Once a year, we subject ourselves to an event known as the Bonbhojon – the LAMB picnic. It is an odd event in many and various ways. Some things are peculiar to LAMB, I’m sure, but most are ways that are very strange to me as a bideshi but completely normal to Bangladeshis.
Picnics – Bangla-style – are common in this country. When reading the paper there are always road accidents involving buses. Around this time of the year you can usually predict that any particular crash will involve a bus taking passengers on a picnic somewhere. It would seem that picnics are done as a mass affair rather than the little private outings that arethe British way. We don’t like crowds as a whole, and tend to find deserted fields to sit on with our family and maybe a few close friends. We don’t want rides and shops, we want rivers and cows, a gentle breeze and, most of all, peace and tranquillity.
The LAMB picnic is anything but tranquil. Over the last three years I have found the routine goes something like this:
1) Everyone arrives at the LAMB playing field, where the buses have congregated, and greet each other, admiring the new saris and special outfits worn by the wives and older girls. It is a real fashion show and much time is spent taking photos. Which is just as well. The buses, in time-honoured Bangla tradition, never leave on time and usually go an hour later than arranged. I guess it takes time to get the 400 plus people sorted and all the food for lunch too.
2) When we finally get going, there is a trip lasting around 1-2 hours where we travel to some kind of amusement park. This year it was Anondonogor near Rangpur. On the way we get served snacks consisting of a sweet bread roll, a boiled egg, a banana and some kind of deep-fried sweet. Afterwards, various sick bags are passed around. Bangladeshis, generally, don’t travel well. When passing a bus you don’t want to look too carefully at the sides under the windows. They are not cleaned well…
When we get there, we are herded in like cattle to our particular spot. There are hundreds of other buses there – everyone has come for a picnic too.
3) We then have about 2-3 hours to wander around and look at what the park has on offer and go on a few rides. You are lucky if you manage to go on more than three because everything takes a ridiculous length of time to do. We spent an hour just visiting the toilet as soon as we got off the bus! 30 minutes were spent while my son went on this weird ‘helicopter’ ferry thing and another 45 minutes spent trying to get on the pedalo boats before giving up as the man selling the tickets was ignoring everyone clamouring around him trying to get his attention. We spent well over an hour getting on the cable cars and by the end of that we were late for lunch.
4) Then comes the lunch – the bhoj – and we needn’t have worried about being late of course. This is Bangladesh! We waited about another hour, sat under a hot marquee tent with everyone else before the food was ready. This year, it was served a little differently. Although still cooked in huge pots over an open fire, as per Bangla custom, it was then carefully measured out into specific quantities and put into cardboard boxes. Everyone had a ticket and would then exchange a ticket for a box. Normally, the food would just be served out onto plates we had brought ourselves. In the past though, some have got extra food whilst those who were at the end sometimes got very little or nothing at all. The box idea was to stop that from happening. However, in true Bangla tradition again, something went wrong with the rice and some of it was delayed. We were asked, as a family of four, to only take two boxes and come back later for the other two.
This was no problem, as it turned out. The boxes were huge! My daughter and I shared one box and couldn’t finish it between us (and we both enjoy our food!). It is unbelievable just how much rice a Bangladeshi can eat! We ended up taking our remaining two boxes home with us and giving them to our ayahs for their own families to eat. Bhoj means feast and, at LAMB, they make sure a feast is what you get!
5) After the bhoj there is about an hour left to go around any remaining places. We went to the shops where my boy bought an ektara – a traditional one stringed instrument – for probably far more money than it was actually worth. Still, he was happy. The kids went on another ride – one which was outrageously small for them but even smaller for the young men that tried going on them. They sat in all earnestness as though they were four year olds again. I couldn’t help but take a photo!
I’m afraid this ride was the height of excitement at this particular park but in the past I can tell you nothing got much more exciting. Bangla parks are a long way from being the Alton Towers or Disneyland of the UK or America.
The last thing my two did was go on a swing held by the statue of a strongman. The plaque at the bottom proudly announced that it had stood there for 12 years (12 scrawled in paint and obviously changed each year making something of a mess) and please don’t climb it (after all, it was very precious…). Unbelievably, this cost money to go on – and the children paid it despite having swings just as good at LAMB which are free!
This particular park suffered from being pretty new and still not built. There were few attractions and none were finished.
The cable cars (pulled by hand as you can see here) were especially dangerous as at least two toddlers were clutched in the nick of time about to plummet off the edge just while we stood waiting for our turn.
6) Finally, it is time to leave – again, later than arranged but nowhere near as delayed as coming. The tradition here is that everyone squeezes into their seats (which are not built for Bangladeshi size let alone Bideshi size) and within minutes are snoring. The combination of endless walking and the lunch itself makes for an incredibly tiring day and we are all sleepy but content.
And so that is the LAMB picnic. An odd event, as I say, but despite the paucity of the facilities every year, it is a fun time. It is good to spend time relaxing with friends and colleagues. It is so easy at LAMB to just work yourself into the ground. Sadly, too many of the Bideshis here do just that and don’t come on the picnic. I think that is very sad though I can understand why.
One additional ritual that bideshis, being foreigners, have to endure at the picnics (or indeed, anywhere they go) is the stare of Bangladeshi strangers. Wherever we stand for even a few minutes we will gain a crowd. We are endlessly asked if a photo of us can be taken and, indeed, men will pose with me in the photo so it looks like we are best friends when, in fact, we aren’t. Men love to converse with me in English and want to know everything about me. It is very wearing and, increasingly, I have less patience with them – especially if they follow us around for a while. Occasionally, if I see someone taking a photo of me, or about to, I will demand 100 taka. It is funny to see the colour drain from a Bangladeshis face when I say this and they usually back off straightaway – just in case I am serious about the payment!
This year, I must confess, I messed with the head of one young man who insisted on engaging me in conversation. In English he asked me how I was and where I was from. In English I said “sorry I don’t understand Bangla”. I did this twice and he was very confused. Perhaps thinking that maybe I was saying I only understood Bangla he switched to asking me questions in Bangla. In Bangla, I replied “sorry I don’t understand Bangla”. This really confused him, but his friends were beginning to giggle. He asked if I could speak Bangla and I replied – again, in Bangla – that I couldn’t speak in Bangla or understand it and that actually I was a Santal (a tribal person from Bangladesh – clearly I am not one) and had no Bangla at all. By this point, his friends were killing themselves laughing – as was my daughter who was weeping trying to keep it all in! Eventually he figured out what everyone else knew – that I was messing around – and I allowed him a brief conversation properly before going on to do something else. It’s naughty I know, but after three years I do get fed up of being looked at as some kind of fairground attraction. Other Bideshis, who are not new here, get angry, or become rude, or just avoid going out where there are crowds. I don’t like any of those options and think that having a little fun at least makes the irritation more bearable. And I always make sure the person I am chatting with is having fun by the end too.