Can’t find the words

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 monumentBaliati 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.

 

Advertisements

Melaka and Penang 

After KL it was time to move to a smaller place and this was Melaka (aka Malacca). 

Melaka is a city two hours drive south of KL.  I checked in at “Victor’s guest house ” (30, Jalan Munshi Abdullah, Kampung Jawa, 75100 Melaka).

 The place is very nice,  clean and very quiet and the staff very helpful. At first you have the impression that it is located far from the center but don’t be fooled by appearance.  Behind the hostel there is the river.  The entire area is under massive restructure and there are plenty of nice places to get a coffee or beer.  Walking along the river and crossing the bridge you’re in the cultural center of the city in 10 minutes. Melaka has a long story of invasion from different people (Portuguese,  Dutch, English)  and it is all reflected in the architecture and the language.  People are very nice and friendly and you never feel uneasy anywhere in the city.  Apparently the night market is very nice but it’s only on weekends so I didn’t get the chance to see it.  

At the hostel I met some people and together we went to have food in a Himalayan restaurant not far.  The food was good and cheap but the communication with the staff was not easy. Melaka is a place that I really enjoyed. Life is easy and quiet there although the tourist and you can take a rest from the fast pace of KL. On my second day I had lunch at “Mori vegetarian tea house ” (3, Jalan Kampung Kuli, 75200 Melaka), a bit pricey but the food was delicious!!! 

After two days in Melaka it was time to move on and since Singapore was not an option (that’s where people usually go after Melaka)  I decided to move north to Penang an island on the west coast. The bus trip was long (around 9 hours)  but not too bad.  I arrived at Butterworth harbor and from there I took the ferry to George Town.  The trip is about 10 minutes and once in George Town you land at the bus station. 

My host David told me to fetch the 302 to get to his place as he was not at home yet but after almost half an hour I was not even half way as the traffic is pretty bad so David – that in the meantime had freed himself – told me to get off at the first stop and wait for him there. And I did. And I waited another half hour.  

David lives in Gelugor 15 mins drive from the city.  We arrived at his place and after a shower we drive back to the city for dinner in an Indian place called “Thali-NR sweets cafe ” (Lebuh Penang, George Town, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang) in Little India. The food is very good and very cheap like in most places in George town well known for this.  I was supposed to spend only a couple of days in Padang but in the end I stayed 4. The city is very nice,  good choices for food and I felt at home there. In the morning David worked so I had a lot of time to visit and in the evening we met for dinner.  

  

On my second day there I met Tom and Jep,  from CS and with them I went to the temple on the hill and the evening we had dinner with David. After dinner David explained the he does charity work three nights a week and asked me if I wanted to tag along.  With his volunteer friends he goes around the city and distribute food and water to the homeless.  It was nice and sad at the same time.  People know them and wait for them.  They’re very nice and humble and when they take the food they say thanks 20 times. It’s been a very nice and enriching experience. 

The following day David was working only half day so in the afternoon we went hiking on a beach half an hour out of the city. The hike is fine but not for everyone.  Along the way we met with people from a CS group that David attend to and they invited us to a BBQ at the beach later on. After an hour we arrived at the beach but couldn’t swim as the water was very shallow and muddy.  To go back we took a boat as it was getting dark and it’s not advisable to do the hike at night.  We then drove to the beach for the BBQ. The others were already there and setting up the fire. It was very nice to spend time with them and talk.  They’re all members of CS from different origins and religions.  Indians,  Chinese,  Malay,  Buddhist,  Muslim and they all get along very well.  That’s why I really like Malaysia!!!

After the BBQ someone suggested to get into the water and since no one had a bathing suit we skinny dip although it’s forbidden in Malaysia.  It was funny,  we laughed a lot and a Muslim girl that until 2 minutes before was wearing a veil bathed with 5 naked men (she was wearing T-shirt and underwear) and wasn’t worried or offended by that.  Well on the contrary actually!!!  We saw the fluorescent plankton (amazing!!!)  and the water was so good that we couldn’t get out. 

On my third day I met Leo,  a local guy in CS also and with him we went to the protestant cemetery and the haunted school.  I have a thing for cemeteries and abandoned building although I don’t believe in ghosts or burial as for that.  Afterwards we had lunch at a place called “Yin’s sourdough bakery and cafe” (11, Pesara Claimant, George Town, 10100 George Town, Pulau Pinang) because I was craving for pizza and I heard that in this place was very good.  And indeed it was,  pesto and mushrooms pizza.  Delicious!!! 

Leo is a local artist that lived in Armenian street very close to the bicycle painting and his place is full of cool stuff as he works as interior designer.  For dinner I bought some Indian food and got home where David had already arrived. 

The following day I decided to stay at home and organize my next move. So after fetching information from blogs and websites I prepared my bags and went buy the bus ticket to Perenthian island for that same night.