I’m writing this sat at the table of my best friends enjoying a nice drink and relaxing after what has been arguably the worst journey of our life! The 5,000 miles from Bangladesh to England has never felt so long.
We spent 72 hours trying to get from our house at LAMB in the north-west of Bangladesh to Heathrow airport in London, UK. Before we had even begun the train journey on the first leg, of what we came to think of as ‘the ordeal‘, the problems began.
First, we just could not get tickets for any train or bus for getting to Dhaka. The country is in the grip of hartals at the moment – nationwide strikes organised by various political parties often arising because a rival political group has just had a hartal themselves – and these can get pretty violent. The result is the country being brought to a standstill day after day and some of the vehicles of those foolish enough to venture out being burned out.
We managed to get some tickets for the train but on the day of travel Thing II came off his bike and broke his arm! Several hours needed for packing were lost getting X-rays and having his arm plastered up.
At the same time, we got a call from Wifey’s mother to tell us that our dog was going to be put down. The poor thing had been suffering as an old dog for over a year and it was the right thing to do. Wifey and I got him soon after we married in 1996 so it was very sad for us. I will do a blog on our dog soon for the benefit of the hundreds of students I taught over the years who were entertained by my stories about “that bloody dog” and the things he got up to. At the time of writing, we haven’t yet made it to the north of England where Wifey’s parents live and where our house is but I miss him already.
We got on the train that night – beds for the family but not one for me. I had bought three seats so I could lie down on them. No such luck. First the guards asked me to help out a doctor who needed a seat and I let her have one of them. We chatted until three in the morning and it was fascinating to chat with her. Eventually she left and I lay down on the seats to sleep. Very quickly, one of the guards ‘took’ one more seat and I was left with two to curl up on. For one moment I sat up and dosed against the window. When I awoke, another Bangladeshi man had taken my last remaining seat and that was the end of any sleep for me. I could have argued, but I didn’t think it fair.
Our one day down in Dhaka was largely spent trying to organise getting a lift to the airport the next day. We couldn’t persuade anyone with a hartal starting 6 in the evening and not ending way until after we should have been flying.
In the end, I got up at 5:30 am to flag down three baby taxis (known as CNG’s in Bangladesh) to take all our family plus another bideshi who was with us and our six bags to the airport. Sure enough, as often happens with these hartals, there was no bother, no problems, no protesters. As a result, we were now at the airport ridiculously early!
Soon after arriving, we found out our flight to Dubai was delayed by two hours. This was a problem – our connecting flight to London was only one and a half hours after arriving. Before we could worry too much about that, however, we had other worries to occupy our minds.
When we checked in, the Emirates staff insisted on seeing the card used to buy the tickets. It’s a long story but basically we didn’t have it. The card was in the UK. They refused to honour the flight without the card. The laptops came out, the internet was checked, the bank receipts and emails confirming purchase were provided – all to no avail.
Amazingly, Wifey’s mother leaves her mobile on and we were able to get her up – despite it being a ridiculous time in the morning – to check our post (the card had been posted to their house weeks ago), find the card and give the number over the phone. Finally, we had a number that matched Emirates’ records and they allowed us to check in. It was, quite frankly, a bloody farce.
Many hours later, we took the flight but it was clear we were never going to get our connecting flight. Sure enough, once we arrived at Dubai, we were told we were being put up at a hotel and would be flown out on the first available flight to London.
The problem was that we didn’t have the window of opportunity to allow for this. We were only going to be able to see my family in the middle of the country on one day and being delayed put this in danger.
On the other hand, we got a nice hotel, a bath, a delicious buffet meal and a sleep in a bed for three hours that we would not otherwise have got – so there were benefits to the delay. It didn’t stop me stressing out though – especially as we had friends (the same ones whose table I’m now using actually) who were picking us up from the airport. It now meant that they had to take time off work to get us and the guilt was heaping up.
In the end, we got the flight to the UK and I noticed – not for the first time – that British staff are always much more officious and unpleasant than Asian staff on planes just as they often are in other areas of life. Nevertheless, we arrived, we got picked up and, incredibly, we were just able to get to see my family after all. In fact, I’m writing this having just returned from staying overnight at my sister’s home.
So despite the trauma of broken arms, dead pets, lack of sleep, hartals, delayed flights and very nearly being refused to fly because we could not prove who we were (hello! Look at the blasted passports we’ve just given you!) – despite all of this – we got back, we saw my family and Christmas, such as it is, has finally begun for us as a family.
Was it all worth it?
Yes. Yes, it was. And I’m looking forward to heading up to the north tomorrow to start celebrating the season with friends and family in Whitehaven. It’s nice to be back – despite the cold, despite the difficulties getting here.
But if we have as much hassle getting back to Bangladesh as we did coming, I may sit down in the airport and stubbornly have a hartal of my own.
- Soft hartal goes on (ireport.cnn.com)
- Stray incidents of violence mark Bangladesh opposition enforced hartal (nzweek.com)
- Winter’s Coming (kenthinksaloud.wordpress.com)
- A Christmas Carol? Ghostly Tales for the Season – Part III (kenthinksaloud.wordpress.com)
- Grève : un mort à দিনাজপুর Dinajpur – 3 décembre 2012 (berthoalain.com)