Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Strange Land

“It’s so hot, I’m covered in sweat!” Sara said to her mother.  They had just landed in Bangladesh and were waiting in the customs line at the airport. Sara felt tired after their long flight.  She couldn’t wait to unpack some thinner clothes when they got to their new apartment.  

"Who es your husband?"  The customs officer asked her mother in a strange, lilting accent.

"I am unmarried."  Her mother said.

"I will need to know the name of your father."  He replied.

Sara’s eyes pricked with tears at the original question as her father had passed away after a brief and painful battle with cancer just over two years ago.  She had come to Bangladesh with her mother to help them take their minds off the gaping hole his death had caused in their lives.  But now she wasn’t so sure they had made the right decision.

“I want to go home.” she said to her mother as they walked away from him.

“We only just arrived, Sara, give it a chance.” said her mother.

As they collected their luggage, Sara noticed hundreds of male faces outside the glass walls of the large airport.  They were very tidily dressed, small in stature, and wide eyed.  Some of them were holding hands and leaning on each other.  Some talking animatedly, but many were just staring.  

“Why are they all here?” Sara asked their driver but his English was so heavily accented that she couldn’t understand his response.  

They were driving on the road now and the noises and colours were intense.  Brightly painted trucks and rickshaws, overly-dented cars.  People everywhere.  Bells and horns.  In her over-tired state, Sara felt faint and ill.  

Their new apartment provided some peace from the crazy outside but it felt sterile.  It was furnished with wicker furniture, blank walls, and tiled, empty floors.  

Sara’s sleep was broken by the strangeness of everything that night.  The smells were almost a taste in the air that she couldn’t recognise.  There were so many unusual noises: hundreds of rickshaw bells, the call to prayer, hoiking on the streets, loud yet unaggressive shouts.  And the heat, it was as though she could never drink enough water to cool herself.  She wondered if this new life would ever feel ordinary.

“It’s time to go.” Called her mother.  

Sara grabbed her water bottle as they left the apartment.  A teacher from the school had offered to show them ‘Old Dhaka’ – the bustling ancient part of the city.  Stepping outside, Sara felt alive and excited.  She had been promised they would spend most of the day on various local transport – rickshaws, boats, van gari; shopping for a saweer kameez – the commonly worn clothing for women; and eating local food.  

As they stepped up onto the rickshaw – a colourfully decorated chariot pulled by a bicycle – she felt a smile stretching across her face.  They had just sat down and the driver took off twinkling his bell.  As he wove through traffic and took corners at break-neck speed, Sara was exhilarated.  She could barely believe this was her new home.

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