844 days, 20,256 hours, 1,215,360 minutes, or 72,921,600 seconds. That is the approximate duration of my world tour. I never wanted it to end and now, in a manner of speaking, I suppose it never has to. If you wish to go by country do so by clicking on one above. They are numbered in the order I visited them, more or less. If you enjoy reading about it even a tenth as much as I enjoyed living it then you will not have wasted your time. Grab a refreshing beverage, settle in a comfortable chair, and make a journey across the world, experiencing it as I did. Then get off your ass and check it out for yourself. You're not getting any younger.

Munshigonj (Khulna Division, Bangladesh)

Jan 20th, 2010 - So I arrived in Munshigonj in the afternoon at around 2:30 pm.  Along the way more than one person assured me there would be lodging available in the village but when I stepped off the bus I was not so sure. I asked about a hotel and was directed to a yellow building a few hundred feet down the road.  As I stood out front there seemed to be some confusion, among those to whom I made inquiries, as to whether or not the building I was looking at was in fact a hotel.  Some thought yes, others no. I found this perplexing to say the least. I thought maybe the establishment was undergoing a transition period.  I discovered later that there are subtle differences between the terms ‘hotel’ and ‘guesthouse’.  My use of ‘hotel’ created a bit of bemusement as the structure in question was actually a ‘guesthouse’ managed by an NGO (Shushilan) spearheading an effort to promote organic shrimp farming.  Potato, potatoe.

After the building identification stage of my quest was complete it was time to discuss availability. More confusion. A call was made and I was lead to believe that whoever makes these sorts of decisions would turn up shortly. My backpack was placed in an office and I was given a chair outside. So I sat and waited. And then I waited some more. While I waited there were some locals milling about giving me the once over…a few hundred times. One of these was a child no older than nine years old with a shirt that read ‘I’m not just having hot flashes, I’m having power surges’' adorned with a large pink lightning bolt.  He didn’t look menopausal but I’m no doctor.  Who the hell is the target demographic for that line of apparel?

After about an hour and a half of waiting for someone who never did show up I was asked if I’d eaten lunch. I replied in the negative and was shown upstairs to a simple dining room containing a table with some food that looked as if it had been sitting there a while. Having little choice and taking care not to offend I shoveled down the lot including some fish (reference ‘sitting there a while’ comment).  While I ate I had no less than five people staring at me in silence whilst I dined.  In fact, I had at least one observer/attendant at every meal standing sentry over me for the duration.  I would chew and stare straight ahead zombie-like while a member of my fan club gazed with unabashed curiosity.  No complaints here. These folks were extremely accommodating and friendly although hardly a word of English was ever spoken. I have to say, though, that at times it was extremely difficult not to break the awkward silences with fits of maniacal laughter. 

After my feeding exhibition I was shown to a dorm style room. A clean sheet and pillow case were provided along with a relentless barrage of smiles.  At that point I had no idea as to the cost of a night’s lodging.  I would have asked but what the hell fun would that be? I was fairly certain I’d be able to manage the price. Earlier, as I was waiting downstairs for the man who didn’t show up I met a Bengali photojournalist and a French female working for a magazine that indeed confirmed the guesthouse nature of the establishment. 

I don’t believe I ever actually met someone with any kind of authority but I cannot be certain. I was just thankful to have a place to stay, quirkiness and all. Speaking of quirkiness while I was in my room planning the rest of the afternoon one of the folks that was so helpful with arranging the room and my lunch came a knocking at my door. After requesting to enter with a perfect, “May I come in?” he stepped inside, watched me writing in my notebook for a few minutes, and then departed. “May I come in?” was the extent of our conversation. I am becoming so accustomed to these types of encounters that any feeling of awkwardness has depreciated significantly.  There is an element of pressure to these interactions as I always feel a little obligated to do something extraordinary, to put on some sort of show if you will.  Juggling fireballs, pulling a rabbit out of my ass, or shadow puppets would all seem appropriate at these times. On some level I feel like I am disappointing my fans. 

I figured I would walk into the village and make inquires about hiring a boat into the Sundarbans. I had a feeling this was going to be somewhat of an ordeal. I was not mistaken. While speaking with Panos (the Bengali photojournalist I met) I heard more interesting tidbits about the notorious local tiger population. He, as in Panos, is afraid to go into the nearby forest and assures me that he is a fairly intrepid fellow (he invited me to check out his website as proof). Apparently, Mr. Khan is not adverse to swimming across the river and trespassing in people’s homes. One such incident saw the stripped marauder enter someone’s abode and kill a number of goats. I thought attacks were confined to very small groups of people or solo incursions into the forest but according to Panos a tiger once attacked an individual accompanied by thirteen others. He’s spoken to many survivors and highlighted a story of a man who yanked on the tigers tongue to escape its clutches (interesting defense technique). Hearing this lead me to believe that potential boatman would be universally stoked about entering the mangrove. Bonus.

