Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Land of the Duty Free

Bangladeshis don't travel light. Our flight to Dhaka from Dubai was delayed last night, mainly so that the returning passengers could finish emptying Duty Free. They trotted on to the plane clutching half a dozen plastic bags each, which they somehow stowed in the lockers, under the seats and, for all I knew, up their jumpers.

They could have been asked to put their Duty Free in the hold, but that was already bursting to the gills to judge by the volume of baggage that was put on to the carousel. I waited for an hour as more and more bags were added to the pile and was starting to worry that mine hadn't made it, but when it did arrive there was still half a planeload of passengers waiting for their luggage. Most of it seemed to be wrapped up in duvets tied together with string.

I'm out here for the cricket World Cup - "the cup that counts" as the local advertising campaign rather defensively describes it - and the streets have been decked with lights to mark the occasion. Apparently the Government have also taken all unsafe vehicles off the road and we drove past a graveyard of skeletal and burnt-out coaches on our way to Fatullah for England's warm-up match today.

I dread to think what congestion in Dhaka would have been like if they hadn't taken this measure. The taxi ride from the airport to the hotel last night, a ten-mile trip, took over an hour. London can be pretty clogged too, of course, but these roads were jammed five or six vehicles wide.

That doesn't mean that they were five-lane roads, though. Lane discipline is merely a nice idea here and the standard driving procedure is for short accelerations whenever the merest whiff of a gap emerges, followed by sharp breaking and a toot on the horn at whoever stopped your passage.

Nothing so far, however, has quite matched the Indian taxi driver I once had who drove up on to the pavement to get round one bit of gridlock.

It is all part of the impatient approach to life here and it is charming to a point. Our plane had barely landed and was still making its taxi when there was a stampede by the Bangladeshis on board to line up by the exits. Despite the pleas of the stewardesses to sit down, none of them did even though they must have known they would have an enormous wait come baggage reclaim.

There was a swarm of mosquitoes around the carousels and I have spent much of today scratching at bites. I never got round to getting a malaria vaccination but one local told me there is nothing to fear. "Our mosquitoes are very friendly," he said. "No malaria here."

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