Because of the political situation, I’ve been told the last two days to stay at home. This is in some ways the last thing I want to be doing, because if I’m not working I’d rather explore my new town properly. But as I don’t have a bike yet, nor have enough Bangla to talk my way out of trouble if cornered by a mob/security services, instead I’m taking it easy within my immediate area, which has a few little shops and this internet café, after about 20 mins walk from my stable.
The weather is sensational, which helps, big blue sky so I’ve been able to sit out in my yard with the goats and work on a tan, which gives me immense pleasure in November. I’ve made my usual mistake of taking on too many books at once, so am wrestling with a collection of theoretical physics essays by Stephen Hawking, The Mill on the Floss by George Elliot, a guide to Islam, and Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island that the previous VSO volunteer left, and I’ve read about twenty times but I love it so treat myself to a chapter a day.
I’ve also got the Bangla to learn and background reading on indigenous communities to do, and about ten essays from the NY Review of Books which I’ve downloaded. I’ve also got about 80% of my music collection, so about 9000 songs to get through, and quite a few DVDs. Unbelievably, I left the first four series of The Simpsons in
Dhaka, but instead am massively enjoying Shameless by Paul Abbott, which has been on Channel Four recently. It’s a brilliant, very funny drama about working-class family life in
Manchester, and reminds me a bit of the culture in Maryport, this tiny town on the North West where my English family is from. It’s fantastic, makes me homesick but is worth it.
So basically I’ve got enough stuff to keep me distracted for quite a long time, although I have just run out of toilet paper.
But this isn’t really me. I’m a social person. I can’t get any radio here, which I usually have on all the time when I’m at home. My neighbour chats to me from time to time in Bangla, and I nod in English, but I haven’t had a face to face normal conversation in English with anyone since Friday. In the last eighteen months, for various reasons I’ve worked with an assortment of drug-dealers, thieves, muggers, politicians and lawyers, and right now I’d probably welcome any of them to stay.
When the dark comes in about 5.30, the power grid can’t cope with demand so goes off, and then it’s just a question of reading by torchlight and then frantically trying to do stuff in the hour it comes back on. Last night I was having my cold shower, got distracted by a cockroach flying in, and then inexplicably couldn’t remember where I left my glasses. I can barely see without them in the light, but in the dark I was fumbling around like a zombie, and smacked my head on the low metal door frame. I’ve also burnt a nice scar in to my stomach from a dodgy match head that flew off when I struck it, and my thumb has got a good week to go before it heals up properly. What I’m realising is that I’m not good on my own. I’ve even turned on the Microsoft Office Assistant and switched it from the default paper-clip to a little ginger cat, just so I’ve got a pet. Which is pathetic.
With all my thinking time, it’s struck me, and Georgia (who’s in Chittagong Hill Tracts, albeit with other VSO Volunteers) that we are totally unprepared for this. We had about twelve days of training with VSO in
England, and a lot of it was making big pictures of how you feel about going, and a coping strategy and all that.
But they could have just saved the holding hands stuff and given everyone a globe, spun it, pointed your finger on it to a completely random place, and said: “Right, you’re going to go there for a year or two. You’re not going to know anyone, be able to understand or communicate with anyone normally, and it will be very difficult for you to communicate with your world back home. The food is going to poison you, the animals are going to eat you, the water’s going to take six hours to prepare before you can drink it, and you’re going to spend a lot of time sweating profusely in the dark. You’re hardly ever going to have anything but a cold shower, but you’ll hardly ever have a cold beer. You can start smoking, but let’s face it, it will kill you later. For all of this, we’re going to give you so little money you’ll even be poor in your new country, and whilst all this is happening, at some point your football team is going to get humiliated 3-1 by
Reading. Still want to do it?”
They never said any of that though. I would definitely have noticed.
So instead, on Sunday at about 1pm GMT, (7pm Bangladesh time) when I would normally either be a) getting ready to play football with mates, b) getting ready to watch football with mates, c) getting ready to go drinking all afternoon with mates in the pub, or d) doing family stuff, I was in fact locked in to my stable, hoping the power would come back around 8pm, and sitting on my bare concrete floor in the dark rubbing the lump on my head.
There’s no one to blame really. Life is just absurd sometimes.