An Unusual Commute

Tree lined roadLong car rides can be powerful sedatives, not only for cranky babies, but for (sometimes) cranky women as well. Just ask the seven men who share the van with me on the way to the village.

The drive takes about an hour. On most days, it takes my eyelids about 20 minutes to give up the arduous task of staying open. I’m not sure how much time passes before my head starts bobbing and my jaw goes slack, allowing my mouth to open wide enough to catch flies, but the sight must be lovely. (My apologies to the seven men in the van.) Whenever the driver’s abrupt braking or overzealous honking jolts me awake, I’m just thankful there’s no drool.

Some days, though, my eyelids feel light and lively and I take the opportunity to marvel at the sights outside the window. On this drive, there’s no famous architecture or breathtaking scenery, but there are countless interesting vehicles, and every single one of them defies the laws of common sense and physics.

A three-wheeled flatbed cart takes up the space of a large truck as a man pushes an endless pile of bamboo poles down the road. A tiny motorbike emulates a family sedan filled with a husband, wife, two kids and groceries. A bicycle is transformed into a mini shop, displaying dozens of tin pots and plastic bowls. A mother becomes Hercules, balancing an enormous bag on her head (no hands) and a baby on her hip. A bus becomes a giant chariot carrying countless men, both inside and on the roof, bending trees in its path as it sways precariously from side to side.

After awhile, though, these sights lose their novelty and become normal. Dare I say, boring? Seeing four people crammed onto a single rickshaw no longer draws my interest. But, somehow, there’s always something I haven’t seen before that does.

One day it’s a cart filled with jackfruit the size of young children, or an aging farmer with a physique that would put a 20-something gym rat to shame. Another day, it’s a four-year-old girl standing on the crossbar of a bicycle, casually holding her father’s neck for balance she doesn’t seem to need. Or a man bathing in the lake with his cows, or a bull with horns growing down into its eyes, or a family of goats lying on the edge of the road, barely budging when one of the chariot buses screams by. A little further down the road, it’s another family of goats climbing a pile of bricks as if it were a majestic mountainside. And further still, a butcher in his bamboo shack hanging slabs of goats whose climbing days are over.

Some days, I see an elderly man with a stoop so severe, he looks like the letter “C”. Still yet, there’s the ever-changing farmland with its rice-paddy greens, jute browns, pea-plant purples and mustard-seed yellows. Or a traffic jam that reminds me of a stadium parking lot after a huge concert … except here you must wait for cows and pedestrians and bicycles and motorbikes and flatbed carts and buses and trucks and chickens and goats and geese and water buffalo and dogs and hogs–and the occasional elephant–to merge.

After awhile, though, even this sensory overload isn’t strong enough to counteract the powerful sedative of the drive, and my eyelids get heavier and heavier.

That is, until a brightly painted yellow truck rushes at us, engaging our driver in a game of chicken, and just as our driver gives in and falls back, a motorbike-turned-family-sedan, rushes onto the two-lane road—without looking—and narrowly misses us as well as the bright yellow truck and a family of goats lounging in the road. Seriously, what is with the goats and the road?

Would you play chicken with this guy?

Would you play chicken with this guy?

Yep, I’m definitely awake now.

It will only take a few short moments before I’m annoyed as well. Not because we narrowly escape a second, third and fourth near-death experience, but because I can’t stand the damn horns!

What is the purpose behind the auditory assault waged by every single car, motorbike, truck and bus in Bangladesh? There must be a language to all this commotion, right? That’s what I tell myself when I can’t take it anymore, when I muster every ounce of strength I possess to stop myself from screaming, “SHUT UUUUUUUUUUP!”

I don’t really mind the light, quick beep, beep, beep that seems to say, “Hiya! Just letting you know I’m here. Please don’t do anything stupid.”

But the long, bullying hoooooooooonk, usually reserved for huge trucks and hurrying buses, is rather unnerving. It starts in the distance and gets louder and louder and louder, as if the driver has strapped a two-ton brick to the steering wheel to make sure the horn produces maximum volume at all times, especially the moment it passes you, almost knocking you over with its intensity, before it continues on, leaving a slew of surprisingly unaffected drivers in its wake. If this horn could speak words, it would surely say, “Get the F out of my way, before I flatten you like a pancake.” Everybody seems to listen.

And then there’s the impatient mahmp mom mom mom mom maaahmp that’s like an incessant tap on the shoulder. “Hey you. Move, move, move. Did you hear me? Move, move, move. I want to get by. Hey you. Did you hear me?” This horn is our driver’s favorite—and it makes me want to punch him.

