Dhaka City, January 2002

The harsh bedroom light is snapped on. Rehana is ushering in a tall, thin woman with short, greying hair and a friendly if bemused smile; the same look I have had on my face all day.
“Christine from Australia.” Rehana says by way of introduction. “Anne from Ireland. You sleep here.” She points to the bed in which I lie, and I obligingly move over to one side. Before Christine or I can say anything, my friend Shahardot, who is lugging two suitcases, launches a huge square canvas bag into the room. He points at me in recognition, laughs for old time’s sake, and demands money from Christine.
With Rehana watching avidly, Christine changes into the long johns that contrast nicely with my oversized purple T-shirt. She opens her canvas bag and from its depths, and like a modern Mary Poppins, she shakes out a full-sized duvet and pillow. We lie down side by side and make the desultory small talk of strangers who have just climbed into bed together.
“Must be a bit like an arranged marriage, this,” says Christine.
“Well, they said Bangladesh would be an experience,” I add. “I don’t know about you, but this is the first time I’ve slept with someone three minutes after meeting them.”
(ABBW Ch1)

The first few days in Dhaka were a blur. I was suddenly alone in a country where I could do nothing for myself. It was like being a toddler again: I couldn't read Bangla script and I barely spoke the language. I tied myself up in knots trying to dress in the traditional salwar kameez and I spilt food everywhere because I was eating curry and rice by hand. Much good I was going to be as a volunteer worker in a developing country!

Then two things happened: I met Christine, a fellow volunteer - wise, experienced, laid-back, the complete opposite of me - and we both got sent to a little place called Khalia. There wasn't much scope for a music teacher(Christine) or a public health advisor (me) there but a great deal of opportunity for digging, painting and 'cultural exchange'...

That's when I knew a travel diary was just crying out to be written.
Dhaka City, January 2002


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