I also met a Nepali man that was visiting for the day with his Bengali friend (both living in Dhaka). They had just taken a short tour of the Sundarbans. I asked him where I too could hire one of these boats. He pointed in a direction and uttered the words ‘over there’ (Panos the Journalist provided similarly specific directions). ‘Over there’ has no fewer than 1,245, 689 different translations depending where in the world you find yourself. I should have insisted on specifics but considering the size of the village how hard could it be, right? 

So I went for a stroll into town and, as you would expect, all eyes were upon me. It just so happened that a man who had been on the same bus into town came over to talk with me. His inability to speak English coupled with my ignorance of Bengali did nothing to discourage him from behaving as if these factors were of little consequence. I attempted to communicate my desire to hire a boat for a cruise into the Sundarbans which I believe I did manage to convey. We initially strolled to the nearby riverbank (where I surmised ‘over there’ was located) and did a lot of pointing at boats moored close by, the forest across the river, and various other landmarks.  I felt no closer to my goal. On the way we passed an informal cricket match so I stopped to have a look. Folks became fairly giddy at my arrival. A couple of photos, a lot of waving, and we moved on.

Back in the center I was treated to my first of what would be many tea breaks over the next couple of days. As I sat there sipping tea out of a shot glass villagers began to gather and the ogling commenced. Once again I focused all my powers of self-restraint in efforts to avoid bursting into laughter. It ain’t easy. After a few minutes of sipping tea and nodding in response to numerous indecipherable statements a representative was chosen to step forward and engage the alien. He was wearing a bright yellow track suit and what appeared to be an intractable smile. The usual interrogative ensued: What country? How old? How many siblings? What you think Bangladesh? What your level of education? What is your job? Why are you here? How long?

Guy-I-Met-On-The-Bus is standing to the right

Yellow-Track-Suit-Guy is in the middle

After providing what I assume to be satisfactory answers I took this opportunity to inquire about hiring a boat. I was told it was possible but was unable to figure out where this possibility was actually possible. Unfortunately, the only information of substance that yellow track suit guy could actually convey was how excellent he spoke English.

After tea time guy-I-met-on-the-bus brought me to a small dock and what appeared to be some sort of office. He pointed to a few small boats moored nearby and seemed to be telling me this is the place where I could hire the boat. However, due to the late hour it was clear that negotiations would have to wait until tomorrow as the ‘office’ was closed and nobody was around. So what could be done? More tea of course. Again I found myself sipping tea under the curious eye of village folk of all ages. I think I should mention that with the exception of a single occurrence I never paid for the tea. My hosts consistently refused to accept compensation. Granted, a glass of tea goes for about 5 cents but to these people that is not altogether insignificant.

After our second tea interval it was time for another leisurely stroll. By now we were joined by two of his friends. We walked along the picturesque elevated paths/roads that bisect the fish farms, rice fields, and tributaries in the Bangladeshi countryside. For the most part this country is as flat as a petrified pancake. It is hard to imagine life here during the monsoon as flooding is a serious problem.  Although I trailed in the rear and took no part in the conversation I really enjoyed the walk. The area emanates a rare form of bucolic beauty that is difficult to describe but easy to soak up. 

Not far out of the village I said farewell to guy-I-met-on-the-bus and one of his friends as their homes were in the opposite direction. I was accompanied by the youngest of the trio who saw fit to walk me back to my guesthouse. Along the way we made a stop for what has to be one of the most random moments of my life. He brought me to a small shop with a computer out front. After a short discussion I was lead to the back to what I soon recognized as the village portrait studio. My new friend wanted a souvenir so he brought me to this shop to have a photo taken. And just to punctuate the random nature of the encounter we posed with a stuffed tiger kept specifically for the purpose. On this trip that was as close as I was going to get to Mr. Khan.

After my photo session I returned to my room at the guesthouse. Not long after arriving I was escorted to dinner, served a tasty meal of curry and rice, scrutinized with scientific alacrity, and then allowed to return to my room for some shut eye. Quite a day.

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'Love me or hate me, but spare me your indifference.' -- Libbie Fudim