A day on the Rocket.
His gesticulation was enthusiastic and insistent, though less than necessary. Apparently the patch of concrete I chose to sit on while I waited for the Rocket paddle steamer was simply not good enough for a western visitor! Rather than enter into a fruitless discussion regarding the aesthetics and suitability of his recommended area of pavement I simply offered him an appreciative smile and complied. I shifted my bags a few meters to this hallowed patch and organized them so as to deflect the oncoming rivulet of brackish liquid which lazily meandered towards my newly acquired territory. Eagerly I awaited the faded and rustic opulence of my passage to Khulna both as a means of respite from the heaving crowds and as a vantage point from which to observe the myriad shades of human endeavour of a people perpetually inundated with both natural and man made challenges.
It was to be a 30 hour gentle cruise to Khulna from the ferry terminal in Dhaka, along the monsoon swollen waters of southern Bangladesh and I was eager to avoid anymore undue attention. I had hardly finished that thought when I looked up to find a crowd of frankly slack jawed onlookers had spontaneously converged on my position, their unapologetic curiosity worn very much on their sleeves. I Realized that any attempt at conversation with a crowd of 20 plus strangers without a word in common was futile. Gambling that the novelty of my presence would eventually wear off, I proceeded to read my book, or at least nonchalantly skim through the pages as a means of remaining oblivious to the polite but persistent rabble around me. Although western-man-sitting-on-ground-reading-a-book seemed to momentarily peak their collective interest, eventually the crowd melted away beyond my peripheral. That is of course except for my old friend, who this time was gesticulating with the same enthusiasm and insistence, excitedly drawing my attention to the distance where another westerner was approaching the port. Clearly we must be acquainted! It turned out he was Mexican.
In a country where stones are a valuable commodity and untold environmental damage is caused by the illegal dredging of good quality mud from the riverbeds, it is difficult to see a way out of the widespread and abject poverty. However, regardless of the inescapable harsh realities of life here, there is a pervasive sense of pride and openness. In this over-populated and under-developed nation, education is highly prized and resilience is not so much a virtue as a precondition, a de facto characteristic for the hardships of every day living for the majority. When humans are the main beasts of burden there is little choice but to get on with the job at hand, whether that is hauling heavy loads along busy roadways or fashioning sails out of plastic bags in order to catch fish from rickety boats. A day on the Rocket exploring the labyrinthine rural waterways leaves a poignant and lasting impression not of a country sinking in its own quagmire but rather of the friendliness, curiosity, pride and sheer grit of the people. In Bangladesh, life happens.