I looked out of the window and saw that it was raining.
“Brilliant,” I thought “just what I need.”
I’d managed three weeks in the UK in, quite frankly, stupidly cold weather and yet avoided the rain when it had fallen – which was often. Somehow I managed to be in lectures, or just walk home in time or be safely tucked up in bed when it poured down. Though Bangla rain is always refreshing, coming inevitably after very hot weather and bringing a much-needed drop in temperature, British rain is just cold and wet bringing nothing but shivers and bad humour.
So here I was, 1:30 in the morning, waiting for my taxi to get me and my heavy bags to Gloucester Bus station so I could begin the 5,000 mile trip back to Bangladesh – and now it was raining. Having failed to get much sleep, despite getting my head down four hours earlier, I was now facing a good soaking. I would undoubtedly shiver for the rest of the journey.
Thankfully, when the taxi arrived and I hauled my luggage out into the night air, the rain turned out to be lighter than it looked from inside. I still got wet, but only a little damp really. I wondered how safe I would be in the early morning with my bags. I had no idea if Gloucester’s city centre was a dangerous place to be or not.
As it turned out, there were a couple of other people waiting for the coach and I immediately felt safe. One young lad, who was sat down, dropped his iphone and I picked it up and returned it to him. This seemed to be the necessary action to make a connection between us in his mind and he talked to me (‘babbled’ might be the better word) for the rest of the wait.
With beer in hand and swaying in a worryingly unsteady manner, he proceeded to tell me how wonderful Gloucester was and that it was much better than his homeland, Poland. It was difficult to tell if it was his Polish accent or the beer that caused the slurring (probably both I suspect) but he was intelligible and obviously not completely hammered.
Somewhere along the line he decided it was not enough just to love Gloucester but to love life too and, specifically, God. Now, I can agree with all three points, as it happens, but I still found it slightly odd to be told by a dangerously swaying Polish drunk at 1:45 in the morning just how wonderful God is. I was amused, I must admit and continued to agree with him. I’m reminded of Sting’s introduction to his album Nothing Like the Sun where he told of a drunk who want to fight him and was a big lad. Sting sagely advises that quoting Shakespeare is always the best way to disarm a drunk and he said, randomly, “my lover’s eyes are nothing like the sun” – hence the title of the album – and the drunk broke down saying “that’s so true!” and they chatted rather than fought in the end.
Always be congenial to drunks.
I felt a bit sorry for the guy in the end. We reached Heathrow three times – three different terminals which take a long time to get to as the airport is so big – and he should have got off at the first one but didn’t. He faced a long journey back to the right terminal. I hope he didn’t miss his flight.
Heathrow is not a friendly place to wait for a plane in comparison to Abu Dhabi where I caught my second flight. For a start off, there is no free internet at London, which is a bit mean. Food prices are stupid too. The result, for those of us who live by donations from friends who support our work in Bangladesh, is several hours of boredom on hard, uncomfortable seats. Abu Dhabi, by contrast, is fun, friendly, has lots of electrical points for plugging in your laptop and free internet. Though I am no fan of MacDonald’s as an enterprise, I was grateful for their cheap burgers when we arrived.
The flight to Dhaka was much more eventful than the one to Abu Dhabi. I’ve done these flights many, many times and always the plane is packed with Bangladeshis – not unsurprisingly. Why is it then, when the hostess announces the languages spoken on board, that Bangla is rarely – if ever – one of them. Why do we need Japanese when we’re nowhere near Japan? Bangla is the seventh most spoken language in the world and, on this trip, it might have helped.
Once I was sat down and said hello to the Bangladeshi man sat next to me, I became aware of a commotion taking place on the other side of the plane near us. A European woman ( I never figured out her accent but it could have been Swiss), looking not unlike Wagner’s Brunnhilde with long pigtail and just missing the horned Viking helmet, was accusing a young Bangladeshi man of sitting in her seat. She was loud and more than just a bit patronising. There was only the hint of apology when an air hostess pointed out she had the wrong row and her seat was the empty one behind the accosted man.
She now got louder.
“Oh you have to suffer being sat next to me,” she said to the shy Bangladeshi man sat beside her as she half stood, half kneeled on the seat rather than actually sitting down – effectively blocking the aisle. “What a pity for you – but we can talk can’t we?” The man was a well brought up Bangladeshi and knew it is rude to look at a woman (especially one with the ample cleavage this woman had) and just looked down shyly and said nothing.
This just made the woman louder and more obnoxious and a hostess came up to deal with her and ask her to sit down.
“I can’t sit down – there is no room here for us all.” Her bags clinked with the telltale sound of large bottles of alcohol. The air hostess asked if she had been drinking alcohol.
“Of course I have,” Brunnhilde replied “is that a crime? What are you suggesting? That I’m not allowed to have a few drinks now or that makes me a bad woman?”
She touched the shoulder of the poor man to get his attention. “Have I offended you because you are a ‘Muslim’?” It was at this point that I very nearly got up and shouted “no you are offending him and all of us because you are loud, drunk and obnoxious.” But I didn’t – I figured it wouldn’t help.
In the end, a senior hostess came to deal with her – now complaining that the first hostess had accused her of being drunk – and had her moved to another seat. But first she was given a warning. Any more rowdy behaviour and they would put her off the plane before it even took off. Thankfully, we didn’t hear from her again.
I was impressed that all the young Bangladeshi men in that area were very restrained and respectful throughout (though probably quite terrified!) but rather disgusted at the behaviour of this woman who represented, like me, the Western world and interpreted their silence as insolence rather than politeness. Most worrying was that this woman was going, with booze clutched to her ample and open bosom, to Bangladesh – an alcohol dry country where women cover up. I wondered why she was going and dreaded how she would behave.
After a few hours of flying, I became aware of a moaning sound. One of the older Bangladeshis seemed to be in great fear and distress. Though I could not make out his words too clearly, it was obvious he was very afraid and panicky. This is where Bangla would have come in useful because the air hostess who came to him spoke in English and he obviously had none. Another man tried to explain to her that he was very afraid and, without Bangla to be able to help comfort him, she told the other guy that, quite simply, he had to shut up as he was disturbing the other passengers.
The old man did, eventually, quieten down but that was probably more through the comforting of his companions than any compulsion to obey flight rules. Most Bangladeshis who live in Bangladesh have not flown before and my family or friends of ours often come across women travelling to be maids in other countries who are terrified witless and have no idea what they are doing. It must be a horrible experience for them and they have my sympathy. The Western view, on the whole though, is rather intolerant.
I arrived, back in Dhaka and in the early hours of the morning, still wearing the three tops I put on to keep me warm in the UK. Despite being 5 am, it took just the brief journey from airport to Guest house in the Banani region of the capital to be sweating and clawing the tops off. As the UK has been going through a cold spell, so likewise, Bangladesh is unbearably hot.
But that’s just the way I like it. Besides, my family were waiting for me inside and I had everything I needed – so much to be grateful for. I was home – however hot that might be.
In my mind’s eye, I pictured an old Bangladeshi man kissing the ground of his country and giving praise to Allah for the safe arrival and Brunnhilde being horrified by the heat and demanding someone provide her with an AC room now – oblivious to the fact that her loudness would soon draw her more attention than she could ever wish for very quickly in the form of a crowd of men who would not show her respect by looking away or giving her physical space.
Oh yes, and I picture a Polish drunk still wandering around Heathrow looking for the right terminal. Bless him.