The end is the beginning is the end… 

And like everything else this trip has also arrived at its end.  I left Goa with a bitter taste in my mouth as I knew that I was not coming back. At least for a while.  Arrived in Mumbai in the morning I went to my host house.  Rintu is a nice guy from the north east of India that has moved to Mumbai for his studies and has not moved back.  He smiles from down the road,  a nice and honest smile that makes his round face shine.  He looks more Indonesian than Indian so I tell him but he confirms that he is Indian.  After a shower and a quick chat we have breakfast in his place and then we take a bus to go to the train station to go south where the historical area is.  Mumbai is a big city but I like it more than Delhi. The weather is much nicer and people seem more relaxed.  Rintu takes me around,  we walk for a couple of hours and I’m in owe of the beautiful crumbling buildings,  remainings of the British era.  I take a lot of pictures as usual and the heat is quite hard to stand after a while.  So we decide to go for lunch at a local unnamed restaurant where we have thali.  My last one… 

I was on the mood for beer so after a shower and a quick nap for dinner with Rintu we go for beer and food at a place nearby his house.  The following morning we wake up early but we’re both very lazy so we chat,  have breakfast,  we take tea and chat some more and only at 12 o’clock we decide it’s time to go out.  We go to a mall nearby (India distances) where we meet a couple of Rintu’s friends and where we shop the ingredients for the dinner that I’m asked to cook.  Brunch was nicely offered and cooked by Rintu so for supper is my turn.  I happily agree as cooking is always a pleasure to me.  I cook spaghetti with vegetables in tomato sauce and Rintu is very satisfied. We chat some more and then it’s time to head out to go and get my 3.00am flight to Venice.  

Parting time is a difficult moment for me. Although I know it’s good for me to go home it’s still very sad.  These last 2 days spent with Rintu and his friends have been very good and made me think of all the good things I lived during the last 7 months and all the beautiful people I met along the way and that it will be be hard for me to readjust to “normal” life back in Europe,  a lifestyle that I’ve often longed for during these months but that at the same time I don’t feel mine anymore.  In India,  in Asia people are maybe less “civilized”, trash is very common in the streets and hygiene level is not what we know.  But people seem more carefree,  happier,  they dress in color and talk to each other.  Once again Asia has been a good school of life for me.  I learnt so much of myself,  of the world,  of the fact that I call myself open minded but in the end I’m prejudiced and racist as those that I judge.  I have tried to get rid of all the conventions acquired during my life in a privileged society that considers itself better than the eastern society (unknowingly most of the times) but where we’re all stressed and grey,  where the colors we use to wear in general reflect the status of our souls,  grey and black.  A friend of Rintu just got back from Paris and complained of the fact that people look sad and angry and they dress all in black (comment made also by a friend from KL). 

It’s good to travel abroad,  I know.  And at every trip I realize how much I don’t know about life and about myself.  Landing in Paris to catch my connection to Venice I shed some tears.  I’m happy I will soon see my friends and my family but I know already that I will miss these last months. I will miss the train rides,  the colors,  the food, the smile on people faces,  the interest that people have shown towards me (although at the time it was really annoying having to repeat over and over the same things).  I will miss my portable wardrobe and the excitement to try a new restaurant,  to visit a new city.  It will take me some time to grasp the entire experience that I lived in the last months and probably when I’ll see the whole picture I will be taken aback.  In the meantime I will try to enjoy my family and my friends that although miles away have been with me the whole trip.

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Bangladesh – summing it up 

October 16 – 9.01am. Gate 1X at Dhaka international airport.  My flight is in 2 hours. 

My adventure in Bangladesh ends here,  where it started 2 weeks ago.  Just 15 days have passed but I feel I’ve been here much longer.  In these 2 weeks so many things have happened,  so many wonderful people have crossed my path.  I still cannot believe at what I’ve faced during my stay in Dhaka and surrounding.  Dhaka,  a city that I didn’t even know it existed, has stolen my heart.  And not for the city itself.  As I said time and time again,  Dhaka is not a beautiful city.  It’s not even a friendly city. 

 

Everything is a mess,  it’s dirty,  is tourist unfriendly,  it’s chaotic,  it’s hot but Bengalis  are the most amazing people I met in my life.  To them the guest is the king,  the guest deserves all their attention,  the guest has to be attended in every possible way.  The guest doesn’t have to miss of nothing.  

During my stay in Bangladesh I’ve felt like a movie star.  Never in my life I had so many pictures taken.  Strangers in the street,  at the restaurant,  in the park stopped me to take a selfie with me.  I have been stared at and scrutinized to the point of being uncomfortable.  But I felt like home everywhere I went. The Bengalis heart is bigger than anyone’s heart.  I’ve been helped by total strangers,  I’ve been given food and drink for free,  just for being a guest.  I’ve been asked time and again where I’m from and what do I do in Bangladesh (just visiting???  As if they could not believe that someone wanted just visit their country). 

Bangladesh,  where men go hand in hand on the street,  where the ads are still hand painted on the walls,  where having drinks means drinking tea at the closer “tong”, where there is no official bus stop and traffic lights are non existent, where Barcelona is know for Camp Nou (Sagrada Familia… What’s that?), where people eat with their hands,  has a special place my heart. 

But many of the people that have accompanied me these days have a dream to leave the country.  Usually to Canada or Germany.  I discovered that there is a big community of Bengalis in Italy.  Youth don’t like their country,  they wanna flee,  they believe that everything is corrupted and that there is no future for them here.  Government doesn’t make things easy for anybody.  This is a jungle (especially in the traffic)  and everybody tries to survive as best as they can.  

