1500 Taka for a kiss?
on Bangin' in the 'Desh (Bangladesh), 02/Apr/2010 17:33, 34 days ago
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I went down to Khulna a few weeks ago to visit my friend and fellow VSO volunteer, Lesa. Now, as much as I love Lesa, Khulna is far. Really, really far. It take about 10 hours to get there, crisscrossing rivers and bumping along in a crowded bus for hours on end, but, I hadn’t been down to the south west before and I wanted a break from Dhaka so I asked my boss for a few days off to make the journey worthwhile. ‘You cannot take the bus though, you must take plane,’ he said. ‘Plane? I can’t afford the plane,’ I answered. ‘Ah, do not worry about cost,’ hesaid, ‘this is Bangladesh'. Within hours I had a return ticked booked and it was free. Borhan has got connections at some Bangladeshi airline so a hectic all-day journey had suddenly turned into a 30 minute flight! Bonus!The only issue was the departure time. 9am. Being anywhere in Dhaka for 9am is a joke. The traffic is so bad I thought I might have to leave my house at 5am to get there in time but I asked, no begged and pleaded, with VSO to drive me there instead of trying to get a CNG and they agreed, but only if I left at 7am because the car was booked later for something else. 7am for a free ride? No worries, piece of cake. Cut to the next morning: I had slept in, the car had arrived and I was throwing shit into a bag, trying to brush my teeth and get dressed all at the same time. I kept the driver waiting for half an hour. Needless to say he was not impressed. Once in the car, I was cruising through the streets in comfortable AC and amazingly, the traffic wasn’t too bad. Off to a good start, I thought. I got to the airport and went over to Domestic departures. There were only about five people there, there was NO security check and they didn’t even ask for any I.D. to board. I’m serious. Slight concerning but as Borhan would say, ‘This is Bangladesh’- so I had some cha, waited in the lounge, realized I has left my lap top at home (annoying!) and waited for the flight to be called. Problem... The departures board was all in Bengali script and I couldn’t read a thing. What gate was I supposed to be at? No idea. No announcements were madeand I almost missed the bloody bus to get to the runway. Thankfully being white, they assume you are stupid and someone came over to help me find where I needed to go. About 20 people boarded the small plane and to my surprise they gave out free drinks and newspapers to everyone. Quite impressive! This flying malarky was traveling in style. Nice one! As we started to prepare for take off, an older man sitting next to me, struck up some conversation - What is my country? What am I doing in Bangladesh? etc. etc. Then he proceeded to tell me every single detail about his life and the lives of hischildren but, to be fair, he was a nice man and we spoke mostly in English which was enjoyable. He was a retired doctor and he had two daughters, also doctors, working in the States. Before I knew it, we were about to land and had chatted the whole way. Then, the part I dread when meeting anyone new here, the question that’s so hard to dodge; ‘Can I have your phone number? You must come to my house.’ EVERYONE wants your phone number and everyone invites you to their house here. Why? I have no idea. But, the man was kind, interesting, spoke good English and I thought, why not? He seemedharmless enough, We walked off the plane together and he said he would wait for me while my driver arrived to pick me up. Now, luckily for me, Borhan had also organized a driver to get me from Jessore to Khulna (about 2 hours drive). However, after hanging around at the gate for about 20 minutes orso, there was no-one waiting for me. Not a soul. The driver wasn’t coming. The older man, now, I think his name was Mohwad but I’m not sure as he told me quick quickly - bad of me to forget, I know. Anyway, Mohwad said he would wait with me and his two brothers until the driver came but I was already starting to hatch a plan how I would figure out getting a bus instead. All of a sudden, there was a lot of discussion going on between Mohwad and the airport manager. A special wooden table was brought into the waiting area of the arrivals lounge (now, I use the term ‘lounge’ in the loosest possible sense), and ‘special’ chipped china tea cups were brought in for the four of us to have cha. I was getting the sense that mowed was kind of a big deal in Jessore. Anyway, over cha, all three men we asking me the same questions at various times. Where was my driver? Where was I going?Who was meeting me? What is the drivers name? His phone number? What kind of car is it? Aaaaaaah! I didn’t have the driver’s contact information because Borhan said not to worry but Borhan was in the UK and I had no way of getting in touch with my unreliable driver. I think between feeling likean idiot not having this basic information and all the questions , it was stressing me out. It was now 1pm at this point, I’d been up since 6am to get the VSO car, and we’d been waiting for over an hour for the driver, who clearly, was MIA. Shit. How was I going to get to Khulna now? I was feeling tired and spoiled. I wanted the CAR! Ugh. One of Mohwad’s brother asked me what my friend was doing in Khulna and I mentioned her name and that she worked at Rupuntar, an NGO. ’Ah, Rupuntar!’, he exclaimed. ’I know Rupuntar!’ The next thing I know, he passes me his phone and I’m speaking to the HEAD of Rupuntar. I told him I was coming to see Lesa but I think he thought I was saying I WAS Lesa. Who knows. My Bengali was not on form at that moment. The double-name thing was way confusing for everyone to understand. Then, Mohwad grabbed the phone and was asking Rupuntar why they didn’t have a car for me, it was unacceptable etc. etc. Oh God, this was turning into a bit of a nightmare. I decided to phone MY organization but since Borhan was in the UK, no-one in the office knew what I was talking about and then, magically, I ran out of phone credit. Awesome. Then, my officemust have called VSO thinking there was an ‘emergency’ so Martin - the chief coordinator - called me, asking me where I was, was I okay and so on. I was trying to explain the situation and general mix up between the two Lisa/Lesa thing and the lack of driver, but Mohwad pulled the phone out of my hand and started yabbering away to Martin in Bengali too fast for me to follow. Then, Mohwad exclaimed that it was clear that the driver would not be coming and I was to go with him and his brothers to have lunch at some relative’s house. Then, Mohwad would arrange a car to take me from Jessoreto Khulna. I know this sounds overpopulating the issue. I could have got the bus but I was feeling lazy couldn’t really be arsed. I had a feeling I trusted Mohwad - a doctor, an older man, seemed to be important in Jessore enough for china cups, so I thought, why not? I’ll get some food - I wasstarving - and then get a car to Khulna. Done, easy. JUST GET ME TO KHULNA.Before I knew it, the four of us piled into a very small car complete with driver, and we drove off to some village outside of Jessore. We arrived after a short while and as I got out of the car, people from other houses came out to see the‘bideshi’. They were probably watching, wondering what the hell I was doing there… um, me too! Anyway, I followed the men into the house and up the stairs to the flat. A slew of women were there to greet us and we were seated at a huge table, full of food - ruti (like pita bread) and a massivecurry-type stew, abundant with chilli. They just kept piling more and more and MORE on to my plate and even though it was quite good, I was told (while I was already eating it) that it was curried fat. Mmmm, yikes. Curried FAT? I’ll bet that’s not on ‘Weight Watchers’. Haha. Anyway, I preceded to eat a horrific amount of said fat curry and it was really spicy. My eyes were watering but I kept plowing through. All I could think of was getting the car to Khulna and I needed to embrace Mohwad‘s hospitality to get there. After the curry fat situation, dessert was rolled out. Paish. Now,I quite like paish (like a rice pudding thing), but after 2 tons of fat curry? Oh Jesus. There was no way. But, in typical Bangladeshi style, they just piled a huge dollop on my plate and stared at me until I started eating. Oh God. I thought I was going to be sick. To my saving grace however, Mohawd needed to go to the toilet and this required ‘assistance‘. So, everyone practically jumped up from the table and all followed him off to the toilet. Now, to hazard a guess, I’d say Mohawd was about 70 years old. I would hardly call him frail though and he was by no means about to collapse but I wasn’t interested in the toilet helping lark. This was my chance to scoop the majority of my paish BACK into the bowl without anyone watching. Looking over my shoulder, I lumped a whole load of it back into the bowl. Panicking if someone caught me but the thought of eating it would have killed me. In a second, Mohawd and co. all came back after succeeding in the toilet department and the paish was back in the bowl. Result! ‘Shesh?’ Everyone asked. Yes, yes, I was definitely finished and I smiled, nodded and rubbed my belly. It was now 3pm. Where was the bloody car? Swiftly after lunch, we were ushered into the lounge area and everyone sat around me as they offered me a TIME magazine and watched me as I flicked through it. No idea why. Novelty of someone English reading an English magazine? Then, Mohwad decided to strike up a conversation about me feet. Yes, my feet. He commented on my painted toenails so everyone started staring at my feet as I tried desperately not to curl my toes away in embarrassment. Mohwad kept saying I had beautiful feet and that he wanted to buy me a gold anklet when we got back to Dhaka. What in the!? Time to go. No really, time to GO! Did this old guy have a foot fetish? Yikes! Where was the effing car? Then, more men started coming to the flat, obviously relatives all greeting me with the usual ‘Asalam Mayakums’ and sitting around the living room, one by one. Thankfully their arrival distracted everyone from me and my feet but I was starting to get anxious. A 30 minute flight was turning into a never-ending journey. I needed to get to Khulna damn it, but now I was stuck in some random house outside Jessore, waiting for some random car. Ah, this is Bangladesh, as Borhan would say! Eventually, after about an hour or so, I must have looked bored and everyone thought my boredom ‘look’ resembled tiredness so they were about to try and get me to nap in someone’s bed(!) but thankfully that’s when the car arrived. Phew! I was suddenly ushered out of the house, everyone in tow and crowding around to say goodbye.The driver got out and spoke with Mohwad briefly as Mohwad pulled out his wallet and gave him 1500 Taka. Yikes. 1500 Taka? That’s a lot of money in Bangladesh. I know how much it was because 1000 notes are pink and 500s are purple. A gal never forgets the colour pink. As this exchange took place, I looked over at Mohawk and he caught my eye. I gestured as if to give him some money but he shook his head insistently, no. Iknew not to insult him in front of everyone by causing a fuss so I just smiled and mouthed thank you. After my bags were put into the car, I thanked everyone one by one and bid them all a formal farewell saying, ‘Khoda Hafez’ (Peace be with you). I was also careful not to shake anyone’s hands- it’s major a faux pas for women to shake hands with Muslim men, especially in the south west which is more religious. BUT, all of a sudden as I said good bye to Mohwad, he dove in for a massive hug and as I hugged him back awkwardly and pulled back, he pulled me towards him AGAIN and went in fora KISS ON THE LIPS! For REAL, a kiss on the LIPS! I couldn’t bloody believe it! Thankfully, I reacted quickly and turned my cheek so he suckered me there instead but I was mortified! Not only did he do that in front of EVERYONE but this man is Muslim, doing this to a foreign white woman more andhe is about 70 YEARS OLD!!! I quickly got into the car, red as a tomato, and told the driver to go go go! I didn’t dare turn around after we drove off but looked towards the passenger seat. Another man I hadn’t met yet was sitting there and told me he would be my escort to Khulna because they didn’t trust a young male driver to take me there safely alone (He said this in English to me so the driver couldn’t understand). Oh God, I thought, an ‘escort’? When will this journey END? My English ’escort’ was a nice enough man though, and bless him, he had traveled all the way from Khulna to Jessore to get me, and then back again - a total of 4 hours. But, the man would not shut up the whole way and he was making me car sick. I don’t know if it was his rambling, the incredible bumpy road (which I’m normally pretty used to by now), or the fat curry and paish rolling around inmy stomach but I suddenly got a pang that I was going to be sick. Immediately. ‘Tamen!!!’, I shouted, and the driver slammed on the breaks. I got out of the car, hiccupping fat curry and paish, standing on the side of the dirt road in the middle of complete nowhere. How did I get here? Really.It was just any old Tuesday afternoon and there I was, somewhere on the side of the road in rural Bangladesh, about to puke from eating fat - a girl just trying to get from A to B for God‘s sake. If I has been back in Toronto, I’d probably be stuck in a meeting or sending some monotonous clientemail. How life had changed. Anyway, after some haaad hiccups, thankfully I wasn’t sick but I had to sit in the front of the car for the rest of the journey, seat right back, eyes closed, praying to get to Khulna ASAP. When we finally arrived, Lesa got me to her flat immediately and we cracked a bottle of wine. Ah, just what the doctor ordered. Thankfully the rest of my week there was nice and chilled out. We cooked together, hung out on the rooftop, went to the market and she showed me around. As the trip was coming to an end, I was dreading the journey back to Dhaka - considering the journey I had on the way there - but sometimes karma kicks in and I got home without a hitch. Even though my ‘sugar daddy’ Mohwad called and texted me a few times since I saw him that fateful day, I haven’t heard from him since. I honestly can’t be in contact with that man. Seriously. Maybe he thought my payment to him for the ride from Jessore to Khulna was getting a bit of ‘action’ but seriously, it’s going to cost more than 1500 Taka! Haha. Ewww. Sorry, that’s gross.