I’m off to Bandraban tomorrow, which is another district of the CHT. One of my fellow volunteer’s organisation is hosting a ‘programme’ on Sunday.
In Bangladesh ‘programme’ is a catch all word that can be used for just about any activity or planned event. During induction we discovered the power of the word. If you don’t want to go for dinner at colleague’s house/don’t want to go for tea at the random man in the market who has invited you to his house, you can say you have a ‘programme’ for the day/evening. People nod in a very understanding way, and you’re let out of an awkward (ever noticed how awkward the word awkward looks?) situation with no hurt feelings. And no one ever asks what your ‘programme’ is. It’s a magic word.
Back to Bandraban. Given that it’s in the CHT, and that I’m a foreigner, I’ve had to apply for security permission from the army to travel there. It’s a complicated ‘system’ (for lack of a better word) that really makes no sense. Right now I’m trying to figure out if I am allowed to travel there directly (3 hour bus) or if I have to first travel to Chittagong (2.5 hours bus) and then change busses to travel to Bandraban (2 hour bus). Bangladeshis can travel direct, no problem. But us precious foreigners are a different matter, a matter of national security in fact. There are lots of army check posts along the direct route, who apparently can be quite difficult to negotiate your way through. Even if you have written permission from the District Commissioner. The rules for where I’m actually allowed to travel here in the CHT are about as clear as mud, and as frustrating as fuck.
Do I risk a direct run, to potentially get stopped and turned back? Bear in mind for each security check post, I have to get off the bus, fill in forms, show permission letters and passport, and make pleasantries with men who have large guns. All the while a bus full of other people have to sit and wait for me. The Lonely Planet says buses have been known to get tired of waiting and just leave foreigners stranded at check posts if it all takes too long. But then a lot of the LP says about Bangladesh is highly questionable. And often just plain wrong. Do their authors actually travel to all the places they write about?
Ok fine. I’ll go to Chittagong. I need to get a few supplies anyway. I need whisk for those meringues I’m going to make. And oats, I’m out of my breakfast staple.
See you Monday.