“Hello and welcome to Through the Keyhole. OK magazine for the illiterate. You’re claiming benefits and I’m Sir David Frost, and we’ve got a very special international edition for you this afternoon. Here’s our celebrity panel for the day to help us with the guess work, please welcome that fat one off Trinny and Susannah, the he-she from Big Brother, and Ron Atkinson. So without further ado, over to you Lloyd, as we go Through…the Keyhole:”
“Helloooo David. We’re on the outskirts of Sylhet, Bangladesh, and as you can see, standing in a dusty yard in front of what looks like a stable block. From the floor to ceiling bars, whoever lives here is very security conscious. No-one’s getting in or out of this place in a hurry. And look at those doors with padlocks. Solid steel. Let’s go on through. Oooh it’s a bit dark in here, there must be a power cut. And there’s only one tiny window. [fumbles for torch]. The concrete floor’s very shiny though. As you can see, this resident doesn’t like furniture, unless it’s cheap blue plastic and of the garden variety. Look at that stark table at the end of the room. Although there’s a bookshelf here on the right, and DVDs. Let’s see what’s on offer. Miss Congeniality 2. Narnia. Harry Potter. Hmm, obviously not a fan of the golden age of cinema. If we move left there’s an alcove with a gas-hob, and a cupboard full of biscuits and noodles – quite the gourmet. I bet they miss my sauces ha ha ha ha.
There’s a nasty smell coming from the corner, oh! It’s a squat toilet. Let’s use this bucket to try and flush the smell away. Gosh that water’s cold. No hot tap here. And if we move back out of the room, we can move in to the next – I wonder why there’s no connecting door. That must be annoying. Hmmm, it’s almost exactly the same as the other except for a bed in the corner, and a large flag of St George with ‘Tottenham written across the middle. I hope this person didn’t watch the Reading game. Hahahaha. And another partitioned squat toilet. And some suitcases in the corner, and that’s it. Hmm, such basic surroundings. Well, there’s not much more to say, other than: Whoooo lives in a shithole like this? Back to you David”.
Not me. Not any more!! Ha!!!
My mate Suhali the cable guy came up trumps, and on Friday I moved in to this new house, and left the stable behind for ever. Actually, I left it for a few hours because I had to go back to pick up my shoelaces/washing-line, but the principle still remains.
Packing up was two hours of sheer pleasure, and then I moved, almost as if part of a trading caravan, with two rickshaws pulling carts loaded with all my possessions across Sylhet. I went behind on foot carrying my backpack full of valuable stuff, and we must have looked like quite an odd procession on a Friday morning, going past scores of people about to go to the mosque.
It’s in a much more vibrant part of Sylhet, closer to town, and is basically a little bungalow in a kind of yard with another bungalow and a big main house. There are always about five guys wandering around sorting out a very modest but well kept garden, and frequently women cleaning up pots and pans under the pump. There’s a guard-dog called Scoop, chained up but only a collie so seems quite nice, a guard goose, who flaps around and looks vicious and to be well avoided, and loads of chickens and two roosters pecking about the place. So there’s plenty of life, if you also add numerous children screaming everywhere. The people who live in the main house are obviously wealthy to have all this, and it’s all solid and well built, but not in a gross way like my other landlord’s buildings.
I think the main man is working in another area of Bangladesh, but there’s also a grandmother who wonders about all in white robes presiding over everything. No one speaks any English, but all seem nice. Although the grandmother scared me witless this morning by opening up my window, peering in and hissing at me when I was barely awake. And then cackled and left. Very strange.
But the main thing is I have windows. Proper ones, with glass in. It’s a big place, with a big main room with a white tiled floor, and an ensuite bathroom with a sit-down toilet (I was grinning like a Cheshire Cat for two minutes the first morning). And a dining room, with a table and six chairs. And I have arm chairs, and a wardrobe to unpack my stuff in. The kitchen is small and shabby, but most kitchens in Bangladesh seem to be, even in new developments, because they’re intended to be used only by the poor housekeeper and never the actual owner of the house. Then there’s another bedroom and living room bit, which I’ve shut off because I have no use for.
It’s a vast, vast, improvement on my old place. When we arrived it was filthy, and buzzing with hundreds of mosquitos so I sprayed in some poison, shut the doors and went shopping. When I came back I needed a dustpan and brush to make a path through the bodies, but this town ain’t big enough for the both of us. The place is still filthy, bathroom a hovel, dust everywhere, dead mosquitos trodden in by previous occupants, but nothing that a good bit of elbow grease can’t shift.
The rent still fits within the VSO allowance, which was surprising because it’s a good house, but I discovered last night when I went for a glass of water in the night, switching the light on, that I must be splitting the rent with about a hundred cockroaches. I’m not a fan, to say the least, but it was late and I couldn’t be bothered to do anything so tried to forget it and went to bed. Nothing’s perfect. But I’ll have to get some strong insecticide and hopefully that will make a difference.
The water is still filthy, so no change in my routine of constant boiling, filtering, cooling, which dominates the day. But it seems safe, and is warmer because there’s glass in the windows, and I also pick up near perfect BBC World Service, without having to get up every minute to adjust the dial. So things have basically improved immeasurably, in the space of one walk across town. Now there’s the hassle of unpacking and buying various little things like lightbulbs etc, which isn’t easy to fit around a six day week, but it’s a Bangladeshi six-day week so that helps.
And lastly, of course, because Suhali the Cable Guy found it for me, I had to get Cable. So I’ve invested half (and all that’s left) of my furniture/household allowance on 14 inches of fourth-class North Korean technology. It has a Panasonic badge glued on the front, says ‘Samsung’ when you switch it on, and came in a Sony box. I’m not sure it’s totally Kosher. But all that matters is that I can now get up early and watch the Ashes in bed, which was half the point of the whole move altogether. As long as the idiot box doesn’t pack up before March (and preferably May, so I can see Spurs win the UEFA cup) I won’t mind. Obviously now I don’t have any money to furnish my house with, but hey, you come to Bangladesh, you make some sacrifices.