first impressions

Thursday 19th March, Dhaka

“I’m here. It is hot. I had forgotten what heat felt like. I breathe in hot air and already my face is damp. But it is nice after the long cold dark Brussels winter. Of course it is only 9.45am, so maybe I’ll take that back in a few hours.

It is also busy. We arrived in rush hour, with more car horns beeping than Brussels. The roads are chaotic. Four lanes across but there were at lest five lanes of traffic at any time and everything switching so frequently it must be pure luck to find yourself actually driving within the lines.

I am sitting in the back of the mercifully air-conditioned car. My driver has been working for The Leprosy Mission for 16 years he informs me. At the traffic lights I am faced for the first time here with beggars. First a middle aged man with a stump for an arm which he presses against the car window. Then a mother and young daughter make their way back through the traffic. They all tap insistently against the passenger windows. I don’t look at them. I desperately want to but I have no Takas to give them anyway and this feels so awkward…

Back in the airport I’d had to wait half an hour to get through immigration, despite being near the front of the queue. While I was waiting I caught the eye of the girl cleaning the room and was delighted when she gave me a huge smile. This is what energises me about travelling, making these human connections, however small. Late in the afternoon as I walk through the city slums to visit a leprosy support group, I try to make eye contact as much as possible. I need to somehow communicate that I am not just a voyeuristic white western girl invading their space, but that on some fundemental level we are the same. I don’t know how successful I am…”