Postcards from the Edge

of Bangladesh

Archive for April, 2010

It’s time for me to go.

Oh, it’s time. It’s time all right. Get. Me. Out. Of. Here.

Needless to say, I’m still here. Was hoping to actually be on the train outta here (to Calcutta) as I type this. But Indian High Commission put a stop to that, as visa was only issued this afternoon. In the mean time, Dhaka chewed me up, spat me out and told me in no uncertain terms, it’s time for me to leave.

Started off at the post office. What a wonderful way to start a day. By them telling me that they couldn’t send my package as they couldn’t paste their stamps on it. I’d gone a little OCD with taping it up, and left no part of the package un-taped. Ma-hosive problem for the folks at the post office it would seem. I just looove the lateral thinking on show at the place…. I shouted, he ignored. I shouted more, with a lot of ‘I fucking hate this country’ thrown in. Eventually he conceded that he could open the draw to his right, pull out some tape and tape the postage stamp on. How terribly nice of him. Then I sweated it out in a CNG in rush hour traffic to the train station, to buy my ticket to Calcutta. But was informed: no visa, no ticket. Shouting had no effect this time. AND was told that there also might be no trains to Calcutta on Tuesday anyway (trains only leave twice a week, Sunday and Tuesday) because there could be a general strike in India on the 27th. Only way to know for certain was to reappear at the train counter tomorrow afternoon.

Went to cool off at the Bagha, and was called to say that my India visa was ready for collection. Caught a rickshaw and negotiated 100 taka round trip fare. Half way back he starts with the 150taka story. I knew it, I forking knew it was coming. I tried to explain that today was not the day to be fucking with me. Not heeding to my advice, he stopped pedalling and refused to move until I agreed on 150 taka. I got off the rickshaw, shouted ‘well now you’re not getting any fucking taka from me’ and stormed off. Rickshaw wallah follows me, demanding payment. I throw 70 taka at him, swear some more and continue the sweaty stomp back to the Bagha by foot. And for the record, it’s not about the money. It’s the principle of it. I’m sick to death of being ripped off. Constantly.

Later I find out my ‘change of route’ permit hasn’t been issued. You know, that amazing piece of Bangladeshi mastery that requires approval if one wants to leave by land after having arrived by air. Am told I’d have to spend tomorrow morning in the visa office to obtain such an approval.

Decide that a morning spent in the Bangladeshi visa office, followed by an afternoon at the train station with a potential train strike thrown in for good measure is All Just Too Much.┬áSo fuck it, I’m flying direct to Delhi instead. Don’t reeeeally have the cash to throw around. But with my dangerously low levels of patience in this country, it’s safest for all of us if I just leave as quickly, and as easily as possible.

PS Yes, today had a lot of swearing in it. Usually I’m not this bad. But sometimes it just get too much, gets up in your face too much, gets up your nose too much. It being this city, Dhaka. How do people LIVE here?

The Goodbye

I left Rangamati on Friday. In tears. Which is so totally, unbelievably uncategorically Not Me.

My good bye ‘speech’ also involved tears. A speech because that is what a leaving function involves here, complete with podium, microphone and of course a banner. Nothing happens here in Bangladesh without a banner. I often wonder, if a function is held in Bangladesh but there is no banner, does the function really exist? It’s hard to say, because there is ALWAYS a banner.

The good byes kicked off with Moanoghar’s Executive Director in tears. Which in turn set me off. By the time it was my turn, the taps were well and truly turned on. The first person I thanked was Buddha Datta. When I turned to look at him I was somehow, magically and mysteriously, transported back to the very first time I walked through the Moanoghar gates. Transported back to a time when it all seemed so foreign, so unfamiliar, so bewildering. Back to first few days and weeks, when questions ranging from ‘did I really think this move to Bangladesh decision all the way through?’ to ‘what the fuck am I doing here?’ where running through my head. Back to those first days in the office, where I had NO idea where to start. Back to the days when 1000 school kids milling around frightened the bejesus out of me (only because kids can be cruel, you know. What if they didn’t like me?).

Somehow, standing up there about to thank Buddha Datta, this all ran through my mind. It was like having my life flash before my eyes, except this was my placement flashing before my eyes. This incredibly journey I’ve been on playing like a little video in my mind. How what started off as so foreign, filled with so many strangers, became so familiar, filled with so many friends. All filtered through the reality of the political situation being faced by the indigenous people here. I’m sure that leaving any placement is sad, but here there is the added sadness of the situation. If I came back to the CHT in 10 years time, what would I find? What will be left of the amazing cultural diversity of this area, what will become of the people here? What does the future hold for my friends, and for the communities here? The government has recently issued an order that the use of the term ‘indigenous’ is no longer allowed in Bangladesh. And the Supreme Court has recently ruled that the CHT Regional Council Act is illegal and unconstitutional, threatening the existence of the special administrative structure in place in the CHT since the signing of the Peace Accord (http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=134324). And various players are also petitioning to have the CHT Peace Accord declared illegal and unconstitutional. I really just don’t know what the future will hold for the next generation.

But, for me, I can leave. I can swan back into my 1st world life, and enjoy all my human and constitutional rights. I can walk away from this all. I have a future filled with a range of choices that are unimaginable to people here. I can do anything, go anywhere, and be anything. And why am I so lucky, so blessed? Why was I born in the right place, at the right time, with the right skin colour? Why did MY life unfold before me with so much opportunity, comfort and security?

Ok, now add all of that THAT into the emotion of a good bye speech. Tears were inevitable.