By Minna Raitapuro As I stepped out sleepy from the airplane two weeks ago, the warm breath of air welcomed me to Bangladesh. The crowed arrival hall in the airport was totally packed with people waiting and I could hardly see the end of the queues on the other side of the hall. The walls of the entrance hall were full of colorful commercials, but the picture of a rural girl reading something in the candlelight captured my attention: “Turn your aspirations into achievements with Dutch-Bangla Bank´s Tk 1.02 Billion Annual Scholarship.” I stared at the poster for a moment and understood that my three months fieldwork had started right there.
Dhaka is such a multi-faced city full of life, that it was impossible to fix my gaze anywhere during my first auto rickshaw ride to the meeting in the city. So much was constantly happening around me: city dwellers rushing to their destinations, beggars sitting on the side of the roads, little caravans parked here and there serving street food besides the hectic traffic, to which I could dedicate the entire post. I´m amazed by the talent with which people drive their vehicles and take over others without crushing into each other in the jammed streets. While I was having difficulties to focus on something in all those on-goings in the streets, I was myself immediately spotted wherever I went. All the direct looks and staring I attracted made me feel intimidated at first, but after a few days I started to relax and respond to people´s endless inquires about my name, what I am doing here and where I come from. Never before did I witness such a celebrity-like feeling, and since there was not much I could do about it, why not to enjoy all that sudden attention then?
After the first week I left busy, dusty and loud Dhaka behind and headed to the Garo villages in the North of the country. You can hardly tell when the suburbs of Dhaka end and other districts start, since the view from the bus window is equally full of people shivering by the fire, opening their little stores and driving rickshaws, motorbikes and bicycles. You indeed notice that this country is among the most densely populated countries in the world. Having passed hours in the bus we reached the last bus stop in Haluagat, about which my tourist guidebook says: “there is nothing in there, so you might want not to go there”. But who trusts the guidebooks anyway. The journey continued on motorbikes, as we crossed numerous rice paddies and little villages with mud-wall houses before reaching the final destination, the Garo village called Askipara near Indian border. What a peaceful and beautiful place! This clean and charming little village with its slow life-style formed such a huge contrast with noisy and dirty Dhaka that traffic jams faced in the morning were suddenly only fading memories.
In the same evening I was already visiting families and listening to their stories about life in the village and their children’s plans to study in the cities – if they had not already left the village. Wherever my translator and I entered the following days, a cup of cha, sweet tea with milk, was immediately served and we were welcomed with genuine warmth. After the sunset bonfires were lit in each house, where people came together to warm up (yes, it is very cold in here during the nights!). I think there was no better way to end the days in the village than sitting together with the family who hosted us and listening to beautiful Garo songs by the fire.