But even he’s no match for the cacophony outside.

Mee me me me meep. Beeeeee be beeeeep, be be beep. Hooooonk! Beep beep. Beep … beep … beep … be beep. Mahmp mom mom mom mom maaahmp. BEEEEEEEEEEEEP. Beep beep… Beep beep. Mawp mawp. Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep meep.

And I become a cranky woman.

To drown out the noise and hopefully invoke the power of the car sedative, I turn to my iPod and a playlist titled “Sleepy Time.”

Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” comes on, and suddenly, I’m in two worlds at once. I’m here, in this van, on this road where a man with no legs powers a bike cart with his arms. I’m also in a parallel universe, driving my luxury car on an open road in the snowy Sierras, remembering wonderful times with wonderful friends.

As I look out the van’s window, smiling from the memories, a woman, who clearly suffers from mental illness, wanders aimlessly into the middle of the street, and my smile fades as I wonder what parallel universe her mind inhabits.

It occurs to me that this woman, along with most of the women here, will never own a luxury car, let alone drive one, or even ride in one, and the difference between where I’ve been and where I am now slaps me awake again.

Calling All Adventure Lovers!

Only FIVE days left ’til the Biggest, Baddest Bucket List competition closes!

The prospect of winning an all-expenses-paid trip around the world is AMAZING, but I didn’t enter just for me. I truly want to share the experience with all of you, entertaining and (hopefully) inspiring you along the way. Just imagine all the great stories and videos that could be created in six months of travel across six continents.

To get a taste of my unique perspective on travel, check out my video about Bangladesh. If you find yourself smiling while watching it, please vote for me!

#mybbb_angelajacobus Here’s how to vote:

  1. Go to the contest page: http://www.mydestination.com/users/angelajacobus/bbb#
  2. Find the GREEN BOX next to the video. (You must vote from the green box or it won’t register.)
  3. Choose the “share” button of your choice. If you have accounts with all five social media sites, you can vote FIVE times! Please vote again if you can.
  4. Find five friends and get them to vote, too.
  5. Help me reach (at least) five hundred votes!

Remember, only five days left to vote!

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

UPDATE: Help Me Win a Trip Around the World

HERE’S HOW TO VOTE:

Go to the contest page: http://www.mydestination.com/users/angelajacobus/bbb#, then scroll down to the green box next to my video and VOTE FOR ME using one or all of the “share” buttons there. You must vote from the green box or it won’t register. If you have accounts with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, StumbleUpon and Pinterest, you can vote FIVE times! See how easy that was? Now, please spread the word! And thank you SO MUCH for your support.

Help Me Win a Trip Around the World!

Vote for me When I saw the details for My Destination’s Biggest, Baddest Bucket List contest, I knew I had to enter.

Despite the fact that I have no experience making travel videos, and this part of Bangladesh isn’t the easiest tourist destination to promote, I was excited for the challenge and SO EXCITED for the potential reward. Turns out, making the video was super fun and rewarding in and of itself.

Capturing hundreds of moments and whittling them down to a three-minute video became a labor of love that really helped me appreciate how amazing this experience has been. And with my time here drawing to a close, that realization was a wonderful gift. I just hope my little ode to Bangladesh–in video form–will serve as a gift to all the people I’ve met here as well. And I really hope that more travelers will come discover the charm and warmth of this country.

Now, this contest is called the Biggest, Baddest Bucket List, and if I win, I intend to add some spectacular items to that list, but I’ve also learned that tasks don’t always have to be big and bad to be entertaining. Sometimes simple is just as fun … and just as difficult.

Here’s my simple yet challenging Bangladesh bucket list:

  • Trade places with a rickshaw driver (Done! See contest video)
  • Learn to carry heavy stuff on my head (Done! See contest video)
  • Learn a traditional Bangladeshi dance (Done! See video here!)
  • Learn how to properly wear a sari (in process, this will take years)
  • Drive a cow cart (to do)

I’ve only got about a month left to complete the last item. I better get on it!

While I tackle that, please help me win this contest.

HERE’S HOW TO VOTE:

Go to the contest page: http://www.mydestination.com/users/angelajacobus/bbb#, then scroll down to the green box next to my video and VOTE FOR ME using one or all of the “share” buttons there. You must vote from the green box or it won’t register. If you have accounts with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, StumbleUpon and Pinterest, you can vote FIVE times! See how easy that was? Now, please spread the word! And thank you SO MUCH for your support.

