Once you’ve get settled in Bangladesh, there is no shortage of resources to find information on where to go, what to see, and good places to eat. But what about advice for those just thinking about coming here? Or practical advice for the first few hours in this country?
I’ve talked about my friend Alicia before – a friend of mine from Notre Dame who decided to come to Bangladesh as part of a Fulbright scholarship she earned.
Well, what advice did I give her?
- The Shock Factor: If you’ve never come to a place like this before – prepare to be shocked. The sights, the smells, and people – will all seem alien at first. There isn’t really a way to prepare for this. Just don’t get worried if you find yourself in a bit of shock when you first arrive.
- How Safe Do You Want to Be?: If you want to fully immerse yourself in the experience, you will have to take some risks. Riding a rickshaw or CNG is quaint, but there is a chance that something bad can happen. This isn’t just an urban legend. I know friends and family that have been assaulted, robbed, and even kidnapped. The more authentic an experience (live like the locals, etc) you want – the greater the risk.
- You Will Get Sick: Even if you don’t drink the water, avoid suspicious ice cubes, use hand sanitizer every so often – you will get sick sooner or later. Don’t treat it like you’ve somehow failed to take enough precautions. It happens to everyone.
- You Can’t Buy Everything Here – Bring That Stuff With You: Hand Sanitizers, Pepto Bismol, and Spray-On Mosquito Repellent are all things I’ve never been able to buy here. My advice? Bring as much of what you think you will need to use (and a little extra) with you from home before you fly here.
- People will stare. Sorry: The more foreign you look – the more stares you draw. You can sometimes even draw a crowd. No insult is inteded – it’s mostly just curiosity. The exception to this rule are establishments which specifically cater to the rich and foreigners. Those places you’ll probably fit in stare-free.
- Don’t tough it alone at the airport: The cabbies there are highway robbers and will treat you poorly (I’m also looking for a link to a newspaper article that has more info on this). The professional beggars at the airport will harass you for foreign currencies. If you have a friend that is there to meet you and give you a ride – that makes all the difference in the world. Seriously.
So what did we do on the day we met up?
Well, the first important thing was getting her a multi-plug (aka a powerbar) that would fit her US-style three-pronged laptop adapter. I had advised Alicia to NOT bother buying adapters before she left. I had spent a lot of time going to a lot of Radio Shacks to find adapters that work in Bangladesh. Turns out I was wasting my time. In Bangladesh, its very easy to buy powerbars/multi-plugs and adpaters which have a special shape that fits all kinds of plugs. And most modern electronics (like laptop adapters) automatically convert voltage (whether its 110v or 220v). If you have time to spare – spend a day shopping here and buy those adapters here instead of wasting your money in Radio Shack.
The second thing we did was buy her a cellphone. Cellphones are much more common than landlines in Bangladesh. There are a lot of cellphone providers to choose from. I had recommended her GrameenPhone. It’s what I use to connect to the internet – and am using right now to upload this blog post. GrameenPhone has been pretty reliable – it was working despite the nationwide blackout caused by Cyclone Sidr. It also worked in rural villages where there was no power – including the Cyclone Sidr disaster area when power had yet to be restored. As I’ve said in the past – in both reliability and cost of cellphone plans and service – Bangladesh beats Canada.
It’s a bit compliated to sign up for a cellphone here. You need to bring your passport, passport photos, and you also have to give your thumbprint and have a reference contact. I acted as her local contact and had told her ahead of time of what she needed and so she came prepared. We were able to get it all setup in one go.
I tried to take a photo of all the people staring at her – but most people scattered when I tried to take a photo. I guess some don’t mind staring – but don’t like it when you stare back. Ahh well.