I have been on adventures around the world before, including solo travel. But every new trip brings its own brand of delightful adventures and stressful challenges. Last week, I flew to Bangladesh to begin a 6 month journey. Here’s the story of the last 12 hours before I left, and the first few hours after I arrived (oh yeah – and everything in between!).
Because the funding process took so long, I wasn’t able to get my visa in Ottawa before I left (which is a shame because I could have got it at the embassy on the same day). Once in Toronto, the 6 of us who were going to Bangladesh received all the documents from the organization we needed to send in our applications. On Friday at lunch, we brought everything we needed (passport, visa application, passport photos, bank draft, return envelope, proof of work placement, etc.) to the post office and mailed it back to Ottawa. The website said that it would be processed in 7 business days, which was a huge problem because we were supposed to be leaving in 6 business days (and it had to be mailed both ways!). Thankfully, the package arrived in Ottawa on Monday and we received it back in Toronto on Thursday. This allowed Sharna and I (who are working with TARANGO) to take the original flight on Tuesday. Caritas (where the other girls are working) requested that they leave a bit later, so they’ll be joining us in Dhaka soon (this evening actually!).
Since Monday was a holiday (labour day), I wasn’t able to do any of my last minute shopping. Of course my list was growing longer by the day… and by Monday I had decided to get a few more antibiotics “just in case”, and to get some pictures printed of family and friends. To make matters worse, I had accidentally thrown some “delicates” in with my laundry at the hotel and they were totally ruined – oops! Last minute bra shopping anyone?
Tuesday morning I got up super early and showered. I did some final bank stuff on the phone at 8 when they opened. By 8:45 I was walking towards the pharmacy (which opened at 9), but I couldn’t find it. I ended up walking to Walmart (it was pouring rain), and got my prescription there. While waiting, I called Staples when they opened (9am) and they said my photo order would be ready within the hour. I booked an Uber to the mall (for their opening at 10am) and bought new undergarments for my journey. I took another Uber to Staples to get my prints. By that time it was 10:50, and my taxi was supposed to arrive at the hotel at 11! I had 10 minutes to walk to the hotel, finalize my packing, change clothes, bring bags down to the curb, and check out! I was a few minutes late, but I made it. 🙂
My taxi was already waiting, and I even got to the airport early. Sharna was stuck in traffic so I hung out for a bit. When she got there we were able to check in. Surprisingly, all of our bags were under weight… that’s never happened to me! They even weighed my carry-on, yikes, but it was okay too – score! Her family was sad to see her go, but it was nice for me to meet them. We took a whole bunch of pictures and finally went through security to find our gate. The Toronto airport is really great, with free WiFi and tablets for all, so it was easy to kill some time and buy some last minute snacks before the plane boarded.
Our first flight was to Abu Dhabi, and the lady at the ticket counter gave us a whole row to ourselves – score! We had tons of space to sprawl our stuff and curl up for a nap, especially since we’re both small. It was a long flight but I watched a ton of movies and ate the snacks I brought. We were a bit worried since we only had an hour-and-a-half layover, but it turns out our next flight was on the same plane. We had to walk all around the airport to get back to the same gate, but we had plenty of time to spare. It was about 1pm there, but it felt like 3 in the morning for us.
Waiting for our second flight was interesting… that’s when the stares started. As a white woman in the middle east, I definitely stuck out like a sore thumb! Our flight was 95% men, who I’m guessing were primarily men who work as labourers in the middle east headed home to Bangladesh. The men did not want to listen to the flight attendants, and kept getting up before they were allowed, and talking loudly on their cell phones… it was kinda entertaining but it caused us to depart about 30 minutes late. I was a bit surprised that all the men were drinking lots of beer, since Bangladesh is apparently a Muslim country. The flight attendants anticipated it, and had a whole box of beer on the top of the cart for this purpose. We arrived in Dhaka just a bit after we were scheduled to land (around 9pm on Wednesday night), with no problems on either flight.
Once we arrived I could feel the white privilege just rolling off me (along with the sweat). We were ushered to the front of the immigration line by the officials. Before exiting the airport you’re also supposed to go through a second set of baggage scanners and security, which we were told to simply walk around after they found out we were Canadians.
The baggae area was extremely crowded, so we decided to get some errands done while we waited. Sharna exchanged some American money, and I used my Canadian debit card to take some taka (Bangladesh currency) out of the ATM. The exchange rate is about $1 CAD = 60 tk (depending on the date and how you get the money). The baggage area was still chaotic and it was impossible to get a cart. Every time a few carts came out, they were swarmed by people fighting each other to get a cart. We thought it might be safer to wait. We both ended up getting SIM cards for our phones. Once we were done with that, our baggage had finally shown up and we were ready to go. Interestingly, many of the people on our flight used blankets to wrap-up their goods, tied with lots of rope, as the primary type of luggage. They were also more than happy to run and jump over the conveyor belts to find their (many) belongings out of the crowd.
We weren’t exactly sure who was going to meet us at the airport, but we had a few phone numbers and emails to contact just in case. Thankfully, our driver had a sign and was waiting just outside the gate. He had gotten concerned since he had been there for many hours and didn’t speak English well. He was worried that nobody had seen a white girl, so he was quite relieved to see us coming through the doors. He brought us to the van, loaded our bags… and then we got stuck in traffic! Dhaka is known for having really bad traffic, so it was to be expected, even given the late hour. And finally, at around 11pm we ended up at our guesthouse, where we would share a room until we found more permanent accommodation. We were exhausted, so we went to bed, and I slept extremely well. Nothing like 2 days without sleep to make a hard mattress feel like a bed of clouds!