Flying to (and arriving in) Bangladesh

Let's start this out by saying that I'm probably going to come off as ragging on Bangladesh a bit. That's not really my intention - most of the times I'm just trying to highlight differences from what I'm used to. Given that I tend to be more comfortable with what I'm used to, though, it might come out badly. Feel free to dismiss it as the bewildered out-of-touch snobbery and kvetching of the privileged that it most certainly is.

Our first real introduction to Bangladesh was waiting in line to check in to Biman Bangladesh (the national airline). There were about four groups ahead of us. I think it took us about 40 minutes to get through the line. Each group seemed to be a subset of a much larger group of around 20 to 30 Bangladeshis, some of whom would join the smaller group as it reached the counter. They'd add bags, remove bags, and generally confuse things. Most of the bags were not even really bags, but rather bundles wrapped in a blanket secured with rope or bungee cords. Apparently this is pretty common.

The plane itself was interesting (and by interesting I mean a bit terrifying). We managed to snag bulkhead seats so at least we had leg room. The general condition of the cabin was pretty poor, though. Hopefully mostly stains and well-worn shabbiness and not extant dirtiness. The plane also made some worrying noises taking off. I'm writing this now, though, so obviously things didn't go too badly. The in-flight meal both existed and was quite tasty (and hilariously accompanied by RC Cola), so they beat most American carriers there.

Immediately upon landing, pretty much every single Bangladeshi on the flight jumped out of their seats, grabbed their luggage, and started crowding into the aisle. The resigned flight attendant made not even a token effort at stopping this.

We traded a shabby plane for a shabby bus to take us to the terminal. Delightfully, we were met there by one of our social sponsors (M hereafter) and a local staffer (whose name I have embarrassingly forgotten). The social sponsors are provided to new employees (at all posts) to help them get adjusted to their new locale. The local staffer helps with the initial arrival by making sure things go smoothly with immigration and all that fun stuff. We were particularly fortunate in that the guy helping us out used to work at the airport, so knew all the ins and outs (and, by appearances, about half the employees).

Our luggage took quite some time to arrive (but arrive it did, and in good shape!). This was just as well, as we were able to barrage our greeters with a whole bunch of questions. We also had time to use the restrooms. Public restrooms are, perhaps unsurprisingly, an iffy proposition in Bangladesh. This was a good introduction. I'll just mention that there was a man washing his feet in the sink and leave it at that.

After collecting luggage, we breezed through security (apparently there are some benefits to this whole diplomat thing) and exited through the VIP exit (more benefits) where a driver in an armored car was waiting (!). The armored car is actually not standard operating procedure, but there was a hartal (local word for massive country-wide strike for political protest) earlier that day. The hartals occasionally turn a bit violent, so the Embassy takes extra precaution.

We were greeted by another fact of Dhaka life almost immediately upon leaving the airport: traffic. Lots of it. Private cars, rickshaws, overcrowded buses with telltale gashes along their sides, and CNGs (tiny little caged moped-like vehicles that run on converted natural gas) all vying for position. Horns are used liberally and to virtually no effect. All in all, a place where having a professional driver is a major boon (more on that later, most likely).

We stopped at a photo studio on the way to our apartment to get some passport pictures taken. The Embassy needed a whole bunch and they are used all the time locally (formally signing up for a SIM card needs one, for instance). Our apartment is in the diplomatic enclave, so as we got closer the traffic died down quite a bit, and we were able to arrive before it got too late. First impressions of our new home to follow.