Day 1 – Embracing Bangladesh

It took a while to get out of the airport. My first advice to Aaliyah was ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know’ when we found ourselves wondering where our luggage had got to and a kind man who I had been chatting to on the plane, helped find a flight attendant without asking and we retrieved them pretty quickly. He also gave me the first advice of my trip: ‘You are not in England now. Here, we push our way through.’ This had been in respect to the desk where we had to hand in a coronavirus declaration form, and everyone was clambering over each other to hand it in. We knew there might be some problems caused by this new epidemic everyone was worried about, but this was just chaos.

It then took us a couple of guesses to find our ‘chauffeur’ as we both realised we didn’t really have any means of communication and only a letter we’d sent to the embassy from the CRP saying they’d pick us up from the airport. It turned out to be Terminal 2 which apparently is always the one that picks up volunteers so for anyone else in the future to save yourselves 30 minutes, go to T2.

Our driver was called Salim, he was very smiley and chatty. We walked into the carpark and I looked around at the various automobiles and their very obvious trauma signs and my eyes settled on one in particular that I thought, Please, not that one. It’s bumper was fairly mashed and the engine looked near enough falling off. Of course, we walked straight up to it and I can confirm that when it was driving, I felt I had to grip the sides to keep it from shaking itself apart.

‘Would you call yourself a good driver, Salim?’ I asked nervously.

He smiled, ‘No.’

‘Ok.’ I said with a very forced but obviously worried smile back.

What a drive that was. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t capture a particularly good video of the labyrinth of boxes on wheels that darted in and out like mice in a maze, I was too busy gaping and discreetly jumping at every near miss we had with another car. Most of the buses had more scratches than paint looking like the metal equivalent of a warlord who wore his scars with pride. There were no road markings on the way out of Dhaka and there were no pedestrian crossings so the people would hold out their hand, palm facing towards the oncoming traffic and step boldly in front. These folks must have a pretty good deal with their God to play with their lives so easily.

It was an hour and a half drive including a quick stop to take a selfie with Salim and I wasn’t sure if I was glad to make it or sad that the exciting drive was over. We then found ourselves a little restricted. I don’t know whether this was a miscommunication or understanding or we looked more knackered than we felt but we were cooked up lunch and then told to rest up for a while. I thought we’d sort of had a vague, not really discussed, agreement that we’d head out soon to go buy our salwar kameez which is the dress that women wear. It got to 15:15 however and there was no sign of our attentive hostess, Chamilly, so I proposed to Aaliyah that we head out and have a look around where was able.

Still dressed in our western clothes, I tried my best not to feel self-conscious. Already in the car we’d had fingers pointed and eager eyes turned when driving by so walking through the courtyard was difficult not to make eye contact with every person in the street. Everybody looked. Everybody was interested in who we were. We just had to try and pretend we were the same as everyone else.

Chamilly finally caught up with us and we went out to get our materials measured up for the outfit to be tailor made and we got to choose the fabrics and colours. I got out some cash from the ATM and we followed Chamilly down the street directly outside the CRP to check out the shops and stalls of which there was everything and anything. My idea of a salwar kameez was a loose fit cotton shirt and trousers, probably white with maybe some colourful hemming. I could not have been more wrong. The Bangladeshi LOVE their colours. We were bombarded with reds, blues, oranges, purples, pinks but no green! I really would’ve loved a green one. I bought 3 and now I’m slightly regretting buying so many at once because we might have found another tailor that did more variety, or is that being picky? Little kids stood and giggled outside the shop whilst we were being measured up and I realised later that they were laughing at the number of flies around our shoes and giggling because they were probably so smelly. Terrible, but true. My purchase of clothes was quickly followed by a purchase of sandals.

It all seems a bit disconnected at the moment and I feel that we’re missing communication in some areas, a girl, Irisa, who had been here since January was being very helpful but was already confused that Chamilly hadn’t shown us more of Dhaka like she had for her. I tried not to think about it too much and just wait upon the new clothes that will allow so much more freedom.

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