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Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Hard drink, soft rules

This is Cox’s Bazar, a long thin strip of land in the far southeast of Bangladesh, squashed between the Bay of Bengal and Myanmar. We’re here for three days at the annual VSO-Bangladesh conference. The conference was as good as something of the sort can be, I suppose. Forty people ranging from the very mixed group of international volunteers, to the volunteer support staff, to the office support staff and the drivers, with all the consequent difficulties of language and understanding of the issues. Hmm.

So, Cox’s Bazar. The longest sand beach in the world. All 150 kilometres of it. The sea here is tidal, moving astoundingly quickly, cleaning the beach and stopping beach life taking hold permanently. The beach-chair minders, hawkers of trinkets and beach kids are pushed in and out like flotsam and jetsam, landing for a few hours to ply their various trades only to be pushed inland by the waves to wait for the next sandy opportunity.

It’s very beautiful in an early Benidorm sort-of way. The hotels are springing up. No, scratch that. The hotels are slowly lurching their way into existence, Sea Crown, Seagull, Sea Breeze, Sea Shore, Sea Gate, Sea Palace, always surrounded by tin shacks containing tea shops, barber shops, grocery shops, bicycle repairers etc. The only roundabout in town, of course ignored by the cars, rickshaws, CNGs and tom-toms, is topped with gruesome plaster sharks and dolphins. The money would have been better spent improving the drainage. But stand on the beach with your back to the concrete monstrosities and the view is wonderful. The dark-sanded beach stretches endlessly to the left and right, the sea rolls in and the sun sinks gently into the misty horizon.
Early morning before the shacks open for business. It's already 35 degrees so the dogs flaked out as usual.

We're holed up in the Sea Crown - air-con, foam mattress, hot water and TV but dry. Can't have it all. We heard that there was a hotel in town that did sell beer, so off we went. The thought of a beer in the astonishing heat and humidity mix was bliss. But no, hard drink was only available after 7.30pm and it was only 5.30. So back to our place to find that someone had found a hidden bar. A small entrance next to the front door of the hotel. Through the door, across a small courtyard, through another door and into pitch darkness. As my eyes got used to this almost light-free environment I could see people sitting huddled in low seats drinking and smoking!!  I thought as much. Judging by the Dhaka traffic this is a country of rule breakers.

So our evenings were spent on the beach, sharing the beach chairs, drinking warm beer or gin and Sprite hidden in water bottles, watching the Supermoon pass across the sky (Real name: perigree. A once-a-year cosmic event which lights up the night sky as the full moon passes at its closest to the Earth, making it 14% larger and 30% brighter than usual). A much too scientific description of the most enormous, beautiful full moon. A dozen or so of the volunteers chatting until the early hours putting the world to rights. It was lovely. I've not done that for a long time.

The beach kids, coastal version of the street kids, were the same as ever, mainly boys as girls aren't allowed out much. Chatty and needy. Wanting to sell their songs and dances, their shell necklaces or other tat, but really craving some love and affection. A small boy, bullied into crying by another taller, bigger boy fled to Karen for a cuddle and to have his tears dried until he remembered that boys don't cry and disappeared to sorrow in private. 

We are so lucky.

Sampans - the traditional fishing boats (pronounced 'shampan')

Local woman fascinated by the sight of Kenyan volunteer Eve eating a mango

When I was a child small holes in the sand meant sand flies. Here it's crabs, millions of them.

More shampans. I couldn't stop taking photos of them.


  1. Super moons make a change from chases eclipses

  2. What a lovely read Louise - I look forward to more.