Hugh Reilly: Initially unsuited for a clash of cultures
I should have splashed out on a new suitcase. Standing in line for my flight to Bangladesh, I became acutely aware that the multi-coloured, flowery design of my holdall was a hot topic of conversation.
Irked by the stares and barely concealed smiles – and by the nonsensical notion that a certain choice of luggage identified one’s sexuality – I felt an overwhelming impulse to shout: “Cross my heart, I borrowed it from my girlfriend because it has more capacity than my manly rucksack!”
A five-hour stopover in Dubai proved to be revealing. The terminal building is a temple to Mammon, with umpteen outlets selling top-quality jewellery and other luxury items; by comparison, Glasgow Airport’s retail property portfolio resembles a collection of corner shops. Unfortunately, just as I was deliberating which vulgarly expensive diamond ring to buy for my beloved, I noticed my flight to Dhaka was boarding at Gate C21.
Excluding some cabin crew, I was the only Caucasian aboard the plane. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a tad awkward. To be fair, the two chaps sitting next to me struck up a conversation and informed me that many of the passengers were, like them, attending a huge Muslim conference in Dhaka. After a brief discussion to establish the direction of Mecca with regard to the Boeing’s flight path, some of the passengers laid a prayer blanket on the fuselage floor next to the toilets, got down on their knees and started praying.
I had been told that securing a visa on arrival would be straightforward. However, Dhaka immigration control sees no need for pesky, new-fangled technology such as computers when a nice man can write everything on a pad. After queuing to pay £40 for the entry documentation, you queue to take that piece of paper to a nice policeman at a desk who writes some of the details on the visa. One then queues for a third nice man to write some details on yet another pad before stamping one’s passport. As job creation projects go, Dhaka airport is right up there with Pharaoh’s decision to find meaningful employment for unemployed Israelites.
However, I did, finally, get into the country and, over the next four weeks, I will be teaching English and offering assistance to staff at Uttar Bangla College in Kakina, northern Bangladesh. It was established by the Glasgow-based Charity Education International. Founder Dr Mozammel Huq taught economics at Strathclyde University.
During my stay at his house in Dhaka, Mozammel arranged for me to meet some of his friends in high places. Nothing, other than being on a rollercoaster without a safety belt, can prepare a European for experiencing a journey on Dhaka’s roads. Rickshaws, motorised three-wheeler taxis, buses held together by sticky-back plastic and dented cars compete for every inch of Tarmac or, in some cases, dirt. It’s like watching the Wacky Races on fast-forward. Constantly sounding the car horn to add to the tooting concerto is apparently mandatory. Surprisingly, despite the constant cutting up and life threatening manoeuvres, I did not witness any road rage, a tribute to the stoicism of Bangladeshi road-users.
Mozammel took me the house of a member of the government, Mr GM Quader, minister for commerce. After a very enjoyable chat, I met with Mr Rafiqul Islam, a joint secretary in the government, at his family home. The food, made by his charming wife, was excellent. Rafiqul spent a short time in Glasgow recently and displayed great discernment by stating he preferred it to Edinburgh. His privately-educated schoolboy son, Rajin, speaks almost perfect English, thus he initially struggled with my Weegie accent.
Already a tad full having devoured the “snacks” at Rafiqul’s, I sat down to dine with Mr HKM Rashid, a businessman, and Mir Mozammel Hussain, a former member of the government. Mr Rashid is now an enthusiastic amateur archaeologist as a consequence of helping his wife to complete her thesis on the local history of the region. His photographs of historic buildings were marvellous.
That night, sleep came easily, despite the Bangladeshi version of water torture caused by a leaking bathroom tap (fixed next morning). The next day, we were due to leave for Kakina, some 200 miles distant, at 5am. God willing, our people-carrier will cope with the B-roads. Methinks I could be in for a bumpy ride.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North