Yesterday around noon, I arrived in Dhaka, Bangladesh. All of the foreigners were ushered into one line, as a plane full of (mostly) men coming home from the Middle East arrived at the same time as the flight from Bangkok.
After waiting a good 45 minutes to get to the front of the line, it was my turn to approach the border police. The conversation went something like:
“This is your first time in Bangladesh?”
“No, I was here in 2009.”
“Where is your other visa?”
“My passport expired. It is at home in America.”
“You do not have your other passport?”
“No, it is in America.”
Some discussion with the other police officer ensued, my passport was stamped, and I was on my way. (unfortunately, I couldn’t remember how to say thank you in Bangla– dhonnobad) I stopped to get some cash at the ATM (there is now an ATM in the Dhaka airport!) and went to the Banglalink counter to see what the status of my SIM card was. My phone number had been given away to someone else, but I was able to get a new SIM and put some credit on it as well as charge my phone a bit. This was very lucky because 1) my phone died and I left the charger in Bangkok and 2) having a phone number came in *very* handy later.
After that, I proceeded to the domestic terminal, only to find that all flights to Chittagong for the rest of the day were CANCELLED due to the Cyclone Mahasen. Chittagong Patenga Airport (CGP) is right on the coast, and a 1.something meter storm surge was (is) expected, so all of the landing equipment was locked away. I tried to reschedule, but was told there was no way flights were going out today (Thursday) either, that to try to schedule for Friday would be foolish, and they were going to refund my ticket.
At the same time, a Bengali guy with a British accent was leaving the refund office as well. We chatted for a moment, and he said he was traveling with his sister and brother to Chittagong as well, and would I like to join them if they were able to get a train compartment. I talked with them for a while, called my good friend Zareen who told me not to trust anyone and told me to call her if I felt unsafe (she cares a lot 🙂 ), and then called the AUW people in Dhaka to go to the guest house. There were a few people at the guest house (World Teach volunteers and a UG3/ Junior from AUW) , so we went out for late lunch to a pseudo-Portuguese restaurant, went shopping at Aranya (fair trade shop) and hung out at the Guest House.
Then I got the news via text message: the people I met in the airport had managed to secure four places in a sleeper compartment on a Dhaka->Chittagong train, thanks to an uncle of theirs. This was great news, but I had to convince AUW to send a car to take me to the main train station. This involved calling a few people and hearing things like “I’m worried the train will get stuck in the middle of nowhere” and the like. This probably made some sense, in light of being overly cautious, but I had a feeling I should try to take this chance to get to Chittagong if I could. Finally, I learned that the real problem was that there was no transport from the Chittagong train station. Not a problem, my friends from the airport said. We live just past where you are going and will take you to where you need to go.
All settled. The car ride through Dhaka was interesting– I had only been in the outskirts of Dhaka before– so I got to see it in all of its craziness. At the airport, I was left in the care of some students from a private medical college in Chittagong and a married woman traveling with her husband until my friends got there. They were very friendly, and of course, asked me if I am married or unmarried. “Unmarried, but I have a boyfriend.” This was followed by somewhat scandalized looks 🙂 The women took good care of me, my friends arrived, and we got on the train.
It was, shall we say, interesting. Zareen told me that whatever I do, do NOT use the toilet. I did twice; it wasn’t pleasant, but could have been (much) worse. We had a sleeper compartment, and the sister and I got the bottom bunks, the guys the top. They got some snacks to share (again, super nice) and we all chatted a while before turning in for the night. Suffice it to say, it was not the cleanest train in the world, and the air-con didn’t work until halfway through the night when it became FREEZING, but it got me here safe and sound. I even slept a fair bit. (win!)
We arrived at Chittagong about an hour and a half late, during the eye of the storm, so the weather was fairly calm here. I was introduced as the American friend (something about bandhobi and desh America) with a cancelled flight (said in English) to my companions’ father. They drove me to Panchlaish, where I am safely listening to the wind Mahasen is bringing to Chittagong and am hanging out with Professor Faheem Hussain, who was here my first year.
I am so happy to be here in one piece. Many AUW teachers are stranded in Dhaka today. I was lucky to be taken in by strangers who helped me to reach my destination safely. That, my friends, is Bangladesh.
Say a prayer that the storm surge isn’t so bad; there are a lot of people living in thatch houses down by the river/ocean.
Today I will meet with Zareen and her family for lunch at their new home. Tomorrow I plan to meet with students to see their academic showcase (it’s still going on! Hooray!) and cultural show. I am so excited to see all of them and am so relieved to be here in Chittagong.
Signing off for now… and Onek dhonnobad to my friends.