Out of the frying pan and into the fire…
Ever since arriving in Bangladesh I’ve been feeling an uneasy sense of expectance. This is a hot country. I don’t need Michael Fish to tell me this. According to reports on the internet, temperatures have fluctuated between highs of 35°c (95°f) and ‘lows’ of 30°c (86°f) for the past few weeks now. Before I left the UK this had been one of my primary concerns, wondering how my body would cope with the extreme levels of heat and humidity that would likely suck the life right out of my pale, weak, frame. I’m not used to extremes. I’m equipped to deal only with conditions that we mortals classify as ‘moderate’ or ‘average’ or at a push, ‘satisfactory’. I’m English and therefore thrive on reports which forecast overcast conditions, perhaps with some light drizzle and a spot of early morning mist that lingers for a while before eventually clearing to leave a vast grey carpet in the sky and temperatures that instigate the question, ‘Do I need a cagoule or will a lightweight sweater suffice?!’
So I prepared both mentally and physically for months of heat-related torment. I imagined that I’d cut a forlorn figure standing in front of my students wilting in the burning furnace of the classroom, bombarded with questions about the present perfect tense and why we say trousers, lorries and bum bags when across the Atlantic our American friends say pants, trucks and fanny packs! It led to one or two sleepless nights let me tell you. Yet, as is often** the case in life, our worst fears are merely enacted in our minds and never actually break free into the ‘real’ world and so as I sit and write this update, I do so in absolute comfort with a cup of coffee, some George Harrison tunes and the cool, gentle, reassuring breeze of the air conditioning.
I did however experience my first taste of the Bangladeshi oven a few days ago. A three day weekend marked the nation’s New Year and so myself and a few other teachers set off for the southern settlement of Cox’s Bazar, a coastal town that boasts the world’s longest natural sandy beach. Locals are so proud of this fact they’ve campaigned for it to be recognised as the eighth wonder of the world. Their wish has not yet been granted and if the horrific building projects that are taking place in the town centre which resemble a South Asian version of Benidorm continue, I doubt they ever will. Fortunately we stayed thirty minutes outside of town in a small, remote eco-resort.
It was a pleasant trip south from Chittagong and the journey marked my first expedition to an area outside of the urban sprawl of the city. As our bus jerked and spluttered its way out of the metropolis we passed over the Karnaphuli River which originates in the hills of India and zigzags its way through Bangladesh and after reaching its mouth in Chittagong it flows out into the Bay of Bengal. One of the simple and quite obvious pleasures of travelling is actually catching a glimpse of something you may have previously only stared at on a map. The Bay of Bengal is a familiar yet mysteriously intriguing name and here I was sat on a bus observing the vital role it plays in the lives of local people. A rickety old vessel had docked on the banks of the river and a flimsy yet surprisingly robust plank provided a gangway as a mass of locals hurriedly collected sacks of rice from the boat. Nearby a group of kids took an early morning dip in the river whilst further on a herd of cows rehydrated themselves.
The weekend was peaceful, relaxing and therefore a contrast to life in Chittagong. We caused intrigue on the beach as local kids came out to address their curiosity as the area is tucked well away from the Western tourist trap, like much of Bangladesh I gather. It was the journey home though when I really first encountered the energy-sapping force of the sun. We took a non-air conditioned bus and this was relatively ok on the more open roads but any brief halt in motion and the open windows seemed to suck in a suffocating, relentless molten air. This was manageable to a certain extent but once we reached the outskirts of Chittagong it became a little hard to bear. As the photos below testify, the city’s congestion causes near gridlock and when you’re in transit there’s no escape. You’re effectively baking in a large, bus-shaped oven. It took almost an hour to reach our flats and by this time I felt about ready to surrender to the power of the big orange thing in the sky. I climbed the six storeys to my flat, stumbled through the door and crawled to my room, and there waiting for me was that heavenly switch. One flick and the small green light illuminates. The vents open and the box makes a clunking sound before a mild humming resonates around the room. I fell into my chair, grabbed my water and waited for the cool air to fill the space around me. I’d survived my first real experience of the Bangladeshi heat and I had mixed feelings. On the one hand I’d survived, but on the other hand I realised just how completely unaccustomed my body is to these extremities. Why do I always end up in these hot countries….
**But not always – there are situations where our worst fears do invade our real lives. For example, Plymouth Argyle going into financial meltdown and falling two divisions in two years. Finding out that Ben Fogle is not a member of the aristocracy or that he will no longer present Crufts. The day neighbours moved to Channel Five. The day PJ and Duncan officially became Ant and Dec and finally, that fateful day in Rwanda when the already large and plentiful ants decided to grow wings and attack me from the air making me a prisoner in my own mosquito net!