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  • Writer's pictureLouise Clover

The Chronicles of Dhaka # 1

One minute I was training for the marathon - the next, I was on an Emirates flight bound for Dubai, and then onto Dhaka. Crazy, eh?

I have to admit I was feeling pretty sorry for myself as we left Dubai and I was surrounded by people who clearly thought I was an alien (they're not wrong), and a strange little fellow from Copenhagen introduced himself as the only fellow westerner, and I got further and further away from home and J and the kids ... However, as soon as the plane comes into land over the paddy fields, palm trees, and the rainbow colours of trucks and saris, I sit up and gasp: this is Breath-taking Bangladesh. Having being reprimanded by a surly immigration officer that I have the wrong papers, nevertheless, I am waved through to a baggage hall piled high with abandoned bags, plus two conveyor belts spewing out luggage from the same flight, requiring passengers to play British Bulldog between the two.

The welcome sight of my huge black case finally judders into view and I head outside to look for my pre-booked driver. Who isn't there. Although several thousand others are, up against the airport railings, baying a welcome – it’s like being at a Millwall match in a greenhouse. It transpires that a BBC bigwig had nicked my driver, so I have to wait for an hour, sweating, being bayed at, and coerced by lots of helpful men, until he eventually reappears – with a garland of flowers and a massive grin.

Anyway. Then the adventure really starts as we shoot into Dhaka’s traffic, narrowly missing rust-ridden trucks with no lights or brakes, weave round jam-packed buses with people squeezed onto roofs and hanging out of doors and windows, and carve up hundreds of rickshaws and tuc-tucs, as well as motorbikes carrying four passengers apiece. Everyone uses their horn, and no one gives way. The more I gasp, the funnier my driver finds it. Oh-my-god. This is it:


Thankfully, I don’t die, and now it's Day 4 and the week has been mad and the people here are amazing and I've only had one bad tummy and only been bitten by mossies 44 times.

The BBC produces a clutch of programmes here, made by UK and local teams, which includes a whopping great drama, and it is my remit to make a fun English language-learning support programme with oversized mallets and Jeux Sans Frontier costumes. Part of this show is to be made up mountains and in forests where there are cyclones and floods and power cuts and killer diseases. And, as for every camera, you get FIVE camera assistants, during the tour I can choose to share a bed with three of them, if I so wish. (To sleep).

For a country where there is no alcohol - there is alcohol. There are 'clubs': the International Club, and the rather posh American Club, and then there’s the BAGHA Club (The British Aid Guest House Association Club), which is full of red-faced British barflies and serves chips. It’s also the cheapest, so I’ll probably join there.

Get this, my apartment comes with a maid! Now, this isn’t as disgustingly imperialistic as it sounds, because many households here rely on the support of outside labour. Okay, labour is cheap and sometimes, appallingly, free; eight-year-old house girls are still forced into servitude by those without an ounce of moral integrity. But just to reassure any doubters, my maid is paid a proper rate and she’s very bossy. In fact, she’s the boss. Also, having a driver is essential, because every time you step outside, it’s like being at Silverstone. In a race. And no one walks, hence the plethora of buses, taxis and rickshaws.

Yesterday, I was taken on a shopping trip. As we drove into a compound, a vast gate slid shut behind us and we were escorted into a building that was the Gucci of Booze. In an elegant marble room, bottles are displayed in glass cabinets and, having made your selection, you’re ushered into another room where a very serious little man checks your passport, takes your money, and points towards the warehouse (think tatty Majestic). Here, they load your boxes into the back of your car, the gate swishes back, and the taciturn guards martial you out. Apparently, it's legal-ish.

When I took the job, the BBC didn't quite alert me to all the dangers out here – i.e., the storms and the dodgy electricity, oh, and the fact a massive billboard fell on a car and took out three people this week. The car’s still there, on the side of the road. I have been reassured that these accidents are fairly rare.

It's the weekend now (Fri/Sat) and I'm thinking of going down to the BAGHA club, but it means taking a rickshaw for the first time, and I'm not sure I'm feeling that brave yet ... I'll let you know how I get on ...

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