Daily Prompt: This Is Your Life

It’s funny when you get a glimpse of yourself through others’ eyes.
Sometimes it’s disappointing. Sometimes it’s better than you hoped.

Recently, I was lucky enough to experience the latter when my friend Susan, creator of Travel Junkette, asked if she could feature me on her travel blog. She’s a creative, talented and inspiring person, so I was honored by the invitation and happily agreed to be a part of her new project.

She sent me a bunch of questions; I sent her a bunch of answers. Then, a couple of months later … voila … (part of) my life story was shared with (part of) the world. You can read it here, if you’d like.

Seasonal Worker

Travel Junkette is looking for more seasonal workers to feature. If you or someone you know would like to contribute, email traveljunkette(at)gmail(dot)com.

As the Daily Prompt says, “If you could read a book containing all that has happened and will ever happen in your life, would you? If you choose to read it, you must read it cover to cover.”

I’d have to say, “No.”

With the help of Susan’s great questions, I now have a written summary of the biggest leaps I’ve taken thus far in my life, and I’m really thankful to have it, but my favorite thing about life is the mystery and the limitless possibility that lies in the unknown.

Yes, sometimes life is frustrating and it’s easy to become discouraged and impatient, but for me, there’s always hope. I always have faith that the future holds great discoveries and lessons and opportunities for growth. Even the trying times are valuable and beautiful in retrospect. Knowing about those experiences ahead of time would ruin the surprise. It would be like watching the end of the movie in the middle.

What fun is that?

That said, I just read this lovely post with a different perspective worth reading.

Women Who Wander

ImageThese days, more women than ever are seeking–and finding–fulfillment in a more adventurous way of life. As you can guess, I’m one of them.

So in an attempt to connect with kindred spirits, I created a Facebook community page called Women Who Wander … because we adventurous women may seem awfully independent and brave, but we need a community, too.

As my friend Avy posted on the new page: “So glad that you are creating this space for female nomads (and the males who love us…) Community matters, even – or especially – if that community is spread in every corner of the world.”

Truer words were never typed.

I hope the page will foster an online community of both savvy and newbie travelers who can share their questions, experiences and recommendations … and give and receive loads of inspiration.

Even though the page is clearly targeted at female travelers, it’s definitely not limited to women only. If you’re a woman who wanders or you simply want to support one who does, please check out the page, like it and share it with anyone you think would enjoy it. Most importantly, please share your own helpful and inspiring blog posts.

I look forward to seeing you there!

My Year in Photos

Well, I was planning to do it anyway, so when I saw the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: My 2012 in Pictures, I couldn’t resist joining in the fun.

2012 started with a month-long escape from the bitter cold of Korea to the warmth and beauty of SouthEast Asia. Malaysia, Thailand and Laos, to be exact.

After an amazing month traveling, it was time to go back to Jeju and enjoy my last few weeks before moving away from Korea.

Next, I spent a week traveling solo in Japan and saw some truly amazing things!

I then escaped the bitter cold of Japan and headed back to Thailand for six weeks–four of which were spent getting my CELTA certification. Somehow, I still managed to fit in plenty of fun.

 

Finally, it was time to head home to America to see my family and friends and take care of some business … like emptying out my storage unit after four years.

It took the better part of a week to sort through and sell or donate everything. Ugh. Never again.

After a month back in the States, it was time to head off on my next adventure … a year in Bangladesh.

Oh 2012! What a year it was! Let’s see what 2013 has in store.

Happy New Year!

Bandarban Hill Tracts–A Different Side of Bangladesh

Nine days off?! It’s time to explore. Part 2.

The Bandarban hills are alive with … indigenous tribes.

On our first full day in Bandarban, my teacher friend and I–plus a Swedish woman who was traveling solo–hired a guide for 1,000 Taka ($12) and a baby taxi for 1,500 Taka ($18) for the whole day. Take a moment and do the math. That’s only $10 each … for the entire day!

We could have gotten a nice truck for 4,000 Taka ($50), but we opted for the more economical version. As we discovered, it was the better choice, not just because it was cheaper but because, in the baby taxi, which is basically a roomier version of a motorized rickshaw, we were able to feel the air and see the view more completely than if we were trapped behind car windows. Plus the ride up the steep hills was significantly slower, so we had more time to take in the scenery as we headed to our first destination.

