For my new readers…
I have a category called Out of Scope… where the topic is not our Wyoming ranch or my children or my dogs. The topics are provided by my cousin who occasionally blesses us with an email about his world travels.
I find his observations unique, mind-expanding, and curious. I hope you enjoy today’s installment as well! Choose more Out of Scope entries on the left of this blog.
I wish I could post ALL of his photos… but I’ll just choose a few, so don’t miss them at the end!
Burton Calling – So You Wanna be Famous!?
No problem! Just make your next holiday…..Bangladesh! Nearly every moment filled with culture shock, intense and passionate interactions with people and being the absolute center of attention every second of every day.
Bangladesh is a country that is strictly Muslim, third-world, newly democratized and seldomly visited – about as far from the USA in culture as it is in distance. Experiencing a month there was incredible. A good perspective to try and begin to understand would be to say that I did not see ONE other foreign tourist the entire month – just me. And one couldn’t exaggerate the focus on a “white guy” going from village to village, learning, laughing and sharing.
Exploring three of the four corners of this fabulous country gives me more than enough fodder for priceless stories – I truly wish each of you could have spent any of a few hours with me, as that would be all it takes for sensory overload, mentally and physically. And traveling nearly the whole way by local bus – it was a feat that, in my humble view, few westerners could EVER have finished. It literally wore me down to the emblematic bone.
Only in the largest cities was I not followed by groups of people every moment of every day – some demanding to try and converse or be seen, some just wanting my attention, most just wanting to stare (some for minutes, some for hours). You have to understand that overt staring, touching and invading your personal bubble is NOT thought of as inconsiderate – making it MY cultural problem, not theirs. Even after India and Nepal, I didn’t know the intensity of staring until Bangladesh.
How about a list of moments that would make even a seasoned traveler scream bloody murder (which I did on several occasions):
- Groups of kids dragging you around screaming and laughing, tearing your clothes, pulling you to the ground, never losing full intensity – until pulled off by the group of adults staring and laughing behind them;
- Sitting for tea where groups of men (only) would physically not let you leave as they have further staring and questioning (but only ten words of English to get through an hour);
- Grown men wanting to be the one holding your hand as you walk through town like a parade;
- Groups of people (and waiters) standing around your every meal (within one foot) watching you eat every bite (fingers only, remember);
- The entire local bus enthralled in watching you get out and pee on a long ride (makes it really hard to go until you actually get used to a hundred people watching you pee or squat on a rice patty);
- NEVER being on a local bus where you aren’t physically squashed from every angle EVERY moment (sometimes for hours) – Oh, and it’s really hot and sticky – Yummy;
- Bus drivers forcing old women and women with babies to stand in the isles of buses (sometimes very long trips) so I can sit – and never understanding why I give the seat back to them ever;
- Asking about the location of a local site/market/place to sleep or eat (to the group, of course), then having most of them go with you to make sure you arrive (and arrive “safely”).
Of course, there was not one unsafe moment my entire time in Bangladesh. Accept, maybe during an army/paramilitary mutiny in the country where they were killing each other on purpose (mass graves) as well as a few innocent bystanders – but I snuck back into the city that day through back roads, like all the fearful citizens.
Even the upper/middle class was glad to see me! For an example (many times): Eight people would stop a car (made for four) in traffic, anytime, in order to get a mobile camera photo of themselves with the funny white guy walking down the road with a backpack…
A couple of the more interesting cultural differences: If a man has sex with any woman, even ten years before he is married, he is not “pure” and brings shame to him, his wife and both families. I spoke with countless men in their 20’s that had never kissed or touched a woman. HOWEVER, it is very normal to see grown men holding hands, walking arm in arm down the street, sleeping on one another in a chair (spooning in the park on a lazy afternoon), etc. Try to imagine your dad and your father-in-law holding hands at your next reunion! It takes some getting used to. You see the same in India, but not to such a degree. I fought my own social norms quite often when men would shake my hand and not let go – or the gentle touches from men when they believe we were now friends. It’s trying to grasp a whole new level of “platonic!”
Many times, the only way I had the energy to get through this was spending most of the day “fighting the friendliness” (and endless cups of tea) then spending the remainder of the day where ever I was sleeping (guest house/local family) – trying not to think about the group that was sitting outside waiting for me to go out again (or knocking). In three villages, my “fans” slept outside waiting for my morning to arrive.
Now, being one that never cared for fame, I kept thinking that I could never dream of being important enough to deserve the excruciating attention that descended on me nearly every moment of every day. And I’m quite sure that Brad Pitt doesn’t deserve it……
And considering only a very few knew more than ten worlds of English, imagine the countless uncomfortable silences over a month’s time – much less finding ways to eat, sleep, travel, find historical sites, etc. I dealt with it by understanding the truth I learned from the few that were fluent in English. They told me that the people feel “lucky” to have seen, smiled, touched and/or talked to me because it’s something very exciting in their otherwise (mostly subsistent farming) proud but simple lives. They said, “You can be sure that you will be talked about over many meals to come.” Many people did enjoy telling me the last time they saw a “white person,” however far back it was.
Bangladesh is an amazing country and full of superlatives:
- It is the most densely populated country in the world (Half the population of the US in about ten percent of the size)
- It has the longest beach in the world (78 miles long – nearly all undeveloped);
- It has the largest mangrove forest (Sunderbans) in the world (I saw Royal Tiger footprints less than six hours old on a perfect white sand beach);
- It has the largest ship-breaking yard in the world on a beach (see pictures);
- It has the friendliest people I have ever known (and very proud) – yet the per capital income is about $500 (over 100 million of 150 million living on less than $2/day);
- Like India, every Bangladeshi over the age of 18 was politically savvy and knew about Bush and Obama (more than our kids, by miles) Politics is huge – even at the rice-patty-village level; even with a 45% literacy level);
- I didn’t see one form of liquor during my travels;
- I didn’t see one woman’s leg – even on the beach, in the water. NO ANKLES in thirty days! That alone would drive us westerners to drink! I swam at the beach like the others, in my shirt and long pants. Longest beach – No sunbathing;
- The only real conversations I had with women were in the colleges and universities that I was always invited to visit. Most women “don’t get out much” outside of the major cities;
- Not one person in the whole country was ever mean to me – they love the idea of the USA and never stopped saying: “Ahhh Amarika!” We should remember to love our country so much.
If fact, whether in India, Nepal or Bangladesh, most locals in general look at us travelers as “guests” and truly understand that their actions reflect on their nation. I cannot count the number of times in six months where someone has said: “Welcome to my country.” This is a HUGE lesson in the pride, consideration and importance one person can have to make the world a better place. It humbles me every time I hear it.
So if you long for fame without the hassle of actually earning it (or dealing with the paparazzi), book your next holiday to Bangladesh – but leave your swimsuit (and expectations of comfort) at home.
(p.s. If all this sounds like too much – you preferring romance, swaying palms, long idealic beaches, tall umbrella drinks, surf and brown skin – check out my pictures of Goa, India (where I am writing this from…a vacation from my vacation )).
Best wishes to each of you….R
The Palace at Mysore, India
A friendly crowd in Bangladesh.
elegant boat ride… not R’s!
favorite.. and R’s…
I hope you enjoyed this Out of Scope segment! Back to ranchlife tomorrow!