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  • Writer's pictureJulia Bergmeister

never ever again Chicken Rice, please

Bangladesh, Summer/Fall 2011

nearly 3 months, wiht Bine, Student collegue

1 semester. practical semester. to Bangladesh!? why? and where is it anyway? - well, that´s why, because you don´t know where it is.

Salz auf Reisen


Bangladesh is surrounded by India.

yes, we knew it is overpopulated.

yes, we knew it is muslim.

yes, we expected to feel as you are on octoberfest in munich because of so many people - just without being drunk, ´cause of islam.

but, no, we didn´t expect to be that much annoyed about it.

it is loud. always. ringing, honking, and screaming. The. Whole. Day.

and this dirt, and those hygenic conditions…

»do you have english toilett?«

beginning with about 21 inoculations, from japanese enzephalitis to hepatitis to thyphus - and even that wasn´t nearly enough. going on with the first encounter of bangladeshi bureaucracy in the embassy of bangladesh in berlin - payed for 6 months visa, got 3 weeks - ah, what?! yes. exactly. - because it is dangerous there. - yes. but we already got our flight tickets. and therefor we already payed, too. - uhm. ok. how long do you wanna have? - well, 6 months as ordered. the ambassador makes big eyes and giggles. fixed stares on our side.

ok. you get 3 monts. after all.

because of Vichi (Vincenzo Floramo), a photographer I met in Thailand I got the contacts to Munem Wasif - photographer in Bangladesh and teacher on the Pathshala School for Photography in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Wasif organized a room with bathroom in a womans flat. her housmaid is very nice; we only can speak to her with hands an feet but she´s loughing a lot for my effort to speak bengali. the woman herself we don´t like that much. maybe because of all her birds on her balcony in those very small cages. maybe because she screams after racela, her housmaid, like after a slave. maybe because in our room all closets are still stuffed with her doughters stuff. maybe because she wants the rent for the time when we were not there at all; ´cause she had to keep clear. as if! the rent was to high anyway - why? in munich the rents are way higher. - yes. in MUNICH!

with Asif (a student of Wasif) we explore our neighborhood (Dhanmondi); he shows us where to go for dinner and how to eat bengali. ah ha. with hands. of course. first washing hands - so I walk after him to the bathrooms. the right (!!!) hand turns on the tap, plays a little with the outcoming water and turns it off again. the left hand don´t see water at all nor the table from the top - that´s the dirty hand, and this hand has to stay beyond the table. I wash both hands. unfortunatly there´s no soap so I desinfect my hands unseen. they look at me strange anyway, but now they stop inner movement and lose there control of facial feature: she´s eating with both hands!!! - yes. but I use toilett paper, washed both hands and… I don´t know, the left hand, the dirty one?!

we usually go to the supermarket to buy food to cook in the house. it´s pretty expensive to go for dinner. comparativly. but I want to try bengali food. well. soon we walk into pizza hut once in a time. (yes. pizza hut. and coca cola you´ll get on each corner as well…)

2 Pizzas, please, medium size. waiter nods, goes away, comes back.

»are you sure? it´s 6 pieces!«


i´m hungry


6 pieces pizza. please! i can easily eat two of them! but we don´t want to get embaressed even more so we´re fine with two pizzas for two people.

bengali food is usually just spicy and super oily. actually always. soon we buy a salt cellar in the supermarket, lockable, to take it with us where ever we go to put secretly salt on our food. better.

in old Dhaka we make some friends. we move out at the womans house with her housmaid and go on living at our new friends house.

Apu, you´ve been a really good friend in this time and I always regret that in the end, I´ve been so ill that I couldn´t think of a better gift then these small bavarian cups we gave you... to live in you´re families house was the best homebase we could have! it was silent there (instead of the mosque, but that´s ok...) and: we had a balcony!!! we could come "home" and feel free to sit around with you and your sister, your wife and your friends, to chat with all of you, to rest.

that was really good.

thank you.

but of course we had to travel the country.

from Dhaka to Khulna, meet people, visit those people in Magura (Maguuuura? no, Maaaagura, so even the busdriver understands)

to Srimangal in the teafields, to Chittagong and Cox´s Bazar.

driving by the train, beeing on the boat and even rent some bikes. driving by Tuk Tuk. and driving Tuk Tuk, myself.

»you´ve drive a Tuk Tuk?! but! …you… you are a woman!

