There is a downside. Were we to stop abruptly or, God forbid, collide with another vehicle, I would have been doing my Superman impression through the front windshield (And no there weren't any safety belts). Just watching events unfold up close like that can be a tad distressing. Having read about the horrendous accident statistics in Bangladesh does little to quell one’s anxiety. Best to just close your eyes and find a happy place.
I arrived in Jessore in the late afternoon/early evening and found a room that can best be described as an upmarket prison cell. As it was clean and there was no chance of being sodomized I was more than satisfied. Besides, what can you expect for $2?
The streets of Jessore are like a carnival without clowns (unless you count me). Not so many motorized vehicles but a glut of rickshaws all ringing their bells incessantly (it is a little like walking through the slot machine section of a casino). The bells are actually attached to the front wheel somehow (to the front brake I think) so every time they engage the brake an angel gets its wings. At night it is even more of a circus. Situational awareness is a must. My ability to blend was compromised by my very existence. As one man passed me on the street he shook my hand without warning, said ‘Thank you’, and continued on his way. I believe that ‘thank’ and ‘you’ are probably the only words in his English vocabulary. Perhaps, ‘hello’ was his intended greeting. Or he was thanking me for simply being there, for visiting his country. Who knows?
Later, as I stood on the corner wearing my signature ‘Where the hell am I’ expression I heard the words “Hello handsome” from my left flank. I turned to see a gentleman working behind a street side pharmacy counter with a rather large smile on his face. I returned the greeting (minus the ‘handsome’) and moved along. I am fairly certain that more language barrier issues were at play.
Overt manifestations of homosexual innuendo are frowned upon on the streets of predominantly Muslim countries. I assume he was merely being hospitable. Then again, I am pretty f***ing irresistible.
It was at dinner that I had one of those ‘WTF are you doing?’ moments. At that point in my journey I was not sure where to catch the bus south, where I was going to stay when I arrived in Munshigonj, or even whether or not I would definitely be able to hire a boat to visit the Sundarbans. I also knew that the buses from this point would be of the ‘local’ variety. Did I really want to put myself through hours, if not days, of discomfort and possible agony for a venture that had no guaranteed result? I considered getting on a night bus and heading right back to Dhaka. I was even at the counter inquiring as to schedule. In the end I relented and forged on. Had I balked I believe I would have kicked my own ass for being a pussy. And I would have deserved it.
The next morning I decided I would eat breakfast and investigate bus options. The streets were fairly deserted as it was Friday (that being the day of rest in Islam). However, I did meet a few locals that took a quite an interest in the lanky fellow. A conversation ensued whose gist still remains a mystery to me. I believe a gentleman was telling me he owns a shop across the street and wanted me to visit. Or he wanted copies of the pictures I was requested to snap of all the onlookers (including him).
Folks love having their picture taken and showing them the results on the camera LCD tickles them pink. In the restaurant where I had breakfast a member of the staff was most helpful and was kind enough to hail a rickshaw driver and direct me to the correct bus station (every town has several). At the station people were falling all over themselves attempting to assist me. I mentioned the town ‘Satkhira’ and an entourage of touts, station workers, and fellow passengers were at my service. I was lead to the correct ticket counter and even shown my seat by the tout (a bus attendant that collects money and announces the buses destination along the way). The seats on this bus were designed by the same folks that showed Dorothy the yellow brick road. Gulliver would certainly emphasize. It was impossible for me to sit without putting my legs in the aisle. That would have been fine if not for the apparent attempt at setting a new capacity record. Out of necessity my bag was at the front of the bus next to the driver. I think even sardines may have taken issue with the space limitations.
More friendliness. More pictures. I arrived at the bus station in Satkhira to a similar scenario. More people dying to help and pleading for a photograph. The man who sold me my ticket bought me a snack and shook my hand no less than three times. At one point I had an entourage of twenty or so individuals hanging on my every move (this was to repeat itself at regular intervals).
I had little to fear from these folks. I even left my bag on the bus while a kind gentleman showed me the way to the toilet. If I’d asked he probably would have carried me. The bus to Munshigonj was much the same, a packed clown car scheme. People, chickens, and whatever else you can imagine placed on the roof. Frequent stops with a never ending salvo of horn honking, side-banging (telling the driver to stop, move on, or some other seemingly endless barrage of indecipherable signals), and folks shifting in and out of our papier-mâché bondo jalopy. On this leg of my sojourn I was invited to someone’s home. He was most intrigued by me. I was tempted but figured I should probably keep moving. I'm an idiot. At one point a guy grabbed my knee to show his friend how much of an accomplished contortionist I was by not only shoving myself into the window seat but also simultaneously holding onto my bag. I’m very talented.
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'Love me or hate me, but spare me your indifference.' -- Libbie Fudim