Bawm Village
Our guide (let’s call him Lek) was a member of the Bawm tribe, so for the first stop on our tour, he took us to his house, which sat on a lovely hill IMG_4778-2 a few miles away from the main village. Getting to his house required a short walk down a narrow dirt path, across a stream (where his goose was swimming), and up another dirt path to his front door. He invited us inside where his daughter and wife were sitting on the floor, watching a small TV at high volume. As they turned down the television, we joined them on the floor and sat looking around the modest home, trying to figure out where they slept.

I noticed a pile of woven rugs sitting near the TV. (Weaving is the Bawm people’s specialty.) Lek asked if we wanted to see any of them. At the time, I declined, thinking of the days of travel ahead and the burden that a heavy rug would add to my backpack. I now regret that decision. What a unique memento or gift one of those rugs would have made!

After sitting and smiling and looking around awhile longer, Lek asked if we were ready to leave. We nodded yes, expressed our thanks, and headed back over the stream to the baby taxi for our next stop at the main village.

As we wandered around the main village, taking photos and asking questions, we learned that the tribe, which is Christian, comprises about 100 families. I asked what it was like at Christmastime. Lek explained that each year, one house is chosen to host the festivities and everyone from the village comes over to eat and celebrate. (As I sit here in Jessore on Dec. 21st with no sign of Christmas in sight, the thought of spending the holiday at the Bawm village sounds pretty delightful.)

Murong Village
After our short stay in the Bawm village, we continued up the hill to visit another tribe, the Murong people. Their village was made up of about 20 families who still embrace the ancient beliefs of animism.

Murong Home EntranceLek escorted us through the village to one of the huts and invited us to check it out. In this village, the homes were raised off the ground, so we had to climb a narrow piece of carved wood to get inside. As we entered, I noticed how much bigger it was than Lek’s house. Several children and a few women where sitting around the large, open room. (Here, there was no TV.) A few kids were doing something with flowers. One boy was eating sugar cane. The women seemed to be preparing food. Again, we sat on the floor, smiling and observing. Again, I wondered where they slept. This time, I asked. Lek motioned to the floor around us and pointed to some long wooden blocks along the edges of the room. “They sleep here,” he said. “Those are the pillows.”

I snapped some photos in the dark hut and quickly discovered that, unlike most of the children I’ve met in Bangladesh, the Murong kids were incredibly camera-shy. Every time I raised my lens in their direction, they scattered … and it soon became a little game.

IMG_4827-2As we continued looking around the hut, each of us commented on different things. The open fire in the room with no barrier between it and the small children all around. The gaping holes in the floor. The saws and knives hanging on the walls. We talked about the crazy safety standards in each of our home countries. Those standards didn’t apply here, yet somehow, these children were happy and healthy and injury-free.

I noticed another interesting thing: the storage area hanging below the ceiling. According to Lek, that’s where the family keeps their homemade musical instruments. (Music seems to be the Murong specialty.) I tried to imagine a typical day in this family’s life. Hanging out, cooking, playing music and dancing. Yes, they’re poor and they don’t have much in the way of material possessions, but it seems to me, they have an abundance of the things that make one truly rich.

Lek indicated that it was time to go, so we said goodbye and headed off for the second half of our tour (which would involve truckloads of men with Hindu statues and a river), but I’ll tell that story in a different post. For now, I’ll share the experience I had the next day with the Tripura tribe.

Hatibandha Tripura Village
According to Lonely Planet, “Very few people make it to this village and it’s essential that you obtain the permission of the village headman to be there and remember to tread carefully with your photos.”

This, combined with warnings that the path to the village was steep and possibly slippery made the hike SUPER interesting to me, but not so much to my teacher friend. Lek said it would be no problem for me to go alone, but I decided to hire a guide anyway, so I paid a whopping 500 Taka ($6) to have Lek’s brother accompany me.

The warnings about the path were accurate. It was paved with stone bricks and the morning dew had left them slicker than a slip ‘n’ slide. I had to focus on each step, gingerly sidestepping my way down the trail, while Lek’s brother (let’s call him Sahn) moved quickly and effortlessly ahead of me, continually pausing to make sure I was ok.

Tripura Boys Cricket The hike was supposed to take an hour, but, even at our slow pace, it took only about 30 minutes. As we entered the village, we were greeted, not by a scary headman, but by a group of boys playing cricket.

Normally, when I walk near a group of children in Bangladesh, everything stops and I’m quickly surrounded by excited, curious kids. Not here. These boys were completely uninterested in the foreigner in their midst. In fact, if Sahn weren’t with me, I might have turned around and left, feeling that my presence wasn’t welcome.

