With a new role at work came a whole new territory as well. Bangladesh came into play. From a business perspective a country we were not yet active in. According to international security rating, Bangladesh was an “Orange” country, which meant not completely safe to travel in, with political instability, periodic unrest and so-forth.
As a result a long list of directives to follow as part of the security brief:
- For female Western travelers what to wear and not to wear (do not show legs, cleavage or shoulders; very religious men will not shake hands… )
- How to interact and not to interact
- Not eating street food or drinking non bottled water
- Caution on walking around and exploring
- Need for dedicated driver with sufficient English spoken skills waiting for you at the airport
- Requirement to install an emergency app
This combined with the stories of armed transportation including the use of ambulances to get around, painted a grim picture. So, I was prepared, mentally and physically. Legs, arms and cleavage covered – nice and decent. Everybody at home and at work informed about my whereabouts. Mobile phone and internet activated. Valuables close to me. Eyes 360 degrees.
Actually, already with the boarding at the stopover in Abu Dhabi, the culture shock hit me. Total chaos, a mass of people, smaller and more tanned than me, mainly men, pushed and shoved to get on the plane first with as much as hand baggage as possible. I wanted to wait in line as the others, but got called to the front by the airport staff. Guess they noticed I would probably be a business traveler? or would this be the treatment for all white females? Hundreds of eyes scrolling over me. A weird feeling.
At arrival a clear distinction was made between Foreigners and Bangladeshi, to the disadvantage of the Bangladeshi. The Foreigner and business lines were shorter and moved on quite well. I have traveled quite a bit to Bangladesh in the following two years, and after the 3rd time the customs officer was getting curious… ‘You have boyfriend here?” assuming there must be a good reason – ie a man – why a woman would travel so often to Bangladesh, and God forbid, it could not be that I would actually be a business woman! Or was this a silent hint???
Now I think about it, I had a similar comment from a local director, being serious when stating that if I would be “so often” in Dhaka, I should be hooked up with a man then. ???? It was all meant well, but what about being happily married with 2 beautiful children was not clear?
During my first visit, I was working closely with another Western business woman who lived in Dhaka with her family for a while. Got some good tips from her, inside tricks, places to go and buy good and genuine stuff, how to talk in a simple and clear manner to staff as their English might not be proficient. Her daughter of 11 (yes!) taught me how to cross the street by foot safely in Dhaka: don’t run, don’t hesitate, steady and use your arms to gesture that they need to slow down. It worked.
After this first experience, it only got easier and better.