Six Months in Bangladesh

Last Wednesday 28th March was a major date for me here in Bangladesh, as it was the six month anniversary of my fragile, fraught, passionate and all-encompasing relationship with this country.

Ironically Georgia was in Sylhet, so I didn’t have to celebrate on my own, but there wasn’t any champagne around so I put some filtered water in the fridge and had both my overhead fans on and that’s about as exciting as it gets for me in Sylhet.

This is my essential problem, after six months here. My life is so incredibly, astonishingly boring I haven’t to this point been bothered to even write about it. My routine consists of getting up at 6, going for a run before it gets too hot, reading, having breakfast, going to work six days a week, then coming home via the shops and the internet cafe. Then I read, listen to music whilst I cook, eat, wash-up, then I read some more, occassionally write, and at the moment watch the Cricket World Cup before going to bed. On Thursday nights I see Kobir, we watch a DVD and go out to dinner. On Fridays I potter around, do any major errands, and then go to Kobir’s village to watch another DVD, walk in the tea-estate or play cricket, and then come home around seven and read again. On Saturday and Sunday nights I watch football, if the power’s on.

And to be honest, there’s not much else to do. There’s two small places to play pool, but as far as I gather, that’s the only space in the whole town set aside for public socialising and recreation, and as I work, I can’t join a cricket team, and the football season is over. Life here, especially in Sylhet, is orientated around the family. People I speak to find it very strange that I live on my own, and even stranger that I do my own cooking. Every British Bangladeshi I’ve met that is over here also has complained, bitterly, that they find life really boring, and they’re here to see dozens of relations. I have none.

So it’s been a tough six months, and I’m suprised in a way that it’s gone fairly quickly. I still can’t help feeling that I’ve given up so much for so little in return – not materially, as in England I only really own maybe two bags worth of clothes, a laptop, a bike, a stereo system, some books, a reasonably big music collection, a suede foot-stool and a deckchair. But in terms of social life, friends, family, and their support, it’s very far away and very difficult to replicate when you’re on your own in a country like Bangladesh.

But on the other hand, I do really like Bangladesh. Everytime I step out of the door, and walk through the mass of people, through the (now shimmering) heat and the noise and the smells, the smoke and steam and sheer chaos, the colours and sights can’t help but hit you right between the eyes. And I find that deeply invigorating compared to thinking about walking down a grey road in London, full of anonymous people getting on quietly with their anonymous lives, under a wretched sky covering a life-less environment. London is my city, I love it, but there is as much energy and vibrancy and stimulation and sheer heart-pumping, thumping life in one side-street of Bangladesh to match Piccadily Circus.

The West, I think, hides life away behind screens, windows, monitors, cameras, everthing is edited and polished and made to look presentable and attractive. Life in Bangladesh is often far from presentable, and not very attractive, but it’s coming at you in High Definition, High Fidelity, the raw cut, and that does a lot for me.

So it’s been six months of craziness; of political crisis, riots, coups, and corruption, of rain, of sweat, of heat and briefly freezing fog, of rabid dogs and lumbering cows, of a million mosquitos. Six months of traffic and not a single meter working, of risking my life every day on my bike. And a huge amount of rice, washed down with a scandalously small amount of beer. And all of it for no money.

But believe it or not, I do genuinely feel privileged to have this experience. Sometimes I feel bloody stupid as well, but it’s something that I’m always going to have with me. It could be a scar or a blessing, but the Desh will always be there.


5 Responses to “Six Months in Bangladesh”

  1. 1 Hazel April 2, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    Greetings from another YfD. I really emphathise with this posting. It’s the same total boredom I feel. Aerobics on beer crates is about as exciting as it gets here in Lilongwe – and I’m in a bleeding capital city. But there are things to make up for it – the great, long shadows between 5 and 6pm when the sun is really low, and all the child are on the side of the road, smiling and chasing tires and deflated footballs. Sometimes I hate it, and the fact that I no longer notice the mosquito bites all over my legs, and other times I love the freedom and the space and the Bart Simpson clouds. Happy six months!

  2. 2 Jane April 4, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    alreadty 6 months? you’re incredible.

  3. 3 Mikey Leung April 8, 2007 at 4:04 am

    Hey buddy,

    I’m glad you’re at least seeing both sides of the coin here. Bangladesh is far from “fun” in the classical sense, yes there’s a lack of beer, a lack of glamour, and truly a lack of things to do—on first glance. But the kind of experience you get here is real, gritty, and in your face, exactly as you describe.

    There’s a kind of reality out there, it definitely grinds you down, but it also lifts you up too. Where else will you see the failures and riches of society on display for all to see, so wonderfully unpolished, so raw, so naked.

    I’ve been absolutely ill for two days now and stuck to the toilet. Yesterday was absolutely terrible. I’ve only left my house once, to drag my ass to Nandan to get some more toilet paper. Everything on the street seemed so foul. All the sewer smells, the fried foods and the unforgiving heat made my head swoon. “What the fuck am I doing here, feeling this amount of hell?” I asked myself. It was one of those days where I really could have used a break from here.

    But like you say I will never forget this experience, because I will be a hardier, tougher person for it. In a way I do feel I’ve reached rock bottom and will have very little to show for it monetarily, except a happy soul and the knowledge that we gave of ourselves in one of the most pure ways possible. Your time in Bangladesh won’t be permanent, but it will always be fascinating.

    Anyways, this writing might be a result of my dehydrated delirium, so forgive me if I’m being a bit blunt here. But here we are, six months later, and still surviving if you know what I mean! It’s not so bad.

  4. 4 Saeed, Dhaka April 14, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    You arrived at a turbulent time, mate. Bangladesh is at a crossroads. It could be the best of times, or the worst of times. We just have to wait and see.


  5. 5 freckle April 19, 2007 at 10:49 am

    Yes, Tim – it is as exciting as under the laurel bush.
    It is time for that now – and the day lily forest, where I practice being a Bengal Tiger, in case you miss out on one, and need me to stand in for that when you return.
    I am with you every twitch of a whisker.
    F- the -C

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