” so they take care of everything. I’d been hosted mainly by students and unemployed and still wasn’t able to pay for anything.
I’ve spent 2 days in Dhaka as I’ve arrived. The city is simply horrible. Once again no rules, in traffic and in construction. There is no city center and to do 5 km it can take you up to 2 hours. Despair has had the best of me a couple of times but there is really nothing you can do about that. The streets are shared between cars, rickshaw, goats, CNGs cows and some stray dogs. There is no direction for circulation. You can go anywhere. I thought I would die more than once here but apparently I’m still alive. I’m so surprised I still haven’t seen any street accident but I guess they got very skilled at driving in chaos. The heat is scorching. They keep on telling me that I should have come in winter, in a couple of months. And I agree with them. There are no trees on the streets so walking around during daytime is a torture. So I took an offer from one CSer to visit his university campus and stay with him a couple of days. Jahanginagar university is an hour out of Dhaka and comparing to the city is heaven on earth. The stretch of the area is equal to a small village. There’s green everywhere and in some corner you have the feeling you’re in a forest more than in University campus.
For a few days I felt I was back in school and for a moment I longed to be a student again, when life was without worries and everything was still possible. Shariful and his girlfriend took me also to see the liberation monument, Baliati Palace and on a trip on the river.
Than one of my CSer host has invited me to Sylhet and there I met a lot of his friends that have taken care of me as if I was a king. We went to visit his campus far smaller than the previous one but still very green and an oasis comparing to the oven that the city is. Then Joy had to go back to work so I stayed a few days more in Sylhet where his friends have invited me to dinner at their place and prepared a specially cooked for me vegan dinner. It was delicious! Shammi is an excellent cook and very passionate about food.
The following day they took me to Sreemongol where there is a protected area of a forest some 3 hours train ride outside Sylhet. At the train station I was of course the main attraction to a point that it was very uncomfortable. People were staring at me and kids were flying in flocks like flies to honey. The train ride was an adventure by itself and once arrived in Sreemongol we needed to rent a local “van” to take us to the forest of Lawachara National Park.
Once again as a foreigner I had to pay 10 times (literally) what the locals paid but it was worth it. The park is beautiful and still pretty wild. In it you can see a train passing through, monkeys and if you’re lucky enough other wild animals. Inside the park live some local tribe that are pretty much self sufficient with what the forest provide and from the selling of betel nut (yuk!)
After the park we visited some beautiful tea plantations, a crop very common in this country, and we took the 8.30pm train back to Sylhet. We were exhausted.