From there to here

The trip to Bangladesh has three segments, each one a little shorter than the previous one if you travel East, the opposite if you travel West, with each segment a little longer than the previous one and also longer because of flying into the trade winds.

Segment one and two were orderly, as one would expect. But segment three was very disorderly although the Emirates people did their best and kept their cool.  There are lots of young Bangla men working in the Emirates and there is a constant shuttling back and forth as these young men go home or try their luck. I suppose those are the lucky ones, the ones who are not bonded slaves.

After reading (Gregory David Roberts’) Shantaram I was looking for the gold that was/used to be smuggled out of the Emirates as jewelry around arms and necks but I saw little of that. In fact the Bangla customs form allows very little jewelry to go untaxed. The authorities may have wizened up after reading the book, after learning about the inner workings of the Bombay mafia and its grip on the black markets of the subcontinent.

For the final push into Bangladesh it was my luck to sit at an exit row where I could stretch my legs with an empty middle seat; it was my bad luck that that seat was across the aisle from a tired young couple with an infant that didn’t want to sleep in the bassinette and cried when not wiggled on his dad’s knee. Still, I managed to sleep most of the way – exhaustion and earplugs helped.

I woke up when we were getting ready to land only to learn that a VIP had sequestered the airport for the next hour. When you have been on the road that long such an extra hour kills. And so we circled over Dhaka until the airport opened again. Then followed another long hour standing in chaotic and ever-shifting lines of exhausted, numb, irritable but also happy travelers to get ourselves stamped into the country. I was waiting in line with a Bangla grocer from Lynn, MA, who had come by way of Newark to Dubai and was just as exhausted but in a fine mood. He was going to visit the few remaining relatives who weren’t already living in Lynn, and the proud owner of the much coveted American passport.

It was Friday so traffic was light, which is a relative concept. Still, it shortened the 45 minute ride to the hotel to 20 minutes. That was a good thing.

I made contact with Courtney, formerly from Safi airlines who is now flying out his remaining days till retirement ferrying planes from Dhaka to the US or China for repairs or lease returns. He happened to be in the country and so we had a date, fully encouraged by our two home-based spouses. He took me to the Westin and treated me to a multi-cultural buffet dinner that would have been wasted on either one of us alone. We caught up on life and adventures that we had since we said goodbye at the Barbecue Tonight restaurant in Kabul, now 9 months ago.

On our way back, we threw ourselves into the throngs of beggar moms and street urchins that are attracted to the moneyed customers of the Westin. After having been chauffeured around in Afghanistan for two years, or driven myself around in South Africa, the experience of haggling for a taxi or the motorized rickshaws was new again. The smoke-spewing baby taxis of yesterday are now called CNGs (compressed natural gas), encased in a metal cage (to keep the riffraff out I presume) and running on clean energy. I am sure it makes a difference in the quality of the ride if not of Dhaka’s air. I remember driving in these things with my scarf wrapped around my mouth as a rudimentary airfilter.

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