Eventually we make it to Sandwip Island, where what seems to be half the boat is unloaded. Boatloads of goods come off too, and a few people come on. The crowd is much smaller in the transition, and we can actually stand on deck in relative peace. We remain docked here for two hours before we head to the next island.
While waiting for the boat to go, as I stood on the deck alone, a Muslim woman approached me, then another, and another. Suddenly I was encircled with women and their children. Knowing how rare and special of a moment this was, I chose to look pass my momentary dislike of people and stay with them. They are usually so hidden away, or at least so inaccessible, that this was a real treat.
They spoke quickly in Bangla, and I couldn’t understand them, but at times we still managed to understand each other. I managed to communicate that I was married, and that no, I didn’t have children. It seemed like they asked so many more questions, and I would have loved to have someone who could translate there with me. I think that we all wanted to find out more about each others. An 11-year-old stunning girl spoke some English, and got out some basic information about me to share with the others, but it wasn’t much. She just stood there beside me, happy to just be there.
After a while men joined us and started to ask me questions. A man, who said “hello” before every question, was most curious. He asked where I was from, what religion I was, what was my mother tongue and my mother country. He asked what my profession was. Then Travis came out of the room, and then all of the questions turned to him (I became “invisible” again – frankly I was glad to be ignore a little and to just exchanged smiles with my new young lady friend). The hello man liked to compliment Travis: he said that he looked clean, that his teeth looked nice, that his skin looked nice. He asked how he cleaned his head, potentially just inquiring as to where his hair went. It was a funny exchange. Eventually the hello man left, and then Travis. I stayed on deck until the young Muslim girl left, and retired to our room.
We arrived at Hatia Island at around 5 PM. Almost all of the boat unloaded here, and finally, we could breath. Standing outside, looking at the palm-fringed island, we talked of potential great Robinson Crusoe moments to be had there. The sun was setting, the breeze was nice, and the people coming to load the transport boats, friendly. I was finally enjoying myself. There was potential, now that we could actually hang out outside.
A new group of Muslim ladies approached me, and just hung out on the deck with me. The main talkative one, again in Bangla, got out of me where I was coming from and going, that I was married, and had no children. I asked her how many children she had: 3 girls and 1 boy, and 3 of them were here on the boat with her. Her kids had been staring at us a lot, but it took them at least 10 minutes to warm up to us (usually they warm up within seconds of passing us). The two girls were full of shy smiles, and seemed quite curious. The oldest, who must have been around 9 years old, had an embroidered hankie with her. I was able to ascertain that she had embroidered it herself, and her mom proudly explained that she had also embroidered her salwar kameez top herself. What a talented kid!
The whole time on the boat I had been refusing to take pictures with my camera. I was in a bad mood and I didn’t want the extra attention and excitement that it would have created. I missed out on a lot of great photos, but ultimately my sanity was more important than pictures. Still, I couldn’t resist grabbing a few shots of the red sun setting over the island.
Travis and I got talking about how bad we felt about being unfriendly today. Clearly the people had never meant harm in their interest, and we were sure that they didn’t intend nor realize that they were treating us like animals in a zoo. We came to this country, amazed by the possibility that we might see people who hadn’t seen white people in a long, long time. What were we expecting? For them to treat this rarity like an everyday occurrence? We also realized that most people had gotten off at both islands, which are not even in the guidebooks (aside from a mention of “untold adventures” to be had). Clearly they had been in town for some shopping and other affairs. Clearly they don’t see tourists on their islands – heck, even we didn’t see any tourists in Chittagong during all of the days that we were there. Here we were, meeting these people who never see white people, and it didn’t click in it until they were off the boat. We regretted not putting our ego and personal needs aside in order to make a better impression. Still though… they could learn some manners…
The boat stayed docked at the island until about 10:30 PM. It was weird, because we didn’t know what we were waiting for (we later decided that it was probably the tide). It was frustrating because I just wanted to be moving, getting closer to our goal, rather than just sitting there. We had dinner at 8:30, and a man explained that the boat would arrive at 6 AM tomorrow. My mood soured. I had been expecting to arrive at 3 AM, but now the boat ride was 19 hours long, not 16. We had 10 hours left to go. And the hardest hours were ahead: when we would be so tired, but unable to sleep.
I also felt bad for the passengers who had boarded from Hatia Island. They arrived on to the boat by 6 PM, but had to wait until 10:30 to leave: felt like a silly joke on them. They could have stayed at home longer, instead of hanging out on a boat!
At least now the air was cool and the boat, nearly empty. We could open our door and stay on deck without drawing too much attention. I could escape the room without being confronted with personal space invasions.
Travis got a second chair for the room, and we watched Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark. There were many interruptions, as more and more large cockroaches came out. We would kill one, then another one would come out to drag the carcass underneath the bed: they were eating each other. Eventually we got so tired of killing them that we let many live, if only because killing them didn’t seem to make any difference.
Clearly no one else cared about them. I wondered if we’d ever get over ourselves, and accept them as the harmless creature that they are. Everyone else was asleep on the deck or in their cabins. They didn’t find it unusual for there to be roaches – only we did. And only us were put off by them and had a miserable time because of them.
Still on edge, we put on the 5th Element. We were getting tired; it was getting closer to midnight. Travis crawled on the bed (he had been sitting on it earlier, I wouldn’t dare though) and I put the two chair together, folded myself in half and hoped that “hovering” in the middle of the room was the answer. I was so tired (I had been all day) that I managed to fall asleep. Neither of us could sleep for long stretches of time, but we managed to sleep on and off until the boat arrived in Barisal. I was glad to have gotten some sleep.
Arriving in Barisal was pretty neat. The town seemed like something taken out of a history book. The rising sun gave the town a strange, moody glow. Activity had already started along the water, with small boats moving about and vendors selling produce.
We got off the boat, happy as clams to have that leg of the journey over and done with. We expected to have to make it a few kilometers out of town to find a bus to Khulna, but we managed to find one right off the road and leaving in 30 minutes. How convenient! The bus was filled with mosquitoes though: it seemed as though with their collaboration we could have flown to our destination.
We left on time and drove through great sceneries. The rising sun, over the misty landscape made for some pretty awesome sights. This area of Bangladesh is definitively different, as it is a lot wetter. People grow rice, of course, but everything is done in moats to control the water flow. Houses are made of corrugated metal and wood: pained, they look like ancient housing. Other housing is on silts. Everything is built to either ward off water or tigers.
The downside to the bus ride was that our driver was crazy. All drivers are in this country, but I had a bad feeling about him before we even started: he had a gigantic poster of motorcycle racing plastered on the windshield. Sure enough, he drove like a maniac. It was a hair-raising ride, and Travis and I spent it holding hands and praying to not get into an accident. Thankfully our prayers were answered, but again we were reminded as to why avoiding buses like the plague is a good idea in this country.
As we waited, parked, to load a ferry to take us over one of the many rivers around, a tire blew out. It was strange that it happened when we were parked, but suddenly it sounded as though all of the air was being let out. Needless to say that we missed the crossing. It took an hour to change the tire, but we made it in time for the next crossing.
We arrived in Khulna at around 11 AM – by noon we were in our hotel room in our fanciest hotel yet (to offset last night!), catching up on much needed sleep.
Even now, I watch the room more often than usual, expecting to see something move… these last 27 hours have been difficult ones we will not soon forget.