The Curious Case Of Bangladeshis

It’s been a few weeks since I left Bangladesh for less intense pastures, and it’s given me time to reflect on what the country was like for me. Bangladesh is a young nation, still finding her feet after the messy breakup of her parents, India and Pakistan. She isn’t really used to alien travellers, but can be an unforgettable safari for anyone brave or stupid enough to go there, a few things to know about Bangladesh…

Its currency is the Taka, and there’s roughly 120 of them to one pound. A room of an acceptable standard will set you back 600Tk, a meal in a local restaurant 150-200Tk, a rickshaw ride 10Tk per kilometre and a pineapple 5Tk, so it’s cheap. The word ‘taka’ translates to ‘money’, the Bank of Bangladesh done well to come up with that one…

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‘Money’

The nation’s flag features a red disc on a green background. It represents the sun rising over the lush green land of Bengal, and also the blood spilt during the war of independence. I’m not sure what the name of this flag is, probably just ‘flag’ seen as the currency is called ‘money’.

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‘Flag’

The national language of Bangladesh is Bengali. A few people speak English but not many everyday signs, labels and menus will have English writing, so it is helpful to at least learn the Bengali numbers 1-10, then you can understand the price of things to avoid being ripped off. I was too preoccupied to learn any local lingo, except for one word – cockroach. This word came in very handy when scoping potential hotel rooms. For example, “No telapoka? Ok I’ll take it” or “Telapoka, telapoka” (whilst pretending to spray an aerosol can).

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Undoubtedly the highlight of my time in Bangladesh has to be the people. Everywhere you go the locals are always at hand to help you out with anything, and from my experience I think the Bangladeshis are possibly the most hospitable and warm people that I’ve ever met, they really make a mockery out of us miserable westerners. However, it’s the extreme over-inquisitive nature of most of the people that can also become a lowlight during a visit to Bangladesh…

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Staring is not uncommon when travelling to some remote parts of Asia that see less tourists, and Bangladesh is famous for it, but I had no idea it could be so bad. When we crossed the border at Akhaura we sat in the corner of the waiting room, it didn’t take long for a crowd of 40+ people to surround us just to stand and stare, old men were pushing children out of the way to get a glimpse of the white man. Then came the camera phones flashing in our faces followed by the queue of people lining up to shake my hand to hear some words of wisdom (or to practice their English). Feeling like the Dalai Lama I embraced the moment and accepted it for what it was, the crowd eventually died down and I hoped it was a one off, seen as we were passing through nothing but a quiet border town – it wasn’t.

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Needless to say, the whole staring thing got very tiresome very quickly. It became impossible to stand still anywhere without being mobbed, the people stand so close it becomes uncomfortable and really is an invasion of personal space. If you raise your voice or get angry it only makes the masses move closer and stare harder. Here’s what happened to us whilst trying to get into a rickshaw in Dhaka…
Staring Mob Video and Getting in a rickshaw video

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The problems persist when you’re on the move, walking down the street can drive you crazy when all you can hear is the constant sound of people shouting in your direction “HOW ARE YOU!? YOUR COUNTRY!?” These are the two most common questions that you’re likely to be asked hundreds of times a day. Mittens will reach out to touch your skin and move in for a handshake, you will always be videoed and photographed no matter what, you will always be the centre of attention everywhere…

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There’s a whitey in there somewhere

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Just buying some fruit…

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At least they’re not camera shy

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Most of the time the looks are just vacant

So why exactly are the people the way they are with foreigners? Surely they’ve seen them on TV and in films? Is it really necessary to get so close and analyse your every move? Do they not know that it’s rude to stare? These are all the questions I asked whenever I spoke to someone with decent English and I always got the same answer “Bangladeshis are very curious people.” Curious? Curious about what exactly? Curious about the way I eat? The way we dress? Our skin? Our hair? The way we speak? My tattoos? The way I file my nails with a Swiss army knife? The list goes on but the people’s complete admiration towards foreigners will always remain a mystery to me.

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Sometimes a look of anger…

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Sometimes a look of fear…

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They look when driving a rickshaw…

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And even when cleaning an ear!

Thankfully we were able to put up with the constant barrage of staring, handshaking, pointless questions and feeling like a celebrity for long enough to scratch the surface of Bangladesh, the land of 140 million stares! Don’t worry guys I know you mean no harm. Next year Bangladesh will host the cricket 20/20 world cup, so maybe the thousands of foreigners that flock here will be enough for the locals to look at and finally kill their curiosity. Or maybe not…

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The many stares of Bangladesh

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Categories: Bangladesh | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “The Curious Case Of Bangladeshis

  1. Its really nice to hear everything about my country…………we also hope that one day more tourist will come………..thanks once again………..

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