#4 Bangladesh, Jan. 30, 2009

Dear Everybody,

Bamm!! What was that? I was awakened from sleep in my first class cabin on the Rocket, the 1929-built paddleboat that was to take me from Khulna to Dhaka. It was already delayed by 24 hours due to fog. After fits and starts, wrong offices and long waits, I had finally procured my ticket and boarded the boat at 10:00 PM on Tuesday night.

First class had 12 cabins for two persons each with communal bathrooms except for the one they offered me which had one bed and an attached bathroom, called the VIP cabin. Actually I was alone in first class. The separated top, foredeck area appeared sort of ‘run-down 1890’s’ with its common (dining) room with windows at the front overlooking the deck.

I woke up when the motors started and the boat began moving at exactly 2:45 AM as scheduled. I went back to sleep until I heard the bamm!! When I got up at 7:00 AM, I noticed that the boat was listing a little and then was told there had been an ‘accident.’ Because of the fog, the captain had accidently smashed the boat into one of the piers of the Rupsa Bridge. Judas Priest!! I had just watched “Titanic” on TV two nights earlier, plus, as I leaned over the deck railing to survey the damage, I couldn’t help but think of the recurring news reports of Bangladeshi ferries sinking with 300 deaths!

After a while the plan was to remove the passengers with small boats from the village on shore. Getting in the small boat was no easy feat for me since the boat was four feet below the deck on which I was  standing. I flopped into the boat as did about 20 others and we were ferried to shore. Unfortunately we landed and had to disembarque on a steep rocky bank, covered with squishy mud. I enlisted a young man to carry my pack as I struggled up the slippery rocks, only falling once, which pretty much muddied me from head to toe—luckily I wasn’t hurt. As we walked through the small village, the young man asked a local if I could wash up and I was led to a pump where I did the best I could with the mud. The young man and I got a rickshaw driver to pedal mightily about 5 to 6 miles as he took us to the Khulna bus station.

I boarded a nice bus for Dhaka that left at 10:30 AM, which was scheduled to take seven hours (and did when I came to Khulna). Unfortunately we had to wait nearly four hours for the ferry because of heavy traffic, then crawled into and through Dhaka, arriving at my hotel at 11:30 PM, 13 hours later! A very nice English-speaking young man on the bus saw me to my hotel and helped me with logistics throughout the day, but I did kind of think this day would never end. Well, all’s well that ends well.

One day I decided that I had enough as a teetotaler and so had lunch with a martini preceding it at the Sheraton Hotel. The untasty gin was Bombay Safire (???)—do you suppose I have forgotten what gin tastes like? The Italian pasta was fine. I also found some postcards in their shop to send to the grandchildren—first postcards I’ve seen in three weeks.

Mahmud, my Lonely Planet Internet friend, invited me to his house for lunch today. His wife had cooked a superb meal with dishes of fish, chicken, crayfish, eggs, beet greens and salad eaten over rice, of course. Mahmud, his wife and five-year-old son live in a many storey new apartment building quite a ways from Old Dhaka. His brother, Mahfus, came to my hotel to pick me up. Mahmud is Chief of Marketing for a paper products company. They have a boy ‘helper’ from Mahmud’s home town that lives with them. Bangladeshis are so hospitable—I read that they were, and it’s certainly true.

Tomorrow I am again spending the day with Rina’s brother and wife. We will have lunch at their house and then go north of Dhaka for an outing. Sunday I start my four-day Sundarbans tour, so it’s THEN, after that, if you don’t hear from me, think

THE TIGERS!

All for now,

Carol

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