Leaning on my trolley, trying to look blasÃ© whilst scanning the crowd and waiting to be foundâ€”in this crowd, a pale-faced, blonde-haired Westerner is a beaconâ€”a frowning policeman accosts me.
â€œBangla, na,â€ I apologise, bemoaning my half-hearted efforts with Bengali tapes and a phrasebook. We attempt to communicate in sign language since the only English phrase the policeman can repeat frequently and with a serious smile is unconstructive in the circumstances:
â€œI love you,â€ he announces, arms akimbo. â€œI love you.â€
â€œThank you,â€ I say. â€œBut do you love me enough to take me home with you? You see, I donâ€™t know where Iâ€™m going, where I am staying, who is going to meet me, what I will be doing, or indeed, with whom I will be doing it.â€
Gently, he moves me to a quieter spot where more people can easily watch me. Minutes grind past. Then. . .
After years of working in Child Protection services and with a MSc in Epidemiology languishing somewhere in a drawer, I was hunting for a new challenge. Seeing a tiny advert for Voluntary Service International (VSI) made me apply to volunteer in Asia/Africa/Latin America and soon I was looking for this country called Bangladesh (in)famous for poverty, floods and devastation.
Ashamed at my ignorance about a country of 140 million people, I found it hidden at the bottom of India, poking into the Bay of Bengal even though it used to be East Pakistan. I learned the capital was Dhaka, the currency was taka, language Bengali and the population mostly Muslim. I hunted for a guidebook, packed a rucksack and on a snowy, frosty New Years Eve headed into Dublin airport and right out of my comfort zone.