- so what? -

well… don´t know… bet you´re the first one ever.«

driving by Rickshaw is every day business. in the beginning a bit requiring to get used to; clumsily shifting from side to side on the narrow board, holding on tightly and in every curve or pathole to fear it will break in pieces. considering that european ass is too big for this. got used to.

in principle we take up a lot of space, more than the locals. we feel huge. we are huge!

in khulna ordering tea on the streets. as usual asked in bengali for the price. as usual got the same answer: 2 tea, 10 taka (around 10 €Cent) - huge delight about my bengali knowledge. getting on more - what´s your name? ah, great, my name´s julia, she´s Sabine - ah! Julia! Sabina! - yeahyeah, Sabina.

walking through the market in Khulna the next day and noticing them saying our names…

3 flat tyres in 1 day - first on the Rickshaw, second and third on the bus. In lonely planet I read, statistically you die easier at a bus crash in bangladesh than in a suicide attempt.

we want to go to Magura and had to learn, that the wrong accentuation means no one (and there are a lot of people around you in short time to help (and look at) you) understands what you mean. even if you point at it on the map. even if you point at the right direction. even if Maaaaagura is beyond the next city.

in dhaka we´ve been invited/taken by our host family to a wedding. we wonderd about the plastic chairs and tables. and wondered about the way they serve food - always a few families and groups of people at once, not everyone. and there´s chicken rice (cooked rice with cooked chicken, oily, unseasoned). you´ll get this always and everywhere. Always.

in srimangal we go into a little café to relax - absolutly by pure chance there´s a tourist guide of the most likely only tourist tour operation coming in exatly this café…looking surprised even before he catched the first sight of us - oh, you, here? you want a tour, too…? (what a sight! the australian guy, who was with him would have been conspicious in australia because of his hight, but here, where i (!!!) am bigger than everyone else…great) i´ll make you an offer… ok then, with bike? great! finally we can ring by ourselfs!

after a few weeks you got annoyed.

»your country?


aaahhhh…! scherrmaniiiii…«

yes, exactly. Oh, everybody can! not more. but running after you, perhaps he´ll got another idea what to ask or say. at least, one can look at the two huge whities more closely if he´s running after. and as there´s someone looking at something then there´s something to look at. if you don´t watch out, you´ll find yourself surrounded by the whole village. sometimes funny. sometimes not.

waiting in the motor rickshaw to move on - enough time to gather all around. unguided the human beings on the backseat are gazed at.

asking wich bus to take on the bus stop - everyone, i mean really everyone (wants to help and therefore) forms a cluster around us.

sitting on a bank to enjoy the sun? …so many people… shadow.

in the bus we want to buy 2 bananas from a young little boy, costs 7 Taka, we only had 10 Taka - we gave 10 Taka. rest is tip! very strange look in his little face, he got quite sad… we had bad conscience, because we didn´t want a 3rd banana, but actually I even didn´t want those 2 - the little one comes back after short time and gives me a 3rd banana - now there are strange looks on my side. i don´t want it! but you payed for it!! i tried to give him bit more money but he didn´t want to take it. a smile in his direction and everything is fine! he was just sad he couldn´t change… well, world can be good somewhere.

we take a ride on the bus to chittagong and experienced what we already read in the lonely planet: we walk from hotel to hotel and wonder - usually they got excited by seeing us, now they are running away. well, you don´t speak english? what you mean do I want?! 1 room, 2 beds?! more impatient and more energetic I ring the bell, run behind but no chance; a nice man can see that we got desperately cause of the bursting darkness and smiles at us and explains: »women are not allowed« we shall try it in another street. ok. I don´t like that place.

in the next hostel we do the habit of haggle over the price but quickly we give up. after all we can stay and that is enough. the fact that he »won« makes him happy so he gives us the room at a better price.

on the way to dinner something bumps on my ancle and tips over my feet with way too tiny feet and way too havy - according to that a way too fat rat tail on a really dirty butt disappears behind a car.

of course. we got ill.

we go to cox´s bazar on the beach - towel and bikini? nope.

almost 3 months are over.

it´s. enough.

no visa extension - flight changing!

home. cure.

takes time.

takes a long time.

but we survived…. :)

Kamera: Sabine Decker, Julia Bergmeister.

Schnitt: Julia Bergmeister

© 2012 Julia Bergmeister

sitting in the Tuk Tuk by rain and laughing because it looks so funny if cockroaches seem to float delightfully in the rising water on the road…to feel disgusted at the same time because we´ll have to walk with flip flops through exactly this water to reach the house.

looking forward to the silent night? at 4 am the mosque calls for prayer, and it´s across the street - in an unfinished building - why? because you only pay taxes for finished buildings…

photographs from the bengali wedding, a leather manufactory (both analogue work) and more you can see on my webpage:

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