only in Bangladesh (volume one)

That’s a photograph of a pile of recycled paper, with each piece being about 1 metre x 1 metre. You can see about a third of the piles in this shot.

Shuvo shokal from Dhaka,

short at the cash register

1. Linda and I were shopping one evening during this past week and finished in a small supermarket (is that an oxymoron?). At the cash register, we were caught short on the money. How embarrassing, eh what? Whilst furiously canvassing our options (viz. put the non-perishables back, collect the load on the morrow etc), the manager – standing nearby – calmly said, “Come back and pay when you can.”

Incredulous, on our way to the vehicle we exchanged thoughts on how likely such a scenario would be in Woolworths or Coles. I have confidence the dear reader is with us on this one: never. In a city the size of Dhaka, unscrupulous westerners could take advantage of such trust. The fact is, these people are incredibly trusting with their fellows (westerners included). This is now the second time we’ve experienced such trusting kindness in a retail outlet.


2. Kabaddi is a sport played by men in Bangladesh. It would possibly rival soccer for status as the national sporting obsession. (Cricket could well rise to prominence in the dry season.) Kabaddi has reached such widespread appeal that its tournaments are televised. (I’m a bit surprised to note its appeal as a spectator sport when – a bit like rugby – it is devised entirely for the player’s enjoyment, rather than for some vicarious entertainment.) This is a quintessentially Bangladeshi recreation. As is the case with soccer, kids in poor neighbourhoods will create games that require no expensive equipment. (Forgive me, dear reader, if I’m teaching Grandma to suck eggs here!)

Kabaddi uses no ball, no bat, no equipment at all, an open field or surface and no referee. The game entails two teams attempting to build their numbers by co-opting (capturing) members of the opposition. To prevent progress, teams link hands and the invader yells “Kabaddi, Kabaddi, Kabaddi etc etc” whilst attempting to breach the defences. It is so typical of a poor nation to devise such a simple sport.


3. Business Studies question (designed to illustrate a point about supply and demand): if a shop owner is selling perishable items and, with one hour to go before closing, lots are unsold, what does he/she do? (Expected answer: drop the price.) Dhaka answer : Formalin.

This is a seminal moment. I laughed, but no-one else did. It’s actually a serious issue in the community here. Many fruit and vegetables have formalin injected into them to maintain freshness prior to sale. We believe this is a consequence of slow transport from farm to market (bad roads and no refrigerated transport) and no refrigeration at point of sale. Formalin is claimed – by reliable and scientifically verifiable sources – to cause cancer (in significant doses over protracted time periods) and some modern shops even offer a formalin report (after testing of the products). These reports –  which are there in the shop alongside the produce – are obviously a consequence of consumer sovereignty. There are growing numbers of savvy consumers wanting something done about the problem.


4. The flight stewards on Biman Air (Bangladeshi national airline) utter some strange things. It’s apparently routine for this kind of promise: “We expect to arrive at (destination),  Inshalla,  at about 4 pm.” Inshalla is a very common utterance around here. Literally translated, it means ‘God willing’. Muslims tend to grace the concept with greater meaning. Alla will ensure you arrive safely.  Things will happen if Alla deems it fit to happen. In Malaysian Airlines planes, there is a script on the back of every seat, pointing out the ‘fact’ that the aircraft was provided by Alla. On one Biman Air flight, the flight steward said over the intercom, “Welcome back to our rich travellers in Business Class”. For a fleeting moment I thought I had misheard. The concept of lording the rich is a Bangladeshi trait. When one of the fathers made a point of seeking me out at the airport to farewell us on our way to Pulau Tioman, I later asked the son how the father had managed to get past Immigration without a ticket. “He’s a CIP,” came the answer. CIP stands for Commercially Important Person, an official government-endorsed designation, conferring all kinds of perks and privileges.

tea plantations in Sylhet
Bangladeshi Engrish

5. Some cute Bangladeshi Engrish for you

* options on a dry cleaning list BEAD SHIT (I think this means bed sheet.)

* Abid is an earnest young cove in Grade 8 who asked me to reconsider his mark on a task. I increased the mark by one and then came back the e-mail response from Abid: “Thank you for reconsidering my grade.  I really approximate it.”

* sign on a pharmacy – “in service of the humanity since 1980”

* Sazidul’s written response to a test question: “The Israelis are very shellfish.”

* report in newspaper on an industrial dispute: “the demands include continuation of uniform allowance of employees, provide dearness allowance . . .” (translated by Shuvo – cost of living allowance)
Volume Two tomorrow.

khoda hafez


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