Trip Start Nov 18, 2008
55Trip End Nov 17, 2009
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Where I stayed
Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed
We met our Hotel pick-up which we'd hastily arranged as we were leaving Hong Kong airport. What we didn't expect was that they re were 3 guys and they brought a bus! At least there was plenty room for us. The drive to the hotel was about 20 mins and we passed dozens of late night rickshaw drivers still up and touting for business. Pete agreed that the rickshaws in Bangladesh were easily brighter and funkier than any others we'd seen
So the hotel was fine and the guys very attentive, perhaps a little too attentive! The hotel owner met us in the morning and put us on a rickshaw to the bus station. It was mayhem as expected but after insisting that we were going to Savar we eventually found the right bus and we attracted plenty of attention in the process!!
The bus journey was fun and everyone wanted to chat to us! Unfortunately they all chatted to Pete and then found it highly amusing that he didn't understand them and I was able to answer some of their questions!! We passed the flooded waterways and brick making factories all around the flood plains.
It's funny how the mind plays tricks on you but on arriving in Savar and being pleased that I recognised the Bazar (market) area I then got my directions totally topsy turvy and thought the centre was n the opposite direction! But of course the rickshaw driver knew the way and soon we were arriving at the main gates of the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP).
I had to wear a Salwar Kamese, long baggy trousers, a long top to my knees and a scarf around my shoulders and chest. It was very comfortable in the heat and I enjoyed wearing them again. It not only helps me to fit in but to be respected my the Bangladeshis who never see our strange tight western clothes
As a bit of background I was here as a volunteer 8 years ago before I did my physio studies and before I met Pete and was really keen to return and to show Pete all the things I talk of. It's a centre which had been running since 1979 and was set up by Valerie Taylor a British physiotherapist when she realised the great need for some services for all the accident victims who find themselves paralysed as a result of falls from trees, falling whilst transporting heavy loads on their heads and traffic accidents. It's expanded a great deal over the years and now includes a school and hostel for special needs children, most of whom have Cerebral Palsy. There are workshops to manufacture the beds, wheelchairs, special seating for the disabled, braces etc. They also make all the furniture and wooden items they need and sell things on for profit too. The centre incorporates many more income generating activities and training services for the disabled people who need to learn new skills as they're not able to continue their former jobs. They also have degree courses running for Physiotherapy, Occupational therapy, Speech therapy and nursing training on sight. It's an amazing place and I was really happy to be back!
We were arriving amidst the Eid celebrations, one of the biggest festivals in the Muslim calendar
Although it was Eid and most of the services were suspended for the holidays there were still things we could do and I spent some time with the Physios and we both spent time with the kids in the Special Needs School. There were only a few of them as everyone with family had gone off for the holiday so only the orphaned kids remained. Pete caused big excitement and they were more interested in talking to him than to me! Fair enough, there were already lots of girls around but Prodip who's about 20 was grateful of a bit of man to man conversation and someone to play football and frisbee with. It was also really good for Pete and he enjoyed spending time with the kids and thinking about disabled issues.
We fitted in a trip to Dhaka for some sightseeing and took a boat trip on the waterways which was fun and we caused a stir as people spotted the 8 white people in the boat! I was amazed to see how different Dhaka is these days as they've banned all the petrol and diesel burning vehicles from the city. Everything runs on Compressed Natural Gas - buses, cars, baby taxis and all. The air is the cleanest I've ever come across in a city and the old lung choking, dirty air is a thing of the past!
Savar, where the main branch of the CRP is based is a market town and is always busy and on the go, yet they all had time to chat to us and ask us to take their photo
A real highlight of the time in Bangladesh was when the CRP volunteers were invited to the Durga Puja celebrations at the Kumundini hospital. CRP organised a bus for us and it was a great experience. The Puja is one of the biggest Hindu festivals and despite Bangladesh being so predominantly Muslim they were very accepting and supportive of the Hindu festivities. We were received by the director of the hospital and the Bangladeshi minister for Health! After introductions over a cup of tea we had a tour of the hospital and then were invited for a delicious meal of vegetarian curries, roti bread, and sweets with rice pudding. We were then transported by boat across the river along with the other invited guests including the Coordinator of the Youth Ambassadors at the European Commission and the families of the Hospital directors. We were then treated to a display of traditional dancing by students of the girls school . They had lovely outfits and it was a really special experience to be included and then to watch the men complete the ceremony and pass the cleansing fire around and we were even sprayed with the blessed water to complete the ceremony.
All too soon it was time to leave the centre and head off on our travels again
We began the next leg of our onwards journey with a bus trip to Rangpur in the North West of Bangladesh and arrived there in the evening. We had no accommodation booked so after a rickshaw into town that was our first task and as usual people wanted to talk to us! We were a strange sight- 2 white people walking bout with big bags! The hotel we were heading to was full but w found another one close by and then watched the procession going through town as the Hindus continued celebrating Durga Puja. We enjoyed a cup of cha with the rickshaw wallahs at a tea stall and they were amused to see us there, then we ate veggie pastries and chatted to a man who'd been to England, Wales and Ireland.
Next day we were off on the local bus again to get ourselves over the border into India. It was a fairly quiet border and it seemed the only traffic was a convoy of trucks carrying bananas and us two strange people with big backpacks smiling saying "India" After a bit of chat and some essential tax (Hmmm!) we were walking over the border to meet the Indian officials. They had a bamboo hut and a big notebook for the border formalities which were completed efficiently and we were in India!
A quick drink at a stall, an exchange of taka for rupees and we were off on a bus to a cross-roads, then another bus to Siliguri. It's a great name for a town which is basically a transit point with some good restaurants! We found a hotel easily and had a feast of popadoms, curry and paratha bread along with plenty juice after our hot tiring day of travels!