I started travelling for work in the 1990's. I was fortunate to visit many interesting places and have many memories of places I no longer visit. Travel has certainly changed a lot in that time, for many reasons, but I'm grateful for the experiences I have had.
Bangladesh was an amazing experience. Here is the first in a series of posts about some of my experiences in Bangladesh. I didn't have a mobile phone back then that took great photos, so excuse the quality of the images. As I sad, travel has changed a lot since these experiences!
It was the mid 1990s. During a trip to the town of Pabna in Bangladesh, our business was concluded several hours ahead of schedule. To fill in the remaining time prior to departure back to Dhaka, I was escorted on a visit to a local village. The village was very primitive; no electricity or running water. Most of the several hundred inhabitants lived in grass huts. There are thousands of these small villages all over Bangladesh. Despite the primitive way of life, the inhabitants are generally very happy and friendly. They do not receive many foreign visitors, if any, so I certainly caused a lot of excitement when I arrived for a tour of the village. I felt like an alien who had just landed on planet Earth. To the local villagers I probably looked like an alien who had just landed on planet Earth!
Upon entering the village I immediately attracted the attention of the locals. Before I knew it, there was a group of inquisitive locals following me around. As we progressed, our entourage became progressively larger, until there were several dozen people hot on our heels. I felt like royalty or perhaps the Pied Piper is a more apt description!
Our first stop was the local school, the only brick building in the entire village. The school was certainly in need of some TLC to repair some damage to the brickwork. Suddenly, a man came out of the building with a group of children following closely behind. They headed straight for me. The man was introduced as the school teacher, the one and only in the village. The children were his students. He had a huge smile on his face and was so happy to meet a foreigner. When my colleagues informed him I was from Australia, he immediately mentioned Alan Border, the captain of the Australian Cricket team at the time. Thanks to the British influence, everyone in Bangladesh is a fan of the game of Cricket!
Next stop; the fabric weaving workshop. In the village workshop, beautiful Saris are manufactured. The finished goods are then shipped to the larger towns and cities for sale. Some are even exported to India. I pitied the poor labourers in the workshop. No brick building like the school, just a rather small grass hut, extremely hot inside. No air conditioning here! No electricity either; all manually operated spinning looms. The labourers, several men, were furiously pedalling, faster than cyclists in the Tour de France, sweat pouring from their faces. Upon exiting the small workshop, several chairs suddenly appeared out of nowhere. A woman; the saleswoman apparently, appeared from around the corner, arms full of finished Saris. The Saris were laid out on the ground in front of us,in hope we would make a purchase, and make a purchase I did! The Saris were beautiful so I decided to splurge and bought two Saris. That set me back the grand sum of $8. What a bargain! I am sure they would sell in the markets in the big cities for ten times that price! I once again feel pity for those spinning loom operators working under deplorable conditions, toiling away for several hours to manufacture one Sari. I feel guilty for only paying $4 each. Perhaps I should have offered more.
We continued on our tour of the village; a much larger village than I first thought. Ahead in the distance, another group of people was approaching in our direction. Again I was greeted by huge smiles all around and promptly introduced to the village Chief and other village dignitaries. Suddenly, out of nowhere, several chairs appeared in a semi-circle behind us. We were invited to sit together with the village leaders. The village Chief then barked a command in a loud voice and two young boys sprinted away in the direction of some coconut trees, collecting machetes along the way. They proceeded to climb the coconut trees and once at the top, hacked away with their machetes until several large coconuts crashed to the ground with a thud! Quickly they scrambled down the trees and carried the coconuts back to our group. The tops of the coconuts were cut away and handed to each person seated, one each. The coconut milk was delicious. What an honour to drink fresh coconut milk with the village Chief!
We had spent a couple of hours touring the village but now it was time to head back to Dhaka, by road. We said farewell to our new friends in the village, and departed.
On the way back to Dhaka we stopped by the roadside for thirty minutes in another much smaller village. We had spotted a family boiling down Date Palm juice to make Palm sugar. The juice is collected from the upper area of the tree then placed in a large metal tray. A fire is lit under the metal drum to boil away the liquid. The solid Palm sugar is then left behind. We observed the process then sampled the Palm sugar; delicious!
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