Once again I didn’t travel to the “best” parts of the country.  I haven’t been to Cox’s bazar,  the longest beach in the world,  I haven’t been to the islands or haven’t seen any waterfall.  But this place will always be special to me.  

Thank you Joy,  Shoshee,  Rossi,  Rasel,  Pryom,  Adnan,  Shammi,  Mukul,  Shariful, Dola,  Ishti and everybody else for making this trip memorable.  You will always have a friend in my.  I will never forget you. 

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.

 

Summing it up – Myanmar 

So I finally moved out of Myanmar too.  I stayed a little less than a month but it felt longer.  And not because I didn’t like it but rather the opposite.  Myanmar felt good,  I made a home for a little while in Yangon and I was really having a good time.  People are nice,  food is good and cheap.  The land of men in skirt (it’s actually called longyi) where men (them again!) chew all day long betel nut and get their teeth burned out by limestone (an utterly disgusting habit), where blood red spit is everywhere, where they drive on the right and the steering wheel is on the right also (second hand cars from Japan) made me feel welcome. Not a single moment of insecurity,  not a moment where I felt I was in danger. But as we know all good things come to an end and it was time for me to move on.  I was on the stage where it’s either you settle down and find a job,  or you leave.  And I left. 

To close my adventure with a bit of a heartbeat I realized when I was half way to the airport that I left my passport back at the hostel where I spent my last night.  Luckily I left well in advance so I had the time to make a U turn,  go back to the hostel and make it to the airport to catch my flight.  But jeez my heart raced!!!! 

So now in Dhaka Bangladesh I think about my days back in Yangon and for the first time I am nostalgic.  Dhaka is very different from Yangon,  it’s a crazy city and people look at me as if I was an alien.  Buy it’s fun,  my CS host is extremely nice and I’m sure that by the time I will get use to this new dimension it will be time to take my next flight. 

Tha Bar Wa

So.  My week as volunteer as come to an end.  Next Monday I will begin my vipassana.  I’m a little worried that I won’t make it but I don’t wanna call it off even before starting it. 

My week in Tha Bar Wa has been interesting.  I’ve met nice people and seen things that I couldn’t even imagine. Volunteering always gives me back the faith in the human race.  In a society where all that matters is money and appearance,  it’s good for the heart to see that there are people ready to work for free,  ready to give something in return for nothing if not in return for some personal satisfaction.  During my time here I’ve been practicing massage on poor people, suffering from hard labour and stroke.  It was good to give and get in return their gratitude.  It made my day. 

Of course not everything is nice and beautiful.  Life here can sometimes be hard,  hygiene is a different concept from what we think.  People are very clean,  they shower at least once a day everyday but then houses are barracks,  trash is everywhere,  animal have free entry wherever they feel like (there are plenty of stray dogs around here – and mostly are sick,  there are 5 cows and they shit everywhere). 

But life has a different rhythm,  people help each other,  nobody goes to bed with hunger.  And our help is very much appreciated. 

I had the chance to participate to the alms and see how people can give just for the sake of it.  There is no shame. You give what you can.  Being money or food.  Or both.  Someone gives an apple,  someone a bag of rice,  some a tube of toothpaste. Nothing is too little.  You give according to your possibilities. 

I also had the chance to see the other side of the mirror.  Monks are not necessarily saints,  they are people and for this reason they’re not perfect.  Far from it I would say.  And they are not necessarily nice persons,  they don’t smile to you,  you don’t feel your life is in good hands when you’re with them.  They live their lives detached from everyone else.  They don’t mingle. The first day I did the alms I was carrying the bowl for the money and the first thing that the “first” monk did after we finished the tour was to snap it out of my hands. And they are bit supposed to use money.  I was a bit shocked.  I would expect that from a priest,  but from a monk…. 

But still.  Even some of my coworkers have been here a long time and think they are “so spiritual” and feel the need to give you advice about meditation and detachment,  it was a good experience.  I like to see things with my own eyes and this time I’ve learnt so much.  On many different levels.  Now comes the hard part.  Vipassana is said to be a magnificent experience although very hard.  Another step to get to know me better I guess…. 

One night in Bangkok… or maybe four 

So.  My next move was to go to Myanmar.  I checked the flights from either Siem Reap or Phnom Penh.  The prices were ridiculous.  So I thought that probably it would be much cheaper to fly from Bangkok.  I wasn’t planning to go to Thailand again but I thought… what the heck!  So as I figured flights from Bangkok were 3 times cheaper.  

I took a bus from Siem Reap.  Travelling time 6 hours.  Wishful thinking.  Another 13 hours on the bus and I was in my host’s place by 8.30pm

The trip was not bad,  just VERY long even considerin the fact that we spent 2 hours at customs. My first host was Art, a theater director / actor and artist of many kinds.  Unfortunately his English is pretty basic so the conversation wasn’t fluid bit he’s been super nice and took good care to make me feel at home. 

My second host was Hall,  a Thai guy who lives for four years in Sweden.  Leo very kind and very careful to details,  dedicated to make the guest feel very welcome.  They both bought me food and took me out to dinner.  I also had one random girl buying me juice at the food stall.  This is why I loved Thailand so much last year.  Thai people are very generous and helpful.  That’s why even though I could have just spent one night in Bangkok I decided to stay four.  That’s why every time I come to Bangkok I like it more.