Upcountry in Bangladesh
I feel so fortunate to have visited Bangladesh four times, one for pleasure and three for business.  Formerly called “East Pakistan.” this land was split off from India in 1947 and later became the People’s Republic of Bangladesh in 1971.
With 160 million people, mostly muslim, it’s among the most densely populated places on the planet.   My work there was with the American International School of Dhaka, a well known school of high quality.

By my fourth trip I wanted to see some things outside of Dhaka, the capital.  I inquired at the neighborhood travel agency, but all they had to offer were the usual bus tours of mosques, public buildings, other cities, all with plenty of stops for shopping.  I wasn’t interested. 

Just as I was ready to leave the agency, a twenty-something young man, the accountant for the company, approached me with this proposal:  “My name is Azam.  This Saturday I’m going to visit my mother and father about 2 hours north of Dhaka.  Would you like to go with me?”

Yes!   He met me at the train station early Saturday morning.  The train was crowded, with stereotype scene of people riding on top, and before we even left the station Azam had to argue with the people sitting in our reserved seats to get them to move.

After 90 minutes on the train we got off at a small town where his uncle lived,so that the Foreigner, me, could rest and take refreshments at the uncle’s house.  I felt like an honored guest for sure.  The uncle was the town physician, and was definitely upper middle class, with excellent English and a modest but neat home.

Then Azam and I took a little three wheeled motor cycle taxi another 30 minutes down a dirt road, and were dropped off at a little store, which consisted of a tin roof covering some wooden planks with a few vegetables, r
usty batteries tin cans, dusty paper products, and cigarettes. 

From the store we walked down a path built on a levee through a rice field. (Bangladesh is known for flooding, and levees are necessary everywhere.)  Finally, we reached a walled compound containing the main family house, a small guest house, and assorted outbuildings including a primitive kitchen house and a toilet house.  Judging from the abodes we had passed, Azam’s family seemed to be upper middle class.  They had a TV, electric fans, and a propane stove. No telephone.  I never figured out how Azam told his parents I would be coming on that day.

The invitation for me to take a nap in the guest house was a gentle hint to get out of the way and allow Azam to visit his parents and other relatives.   I woke up from my nap to find two remarkable things:  (1) two small children were sitting on the floor watching me sleep, and (2) an old man, probably a servant, was waving a huge fan to keep me cool!

After a great 10 dish lunch (much like Indian food, of course), Azam and I walked to a lake shore and hired a power boat to take us out to an island.  About 100 people, an extended family I suppose, live on the island in VERY close proximity.  The island might have been three acres, completely covered in shacks except for some walking paths and one open area where kids were kicking a deflated soccer ball.  The chief showed me the little bamboo, open air school, with a toilet which was simply a platform, where business was accomplished by hanging one’s rear out over the lake.

To make a long story short, we left the family compound around 6pm and reversed our steps:  a pathway along a levee, a three wheeled motor taxi, and a very crowded train.

I have been on many one day “city tours” during our travels, but this was the best.  The next day I went to the travel agency to settle up.  My bill for the trains and taxis came to about $30.  I gave Azam a hundred dollar bill and he seemed very grateful.  In hindsight I wish I had given him more.