Thankfully, though, he was there, and he shared some interesting information about the tribe. (How accurate it was, I do not know.) He pointed to the women wearing hundreds of beaded necklaces and explained that the jewelry’s original purpose was not ornamental. According to tribal folklore, the beads provided protection. When the women wore them, their enemies couldn’t cut their throats!

I asked Sahn if I could buy some necklaces and take a few photos in return. He said it was no problem and led me to one of the houses. We were not invited inside, but were allowed to sit down out front as they retrieved a large plastic bag of necklaces. I found a few I liked and asked how much they cost. The prices were much higher than I expected, and I kinda felt like I was being ripped off, but when you think about it, each string of beads is truly one of a kind. And how many people can say they hiked into a remote village to meet the people who created and shared a traditional piece of their culture?

Note to friends and family: If one of you receives one of these necklaces from me, you better appreciate it! ; )
Tripura Bead Necklaces

If you’re ever in Bangladesh, I definitely recommend taking a trip to Bandarban to see the tribal villages. It’s an interesting, perspective-gaining experience like none I’ve ever had.

Here are some more photos, but out of respect for the villagers, they’re mostly just buildings and animals.

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Warnings Shwarnings

Thanks to Durga Puja and Eid al Adha – two holidays I never knew existed before I moved to Bangladesh – I was able to enjoy a nine-day vacation. And thanks to the second teacher who finally arrived a month ago, I was able to explore some of the country … with a travel buddy. Hooray! (Part 1.)

First Stop: Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bandarban

When searching for information about the Chittagong Hill Tracts, I came across various travel alerts stating things like, “all non-essential travel to the area is not recommended,” or “reconsider your travel plans.” I was a little alarmed by the warnings, but I wanted to understand why the area should be avoided. I couldn’t find any specific or recent information to illustrate the danger — just instructions to notify the Bangladeshi authorities and obtain a permit before entering the region.

It sounded sketchy enough that I did consider changing my plans, but then I talked to my boss. She assured me that the warnings were outdated; she had been a few years back under the same conditions and everything was fine. Besides, Bandarban is touted as a must-see in Bangladesh, so travel there should be considered essential, right? Plus, from what I’d heard, the Hill Tracts region promised a very different view of Bangladesh, and I really wanted to see it! So my new teacher friend and I decided to go for it.

As you might imagine, the tourism industry in Bangladesh is virtually non-existent, so it’s rather difficult for independent travelers to find good information about where to go, what to do and where to stay. Pre-booking accommodations – even in big cities – can be challenging. There are a few reputable tour companies in the country (Bengal Tours, Unique Tours and Travels and Guide Tours) but I’m not really an organized tour kind of person, so I tend to avoid them. Guide Tours, however, runs the one and only resort in Bandarban, so I decided to give them a try.

When I called the contact number, a friendly woman who spoke excellent English answered the phone. I asked a gazillion questions and she patiently answered each one. I learned that she could obtain the necessary permits for us and that we could hire local guides (for a reasonable price) to take us to the tribal villages in the Hill Tracts. When I asked about safety, her nonchalant, “No problem,” put any lingering doubts I had to rest. Apparently, we could even visit the tribes that Lonely Planet described as potentially off-limits. I was sold.

I decided not to share the details of the trip with my parents, though. (They’d just worry for nine days and what’s the point in that?)

So after a few email exchanges and an infuriating trip to the bank to transfer our payment (don’t get me started on the antiquated banking system in Bangladesh!), we had everything we needed for our adventure.

Beginning of the journey: two men in front.

First we flew to Chittagong and then, with permission slips in hand, embarked on a bus journey to Bandarban. It was the first time on a Bangladeshi bus for each of us. Considering the decrepit buses I see every day, packed to the gills with people, I was expecting a horrible ride, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined. Although, I’m pretty sure we ran over a dog at one point.

Midway through the journey: six men in front. Not too bad.

After bumping and jerking along for two hours, we knew we were getting close to our destination when the driver pulled to the side of the road, and we, the only white people on the bus, were instructed to disembark to show our passports and permits to a man in a small guard shack.

The man knew exactly who we were as he greeted us with a smile and asked us to sign a book. We obliged, got back on the bus, and continued on our way to Bandarban. Totally painless and anything but sketchy.

When we got to the resort (“resort” might be a bit of an overstatement), we were relieved to find a clean, comfortable bamboo hut nestled among the trees with a large balcony overlooking the hills and valleys below.

Enjoying dusk on the balcony.

So far, the adventure was off to a great start. Thank goodness I wasn’t scared off by those silly travel warnings!

Next up … visiting the tribal villages.