Bangladesh: A Land
© 2005 by Scott Wallace
April 9, 2004, Dhaka, Bangladesh – What a day! Beginning with a boat ride on the wide Burhiganga River on the south edge of the city. Throngs pushing their way through the gate to the ferryboats, garbage floating on the surging water, the fetid odor of decomposing life everywhere. But those images were dull compared to the stunning beauty of the countryside, after we managed to split away from the maddening chaos of Dhaka’s traffic – with its mass of slow-moving rickshaws and irate drivers leaning incessantly on their horns. We ended up on meandering, shaded dirt roads that followed twisting waterways through rural Bangladesh. The rivers were choked with hyacinth and its electric green, fleshy leaves and its purple flowers, and everywhere boatmen ferried passengers through the aquatic vegetation, straining with long poles against the current.
We came upon a wedding party on the bend of a narrow river. I hopped from the car and dashed down to the bank to behold the party crossing the river in small boat, coming straight at us from the other side. A gorgeous young woman stood at the bow, dressed in a long emerald-green sari, her neck and forehead lavishly adorned with gold. I took her to be the bride, but she turned out to be the bride’s younger sister. She was flirtatious in a coy sort of way, shyly turning from the camera even while regarding me from the corner of her eye with a smile as I snapped her picture.
The whole boatload were on their way to the wedding in the nearby village of Minarbari in the Narayangurij district. A friendly and handsome young man named Siraz introduced himself. He was a close friend of the groom, and he invited us to come along to the wedding. We obliged, following a the road back along the river, crossing single-lane bridges, past rice paddies and gypsy boats moored along the shore amidst hyacinth so thick it seemed the boats were nestled into overgrown lots. A riotous celebration of life seemed to ooze from the earth…
Late in the afternoon the small river we were following emptied into a vast waterway that spread across the horizon, with multiple channels defined by islands that seemed to float in the watery expanses – the Meghna River. It called to mind the Amazon – huge, sprawling, unruly. There were derelict freighters pulled along the shoreline and passengers wading out through the leafy hyacinth to board small ferries. The late afternoon sun broke through rain clouds and drenched the scene in magnificent golden light. A large crowd gathered on the beach to watch us, and those who knew a bit of English approached. Where are you from? What country?
The man who spoke the most English wanted to know what I thought about America and Iraq. I told him that not all Americans agreed with the war. He and all the others were pleased to hear this. I had the distinct feeling that this would not be a good place to try to defend U.S. foreign policy. “Bush out!” he laughed, and everyone applauded. The people here said they didn’t think they had ever seen another American here in their village. Someone asked if I was Japanese!