Trip Start Sep 05, 2006
90Trip End Ongoing
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During these travels which have now spanned more than 18 months, I've learned that often the difficulties, disappointments, struggles, pleasant surprises, or oddities associated with ones first impressions of a new country or a place are heavily tied to ones expectations. Thankfully my expectations of Bangladesh were very low. The good that I had heard before arrival involved descriptions of being an alien in an incredibly foreign land where the highlight was the adventure associated with being out of one's comfort zone for prolonged periods of time. The bad that I heard depicted Bangladesh as a country where the food was inedible, the streets were unwalkable (due to substantial numbers of cockroaches and beggars blocking one's way), the crowds were unbearable (standing as walls 10 deep around the frightened traveler), and the country as a whole was unworthy of any tourism.
I was ready for the worse. I had prepared myself for the crowds, composing myself to not get angry and overwhelmed as I had in India. And as things turned out, the caution was all for naught...at least almost.
We arrived in Dhaka the night of February first after 32 hours of travel. And from the airport to our hotel everything went smoothly. As we exited the airport baggage claim there were crowds, but not overwhelming, and when we told the dozens of taxi and rickshaw drivers that their prices were two high and that we would walk out to the main road to find cheaper prices, they understood and let us pass. Our hotel wasn't clean (three dead cockroaches laid dead in front of our friend Valla's door and there was the mysterious chemical that they sprayed into our room whenever they got a chance) but the people were friendly and really went out of their way to help us- sometimes accompanying us to our chosen destination. Granted, in part this was because no one at the reception desk could read or draw maps so sometimes they would have to take us to the places themselves.
To some extent everything in Dhaka is made easy. Since it's impossible to go anywhere in Dhaka without producing a crowd of onlookers, there is usually someone in that crowd who can point you in a particular direction, provide you with useful information, or who can take you to wherever your destination may be.
The crowds and following richshaw wallahs can get annoying though. There were two men in particular who simply wouldn't leave us alone. Every time we exited our hotel, they would wave their Lonely Planet copy and maps in our faces assuring us that they knew everything! Unfortunately the one piece of information that they didn't know was that we were tired of them and wanted to ditch them ASAP. And then they said that we didn't like poor people. But we do like poor people...that's why we're in Bangladesh.
So everything in Dhaka had been going great. It was Sunday and we were 90 percent ready to head down to the Hands On project in Reyenda. Our rocket, the boat, tickets has been bought, Valla's luggage had been recovered from the airport, and all we really needed to do was have lunch and sort out our phone and internet connections. When...bum..buh..buh..as we were about to run our last errands a familiar fleece jacket came into view, and this red and black fleece couldn't belong to anyone besides our Slovakian friend Lenka who had arrived in Bangladesh two weeks before us. Now our surprise encounter with Lenka threw the rest of our afternoon and our spirits slightly off. Lenka, who had worked with us for two months in Peru, shouldn't have been in Dhaka. She should have been 20 hours south in the Bangladeshi flood plains building HODR half houses and eating rice with watery dhal. But here she was in Dhaka and her reasons for not being in Reyenda were somewhat disconcerting. For the second time I now had doubts about volunteering in Bangladesh. Previously I had been concerned about sanitation, water born diseases, the Muslim country issue, and how and if a western non-profit could really help the people of southern Bangladesh who are so regularly, annually and cyclically, ravaged by monsoons and cyclones. Lenka's departure from the project furthered my doubts making me wonder "why on earth am I in Bangladesh?". However, we had traveled half way around the globe, spent a ton of money doing so, and wanted to experience Bangladesh for ourselves, so on we went.
The boat trip down from Dhaka to Manshua was wonderful! For less than ten dollars for 22 hours of travel we had a brilliant cabin (cleaner than our hotel room), beautiful scenery, and wonderful company. When we eventually reached our destination I didn't want to get off.
But I did get off and we've now arrived at Hands On Disaster Response's 6th project in Reyenda, Bangladesh. Woo Hoo. It should be exciting....but no expectations.